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

Monthly Archives: September 2016

This Week in Sound: Sounds of and for the Cosmos +

hospital music + phone hiss + speech recognition + Smule + sound grands + notable deaths

A lightly annotated clipping service:

Bedside Manner: Medicine X is Stanford University’s initiative to explore “the future of medicine and healthcare.” As summarized by Andrea Ford at the school’s Scope publication, MedX has an artist in residence, Yoko Sen, who is addressing issues of noise pollution in hospitals: “She played the audience a track of beeps, buzzes, alarms, and mumbled voices; other hospital sounds include patients screaming, and the empty silence after bad news is delivered.” 

Phone Hum: Much of the yap about the iPhone 7 is its haptic (touch) improvements, but as Matthew Hughes reports at the Next Web it “makes an audible hissing noise whenever under intense strain.” Hughes credits the detection to Stephen Hackett, who “eventually realized that the noise wasn’t coming from the speaker, but rather from the logic board itself.” Hughes quotes Marco Arment correctly likening it to the sound a laptop fan makes when the CPU is being overly taxed. Other theories exist, too, the most colorfully named being “coil whine.”
(via Warren Ellis’ Sunday email newsletter)

Always Listening: “How we learned to talk to computers, and how they learned to answer back” — those are the questions that Charles McLellan seeks to answer in his detailed TechRepublic piece, tracing it from the dissection of human speech through computer recognition, the role of neural networks in passing the WER (or “word error rate”) test, on through natural language understanding, and a sense of where AI is headed.

V’ger’s Greatest Hits: The Voyager space probes carried a “Golden Record” conceived by Carl Sagan that contained exemplary sounds of our planet to hypothetical intelligent civilizations far beyond our modest solar system. David Pescovitz of Boing Boing is leading a Kickstarter project to make the record available closer to home, a gorgeous box set with three vinyl LPs and a collection of images from the probes.
(via Rob Walker, Bruce Levenstein, others)

Smule’s Pitch: At forbes.com, Murry Newlands interviews Smule’s CEO and co-founder, Jeff Smith, about the business side of the social-oriented music-app developer, looking at matters of profitability, misperceptions about the scope of the music market, and the unique nature of the sounds they produce. Says Smith, “For example, because our community is creating the music, we’re not using that master recording, and we’re not licensing the master recording from the label. Instead, we’re licensing the copyright to the composition from the publisher, from the writer. And we pay royalties out to all the writers.” 

Sound Awards: At least three of this week’s announced MacArthur Grant winners work in sound and music: Daryl Baldwin, a linguist working on cultural preservation in a culture that “lost its last native speaker in the mid-twentieth century”; Josh Kun, a cultural historian of popular music (I helped out on the pop-up Tikva Records store Kun and others at the Idelsohn Society put together in 2011); and Julia Wolfe, composer and co-founder of Bang on a Can.

Tome On: While physical and ebook sales are slipping (paperbacks have risen), Alexandra Alter reports in the New York Times that audiobooks sales are up.

Olde Tyme: The Internet Archive (which is housed walking distance from my home, and just a block from where I first lived when I moved to San Francisco in 1996, 20 years ago) reports on the process of saving 78-rpm records in collaboration with New York’s ARChive of Contemporary Music.
(via Joseph Witek and Michael Rhode)

Recent notable deaths:

RIP, Don Buchla (b. 1937), synthesizer legend

RIP, Charmian Carr (b. 1942), aka Lisel von Trapp from The Sound of Music

RIP, Trisco Pearson of the Force MDs

RIP, Curtis Hanson (b. 1945), 8 Mile director

RIP, actor Terence Bayler (b. 1930), aka Leggy Mountbatten, manager of fictional Beatles-parody band The Rutles

RIP, songwriter John D. Loudermilk (b. 1934); songs played by Paul Revere & the Raiders, Nashville Teens, Roy Orbison, Marianne Faithfull

RIP, Earl Smith Jr., aka DJ Spank Spank, of acid house group Phuture

RIP, Haakon Sørbye (b. 1920); as a member of WWII-era Skylark B, he relayed German troop information to London

I tweet notable passings (among other things) from my twitter.com/disquiet account as I come upon them. I’ll see about collecting them here, as well, henceforth.

This first appeared, in slightly different form, in the September 23, 2016, edition of the free Disquiet “This Week in Sound”email newsletter: tinyletter.com/disquiet.

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This Is “Glisten”

A track off R Beny's new Full Blossom of the Evening

There’s likely no actual guitar on “Glisten,” a track off R Beny’s superb new collection, Full Blossom of the Evening. There are, in the extensive list of equipment, some potential sources for the sharp, high-pitched, tightly plucked, string-like sounds that are the focus of the track. We may be hearing a synthesized string from the Teenage Engineering OP-1, for example, or a sample played from his iPad. The sharpness of those sounds, the brittle, fiercely resistant tautness, brings to mind the artificial guitar heard on Oval’s 2010 album O. Both Oval’s record and this track off Beny’s new one explore the textures of the guitar in a digital space, a seeming simulacra of the familiar, rendered as a kind of sonic fiction, and the Oval reference gets additionally rich when a certain glitchiness is applies to the recording, when it temporarily seems as if the playback is failing. What makes the track distinct from Oval’s work is the core of the music. Oval’s reference was largely rock, pop, and folk. Beny has created a synthesizer chamber music, something that feels like it was plucked from the renaissance. When it glistens, per the title, and it does so quite often, it’s like light hitting stained glass — virtual stained glass, perhaps, but the beauty is real.

The full album is at rbeny.bandcamp.com. “Glisten” is simply a recommended entry point. More from R Beny, aka Austin Cairns of the San Francisco Bay Area, at soundcloud.com/rbeny.

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OP-1 Is the Instrument, Not the Opus

A looping piano piece by Nuun

This processed piano track, by Nuun, can be heard as a complement to one from earlier in the week, Carl Mikael’s “Live Looping Improv.” Mikael’s posting was a full, multi-camera video that captured his performance in intimate detail. Nuun’s, “OP – 1 092116 Piano En Loops,” doesn’t include video of the execution. Nonetheless, the combination of elements in Nuun’s piece, of gently played piano and of lightly glitching effects applied to that piano, is so diagrammatic, you can almost see the procedures as they are enacted. (The “OP -1” in the title refers not to the opus number, but to the device, from the boutique Stockholm-based firm Teenage Engineering, that’s providing the processing.) The piano is the root of it. The piano line lands in the Venn Diagram overlap between neo-classicism and minimalism, between appealingly emotive and motorically repetitive. The piano riffs themselves are repeated enough to be, at times, indistinguishable from the echo and more fractured reflections that Nuun then imposes on them. That parallel is part of why the overall combination works, how the piano presupposes the digital effects imposed upon it.

Track originally posted at soundcloud.com/nuunnuun.

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Stellar Catalogue Sonification

From the ancient Greek astronomer Hipparchus to the ESA's Hipparcos satellite

Musician and computer science PhD candidate Jamie Ferguson teamed with the European Space Agency to develop a unique sonification of early and contemporary maps of our sky. As described at the ESA’s website, “The improvement in the quantity and precision of data, as well as the increased information content and dimensions contained in each catalogue, are palpable as the sound clip evolves from the ancient Hipparchus to the modern Hipparcos.” Hipparchus is the ancient Greek astronomer, while Hipparcos is the name of the ESA satellite. The post goes into great detail about how each of the “stellar catalogues” was translated into sound, noting what parameters were paid attention to, and how they were transposed — pitch to star brightness, for example, and volume to distance.

Audio originally posted at soundcloud.com/esa. More from Ferguson at jfergusoncompsci.co.uk.

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Disquiet Junto Project 0247: Waltz, Maybe

Interpret as a graphic score an illustration drawn upon waking by Lark Pien.

lark-piene-waltz-maybe

Each Thursday in the Disquiet Junto group, a new compositional challenge is set before the group’s members, who then have just over four days to upload a track in response to the assignment. Membership in the Junto is open: just join and participate. A SoundCloud account is helpful but not required. There’s no pressure to do every project. It’s weekly so that you know it’s there, every Thursday through Monday, when you have the time.

Tracks will be added to this playlist for the duration of the project:

This project was posted in the morning, California time, on Thursday, September 22, 2016, with a deadline of 11:59pm wherever you are on Monday, September 26, 2016.

These are the instructions that went out to the group’s email list (at tinyletter.com/disquiet-junto):

Disquiet Junto Project 0247: Waltz, Maybe
Interpret as a graphic score an illustration drawn upon waking by Lark Pien.

Project Steps:

Step 1: Look at this illustration drawn upon waking by Lark Pien. It’s titled “Waltz, Maybe.” When she posted it online, she said, “woke up to music, drew it quickly”:

https://goo.gl/djQ31Y

Step 2: Record a short piece of music interpreting the illustration as a graphic score.

Five More Important Steps When Your Track Is Done:

Step 1: Per the instructions below, be sure to include the project tag “disquiet0247”(no spaces) in the name of your track. If you’re posting on SoundCloud in particular, this is essential to my locating the tracks and creating a playlist of them.

Step 2: Upload your track. It is helpful but not essential that you use SoundCloud to host your track.

Step 3: In the following discussion thread at llllllll.co please consider posting your track. (Assuming you post it on SoundCloud, a search for the tag will help me construct the playlist.)

http://llllllll.co/t/a-cartoon-graphic-score-disquiet-junto-project-0247/4647

Step 4: Annotate your track with a brief explanation of your approach and process.

Step 5: Then listen to and comment on tracks uploaded by your fellow Disquiet Junto participants.

Deadline: This project was posted in the morning, California time, on Thursday, September 22, 2016, with a deadline of 11:59pm wherever you are on Monday, September 26, 2016.

Length: The length is up to you. Three minutes seems like a good length.

Title/Tag: When posting your track, please include “disquiet0247”in the title of the track, and where applicable (on SoundCloud, for example) as a tag.

Upload: When participating in this project, post one finished track with the project tag, and be sure to include a description of your process in planning, composing, and recording it. This description is an essential element of the communicative process inherent in the Disquiet Junto. Photos, video, and lists of equipment are always appreciated.

Download: It is preferable that your track is set as downloadable, and that it allows for attributed remixing (i.e., a Creative Commons license permitting non-commercial sharing with attribution).

Linking: When posting the track online, please be sure to include this information:

More on this 247th weekly Disquiet Junto project — “Interpret as a graphic score an illustration drawn upon waking by Lark Pien”— at:

https://disquiet.com/0247/

More on the Disquiet Junto at:

https://disquiet.com/junto/

Subscribe to project announcements here:

http://tinyletter.com/disquiet-junto/

Project discussion takes place on llllllll.co:

http://llllllll.co/t/a-cartoon-graphic-score-disquiet-junto-project-0247/4647

There’s also on a Junto Slack. Send your email address to twitter.com/disquiet for Slack inclusion.

Image associated with this project is the (unintended, but used with approval) graphic score by Lark Pien.

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