These sound-studies highlights of the week are lightly adapted from the September 6, 2021, 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.
▰ There’s a new video game coming out about field recording. It’s called Season, and based on various reports it seems to involve a protagonist “creating ‘a time capsule’ and deciding ‘what would capture the spirit’ of this world.” Despite the soothing premise, it has a dramatic backdrop involving, perhaps, some sort of “world-ending event” that sets the field recordist’s task in motion. PlayStation announced the game in December 2020. It’s being developed by the Scavengers Studio, based in Montréal, Québec.
▰ Pilita Clark in the Financial Times decries the use of voice recognition software “to allegedly predict good recruits,” pointing to it as an example of algorithmic overkill in modern hiring.
▰ “Among the important facts would be the nature of the clip, the purpose of the use, the intention of the creator and the user, and the perception, actual reliance and reasonableness of reliance of the listener.” A laywer breaks down some of the factors to consider in light of the rise of audio deepfakes. The author is Katherine B. Forrest, a former U.S. District Judge in New York and former Deputy Assistant Attorney General with the U.S. Department of Justice.
▰ A bird appropriately named Echo at a Sydney zoo has taken to imitating, with eerie and alarming accuracy, the sound of crying babies. The lyrebird, a resident of Taronga Zoo, apparently can also do a solid rendition of the “evacuation now” announcement, too. (Via Lawrence English)
▰ What the Arctic loses in ice it gains in shipping traffic, and what it gains in shipping traffic it seems prone to lose in sea life. Marguerite Holloway explores how noise pollution has led narwhals to cease making noises themselves. “That is a very worrisome trend, of course,” says Susanna Blackwell, a marine-mammal-acoustics expert, “because that means that these long-distance communicators can’t hear each other any longer.”
▰ “In place of the tendency to fixate on the quantity of sound in our environment,” writes Feargus O’Sullivan, “we should think a lot more about its quality.” The article is an overview of how the “soundscape” approach to urban planning judges factors beyond merely decibel levels. “There’s no consensus about the types of sounds that are intrusive, either. Research comparing the U.K. with China and Taiwan has found marked differences. When residents of Sheffield, England, were asked which sounds they preferred coming into their living area from outside, 71.4% of respondents chose birdsong and no one chose music. When the same question was posed to residents of Beijing, 60% chose music first and only 17.5% chose birdsong.”
▰ “Environmental researchers warned about the damage that noise pollution is causing in natural areas due to ecotourism and recreation activities (such as electronic music parties) that are being carried out in the jungles of Quintana Roo.” The article quotes a Dr. Yann Hénaut, of El Colegio de la Frontera Sur.
▰ Amazon has updated its Echo devices to recognize high background sounds, and compensate accordingly. “The feature gives Alexa the ability to respond to questions at a higher volume when loud background noise is detected,” writes Molly Price. “It’s a handy option that is surprisingly late to the game, given that Alexa has known how to whisper for some time now.”
▰ Abner Li lays out potential Google Assistant technology that might bypass the need to say “OK, Google.” Ankit Banerjee checks in about potential privacy concerns.
▰ Apple has acquired a company called Primephonic, a streaming service focused on classical music.
▰ “The steep climb to commercializing voice” is pondered by Ken Sutton, CEO and co-founder of Yobe, an AI/voice software company. Yobe refers to this as “the cocktail party problem”
▰ The folks at Nintendo Life discuss their favorite “isn’t-quite-music” sounds from video games. Winners include the Metroid Prime Trilogy, Super Mario World, Super Mario Sunshine, and Resident Evil 4, among others.