This Week in Sound: Hawking, Antarctica, Automobiles, Screams

A lightly annotated clipping service.

When I first started to plot bringing back the email newsletter, I almost turned it entirely into this one sub-section, This Week in Sound, which I imagine to be a possibly intriguing, maybe even useful, memo about various aspects of the role of sound in the media landscape. In the end I decided This Week in Sound would be core to the newsletter, but still just one part of it, mixed in with short essays, lists of things worth listening to — all the other stuff that’s been in the newsletter since it reappeared in your inbox last month. Well, if you were already a subscriber — there have been many new subscribers since re-launch, and thanks for your attention, very much.

Text-to-Speech Supervillain: The big news about Stephen Hawking this past week was his stated desire to play a supervillain in the next James Bond film, but the more engaging Hawking news was his work with the developers of the software SwiftKey “to write and speak with greater ease for longer periods and minimise typos.” It’s especially fascinating that the muscle Hawking uses to control his communication is in his cheek: even when he is transmitting text, it’s centered in a part of the body associated with speech.

Radio Free Antarctica: Michelle Fournet, a PhD candidate in acoustics, has been aboard a Korean ice breaker headed to Antarctica to recover an ocean-bottom hydrophone. As she explains, “The seemingly impossible recovery task is accomplished by chirping. We’ll be using something called an acoustic release. What that means is I have a piece of equipment on the deck of the ship with an acoustic element that gets slung overboard to ”˜chirp’ into the water. The right chirp, at the right frequency, and the right timing, will wake up an element built into the hydrophone on the ocean bottom. If it hears the right signal, it chirps back a predictable reply.” Better yet, she is blogging the entire journey and mission. As of this morning she had arrived at Jang Bogo Research Station in Terra Nova Bay.

Luxury Lofts Killed the Recording Studio of the Stars: The London studio where Brian Eno’s Another Green World, Led Zeppelin IV, and Queen’s “We Are the Champions”were recorded is being shut down to make way for fancy apartments. The studio was founded in 1969 by Island’s Chris Blackwell and has since 1982 been owned by producer-musician Trevor Horn (The Buggles, Yes, Art of Noise). Between Eno and Horn alone, that’s a place closely associated with the role of the recording studio as an instrument unto itself. While luxury flats are certainly the immediate cause of the studio’s end, the broader cultural scenario, in which home recording has supplanted and financially undermined the major-league studios, is one that owes a debt to folks like Eno and Horn in the first place. (Thanks to Geeta Dayal for the Another Green World reference.)

Sound and Automobile Design: It was one thing when the BMW-sponsored section of Medium happened to include a detailed, car-related story in the form of Nate Berg’s explanation of how roadside barriers function to make highways and freeways quieter. It was another when BMW itself got a byline for a story about how door sounds are fine-tuned (interesting note: “consumers subconsciously tend to interpret imbalance as structural weakness, not protective strength”). Either way, I’ll be using both articles in the sound course I teach.

Scream Team: The National Film Board of Canada, the NFB, has produced a celebration of screaming called, naturally, Primal. It’s an open Internet collaboration in which people are invited to, well, scream. It reads, in part, “Go ahead. Liberate yourself. Give it all you’ve got.” It’s a more immediate, visual, active, immediate rendering of what Hans Zimmer was up to several years ago when he crowd-sourced chants for The Dark Knight Rises. The NFP project was co-produced with Encuentro, the TV station of Argentina’s Ministry of Education.

SoundCloud InterfaceSpotting: Last week I mentioned that SoundCloud had added single-track repeat to its service, and this week I noticed that shuffle play has also joined the product offering.

This first appeared in the December 9, 2014, edition of the free Disquiet email newsletter: Unfortunately, the publication was held up for some reason by TinyLetter’s “abuse prevention system.” I didn’t even curse.

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