Why This Week in Sound

Process, signal to noise, irony

The newsletter I send out, This Week in Sound (tinyletter.com/disquiet), works for me because it helps me process all the material I come across in a given week. I collect a dozen or so key items, each an instance of sound in one or another of various realms. I do so as I read, and listen, and watch, and go for walks, and talk with family, friends, and colleagues. Some of these instances are sound in the purest sense: a gadget for delivery, something about the physics of audio reception or production. Others are more musical: a feature iteration of a streaming service, an innovative record release, an ingenious instrument. Others are about music or sound in another media contexts: a TV score, a bit of user interface, a sound art installation. From there the search branches out further, and the further the better: a military-industrial weapon of sound, the role of sound in urban planning, some means by which sound connects us to the natural environment, or lets us understand civilization’s history. The further afield from sound the sound appears, the more it is of interest to me. I come across more of such information each week than I know how to manage, and sending out the newsletter — preparing the newsletter — is the best way I’ve found to handle it all. Taking an hour or so to sift through and cull all but the most interesting observations and news items, and then excerpting and commenting on them, is how I make sense of them, how I piece them into a whole, how I notice patterns connecting them, how I come to absorb them.

There is an irony to the newsletter: The more often I send it out, the more emails I get from readers with tips, with bits of sonic awareness from their own lives and professions, regions and interests, cultures and perspectives. A historian of engineering tells me something about an early telephony apparatus. An elementary school teacher has observed something about pedagogy in the age of virtual conference calls. An architect has some details about a new noise dampening technique. It’s true that the more often I send out the email, the more information I receive, when all along I’m sending out the newsletter to deal with what is already an embarrassment of riches. However, the signal to noise ratio on the inbound information from readers is quite high, and I welcome it.

I go through spells of sending out my This Week in Sound email newsletter. I do it for a few weeks, then get overwhelmed, or distracted, and then the backlog of material becomes too great for me to get my head around it, and then time passes, and the process begins again. I got an issue out last week, and I have material prepped for Monday. We’ll see how it goes.

There are tons of newsletters these days, many on services designed with a commercial component. I do have a tip jar in mine, and the tips I get (financial, in addition to informational) are not so much an economic underpinning as a sign of life, a form of encouragement. The subscription model is, for the time being, less interesting to me. I got on the internet too early to have a natural inclination that involves a firewall, and firewalls are a key aspect of most newsletter subscription services. Some folks have helped me understand that subscriptions and firewalls aren’t intrinsically connected to each other, and I’m learning more as I compare services beyond Tinyletter’s bare-bones offering. I’m sorting it out as I go. It’s all an experiment, an ongoing one.

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