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.”

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