Soundbites: Audio Branding Audio, Ikea Podcast, De-gendered Siri

Recent reads (etc.) on sound

These are the sort of items I’d usually put in the This Week in Sound email newsletter (, but I’ve been super busy, too busy for a new issue, and so at a friend’s suggestion I am initially noting some here.

The serial-fiction audio/text hybrid company Serial Box has changed names. It’s never a particularly good idea to make such an announcement on April 1, as Realm (né Serial Box) elected to do, but there was nothing inherently funny in the company’s blog post, so no reason to doubt it. The name change arrives with other changes, like the availability of some Realm shows as podcasts. Next up: “some fancy brand sounds,” de rigueur for many companies these days, and virtually essential for a company whose product line is largely sonic itself. The key thing isn’t the name. The key thing is how complicated it is to characterize Realm, because it was never just audiobooks, or just a publisher of original fiction, and now it’s that plus podcasts. It’s all those things, wrapped in a new subscription service, with a la carte fees retained for some titles. A new name for the company is a step forward. But what Realm may really need is a name for what it is. (And if you’ve read this far, I recommend the series Ninth Step Station.)

Also not an April Fools joke (and announced in March, anyhow) is that Ikea has rendered its catalog as a podcast, having previously done so, two years ago, in Swedish for the hometown audience. In a piece for Quartz, Anne Quito connects the move to phenomena like lockdown acculturation to podcasts and a rise in “the voice shopping feature on Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.” (Via Rob Walker)

It’s said that you can judge a culture by how it treats its most vulnerable. So, too, its AI. To wit, Apple’s Siri now has more voices than ever, but more newsworthy is the removal of a female voice as the default. No less than the U.N. has called out Siri and Alexa for what could be called, quite literally, codified sexism. The default of the subservient role in many countries to a female voice was one among a larger set of symptoms. From an earlier New York Times piece by Megan Specia on the topic: “The [U.N.] report borrows its title — ‘I’d Blush if I Could’ — from a standard response from Siri, the Apple voice assistant, when a user hurled a gendered expletive at it. When a user tells Alexa, ‘You’re hot,’ her typical response has been a cheery, ‘That’s nice of you to say!'”

“In 1878, Thomas Edison recorded — on a piece of tinfoil — 78 seconds that may be the oldest playable recording of an American voice and the earliest known recording of a musical performance.” That’s from a Library of Congress announcement of new audio added to the National Recording Registry. (Via Lowell Goss)

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