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

This Week in Sound: Bracelet of Silence + …

A lightly annotated clipping service

This is lightly adapted from an edition first published in the February 17, 2020, issue of the free Disquiet.com weekly email newsletter This Week in Sound (tinyletter.com/disquiet).

As always, 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.

“I know the microphone is constantly on,” said one computer scientist to the other. They are spouses, and the microphone in question was in their home. So while much of society routinely accepts domestic surveillance as the price of convenience, Ben Zhao and Heather Zheng set out to find a solution, and in the process developed a “bracelet of silence” (much tidier than the old Get Smart cone), though still somewhat clunky, like the severed arm of a robot octopus. “[T]he bracelet has 24 speakers that emit ultrasonic signals when the wearer turns it on. The sound is imperceptible to most ears, with the possible exception of young people and dogs, but nearby microphones will detect the high-frequency sound instead of other noises.”

“A new kind of red light is going viral — one that stays red as long as drivers keep honking their horns.” If you follow the noise-pollution beat, you know that no English-language reporting amasses more coverage than that originating in India. Mumbai has taken a highly tactical approach to the problem: “The police hooked a decibel meter to the signal and said if the decibel level went over 85, the red light would get longer.” (Factoid side note: “Mumbai and Manhattan don’t even crack the top five noisiest cities, according to the World Hearing Index: ‘Guangzhou, China, ranked as having the worst levels of noise pollution in the world, followed by Cairo, Paris, Beijing and Delhi.'”)

“Square’s acquisition of Dessa comes after the financial tech company snatched up Eloquent Labs, a conversational AI services business founded by two leading natural language processing researchers.” AI startups are sometimes described as technologies in search of solutions. The company Dessa, born DeepLearni.ng, specializes in deepfakes, both visual and audio, and has been acquired by Square, the financial technology company led by Twitter’s CEO, Jack Dorsey.

“Google has started adding an incredibly error-prone automatic punctuation feature to its voice typing input method that can’t be turned off, and it’s driving. People. Nuts.” If you’ve ever tried to insert punctuation with voice technology, you know the drill. Google has tried out a solution, but it’s. Causing. More problems. Than perhaps were. Expected.

“For X-Files fans and nerdy boys n’ girls who’ve crushed on Anderson for decades, it might all be too much.” Gillian Anderson has recorded ASMR to promote her new comedy, Sex Education.

“A telescope in Canada has found a source of mysterious fast radio bursts that repeat every 16 days, according to a new paper. It’s the first regularly repeating fast radio burst known to science.” The signal’s origin is reportedly about half a billion light-years away from Earth, so you have time to re-read Childhood’s End.

“Your personality’s central organ is your voice”: That’s one of numerous sentences that volunteers must repeat as part of a Northeastern University project to “donate their voices” for use by others who lack their own voices: “For someone who has never been able to speak due to conditions like cerebral palsy or severe autism, VocaliD can blend a donated voice with the nonverbal sounds from a recipient to create a personalized voice that represents what that person would sound like if she could speak.”

When the Oscars were being broadcast last weekend, I didn’t pay a lot of attention. I was cooking dinner. When someone called out the nominees for a given category, I’d take an educated guess as to who might win. That’s how the Oscar game is played. But when it came time for the best composer, I said I would guess not who I thought would win, but who I wanted to win: Hildur Guonadottir. Then her name was announced (for Joker), and I screeched loud enough to alarm the neighbors. She was the first woman to win in nearly a quarter century. Last year was a blockbuster for Guonadottir, who also did the music for the HBO series Chernobyl. (Forgive me for not including the accent marks, but at the moment the third letter in Guonadottir breaks my website’s content management system. I’ve been looking into it.)

By Marc Weidenbaum

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  • about

  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website Disquiet.com in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media

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