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

This Week in Sound: Bike Music + Ancient Acoustic Tiles +

Plus: Kate Carr's Iceland, AI audio, and earliest polyphony

A lightly annotated clipping service:

Bicycle Built for Tunes: We get the quarterly publication of the Historic New Orleans Collection as a reminder of our four years in New Orleans, from 1999 to 2003. The Fall 2015 issue lists recent acquisitions, among them some “bicycle sheet music.” A description by Robert Ticknor connects the rise of the bicycle in the latter half of the 1900s and the pre-radio era of popular music: “During this time, before the advent of radio, sheet music was a common means of bringing popular song into the American home. The recent acquisition of 18 pieces of bicycle-themed sheet music shows how the two trends merged for a short time around the turn of the century. With titles such as ‘The Pretty Little Scorcher’ and ‘The Crackajack March and Two Step,’ these songs often praised the healthful pleasures and independence of bicycle riding. The cyclist’s life, as depicted in ‘The Wheelman’s Song,’ is ‘one unfading spring /Green and blooming till its close.'” There’s a beautiful shot, as well, of “Cycle Polka.” You can read the full piece on page 20 of the freely downloadable PDF of the issue at hnoc.org.

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If These Halls Had Ears: Blogging platforms are paved with two- or three-post websites that start off with good intentions and then end so prematurely that it’s as if they barely ever began. But good intentions are reason enough to cue up fromthesoundup.tumblr.com, which promises a tour of great European concert halls as experienced from the perspective of a student of acoustics. The first stop takes us to the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, described as “essentially a big, minimally ornamented box.” The entry explores the unique characteristics of the hall — what makes it different from other, more recent box halls, as pictured above — and asks questions about its presumed superiority: “Should the acoustics privilege one type of music at the expense of others?” There also two prior entries, one a busker’s perspective on the subway as a performance venue, and another announcing the concert-hall tour. (Found via Christine Sun Kim.) The Tumblr appears to be the work of Willem Boning. The above illustration is from the blog entry, and was presumably drawn by its author. (Bonus fun fact: if you pop those line drawings of hall schematics into Google’s image search, you end up with lots of patterns for making clothes.) … I wrote that first section of this notice when I initially came upon the blog, and in the ensuing days there have been a bunch more posts, richly illustrated and observed, including “leather and feather” wall hangings as early acoustic panels, two very different organ scenarios in the Netherlands, and acoustical instruments at the Teylers Museum in Haarlem, including a “sound analyzer” from 1880 and a “sound mixer” from 1865.

She Came to the Land of Ice and Snow: At fluid-radio.co.uk, intrepid and prolific artist Kate Carr reports on her field recording expedition in Iceland, complete with photography and audio. In a detailed summary of her journeying and procedures, she admirably de-romanticizes the landscape, and brings some humor to the grey of Ólafsfjörður: “One day after spending about half a day up in the silence near the top of one the nearby mountains recording the sounds of tiny pebbles tumbling from the peak, I began to notice the unmistakable throb of dance music. As I descended further it became a pounding soundtrack, which reverberated across the valley. It was the local aqua aerobics class, which takes place each day near the primary school.”

Startup Sound: There are many fronts in the entrepreneurial war to monetize artificial intelligence at the consumer level. So far as we presume that such intelligence will be recognizable to us, the presumed interface is not physical but aural — well, it’s physical to the extent that the aurality triggers something in our fairly sensitive human ears. Spike Jonze knew this in his fine movie Her, and Apple, Google, and Microsoft, among others, know it in their service-oriented fledgling technologies. For Apple, this intelligence is a humanoid known as Siri. Microsoft’s Cortana has a name that sounds like a font but is borrowed from a fictional artificial intelligence from a video game. (It says something about where we’re at that we must distinguish fictional artificial intelligence from non-fictional artificial intelligence.) Google continues to keep its AI behind a functional wall; it has no anthropomorphism-enticing name, just the willfully bland product appellation Google Now. Among the latest events in this AI war is Apple’s acquisition of a company called VocalIQ. It seems that VocalIQ focuses not on the response system, but the input system. For in AI, listening is just as important as thinking or speaking. Details at independent.co.uk.

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Earliest Polyphony: As ever, the further we move forward in time, the more our technology advances, and thus the further back we can reach in time. This time it’s to what the Cambridge University describes as the “earliest known piece of polyphonic music” (see above). It dates back to the 10th century: “It is the earliest practical example of a piece of polyphonic music ”“ the term given to music that combines more than one independent melody ”“ ever discovered.” Now we can just hope for a Janet Cardiff installation to make it real for us. (Found via Jeff Kolar.)

This first appeared in the October 6, 2015, edition of the free Disquiet “This Week in Sound”email newsletter: tinyletter.com/disquiet.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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