This Week in Sound: The Speed(s) of Sound on Mars

A lightly annotated clipping service

These sound-studies highlights of the week are lightly adapted from the March 28, 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.

If you enjoyed the story last week about the rooster making lots of noise in a San Franciso neighborhood that already has its share of challenges, then you’ll appreciate this update: the rooster has been moved two hours east, to the Parrot & Exotic Rescue Sanctuary in Modesto. “Their website says they take in ‘parrots, turtles, snakes, lizards and more,’” reports Joe Kukura. ➔

“Google and Bolverk Games have published a new video game called Voice Attorney running solely on voice commands and available only on the Google Nest Hub and Nest Hub Max smart displays.” ➔

Amazon wasn’t successful in reversing a suit by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute related to smart

Nvidia has announced chip solutions for voice technology, including speech recognition. One market is the automation of menu trees for phone systems: “Synthetization could boost actors’ productivity by cutting down on the need for additional recordings, potentially freeing the actors up to pursue more creative work — and saving businesses money in the process,” reports Kyle Wiggers, in a final AI column for VentureBeat. ➔

Interesting tidbit from a story about Spotify’s efforts in voice-only controls, for use in vehicles: “The jury is still out on whether hands-free voice recognition actually makes driving safer (some studies suggest drivers who use voice controls are more distracted).” ➔,

News from the Red Planet: “sound on Mars travels at 787 feet per second (240 meters per second), which is significantly slower than the sound of speed on Earth at 1,115 feet per second (340 m/s).” And it gets weirder: “the speed of sounds below 240 hertz fell to 754 feet per second (230 m/s). That doesn’t happen on Earth, as sounds within the audible bandwidth (20 Hz to 20 kHz) travel at a constant speed.” This has been dubbed the “Mars idiosyncrasy,” reports George Dvorsky. ➔

Sound Ledger¹ (Too Much Sound in Brussels Edition)

Audio culture by the numbers

8: The number of months reduced of some Brussels residents’ lives due to noise pollution

64: The percent of people in Brussels who hear 55 decibels “at any given moment of the day, equal to a normal conversation”

5.5: The multiple of normal car noise produced by trucks


Originally published in the March 28, 2022, edition of the This Week in Sound email newsletter. Get it in your inbox via

Easing into Max Richter

A conductor leads the way

The conductor Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser pulled a fascinating fast one on his audience at the San Francisco Symphony on Saturday night. Or perhaps more to the point, he pulled a slow one. He was leading a crowd-pleasing collection of short pieces, a dozen total divided in half by an intermission. Midway through the second half of the program, he was due to introduce Max Richter’s “On the Nature of Daylight.” The orchestra had just finished “Duel of the Fates” (minus the choral part), a John Williams cue from the first Star Wars prequel, A Phantom Menance.

To ease from the heavy drama of Jedi/Sith fighting to Richter’s ambient post-classical composition, Bartholomew-Poyser returned to something he had talked about earlier in the evening, how great music can connect to — can express — powerful human emotions. But unlike with, say, Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet (which the conductor naturally associated with the teenage experience of first love), after the Williams he seemed to go off on a tangent. He talked about how teens often feel “stressed,” and he recommended a “box breathing” exercise to center and calm oneself. Then he led the audience in the breathing exercise, and after cycling through it, he cued the orchestra to begin, while continuing to moderate the audience’s inhalations and exhalations, and the pauses in between. By the time the first few notes of “On the Nature of Daylight” were heard, the audience was fully in step with the piece’s glacial, peaceful pacing. He had prepared us physically and emotionally for what we were about to hear. It was quite a remarkable moment, especially because the audience didn’t know what was going on until after the music had begun.

It might help to understand that the audience on Saturday was largely middle school and high school students, there for a special Teen Night, which served up a range of greatest hits (by Holst, Rossini, Stravinsky, and Tchaikovsky), adjacent modern favorites (Richter, Williams), and less familiar contemporary spotlights (John Adams, Kev Choice, Anna Clyne, and Arturo Márquez, plus Bartholomew-Poyser himself), as well as George Walker, who fits in none of these categories, but whose gentle Lyric for Strings was quite lovely, and a fine pair to the Richter. Bartholomew-Poyser was an able ambassador for the young audience, and I dare say conductors for adult audiences might consider a similar introduction. Spatial Audio, Ghost Buds

From the past week

I do this manually each Saturday, collating most of the tweets I made the past week 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. This isn’t a full accounting. Often there are, for example, conversations on Twitter that don’t really make as much sense out of the context of Twitter itself.

▰ The strange thing about “Spatial Audio” when using these earbuds with this laptop is that half the time I think the sound is coming out of the laptop, and I have to take out an earbud to confirm.

▰ Watched a brief video about phase-shifting sine waves that used an oscilloscope to illustrate what’s happening, and for a moment I mistook map for territory — it felt like the screen had tapped into the Matrix and was showing the underlying code of reality. (And I need some tea.)

▰ If nothing else, sending out a weekly email newsletter about sound is a great way to find out which academics are on sabbatical (and have turned on their out-of-office auto-reply).

▰ When ye old violin shoppe has so much inventory that it’s hanging from the recesses of the ceiling in a hallway. Which is to say: absolutely beautiful.

▰ There was Continuum, and then there was Travelers — is there another (more recent) fun Canadian time travel TV series?

▰ Rented a tiny office to get outta the house. I bring my laptop. Desk has two 24″ screens. When the laptop isn’t connected, it’s a generic space; when plugged in, the visual zone is flooded with information, the room with light. Simple activation, yet the transformation amazes me.

▰ Not sure exactly what’s going on, but I suspect urban infrastructure Wordle

▰ Today I learned a bird can slouch. Photographed at the Oakland Museum of California. I must have stared at it in the slouch position for five minutes before it utterly transformed, looking like an entirely different bird.

▰ “ghost buds”

When you’ve been on so many consecutive calls that you think you still have earbuds in when you actually don’t. (Related: Those voices in your head are actually voices in your head, not a call or an audiobook.)