This Week in Sound: Experimental Archeology + Defiling Asimov + …

Sonic Fictions + Robert Fripp's set-list advice + more

A lightly annotated clipping service

If you find sonic news of interest, please share it with me ([email protected]), and (except with the most widespread of news items) I’ll credit you should I mention it here.

Choral Culture: “Experimental archeology at its finest.” That’s how Andrew Henry describes efforts to (re)experience chants in the sorts of ancient spaces where they were first performed. Henry hosts the Religion for Breakfast YouTube channel, and talks on a video for the 12tone YouTube channel about “How Music Shaped Roman Cities.” It’s less than seven minutes long, and well worth your time. Particularly interesting are observations about just how quiet life was before the invention of gun powder, how far such chants would travel in the relative silence of the era’s cities, providing a constant background sound to daily life: “Music would be heard hundreds of meters away as you went about your daily life.”

Cock Up: Put September 5 on your calendar. That’s when a French court will rule whether or not the now famous rooster Maurice is producing “abnormal noise.” Some background: “In 1995, faced with a similar case that led to a death notice being served on a cockerel, a French appeal court declared it was impossible to stop a rooster crowing. ‘The chicken is a harmless animal so stupid that nobody has succeeded in training it, not even the Chinese circus,’ that judgment said.”

Nuke Chords: Just to follow up on an item from two weeks ago about Hildur Guonadottir’s employment of nuclear-reactor field recordings for her score to the HBO series Chernobyl: the sound designers behind the video game Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 ventured to the infamous region to get audio for its production. The following article is a detailed overview of the audio development for the game, in particular about the use of “impulse responses” to provide a sense of different spaces: “In the exteriors the team had a system called ‘Bubblespace’, which constantly checks a player’s surroundings, and change the sounds of the ambience and reverbs based on where the player currently is. ‘For every single tree we have a specific leaves in wind sound (tied to the wind speed), as well as a chance to play D.C. specific bird-calls tied to the correct time of day.'”

Bad Robot: You know how voice assistants don’t always understand what you’re saying? Well, apparently even when Alexa understands you’ve requested to delete your voice recordings, it reportedly doesn’t actually follow through entirely with your request. If true, this seems to mean that Alexa is breaking the second of Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics: “Amazon last week confirmed that it keeps transcripts of interactions with Alexa, even after users have deleted the voice recordings. Based on reports that Amazon retains text records of what users ask Alexa, Sen. Chris Coons in May sent a letter to CEO Jeff Bezos, demanding answers.”

AVAS, Matey: To paraphrase Pavement, as I often do, “Sound scene is crazy / acronyms start up each and every day / I saw another one just the other day / a special new acronym.” Or at least new to me: “AVAS” stands for “acoustic vehicle alert system,” which means adding sounds to those vehicles that, due to the welcome retirement of internal combustion engines, no longer make the sounds to which humans have become accustomed. In the UK, AVAS has found a natural supporter in the Guide Dogs UK, a charity for the blind and partially sighted. As mentioned here last week, BMW hired film composer Hans Zimmer (The Dark Knight, Inception) to make sounds for its latest future car. In the UK, some of the vehicular sounds apparenlty suggest the ghost of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop is haunting newer-model driving machines: “At the presentation, the transportation organization reportedly played six sounds. Welsman [a Guide Dogs UK representative] assessed that the sounds were ‘all very spaceshippy,’ and suggested the electric buses instead use audio recordings of the classic Routemaster buses. ‘As a blind person I could spot the old Routemaster a mile off, because it was so distinctive, but that’s not what they are suggesting.'”

Children’s Revolution: Are hand dryers damaging to the ears of children? “To investigate that question, Nora Keegan, the study’s author, spent more than a year taking hundreds of measurements in public restrooms throughout Calgary, her hometown.” The key factor in this story: Keegan is, herself, just 13 years old.

Bird Brains: In Emergence Magazine, both text and podcast, David G. Haskell has a beautifully written piece on the languages of birds, and the many reasons that humans can’t comprehend them: “The same sound vibration is received and understood in profoundly different ways by birds and mammals.”

Out-Bopped: “Researchers from Queen’s University in Northern Ireland discovered that human background noise disrupts how robins hear aggressive warning calls, which could lead to population declines in urban areas.”

Play Time: The current edition of the American Theatre website contains a plethora of articles about the role of sound design in theatrical productions. Particularly informative is a piece singling out a half dozen plays for sonic excellence.

Reading around the web

“The primary factor in choosing a setlist is the performance space,” writes guitarist Robert Fripp, now on tour for the 50th anniversary of his band, King Crimson. The blog post continues: “Only part of this is the acoustics. Each performance space / venue / auditorium has its particular spirit of place: churches, burlesque theatres, rock clubs, classical halls small and large; with performance and listening practices, determined mainly by the culture and history of the region. All these situated within the wider social / cultural traditions and conventions of the locality; and, in Italy, also the idiosyncratic nature of how the business works.”

Georgi Marinov has some concerns about cassettes: “I keep thinking about cassette tapes. Specifically about their environmental impact. … Not sure how well known is that tapes have a nasty habit of shedding after a couple of decades (as in the particles falling off the carrier tape to which they’re ‘glued’). All that dirt ends up on the cassette deck transport and it starts malfunctioning with otherwise healthy tapes.”

Much of what I read is and has always been science fiction, and I’m becoming something of an obsessive for genres of music invented for future and alternate realities, such as those in Malka Older’s three Centenal Cycle books, as well as Ramez Naan’s Nexus Arc books. I just started reading Fonda Lee’s Jade City, and came across this in the fifth chapter:

As he drove away from the Kaul estate, Hilo rested an arm out of the open window and drummed his fingers in time to the beat from the radio. Shotarian club music. When it wasn’t Epsenian jiggy — or worse, Kekonese classical — it was Shotarian club.

There’s also an excellent bit earlier on in Lee’s novel, about how the titular jade enhances the listening powers of those who are capable of not being driven mad by its influence.

This is lightly adapted from the July 7, 2019, issue of the free weekly email newsletter This Week in Sound.

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