This Week in Sound: Deep Listening to NYC + …

A lightly annotated clipping service from the This Week in Sound email newsletter

This is lightly adapted from an edition first published in the April 6, 2020, issue of the free weekly email newsletter This Week in Sound (

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.

Ruth Saxelby writes at NPR about the changes in our soundscape: “A wildlife sound recordist had noted that birdsong is more noticeable right now because noise pollution levels are down. ‘We’re hearing the world as people heard it decades ago.'” And Saxelby doesn’t restrict herself to a definition of nature that excludes human activity: “At night, I turn on an air purifier that we bought before things got hectic. The idea was to help provide relief during allergy season, but it has come to occupy a talisman-like role in my mind.”

Apple has absorbed an AI company, Voysis, that specializes in natural language technology. The company “managed to shrink its system to the point where, once the AI is trained, the software uses as little as 25 megabytes of memory — about the same size as four Apple Music songs.”

In Paris, “noise levels are down to as little as six to nine decibels at night, some 70%-90% lower than normal, according to Bruitparif, which monitors noise quality.” This isn’t just from reduced activity. It’s also from reduced population size: “Geolocalising data collected by mobile phone operator Orange indicates nearly one in every five Parisians fled the capital in the hours before the lockdown was imposed.”

Interesting research about which trees are better at absorbing sound, for use when things return to whatever we redefine “normal” to mean: “If you want to minimise the amount of noise in an urban environment it’s better to plant conifers than broadleaved trees, scientists claim.”

Rebecca Powers in the Washington Post does a reverse conch shell, exploring how the currently confined can tour the world’s cities through sound. (Via Mike Rhode.)

“What Oliveros calls ‘deep listening’ can be overwhelming and draining to do all the time, especially in moments of crisis. But it can also prompt an expansion of curiosity.” The New York Times’ Lindsay Zoladz applies Pauline Oliveros’ philosophy of sound to life in a state of literal alarm: “To hear an ambulance siren is to faintly register the interruption of a high, whining pitch; to listen to an ambulance siren is to picture the face and the body and the family of the person it is carrying to a hospital, likely another neighbor suffering from Covid-19.”

Gary Hustwit, the filmmaker, has been screening one of his documentaries for free each week, and through April 14 it will be Rams, his Dieter Rams feature, which has a score by none other than Brian Eno.

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