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

This Week in Sound: Scream Studies + Ankle Eavedropping + …

+ Voice Recognition + Why Gorillas Sing + More ...

/ / THIS WEEK IN SOUND
A lightly annotated clipping service

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

Scream Therapy: “Recently, however, I have witnessed two cinematic screams that were neither sexy nor Snow White-y, but instead guttural and visceral and bizarre — and so vulnerable that I felt like a bit of a creep watching them,” writes Rachel Handler. The screams are Meryl Streep’s in Big Little Lies (anything to get that theme song out of my head) and Florence Pugh’s in Midsommar. Here’s to more scream studies, an essential branch of sound studies.

Insert Spinal Tap Joke: This is the second experimental archeology story in as many weeks: “A diminutive model of Stonehenge could help crack the acoustic secrets of the ancient site, according to scientists who have built a version of the megaliths at a 12th of their size.” (via Trevor Cox)

Leg Up: A little known fact about ankle monitors used by law enforcement: “officers wouldn’t just be able to track his location, as most electronic monitors do. They would also be able to speak — and listen — to him.” For context, the “him” in this example if a 15-year-old Chicago resident. (via Matthew Kenney)

Listen Up: After the “Belgian leak” brought renewed attention to the privacy issues surrounding voice assistants, Forbes weighed the weaknesses and norms within the system. On the one hand, “No part of this story indicates Google is listening surreptitiously to find out what people are saying.” On the other, “the fact that the leak occurred indicates data security for Assistant voice recordings is inadequate,” and: “Recording when the Assistant activates without hearing the wake-up command is a more serious problem.” You can put a piece of tape over your laptop’s camera, not so easily the microphones around you. Voice recognition, far less attended to by the press than is facial recognition, is a brave new territory, a story that is just getting started.

Let’s Buzz: “City officials in Philadelphia are under attack for their increasing use of an acoustic deterrent — described by a local councilwoman as a ‘sonic weapon’ — to keep the city’s children and young adults away from certain recreational areas at night.” This is the device known for years as “the Mosquito.”

Keeping Score: I’m kind of addicted to soundtrack.net‘s detailed coverage of who is composing the music to which TV shows, movies, and (occasionally) video games. This week we learned that Dustin O’Halloran (of A Winged Victory for the Sullen) and Hauschka are scoring The Old Guard, adapting the Greg Rucka graphic novels (I kinda want Rucka’s Lazarus more, but hey, it’s something). Tyler Bates is scoring Primal, the highly anticipated forthcoming animated series from Genndy Tartakovsky (Samurai Jack, Star Wars: Clone Wars). Max Richter is scoring Temple, a UK medical drama. (And since I missed this last week: tomandandy are working on Lucky Day, a movie from Roger Avary, who worked on a lot of early Quentin Tarantino movies.) There’s a huge glut of video entertainment these days, and a good composer is as much a cue (so to speak) for me as to what to watch as are the writers, actors, or directors. Furthermore, in our current moment of streaming-entertainment overload, it’s clear the studios have better access to great mood-setting cinematographers and composers than to great writers (or they aren’t affording the writers time and resources to get the stories right). Even if the shows aren’t great, however, those scores are available to us to lend a soundtrack to our daily lives.

Monkey Business:Gorillas sing and hum when eating, a discovery that could help shed light on how language evolved in early humans. … Singing seems to be a way for gorillas to express contentment with their meal, as well as for the head of the family to communicate to others that it is dinner time.”

Hall Mary: “The silence of this place used to fill me with joy. Now it’s all I hear.” So says the disillusioned, and at the moment sauced, priest in the first episode of the new, fourth season of the TV series Grantchester.

/ / A GOOGOL OF BLOGS
Reading around the web

Space Is the Place: Jason Richardson picks up the Robert Fripp blog quote from last week’s issue of This Week in Sound (“The primary factor in choosing a setlist is the performance space”), and connects dots back to Bach, then back further to Gregorian chant, then on back to the recent past in the form of Bertolt Brecht, eventually coming around to a consideration of the role of digitally simulated reverb in today’s music: “Given how those reverbs impart a famed character and can be used to connote an atmosphere, it seems like we’re getting back to writing music with specific ambiences in mind.” I love this idea.

Air Play: Dan Carr at Reverb Machine breaks down Brian Eno’s classic 1978 album Music for Airports into its constituent parts and talks in detail about how the album was recorded, including Eno’s employment of graphic scores, a detail of which appears above: “There are no real melodies present, and the voices occasionally form chords, but there is no discernible structure. This song is composed of seven loops, all of different lengths, with each loop playing back a single, sung note. In the graphic score, you can see Eno’s use of rectangles to represent looped tracks, with the spaces between them varying.” The Carr piece even includes loops if you want to play with them yourself. (via Robin Rimbaud on Twitter)

Having Words: Tom Armitage goes into detail on “Building the world’s most advanced subtitling platform,” CaptionHub, which “allows teams to generate and edit captions inside a web browser, previewing them in a real-time editor.” Particularly interesting among the features that took hold: “adding a visible audio waveform on the timeline, generated by our encoder tool. This made cutting captions to video much easier — it was instantly possible to see speech starting or stopping, and mark the ins and outs of captions to match.”

Feed Bag: And in this ongoing discussion of blogs, Patrick Howell O’Neill has a simple proposal: “reconsider something that feels lost in this era of algorithm-fueled newsfeeds and timelines: RSS.”

This is lightly adapted from the July 14, 2019, issue of the free weekly Disquiet.com email newsletter This Week in Sound.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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