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

Monthly Archives: January 2015

This Week in Sound: Cars, Visuals, Space, Home

A lightly annotated clipping service.

It’s nearly February, and until today I’d yet to produce an edition of this newsletter in 2015. I took a few weeks off at the end of 2014, and the system I’d gotten into fell off track. I realize why, clearly. The benefit (to me) of this newsletter is it gives me a process, a routine, to funnel lots of material I come across in research and in general reading. When I take a break, the system breaks down. One of the issues I have with prolific link-sharing — beyond the weird ahistoricity that has things circulating repeatedly in cycles, with no natural conclusion to their distribution — is sorting out what is and isn’t already on other people’s radar. I try not to, in general, simply link to things, but to layer in some context, to provide some frame, to add to the shared material. In any case, producing this newsletter provides me a system that helps me process the sound-related information I come across daily, weekly. I’m hopeful that getting started again, having cleared the cache of my RSS reader and my Pinboard and my Twitter favorites, will mean this thing will be regular as 2015 gets proceeds.

  • Four Wheels Loud: The overarching automotive-sound story for several years has been about addressing the perceived near silence of hybrids and electric vehicles. But the street, as William Gibson told us, has its own use for things, and the makers of traditional automobiles are making use of the same artificial soundtracks. “Fake engine noise has become one of the auto industry’s dirty little secrets, with automakers from BMW to Volkswagen turning to a sound-boosting bag of tricks. Without them, today’s more fuel-efficient engines would sound far quieter and, automakers worry, seemingly less powerful, potentially pushing buyers away,” writers Drew Harwell of the Washington Post:
    http://goo.gl/BckC6h/

  • Visual Noise: Sound art need not make a peep, and sound branding needn’t either. Bruce Mau Design created the new logo for Sonos audio consumer product company, which pulses naturally, as the result of an optical illusion, such as when scrolling up and down a web page:
    http://www.fastcodesign.com/3041367/sonoss-hot-new-viral-logo-was-a-happy-accident/

  • Space Sounds: It seems every week now that the sounds of space are reworking our conception of space as a vacuum. Among the latest is word that the Venus Express spacecraft emitted one last, loud signal before its end of life. Mika McKinnon of space.io9.com explains the sound “was picked up by the European Space Agency monitoring the unmodulated X-band carrier signal on January 19th”:
    http://space.io9.com/venus-express-blasts-out-one-last-message-from-beyond-t-1681437327/

  • Always Listening: The New York Times managed to publish a cautionary piece about risks from the “smart home” technology that is on the rise, without once mentioning the microphones embedded in some smart-home technology. The story, by Molly Wood, focuses instead on images and data security, and introduces something called the Bitdefender, which is sort of like a virus protector for your home.
    http://goo.gl/vHmOSn/

This first appeared in the January 27, 2015, edition of the free Disquiet email newsletter: tinyletter.com/disquiet.

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A Course in Sound

15 weeks (plus spring break)

Tomorrow, January 28, marks the start of a new semester of the course I teach on the role of sound in the media landscape. The course unfolds over 16 weeks — 15 weeks of class plus one week off for spring break — and I think I’ll be summarizing it here each week, not just the lecture topics but the resulting class discussion and, when we have them, the special guests and occasional field trips.

Last semester we had someone from BitTorrent and someone from SoundCloud address the class, and we took a field trip to an anechoic chamber at the local research lab of an audio company. The guest speakers aren’t generally lecturers; I usually interview them in front of the students, who also ask questions. The semester prior both the sound artist Robin Rimbaud (Scanner) and the voice actor Phil LaMarr (Samurai Jack, Static Shock) visited via Skype.

I teach the course to a mix of MFA and BA students at the Academy of Art here in San Francisco. This is the sixth semester in a row that I’ve taught the course. I’m taking off next semester, with the intention of teaching it once a year rather than twice a year from now on, to leave room for lots of other projects.

This first appeared in the January 27, 2015, edition of the free Disquiet email newsletter: tinyletter.com/disquiet.

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Playing with Fire (Alarms)

A sound art project in 9 volts by Jeff Kolar

20150127-kolar

Few of us ever really take or have the time to consider the sonic nuances of a smoke alarm. We’re either too busy exiting the building or, more often, yanking the 9V battery when the boiling pasta has set the thing off. But characteristically curious Jeff Kolar has lowered the everyday gadget’s volume and applied to it his sonic microscope, yielding five tracks of high-pitched tones heard from various perspectives. The tracks are labeled with successive narrative aspects: “Ignition,” “Flame,” “Growth,” “Fully Developed,” and “Decay.”

There may be no sound more capable of getting someone’s attention than a smoke alarm, except perhaps for a crying baby. But in Kolar’s hands they are less piercing than insinuating. The shrill, sharp noises warp and layer and bend, each sequence suggesting itself as nanotech minimalism, from the bright chirp with which “Fully Developed” opens, to the ticking drone of “Flame,” to the tea-kettle anxiety of “Decay”. The effort is a work of audio forensics. In time, you come to understand the functional sonic components of the classic alarm, perhaps to even reflect a bit on this blissfully mundane aspect of life or death situations. It’s almost enough to make you linger the next time a smoke alarm goes off — but please exit the building before making sound art about it.

20150126-twitterfire

Tracks originally posted at soundcloud.com/jeffkolar. The piece was part of the glitChicago exhibit that ran during August and September of 2014, and was produced by Kolar during his residency at ACRE. More on the project at jeffkolar.us/smokedetector. Smoke Detector CD, complete with its great “As Seen on TV” cover, via amigosshop.storenvy.com. Twitter image via Slate.com.

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via instagram.com/dsqt

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


Half-life of Braille versus text. #ui #ux

Cross-posted from instagram.com/dsqt.
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Sentient Fluorescence

A track from the new Nils Quak record

The thick, rich glisten of “Tidal Magnefication” off the forthcoming Nils Quak album, Moiré / Braille, gets all the more detailed with each successive play, as each layer of shimmer takes on clearer form, like an orchestra’s membership slowing coming into focus as a fog clears. The piece has the bellows-like timbre and swell of a mind-altering raga, and provides the scene-setting undercurrent of a fine bit of sound design. It’s the sound of a fluorescent bulb that’s suddenly gained sentience and serves as an existential guide to all who have worked under its flickering watch.

Get the full release at j-and-c.bandcamp.com. More from Nils Quak, who is based in Cologne, Germany, at nilsquak.com and twitter.com/nq_music.

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