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

Monthly Archives: June 2018

This Week in Sound: Sonic Domestic Abuse + Audio AI Games

+ Interpol voice database + the history of Speak & Spell + much more

An annotated clipping service

Disrupting Abuse: “Abusers — using apps on their smartphones, which are connected to the internet-enabled devices — would remotely control everyday objects in the home, sometimes to watch and listen, other times to scare or show power. Even after a partner had left the home, the devices often stayed and continued to be used to intimidate and confuse,” writes Nellie Bowles in a widely circulated New York Times article. Bowles details how “Internet of Things” gadgets have become the tools of domestic abuse. It feels like we’re well past the idea of “unintended consequences,” an overused term that has an undeservedly forgiving geewillikers quality to it (“Just some good ol’ software engineers, never meaning no harm …”). We’re deep in the territory of what you might call “blind-eye consequences,” the consequences when technologists don’t do sufficient due diligence on the impact, the mis-use, the unintended use, of their inventions.

Dino-Mite: There is a game spun off of the Jurassic World movie that is played entirely using your voice on Alexa-powered devices. “You’re following a podcaster named Janet Best who is traveling to Isla Nublar to get the story of what’s going on with the dinosaurs on the island,” writes Ben Kuchera at polygon.com. “It’s up to you help her make decisions about how to survive by speaking the commands into your device.”   / / /   There’s also one for Westworld, writes Alexis Nedd at mashable.com: “Westworld: The Maze is a voice game in which players take on the role of a park host who, like Maeve, Akecheta, and Dolores, needs to power through their programming to arrive at the center of the titular Maze and achieve consciousness.”

Spoke & Spelled: It’s coincidence, but also excellent timing that the “voice games” for Alexa spun off of Jurassic World and Westworld coincide with the 40th anniversary of the progenitor of electronic voice games: Speak & Spell. Ernie Smith takes us wayback on tedium.co: “The reason the Speak & Spell, despite being a primitive device by modern standards, was such a fundamental piece of technology was that it hit a masterful mix of ambition and access. It did something legitimately novel–it taught children how to spell using sound synthesis, rather than tapes or records. And it did so while still being small enough and cheap enough that picking one up in a store seemed like a reasonable thing to do.” (Via subtopes.)

AI Yay Yay: There is, of course, the underlying anxiety about the role of always-listening devices such as Alexa in our lives — a future-shock phenomemon ripe for a novel by the late Michael Crichton, who originated both the rebooted series mentioned above, Jurassic Park and Westworld. Last month, Amazon explained how a private conversation was accidentally sent to one of an Alexa user’s contacts: “As unlikely as this string of events is, we are evaluating options to make this case even less likely,” quoted by Richard Gao at androidpolice.com.

Spies Like Us: And even when our home appliances aren’t busy spying on what we say, we can be relieved that actual spies are still spying on what we say. “Last week, Interpol held a final project review of its speaker identification system, a four-year, 10 million euro project that has recently come to completion,” writes Ava Kofman in theintercept.com. “Speaker identification works by taking samples of a known voice, capturing its unique and behavioral features, and then turning these features into an algorithmic template that’s known as a voice print or voice model.” (Via subtopes.)

Duplex Planet: And when voice AI isn’t spying on us it is, bringing us back around to Westworld, trying to sound like us. Lauren Good, at wired.com, brings us up to speed on the development at Google of Duplex, its concierge AI voice system that makes reservation phone calls: “Google is trying to give its phone-calling robot a do-over. The company is attempting to prove it has addressed some of the concerns about Duplex. And its latest pitch around transparency is coming at a time when some of its more critical use cases for AI are being seriously questioned.”

Audio Briefs: Additional news. Drip Drop: Q: Why does tap water dripping sound like that? A: Resonant oscillations of an entrapped air bubble: nature.com.   / / /   The Free App: Garage Band Re-Revisited: The latest update of Apple’s Garage Band will help you learn an instrument: cdm.link.   / / /   Sponsor Blocker: “Tomek Rękawek, irritated by ads on the radio, created an app that mutes them. Radio Adblock uses digital signal processing to detect distinctive audio patterns that signal the beginning and end of breaks”: boingboing.net   / / /   Tech Support: And lifehacker.com helps solve a very specific but annoying problem: listening to audio files you receive as text messages. (Probably especially useful when your friend’s Alexa accidentally sends you one.)

Audio Life: 1. Turns out there was nothing wrong with my Bluetooth headphones that a cable couldn’t fix.   / / /   2. This is a new hassle for me: finding my place in an audiobook I fell asleep listening to. My TV guesses pretty well when I nod off. My phone apparently doesn’t.

This was first published in the June 28, 2018, issue of the free weekly email newsletter This Week in Sound.

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Out of Body

The sleight of hand of Hatis Noit's live looping

There’s nothing like the moment when the disconnect appears between action and effect. It’s a moment that happens with live looping and live processing, when the audience becomes aware that the concept of cause and effect has shifted, sometimes subtly, sometimes aggressively. This uncanny valley of live electronically mediated performance varies by musician, technique, and instrument. In his early work with processed guitar, you could watch Christopher Willits play something you didn’t hear — and then wait for it to surface in the mix. Turntablist-watchers are used to distinguishing between when the DJ is playing and when the DJ is cueing something yet to be played.

This video shows Hatis Noit, the Japanese vocalist, in an excerpt from a longer performance on the music platform NTS. Noit records for Erased Tapes, which earlier this year releaed her recent EP, Illogical Dance, featuring a fantastic Matmos remix. In this video, she starts off elegantly insinuating vowel tones. At 12 seconds you see the sync between lips and sound. Some 20 seconds later, the sync is no longer self-evident. (Later still, a minute and a half in, the camera shows where Noit’s downard-cast gaze has been looking — at a pedal-controlled looper at her feet.) That moment at 20 seconds is the signal of intent. From there the vocals layer further. Noit moves from tone to melody to spoken to something nearly operatic. It all coalesces into a single piece, a performance that is both recorded and live in the same moment. When Noit plays with twin microphones held in her extended, intertwined arms it is a bit like the sleight of hand employed by sidewalk magicians. She is also telling the audience something: “There are several of me present.”

The video itself is edited in a manner that emphasizes the asynchronous matter of her style. The short gives an additional atmospheric, out-of-body nudge because the video opens with shots of her doing things that don’t involve performing at all, just lingering in a window with Erased Tapes founder Robert Raths, though all the while we already hear her voice.

Video originally posted at YouTube. More from Hatis Noit at hatisnoit.com.

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Disquiet Junto Project 0339: Rude Mechanicals

The Assignment: Record a piece of music in this imaginary genre.

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.

Deadline: This project’s deadline is 11:59pm (that is, just before midnight) wherever you are on Monday, July 2, 2018. This project was posted in the afternoon, California time, on Thursday, June 28, 2018.

Tracks will be added to the playlist for the duration of the project.

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

Disquiet Junto Project 0339: Rude Mechanicals
The Assignment: Record a piece of music in this imaginary genre.

Step 1: Imagine there is a genre called “rude mechanicals.”

Step 2: Imagine what might characterize the “rude mechanicals” genre.

Step 3: Create an original piece of music in the genre called “rude mechanicals.”

Six More Important Steps When Your Track Is Done:

Step 1: Include “disquiet0339” (no spaces or quotation marks) in the name of your track.

Step 2: If your audio-hosting platform allows for tags, be sure to also include the project tag “disquiet0339” (no spaces or quotation marks). If you’re posting on SoundCloud in particular, this is essential to subsequent location of tracks for the creation a project playlist.

Step 3: Upload your track. It is helpful but not essential that you use SoundCloud to host your track.

Step 4: Post your track in the following discussion thread at llllllll.co:

https://llllllll.co/t/disquiet-junto-project-0339-rude-mechanicals/

Step 5: Annotate your track with a brief explanation of your approach and process.

Step 6: Then listen to and comment on tracks uploaded by your fellow Disquiet Junto participants.

Other Details:

Deadline: This project’s deadline is 11:59pm (that is, just before midnight) wherever you are on Monday, July 2, 2018. This project was posted in the afternoon, California time, on Thursday, June 28, 2018.

Length: The length of your track is up to you.

Title/Tag: When posting your track, please include “disquiet0339” 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 339th weekly Disquiet Junto project (Rude Mechanicals: The Assignment: Record a piece of music in this imaginary genre) at:

https://disquiet.com/0339/

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:

https://llllllll.co/t/disquiet-junto-project-0339-rude-mechanicals/

There’s also a Junto Slack. Send your email address to twitter.com/disquiet to join in.

Image associated with this project is by Matt Haughey, used courtesy of Flickr and a Creative Commons license:

https://flic.kr/p/4m22j4

https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/

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Listen to the Land

Marcus Fischer divines music from a map of wells

A post shared by marcus fischer (@marcusfischer) on

This short video, roughly 40 seconds in length, on the Instagram account of musician Marcus Fischer plays toy-piano-like music as a slender bit of map scrolls by. The map serves, in essence, as a piano roll for the gentle, lightly echoing, lightly fractured tonalities of the composition.

The brief accompanying explanatory text reads: “aleatoric composition using notes plotted to the location of wells on U.S. Department of the Interior geological survey maps.” The “aleatoric” refers to the chance occurrence of the map’s red dots. The dots are the wells, and as the music moves along, so too does the map — or perhaps more to the point, as the map moves along, so too does the composition.

The notes are instances roughly sequenced from a crow’s eye view. Fischer tags the work as a #visualscore, as a work that interprets a graphic as a musical composition, which is what is occurring here. The word “soundscape,” popularized by Canadian composer and audio ecologist R. Murray Schafer, takes its cue from the word “landscape,” both of which express a broad expanse of experience. Fischer’s music here flips the association, finding something personal, singular, and economical in its interpretation of the vast land depicted by the map.

Video originally posted at instagram.com/marcusfischer. More from Marcus Fischer at mapmap.ch.

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This Week in Sound: Cars + Cuba + Cut Glass + Christian Marclay

+whistling on The Good Fight, and much more

An annotated clipping service.

Car and Woofer: The sounds added to electric vehicles aren’t merely for the sake of pedestrian safety, writes Chris Perkins at Road and Track: “When you’re trying to drive fast, especially at a place you’re unfamiliar with, you take all the feedback a car can give you.” Sound, as in the Jaguar I-Pace that Pace was testing, is an essential part of the driving experience. “The artificial sound gives you a great sense of speed you otherwise wouldn’t have in an electric car. The sounds might have been cheesy, but I was glad they were there.”

Mambo: First Blood Part II: The closest thing there may be to new news about the mysterious sonic assault reported by embassy workers in Cuba is a seemingly related incident in China. But as Rachel Becker writes at the Verge, sorting out what happened is hampered as much by diplomatic face-saving as by the privacy of medical reports, and potentially by bad science. Becker’s article draws from Sergio Della Sala and Roberto Cubelli’s research in Cortex, which brands the notion of a “sonic assult” as “a case of poor neuropsychology; clinically inappropriate and methodologically improper.”   / / /   Michael Hiltzik at the Los Angles Times reported similarly.   / / /   Writing at theoutline.com, Caroline Haskins focused on “interference of eavesdropping devices.”

Her Lowness: Women’s voices in the U.K. are lower than they were generations earlier. This register shift reflects “changing power dynamics between men and women,” according to research by Cecilia Pemberton, of the University of South Australia, and a team of researchers. A BBC article by David Robson explains that the “fundamental frequency” of women’s voices had dropped 23 Hz in recent decades. “That’s a significant, audible difference.” The voice of the Queen herself is said to have “lost some of the cut-glass vowels of her youth.” (Found via Hyperallergenic.)

Tele-Gram: Instagram is a great resource for all sorts of videos, including the sort of fine live ambient performances I track actively on YouTube. My focus on YouTube may shift, and so may yours, thanks to the debut of Instagram’s new IGTV app and initiative, per Richard Nieva at Cnet: “Videos on IGTV can also be longer than the 60-second maximum for regular Instagram videos. For IGTV, videos can run 10 minutes, though some accounts will be able to post videos that are up to an hour long.”

Fight Club: The second season ended a few weeks ago, but if you’re not watching The Good Fight, CBS’s sequel to The Good Wife, it’s highly recommended. Every episode of this legal drama is packed with wit, ingenuity (often of the meta variety), and remarkable performances. The show also has carried on The Good Wife‘s attention to sonic detail, from the soundmarks of social media to the aural choreography of urban life. The season’s penultimate episode, “Day 485” (each week jumps ahead by seven days from the previous, and takes its episode title from the number of days into the current U.S. presidential administration), ends with a character walking free of a potentially life-changing legal hassle. He is heard whistling as he walks down the street. What he is whistling is the show’s theme song.

Sounds of Science: Short bits from the annals of science.   / / /   The Vision: The role of vision in shaping “audio spatial metric representation around the body” — in other words, how sight helps us hear better: nature.com.   / / /   Brain Meld: How “interpersonal neural synchronization” (INS) allows an individual to hear another individual across a packed, noisy room: nature.com. (INS refers to how “brain activities from two persons covary along the time course.”)   / / /   Fashion Sense: In ever-so-vaguely related news, male peacocks can emit a sound with their celebrated plumage that makes the crest of a female “vibrate energetically”: newscientist.com.   / / /   The Conversation: And this goes back a couple months, but related Google research involving ability for AI to detect a specific voice in a crowd: androidpolice.com   / / /   The Meg: On the development of a Super-Oscillatory Acoustic Lens (SOAL) that “operates in the megasonic range”: nature.com.   / / /   Blipverts: If the simultaneous appearance of the terms “stealth placement marketing” and “limbic lobe” in the same article intrigues (i.e., frightens) you, then read this research, which “used the representation or sound of brand placement as independent variables to test the effects of brand placement on the viewers’ discrimination and preferences, with reference to brain activity indicators”: nature.com.

Audio Briefs: Additional news.   / / /   Snap Art: Christian Marclay, the acclaimed sound artist, teamed up with Snapchat, per nytimes.com. The resulting art exhibit runs through tomorrow, June 22, at La Malmaison in Cannes, France. (Via Brian Scott of Boon Design)   / / /   Lens Flare: In related news, late last month Snapshat announced that it has a lens that “reacts to sound”: engadget.com   / / /   Sound Ware: The Apple iOS software suite iWork has introduced audio recording, via macstories.net. As of version 4.1 of iWork, “Pages, Keynote, and Numbers have all added the ability to record audio in-app that is saved inside your document.”   / / /   Speaker Not: The “sound” category on Kickstarter continues to be overpopulated with speakers, especially Bluetooth ones: kickstarter.com.   / / /   Corporate Noise: The ambient sounds of Google Assistant and Google Home are avaialable (with a semi-hack) on Google’s new Podcasts app, via androidpolice.com.   / / /   Power Down: And these little “sleepbuds” are pricey personal white-noise devices for bedtime: gizmodo.com

This was first published in the June 21, 2018, issue of the free weekly email newsletter This Week in Sound.

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