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

This Week in Sound: Worm Ears + The Martian’s Silence + …

Plus: 33 1/3, John Cage's gift to GIFs, 700-pound hydrophone, and it's always-on in Entrepreneurville

A lightly annotated clipping service:

— Ear Worms: At singularityhub.com, Shelly Fan covers how “to control neurons using bursts of high-pitched sound pulses in worms.” Fan is discussing the work of Dr. Sreekanth Chalasani at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California. The field is called “sonogenetics,” which addresses shortcomings in optogenetics. Among those shortcomings are the need to “physically traumatize” the brain, and an overall lack of precision. What the research leaves to be appreciated more fully is how sound influences the brain in general — not just when it’s being employed to specific scientific ends. Fascinating stuff.

— Paperback Writers: The publisher Bloomsbury posted the shortlist of book proposals likely to make the next round in the 33 1/3 series. I have something of a vested interest in where the series goes, since I wrote the one on Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Volume II. I was disappointed not to see the proposed William Basinski volume (The Disintegration Loops) make the short list, but am heartened by many that remain in the running. There are 83 in all, out of a total 605 submissions. True to the series’ focus on releases, rather than on artists, these are alphabetized by album title: Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde-Pharcyde, Cobra and Phases Group Play Voltage in the Milky Night-Stereolab, Dr. Octagonecologyst-Dr. Octagon, Homogenic-Björk, Kollaps-Einstürzende Neubauten, Licensed to Ill-Beastie Boys, Kick-INXS, Refried Ectoplasm (Switched On Volume 2)-Stereolab, Solaris OST-Eduard Artemiev, Switched-On Bach-Wendy Carlos, Ten Ragas to a Disco Beat-Charanjit Singh, The Blueprint-Jay-Z, The Inner Mounting Flame-The Mahavishnu Orchestra, The Modern Dance-Pere Ubu, Tin Drum-Japan, The Yellow Shark-Ensemble Modern and Frank Zappa, Twin Peaks OST-Angelo Badalamenti, Violator-Depeche Mode, Voodoo-D’Angelo, and Uptown Saturday Night-Camp Lo.

— 1000-Year GIF: Clair Voon at hyperallergic.com writes about a GIF-in-progress with some 48,140,288 frames. The piece has the title “As Long as Possible,” and it takes its approach to time and that title from John Cage’s “As Slow as Possible.” It will unfold from 2017, the 30th anniversary of the GIF, to 3017: aslongaspossible.com.

— Fourth Rock: This is from Andy Weir’s The Martian, which I read this past weekend in part because a colleague recommended it, in part because I was on airplanes a lot and wanted an airplane read, in part because I hadn’t read a full-on commercial novel in a long time, and mostly in part because I wondered how the book would deal with the silence of outer space. The short answer is not much, but The Martian isn’t, by nature, a reflective book. It’s an impressively mechanical book about saving a man’s life and keeping a reader’s heart pounding. There are some fun one-liners (“In space, no one can hear you scream like a little girl”). And there are some well-handled depictions of a global collective media experience (“A mild cheer coruscated through the crowds worldwide”), far more subtle in the book than in the trailers for the forthcoming Matt Damon film. Still, there’s this:

Once I’d shut everything down, the interior of the Hab was eerily silent. I’d spent 449 sols listening to its heaters, vents, and fans. But now it was dead quiet. It was a creepy kind of quiet that’s hard to describe. I’ve been away from the noises of the Hab before, but always in a rover or an EVA suit, both of which have noisy machinery of their own.

But now there was nothing. I never realized how utterly silent Mars is. It’s a desert world with practically no atmosphere to convey sound. I could hear my own heartbeat.

Anyway, enough waxing philosophical.

— Depths Charge: Samara Haver, a master’s candidate and graduate research assistant, is one of several students who post occasionally to the Animal Bioacoustics blog at Oregon State. In a piece from earlier this week (at oregonstate.edu), she writes about — and shares photos of — recovering a 700-pound hydrophone and its mooring.

— Listen Up: Google’s Android is, as they like to say in Entrepreneurville, doubling down on always-on technology, Devindra Hardawar writes at engadget.com. The next Android OS, code-name Marshmallow, pops up next week: “Most intriguing is the operating system’s bigger focus on voice interactions: Google Now voice commands work a lot faster than before, and you can now also control apps with your voice. For example, asking Android Marshmallow to ‘Play NPR’ pops up the NPR One app, which prompts a follow-up question about what specifically you’d like to hear. Any developer will be able to plug in similar ‘hands free’ voice features in their apps.” You say “hands free”; I hear “always listening.” I remain amazed in this age of (deserved) surveillance anxiety that people leave their phones’ microphones enabled 24/7. (For reference, I have used Android phones since the G1, my laptop is a Mac, I have an iOS and an Android tablet, and my MP3 player is an iPod Touch.)

This first appeared in the September 29, 2015, edition of the free Disquiet “This Week in Sound”email newsletter: tinyletter.com/disquiet.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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  • 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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