This Week in Sound: Emit Acoustic Waste

A lightly annotated clipping service

These sound-studies highlights of the week are lightly adapted from the February 21, 2022, 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.

“Much of the resentment traces back to film composing’s biggest open secret: Many of its brightest stars do not, in fact, write the music they are celebrated and remunerated for.” Mark Rozzo of Vanity Fair on the underpaid and often anonymous toilers who make music for film and TV. (Some have a moniker. Hans Zimmers’ go, apparently, by “Zimlings.”)
(Via Michael Upton)

ScanSoft and Nuance Communications, pioneer companies in speech recognition software, serve as examples of how Big Tech slows innovation:

The horror sound effects of radio dramatist Arch Oboler (1909-1987) are the subject of fascinating academic research by Amy Skjerseth.

“The LRAD is device that can put out a highly directional ‘beam’ of incredibly loud sound, up to 160 decibels (dB).” Lawrence English explains how Long-Range Acoustic Devices function. “Until very recently, the use of the LRAD in public settings in Australia has been largely nonexistent. Most use by police forces in Australia has been limited to disaster communication and for communication during events such as hostage situations. In 2020, however, this pattern of usage began to shift.”

“Data centers emit acoustic waste, what environmentalists call ‘noise pollution,'” writes Steven Gonzalez Monserrate. He explains how the hum of data centers is quiet enough to not violate the law, even if its persistent presence is an experienced issue for those living nearby: “upon closer interrogation of the sound, some residents reported that the monotonal drone, a frequency hovering within the range of human speech, is particularly disturbing, given the attuned sensitivity of human ears to discern such frequencies above others.”

“To build his library of sounds, Stewart has trekked to more than 40 countries, often lugging audio equipment through rugged landscapes to reach remote locations or animals.” Corryn Wetzel profiles field recorgist Martyn Stewart, whose collected work is in the realm of 30,000 hours of recordings. “To capture a few minutes of a frog’s chirp or a dolphin’s clicks can take hours of work because of nearly constant interruptions from noise pollution. ‘Twenty or twenty-five years ago, if I wanted to record one pristine hour of sound it would take about three or four hours to get that one hour. It was a brilliant world.’ Today, Stewart notes that it would take around 2,000 hours to get a recording of similar quality.”

“Alexa’s wake sound … is based on the ubiquitous and very human ‘uh-huh.’” Chris Seifert, Senior Design Manager at Amazon, is profiled by J. Trew about the development of the sounds of Amazon’s Echo.

If you haven’t watched the TV series Archive 81, then you might want to wait until after before reading this helpful explainer by Sarah Shachat on how it employs sound. It’s an interview with supervising sound editor Mark Relyea.

Spiders employ webs as surveillance technology, using their creations as an “auditory sensor.” Read the research paper:
(Via Bruce Sterling)

Trevor Mallard, Speaker of the New Zealand House of Representatives, played selections from a list of “The 25 Most Annoying Songs in the World” to break up an anti-vaccine protest, reports Megan LaPierre. On the playlist: Barry Manilow’s “Copacabana” and Los del Río’s “Macarena.”

Sony’s latest earbuds use a low-tech way to make sure you can hear what’s happening around you: there’s “a 12-millimeter driver in the shape of a ring with a hole in the middle,” writes Andrew Liszewski.

“By bringing together existing libraries of fish, frogs and other marine species, it is hoped the library will help identify the lullabies, chants and anthems of aquatic ecosystems.” There’s a massive project afoot to collect and collate underwater sonic communication.

Hoon. The sound of a foghorn lowing in the distance, warning of approaching menace.” Warren Ellis finds sonic portent in the surname of novelist JD Kirk’s protagonist, former Police Scotland Detective Superintendent Bob Hoon.

Randall Roberts looked into the claims of sonic wellness and found “bonkers numerology” (per Robin James) and “a total mishmash of metaphysics” (per Matt Marble), among other things.

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