This Week in Sound: The $12,262 Megaphone

A lightly annotated clipping service

These sound-studies highlights of the week are lightly adapted from the August 30, 2021, 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.

Your home speaker can leak what you’re saying from over 100 feet away, just with careful observation of fluctuation in its LED. “The results aren’t crystal clear,” reports Andrew Liszewski, “and the noise increases the farther away from the speaker the capture device is used, but with some intelligent audio processing, the results can undoubtedly be improved.”

Gravitational waves are “ripples in spacetime” and a new resonator may have identified high-frequency ones never recorded before. But it could be something else: “Besides gravitational waves,” writes Isaac Schultz, “other explanations for the signal could be interference from other particles making their way through the detector, a nearby meteor, the detector itself having a technical problem, or, perhaps most tantalizingly — high-mass dark matter candidates.”

“Troy police plan to purchase a high-decibel long-range acoustic device, called an LRAD or sonic cannon,” writes Melanie Trimble, a regional director of the New York Civil Liberty Union, in an opinion piece. “The Troy City Council has approved the purchase of military-style crowd-control tools for the Troy Police Department. Troy is just one of the many police departments across the state that are becoming increasingly militarized. And all too often, these crowd-control weapons provoke violent confrontations.” Why, asks Trimble, is it necessary to purchase “what will essentially serve as a $12,262 megaphone”?

A device developed by the US Navy can cancel out someone’s speech in real time. It “records a target’s speech with a long-range microphone and plays it back to them with a tiny delay,” per David Hambling. (Via subtopes)

A long in the works audio device developed by Kanye West reportedly can “split any song into stems,” which the user can then manipulate. The device, called the Stem Player, was created in collaboration with the company Kano, best known for its Raspberry Pi computer kits for kids. How exactly these stems are extracted remains unclear.

A man served a almost a full year in prison reportedly for incorrect data from ShotSpotter, “a network of surveillance microphones that uses a secret AI-powered algorithm to identify and triangulate gunshots with varying degrees of success.” The arrest took place in Chicago, Illinois. Writes Nathan Ord, “[I]t appeared that this loud noise was identified by the AI as a firecracker with a 98% confidence rating. However, an employee reclassified the sound to a single gunshot a minute after detection.” Reminder: AI is people, on both sides of the algorithm. (Via subtopes)

The villain in the rebooted film Candyman is the title character, but an AI audio advertising campaign provides its own reasons for concern. The web-based interface allows for tracking, per Chris Sutcliffe: “you can track visitors’ experience, which is a really good engagement stat to bring back to the client.” To the filmmakers’ credit, if you opt not to share your voice, there’s a humorous animated GIF that says “Don’t. Don’t say that.”

“The cello provides a lot of warmth you don’t normally hear in hold music.” That’s composer Justin Sherburn talking with Dan Solomon about the gentle instrumental tracks he and the ensemble Montopolis recorded as hypothetical replacements for the repetitive beep that plays when waiting for the Texas Workforce Commission to address your employment issues. Following NPR coverage of an album of Sherburn’s music, the Commission has actually adopted it for use on their phone calls.

People may be upset about the machine-generated Anthony Bourdain spoken segments in a recent documentary, but actor Val Kilmer is thankful for the technology. He worked with the company Sonantic to re-create his voice after losing it to throat cancer, reports Eric Mack. (The voice doesn’t appear in the recent Kilmer documentary, Val.)

A short episode of the Atlas Obscura podcast takes listeners to the Tank, a massive (seven stories) industrial structure in Colorado now used as a music performance space, known for its extensive reverberation. (Thanks, Mike Rhode!)

The Havana syndrome, which is not the name of a Michael Crichton novel, delayed U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris’ trip to Vietnam. The syndrome had initially been attributed to a purported sonic weapon, the existence of which remains a topic of debate. Per the Associated Press’ Alexandra Jaffe and Jonathan Lemire: “Some of those impacted report hearing a loud piercing sound and feeling intense pressure in the face. Pain, nausea, and dizziness sometimes followed.” From the Economist: “CIA officers working at the American embassy described the sensation of pressure in their heads and the sound of what sounded like a swarm of cicadas.”

Sound Verbs

From This Week in Sound

For at least the last 34 issues of the This Week in Sound email newsletter (, I’ve swapped out a different verb each time to close out the introductory section. The following are those 34 words in reverse chronological order of their use in the newsletter.

swish, crackle, thwack, clang, chirrup, howl, mumble, bay, hiss, mutter, sibilate, blow, nasalize, burble, resound, whisper, purr, sigh, bombinate, rustle, intone, echolocate, susurrate, murmur, buzz, hum, trill, vibrate, whir, harmonize, drone, thrum, rumble, oscillate

Do you have any favorite verbs related to sound?

Free Atari

I have no idea what this means, “Free Atari.” There could be some actual activist urgency to this graffiti. Perhaps Atari is an incarcerated person and the sign is a sign that his community has his back. Or perhaps this is simply a willfully nonsensical plea, with “free” as a verb and Atari as, indeed, the classic gaming company (cum style, cum era, cum nostalgia play). Perhaps it’s a rallying cry to open source the code for Pac-Man and Pong. Perhaps it’s an ironic marquee meant to caption the graveyard of taxi cabs: “Here are some generic electronic husks. Have fun.” Perhaps it’s someone’s tag, and soon enough I’ll begin to see “Free Atari” everywhere. Whatever it means, I wandered past this scene while waiting for paint to be mixed at a nearby store across town from where I live. I had 15 minutes to spare, so rather than linger in the aisles, I walked the circumference of the block and saw this visual feast of dilapidated vehicles, 8bit propaganda, and ambivalent gray blue sky. Watts, RSS, Candyman

From the past week

I do this manually each Saturday, collating recent tweets I made at, which I think of as my public notebook. Some tweets pop up in expanded form or otherwise on sooner. It’s personally informative to revisit the previous week of thinking out loud.

▰ East Bay takeout report: Vik’s Chaat is just as great even without your name being eviscerated and semi-reconstructed by a frazzled, echoing interior public address system.

▰ “Don’t make a grown man cry.” Ain’t that the truth.

▰ Getting an issue of the This Week in Sound newsletter out was the release valve I was looking for. It’s a pressure gauge for a buildup of thoughts, tabs, research, reading, listening, thinking. And when I send out an issue, cool things I didn’t know flow into my inbox.

▰ I hadn’t foreseen that a suggestion for people to start blogs would necessitate a suggestion that they consider including an RSS feed. I’m not clear on a useful alternative to RSS, aside from collating several hundred (occasionally updated) websites, sorting out a system to check them regularly (calendar + bookmarks?), and then trying to remember each time if I’ve read the most recent posts. Maybe email subscription? But why would I want more email? Anyhow, if you do have or start a blog, please do consider including RSS.

▰ Charlie Watts’ isolated (light bleed, plus Jimmy Miller’s percussion) drums for “Gimme Shelter.” RIP to the master.

▰ This is so great: Nate Trier did a livestream on Twitch (now archived) in which he spent a half hour doing the most recent Disquiet Junto project: “making mouth sounds,” as he puts it, “and turn it into a track.”

▰ PayPal takes more than 50¢ of each Tip Jar payment I get from the This Week in Sound newsletter. Since they’re often a buck, PayPal gets more than I do. Recommendations for alternates? I’m not looking to make a living; the pay just help support and to a degree justify the effort.

▰ Listening to all these Rolling Stones tracks with the drums isolated, in honor of Charlie Watts’ death, has made me wonder what Pussy Galore’s Exile on Main St. cover album would have sounded like had it been recorded these days instead of back in 1985.

▰ For the Californians in the house, an important message. Vote no and mail that thing in pronto.

▰ Late afternoon quartet for skateboard sidewalk rumble, recycling truck pneumatics, public bus braking, and scooter engine mutterings

▰ A lesser known annoying thing about Zoom is that half the time I see “Zoom” in a tweet I mistakenly think it says “Zorn” and then I’m disappointed there isn’t interesting new news about John Zorn.

▰ Ten years ago this December, 25 musicians collaborated on a compilation album I put together titled Instagr/am/bient. They traded photos and then each recorded a track as if the photo received was the cover art for a single. I’m pretty sure we’ll do a sequel this December. 📸 🎵

▰ The foghorn just now seemed really loud and long, covering a few miles, and piercing the walls, and my headphones, and the interview I did with a scientist that I’m listening back through.

▰ I’ve got a heap of sound studies bits collated, so there will be another issue of This Week in Sound next Monday. Subscribe (free): Topics: feedback weapon, mushroom noise, stem hardware, gunshot data trouble, tank acoustics, deepfake rehab, and more.

▰ Kinda forgot they used some of Satyagraha in Stranger Things. It’s funny because Philip Glass wrote the score to the (original) Candyman, an actual horror flick. Was any of the Candyman score in Stranger Things? That would have been a Homecoming-style repurposing. (Oh yeah, Candyman was 1992, seven years after the time period of the third season of Stranger Things.)