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This Week in Sound: Wonky Skulls

A lightly annotated clipping service

These sound-studies highlights of the week are lightly adapted from the July 27, 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.

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THIS WEEK IN SOUND

The big sound-studies story this week has been the fake (or “fake”) crowd noise at professional sports events being broadcast during Covid. How long these events will go on is unclear, what with Major League Baseball having postponed two games scheduled for this evening. Igor Bonifacic reports that the NBA will be using Teams, the Microsoft answer to Slack: “The displays will allow players to see and hear the people who are watching them via Teams.” How long that’ll last before people start making noise and doing things at home they wouldn’t do in person is also unclear. Joe Reedy notes: “Stadium sound engineers will have access to around 75 different effects and reactions.” These sounds originated in the video game series MLB The Show. (And since most of what I know about baseball originates either as scandal in the news pages or as fiction, this scenario has sent me back to reread Jonathan Lethem’s short story “Vanilla Dunk.”) “You’re still focused on the game but that noise is very helpful. I could tell the first few scrimmages with pure silence was tough for some guys,” Reedy quotes Eric Sogard of the Milwaukee Brewers.
https://www.engadget.com/nba-microsoft-teams-192426876.html https://abcnews.go.com/Sports/wireStory/ballparks-crowd-noise-video-game-season-71833283

Before getting to all those stories about how quiet the world is getting, first note that noise complaints in New York City are up nearly 300 percent. Shaye Weaver attributes the uptick to “more people crammed together at the same time,” as well as to protests and the fireworks running up to the Fourth of July. The research cited was an analysis by apartmentguide.com of data from NYC Open Data.
https://www.timeout.com/newyork/news/noise-complaints-in-nyc-have-increased-almost-300-percent-since-february-072720
https://www.apartmentguide.com/blog/new-york-noise-complaints/
https://data.cityofnewyork.us/Social-Services/311-Noise-Complaints/p5f6-bkga

“We can safely say that in modern seismology, we’ve never seen such a long period of human quiet,” according to seismologist Raphael De Plaen. Tanya Basu writes on how Covid has quieted the planet: “Everyday urban activities like commutes, or stadiums full of fans simultaneously going wild in ‘football quakes,’ are strong enough to register on seismometers.” (Thanks, Rob Walker!)
https://www.technologyreview.com/2020/07/23/1005574/lockdown-was-the-longest-period-of-quiet-in-human-history/

Michael Le Page reports on “optical cochlear implants that use light to stimulate the nerve cells.” Note that the nerve cells must be genetically modified for this to take effect.
https://www.newscientist.com/article/2249633-hearing-restored-in-rats-by-modifying-ear-cells-to-respond-to-light/

“The two major tools to promote deaf accessibility in video games are (1) subtitles/captions and (2) visual cues.” Morgan Baker provides a detailed primer.
https://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/MorganBaker/20200720/366615/Deaf_Accessibility_in_Video_Games.php

“In most toothed whales, the internal organs in the skull are squashed into the left side to make way for soft tissues which help them to echolocate”: Katie Pavid explores the science of why whales look that way. Apparently such skulls are called “wonky.” The article uses variations on the word “wonky” eight times. (Via Cheryl Tipp)
https://www.nhm.ac.uk/discover/news/2020/july/echolocation-gives-whales-lopsided-heads.html

“A team from the Systems Engineering Department at the University of Lagos in Akoka, Lagos, Nigeria, have discovered that people can identify other people by the matchless nature of their laughter because, unlike voice and manner of speech, laughter almost cannot be mimicked,” writes Anton Shilov. In other words, your next password may be your laugh, no kidding.
https://www.techradar.com/news/your-next-banking-password-could-be-based-on-laughter

“Half a century later and visual and voice deepfake technology can give a glimpse at an alternate reality where the landing failed”: The landing is the U.S. arrival on the moon. The deepfake is of Richard Nixon announcing the death of the astronauts. There are 98 days until the next U.S. presidential election, and the concept of audio deepfakes isn’t quite keeping me up at night, but it sure is heavy on my mind. Read Eric Hal Schwartz on the topic. And if your middle name is Hal, it’s sort of inevitable you end up on the artificial intelligence beat, right? (This isn’t the first time I’ve quoted Schwartz in the newsletter, but I think it’s the first time I’ve made that joke.)
https://voicebot.ai/2020/07/20/rewriting-the-moon-landing-with-a-deepfake-built-on-synthetic-speech/

“Hackers use machine learning to clone someone’s voice and then combine that voice clone with social engineering techniques to convince people to move money where it shouldn’t be,” writes James Vincent of the “audio deepfake scam.”
https://www.theverge.com/2020/7/27/21339898/deepfake-audio-voice-clone-scam-attempt-nisos

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GRACE NOTES

▰ The trailer for the upcoming TV series Biohackers features an amazing urban doorbell and a homebrew “biopiano” using plants. I’m in. (And a silent rave, too, which Beth Elderkin of io9 pointed out.) The Netflix algorithms have my number.

▰ The narration of this audiobook I’ve been listening to while going for walks is so stilted, I bet if I found a printed copy I could confirm pauses align with pages being turned. Also, though it’s from the library’s online service, it includes spoken instruction to change CDs.

▰ I don’t miss concerts half as much as I miss running into people at concerts.

▰ The unique internet pleasure of observing a musician you admire purchase a used piece of music equipment in which you are interested, and then awaiting a release that features the result.

▰ My next sequencer is MIDI data of people nodding in agreement on Zoom conferences posted to YouTube where folks are in sync, so to speak, with what the speaker is saying.

▰ Ableton Quantum Entanglement Link

By Marc Weidenbaum

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