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

This Week in Sound: Dementia + FM’s Dead End +

+ interstellar radio + video games music + the history of the wah wah pedal + more

A lightly annotated clipping service

Concrete Asylum: News that researchers had connected urban noise pollution to dementia spread widely this week. “Those living within 50 metres of a busy road had a 7% higher risk in developing dementia,” reports Hannah Devlin in the Guardian of the findings, also quoting skeptical voices: “The analyses are exceedingly complex ”¦ and this always leads to concerns that the analytic complexity is hiding confounding factors in the analytic pipeline” (theguardian.com, citylab.com).

FRB ≠ BFF: Weird interstellar radio bursts, known as fast radio bursts, or FRBs, have reached a milestone: the first repeating, unidentified signal. Writes Maddie Stone at Gizmodo, the source is three billion light years away.

Little Brother: The big news on the “always listening” front out of CES was the ubiquity of Amazon’s Alexa. But ubiquity isn’t the same as a monopoly. Mattel has employed Microsoft’s Bing/Cortana for its kid-oriented AI device. Writes Laurie Sullivan at MediaPost, regarding privacy issues, “It uses the same guidelines as hospitals.”

End of the Dial: Just last week I mentioned how electric cars don’t play well with AM radio frequencies. FM, apparently, isn’t immune to technological obsolescence. Reporting from Oslo, Reuters (via the Guardian) notes that “Norway will next week become the first nation to start switching off its FM radio network.” This despite overwhelming support for FM. The switch happens tomorrow.

Audio Borg: Google has acquired Limes Audio, based in Umeå, Sweden, to improve the sound quality of online conversations (or calls, or whatever we call them). Via Google.

Tone Man: Pharrell Williams lost a lawsuit last year due to what many consider a ludicrous judicial ruling regarding similarities between a song he produced and the work of Marvin Gaye. Interestingly, tone — sounds that reflect an era — is precisely his emphasis in this article on his role in the score for the film Hidden Figures (nytimes.com).

Game Tunes: While I managed time for best-of-2016 lists about apps, music, and film scores, I didn’t include several lists I’d like to be knowledgeable enough to attend to, among them video game soundtracks. Fortunately, the folks at originalsoundversion.com provide their analysis of exactly that. Visit to see (and hear) to the opinions of Ryan Paquet, Michael Hoffmann, Shawn Sackenheim, and Brenna Wilkes. (Found via Simon Carless’ excellent Video Game Deep Cuts email newsletter.)

Wah Wah: Del Casher, born Delton Kacher, is the father of the wah-wah guitar pedal, writes Jonny Whiteside at LA Weekly, and the pedal turns 50 this year. “I played it for James Brown and he really liked my playing, but he didn’t understand the wah-wah at all. He said, ”˜Why the fuck would anyone want a guitar to do that?’” (Via Ethan Hein.)

Philly Sound (Art): Museums often have firsts, as they adjust to changing times and aesthetics. The Barnes Foundation takes firsts with extra consideration. This is the institution that faced legal challenges when its relocation was in the works. Now it is hosting its first sound art installation, titled Unbounded Histories. It’s by Philadelphia artist Andrea Hornick, and it functions as “a string of poems responding to specific works in the Barnes collection.” Visitors to the museum access the audio through “web-enabled phone.” It opened on January 6 and runs through February 19 (philly.com, barnesfoundation.org).

Fade Out
Recent notable deaths

RIP, Abdul Halim Jaffer Khan, sitar star (b. 1929).

RIP, Serbian composer Vlastimir Trajković (b. 1947)

RIP, French conductor Georges Prêtre (b. 1924)

RIP, jazz critic Nat Hentoff (b. 1925)

RIP, composer Karel Husa (b. 1921)

RIP, singer Sylvester Potts (78) of the Contours (“Do You Love Me,” “Can You Jerk Like Me”)

RIP, Hawaiian musician Eddie Kamae (b. 1927)

RIP, British singer-songwriter Peter Sarstedt (b. 1941; “Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)?”)

RIP, hip-hop producer DJ Crazy Toones (45).

This first appeared, in slightly different form, in the January 10, 2017, edition of the free Disquiet “This Week in Sound”email newsletter: tinyletter.com/disquiet.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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