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Listening to art. Playing with audio. Sounding out technology. Composing in code. Rewinding the soundscape.

This Week in Sound: A Sharp, Short “Cheep”

A lightly annotated clipping service

These sound-studies highlights of the week are lightly adapted from the July 4, 2022, issue of the free Disquiet.com weekly email newsletter This Week in Sound (tinyletter.com/disquiet).

As always, if you find sonic news of interest, please share it with me, and (except with the most widespread of news items) I’ll credit you should I mention it here.

“Precisely sculpted sound waves have been used to levitate components and tiny droplets of quick-setting glue to build complex structures piece by piece in mid-air.” You’ve got to see the associated video. ➔ newscientist.com, youtu.be

Future Force (the magazine of “Naval Science and Technology”) profiles FLIP, the Floating Instrument Platform launched six decades ago this year. It’s looking for a new home. “FLIP has been used extensively by the Navy to conduct research in deepwater acoustics and signal processing. … What makes FLIP so unusual is that it actually flips from the horizontal to the vertical. The vessel transitions from the horizontal to vertical by flooding the ballast tanks, starting from the stern forward, changings the vessel’s displacement causing the stern to sink. Once all the tanks are flooded, FLIP stands upright in the vertical orientation — as tall as a five-story building. … Hydrophone arrays and other sensors could be positioned at various depths to conduct acoustic measuring, heavy instrument packages could be lowered to the deep ocean for various studies, pressure sensors and lasers were used to measure precise changes in wave height, and meteorological sensors could collect data above the sea surface. … Because FLIP was so quiet, it was ideally suited to support marine mammal surveys. Observers could count and observe different types of marine mammals with hydrophone arrays suspended below the surface and observers positioned on top of the platform to correlate the sounds from the animals with visual observations.” There are some pretty amazing photos of it “flipping” in the PDF below from UC San Diego. ➔ navy.mil, ucsd.edu (Thanks, Mike Rhode!)

“If we could replicate what the owl’s done with its wings and with its feathers on the surface of wind turbines or computer fans, or those passenger planes that crisscross the skies, we would get rid of sound pollution” — an interview with Jackie Higgins, author of Sentient: How Animals Illuminate the Wonder of Our Human Senses. I’d imagine there’s a way in which the square-cube law (beloved by those who appreciate movies about giant ants) will get in the way of such an outcome, but in any case an interesting overview of research into how owls fly silently. ➔ lithub.com

Emily Sohn at Nature spoke with scientists who stutter. “We urge scientists who stutter and clinicians who stutter in every career stage … to give more seminars and conference talks and serve as a role model to show others who are experiencing the same disorder so that becoming a scientist or a physician should not be impeded,” wrote two such scientists, Shahriar SheikhBahaei and Gerald Maguire, in a 2020 paper. ➔ nature.com

“An AI has been trained to identify and count chickens’ distress calls. … The frequency and volume of a chicken’s distress call – a sharp, short ‘cheep’ — can predict the animal’s health and growth rate,” according to Alan McElligott (City University of Hong Kong). Also cited is Elodie Floriane Mandel-Briefer at the University of Copenhagen: “She says the study in chickens adds to growing evidence that animal emotions can be measured and monitored using machine learning. ‘Since animal emotions are an important part of their welfare, their assessment is crucial.’” ➔ newscientist.com

“Brands and agencies trust Veritonic’s platform to research, test, and measure the ROI of audio assets including audio logos, audio ads, podcast ads, and more at every stage of a campaign.” The company last week closed a $7.5 million round of funding. ➔ mrweb.com

“Noise pollution underwater has been likened to a nightclub, with seals and porpoises having to ‘shout’ at each other to be heard, according to new research.” ➔ newsweek.com

“In Italy they were called piffari, in Germany they were known as stadtpfeifer, in Holland they were stadspijpers, and in England they were known as waits.” What they were were musicians hired in the late Medieval period as first responders, writes Ted Gioia. “To the modern mind, musical skills and police responsibilities have little in common, but in an earlier age the two roles often overlapped. Musicians not only helped defend the city gate, but might also be required to patrol streets at night. In Norwich in 1440 a tax was instituted to pay the waits for their watch — and these musicians were required to take an oath of office.” ➔ tedgioia.substack.com (Thanks, George Kelly!)

“[W]hen it comes to restaurants, one person’s idea of a ‘good atmosphere’ has another reaching for their earplugs.” Caroline Davies and Harry Taylor survey the state of noise in eateries, and in the process they mention Pipedown (pipedown.org.uk), a campaign “for freedom from piped music.” ➔ theguardian.com (Thanks, Christian Carrière!)

“As many as 631 modified silencers that were being illegally used by motorcycles and had been seized by Vizag city traffic police at various locations in the city were crushed under road roller on Sunday to spread awareness against noise pollution and a silent warning against the violators.” ➔ indiatimes.com

A “U-turn” happened quickly when Hong Kong reversed a recent tightening of rules about classic cars for noise and air pollution standards. The revision “will cover cars aged 30 years or above.” ➔ thestar.com.my

“NASA’s Advanced Air Mobility mission is developing design tools that manufacturers can use to reduce noise impacts. … The data will also help define and optimize AAM routes and low-noise flight paths for community needs and assist the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in creating policy.” ➔ nasa.gov

When I got home from New York last week, I joked on Twitter that the far chillier San Francisco met me with less birdsong, but also fewer lawnmowers — and, by extension, leaf blowers. And then this story popped up about my hometown: ➔ cbsnews.com

“There are certain well-worn tricks of the trade,” writes Anna Wiener on Foley artists (“craftspeople who create custom sound effects for film, television, and video games”). “Vegetables are old standbys: snapped celery for broken bones, hammered cabbage for a punch. … Paper clips or nails, taped to the tips of a glove, are useful for the clicking footsteps of a house pet. Wet pieces of chamois leather, the sort that is used for cleaning cars, are highly versatile.” Also: “David Fincher, the director of movies including ‘The Social Network,’ ‘Gone Girl,’ and ‘Mank,’ told me that Foley is ‘a very strange calling, and ‘a dark art’ foundational to filmmaking. ‘You’re trying to make beautiful sounds that make their point once and get the hell out of Dodge,’ Fincher said. ‘The people who do it really, really well are few and far between.'” ➔ newyorker.com

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Today in Fireworks

A special Fourth of July edition

Today is a federal holiday in the United States, land that I love, to celebrate the signing, 246 years ago, of the Declaration of Independence. Each year this means people say to me things like, “You’re into sound, so you must love the Fourth of July.” To which I usually respond silently — because I find fireworks utterly nerve-rattling. I’m not much of a dog person, but apparently I’m quite sympathetic to the annual canine plight. Here’s a special holiday edition of This Week in Sound:

▰ “The city issued an advisory on Sunday, noting that on the typical July 4th evening Minneapolis’ 911 operators receives ‘hundreds of calls per hour, most of which are related to fireworks noise complaints.’” ➔ bringmethenews.com

“How to Block Fireworks Noise for Adults, Kids, and Pets”nytimes.com

“Why some dogs are more scared of fireworks than others”insider.com

“6 Vet- and Owner-Approved Tips for Keeping Your Dog Calm During July Fourth Fireworks”cnet.com

“If things that go boom aren’t your thing, the Department of Environmental Management is holding a ‘quiet fireworks’ display Monday at Beavertail State Park in Jamestown.” ➔ providencejournal.com

“Few things capture the obnoxiousness of a certain ‘love it or leave it’ brand of patriotism like Iowa’s permissive approach toward personal fireworks displays.”desmoinesregister.com

“Traditional Fourth of July fireworks displays are being replaced by large swarms of small drones with colored lights. It reduces wildfire risk, pollution and loud noises.” ➔ npr.org

These above sound-studies highlights of the week are lightly adapted from the July 4, 2022, issue of the free Disquiet.com weekly email newsletter This Week in Sound (tinyletter.com/disquiet).

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Sound Ledger¹ (Races, ICUs, Silencers)

Audio culture by the numbers

7: The number of decibels that France will lower noise limits at race tracks, down to 95dB from 102dB

0: Number of patient rooms in three studied ICUs that meet the World Health Organization’s threshold for noise

85: Percent of instances when chicken distress cheeps are accurately detected by machine listening algorithms

________
¹Footnotes

France: visordown.com. ICUs: acousticbulletin.com. Chickens: newscientist.com.

Originally published in the July 4, 2022, edition of the This Week in Sound email newsletter. Get it in your inbox via tinyletter.com/disquiet.

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520 Hz

An ongoing series cross-posted from instagram.com/dsqt

This exquisitely generic smoke alarm displays on its face the required audio frequency for such devices: 520 Hz. If the typography included a symbol to show the frequency is a square wave, that would likely be too much of a design element, shifting the low-budget gadget’s appearance from infrastructure-rote to minimalist-austere. Perhaps the thing could simply read “smoke alarm,” and thus enter the realm of a Repo Man movie prop. If only the electrical outlets down at floor level read 60 Hz, but alas they are blank.

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twitter.com/disquiet: Smoke Alarms and iOS Alerts

From the past week

I do this manually each Saturday, usually in the morning over coffee: collating most of the tweets I made the past week at twitter.com/disquiet, which I think of as my public notebook. Some tweets pop up sooner in expanded form or otherwise on Disquiet.com. I’ve found it personally informative to revisit the previous week of thinking out loud. This isn’t a full accounting. Often there are, for example, conversations on Twitter that don’t really make as much sense out of the context of Twitter itself. And sometimes I tweak them a bit, given the additional space. And sometimes I re-order them just a bit.

▰ At the hardware store, there were two similar smoke alarms. One was $49, the other $59. I asked about the difference. I was informed that the $49 one “goes beep beep beep.” The $59 one, in contrast, “has a recorded voice that says ‘fire fire fire.'”

▰ Within 12 hours of emailing This Week in Sound (tinyletter.com/disquiet), I’ve got new stories on London restaurant noise, Hong Kong crackdown on classic cars, Indian police response to tweaked motorcycle silencers, Foley artists, and NASA quieting aircrafts. Such a rich realm.

▰ Trying to sort out the difference between the second and third options in this iOS Gmail pop-up alert. (I removed the email address from the screenshot.)

The previous image is real. This one is me just taking it to its natural next step:

▰ Can’t wait to find out what’s on this ancient artifact:

▰ The more advanced the piece of technology, the more likely it is to secrete itself to the bottom of one’s backpack

▰ Waking up in San Francisco after 17 days on Long Island. Less birdsong, at least for now (cold here relatively). Also fewer lawn mowers and leaf blowers. Side note: Why do birds appear to be so much more colorful on the East Coast? (Excepting hummingbirds, which SF has tons of.)

▰ There’s no Doppler effect like that of a frail, elderly person walking by and clicking their cane on the sidewalk with each step.

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  • about

  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website Disquiet.com in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media

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    • December 13, 2022: This day marks the 26th anniversary of the founding of Disquiet.com.
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  • My book on Aphex Twin's landmark 1994 album, Selected Ambient Works Vol. II, was published as part of the 33 1/3 series, an imprint of Bloomsbury. It has been translated into Japanese (2019) and Spanish (2018).

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