Sound Ledger¹ (Copters, Tropical Birds, Hearing Study)

Audio culture by the numbers

300,000,000: The estimated number of participants in the recent Apple Hearing study to assess sound level measurements

99: The estimated percent of birds identified by sound, not eye, in dense tropical forests

7: The increase in helicopter traffic between 2018 and 2019 in the summer months in part of Long Island, leading to a “Stop the Chop” movement


Apple: Tropical: Chop:

Originally published in the March 21, 2022, edition of the This Week in Sound email newsletter. Get it in your inbox via

From Paper to Sound

In Julian Barnes' Flaubert's Parrot

This paragraph is from early on in Flaubert’s Parrot, a novel by Julian Barnes that is so colorful and precise in its details that it reads like a European variant on the sort of observational detective work one expects from Paul Auster or Nicholson Baker. So far (I’m barely a quarter through), the book is like a highly sensitive Simenon protagonist trying to sort out the identity of a literary Maltese Falcon (minus any particular consequence, at least where I’m at in the book).

In this moment, Barnes (or the character narrating the book) is telling us, the reader, about a reproduction of a statue of the famed novelist (1821-1880, best known for Madame Bovary). Flaubert is long dead, as is his parrot, and Barnes is depicting a transmutation, a creative process, that ends in a state that the reader might not have expected: not with story, or novel, or memory, but with “sound” itself. The end of the line is not so much an anticlimax, in the William F. Buckley Jr. sense of the word, as it is a surprise.

No doubt this idea of human sound as a signature of our species is going to play a role as the book proceeds. We’re also told of the title subject: “The parrot, the articulate beast, a rare creature that makes human sounds.” Thus, sound is what we work toward, and what makes us human, and what provides a unique point of intersection with a beast that can imitate us. We’re listening to Flaubert’s parrot listen to us. Dilla, Naming, Automation

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.

▰ This was certainly a fun moment in my day. Michel Banabila emailed me in the morning saying he was asking people to help him name his track. He went with my proposal: “Waking Memory.” Here’s the track:

▰ Favorite current sound: collective room tone of large virtual conference meeting that’s delayed starting. A half dozen or more people present, no one speaking, sounds of typing, someone sips a beverage, layers of spatial sound, drawer opening and closing, animal noise, footsteps.

▰ Unique circle of hell: when your current earworm is your wake-up alarm melody

▰ Afternoon ambience: Marcus Fischer’s heavenly, 11-minute track streaming in advance of the release of Robert Takahashi Crouch’s remix/rework album, also featuring Lawrence English, France Jobin, Faith Coloccia, Byron Westbrook, Yann Novak, and Christina Giannone.

▰ Haven’t been in a theater for awhile, so I only just learned pretty soon after Spider-Man: No Way Home starts, it launches into Talking Heads’ “I Zimbra,” right up through (and making comic use of) the cold stop.

▰ I’m getting used to the Junto going our while I’m asleep. At some point automation will let me down, but for now it’s doing what it does. I can sleep soundly.

▰ In college, a hallway neighbor rushed into my room one day to tell me I was playing a Bach harpsichord CD too loud. Why? Not because it was penetrating the walls, but because it was louder than a harpsichord sounded. I got to hear a harpsichord yesterday, close up. It was loud.

It was just crazy loud. I was, of course, standing super close to it, directly where the soundboard resonates against the lid, so to my former hallmate’s point, neither the player nor the audience would hear it this loud.

I think my reply to my hallmate was along the lines of how microphones let you be inside the sound rather than have the sound come to you.

▰ I would describe how I’m trying to really get minor key scales by practicing modes of major scales but I don’t think I have the vocabulary to do so, and the first half of this sentence may not have been accurate. Nonetheless, guitar class remains a favorite half hour of my week.

▰ In this (at, via, CM is Cormac McCarthy. CO and LW are high school students who emailed questions to Friend. Friend is someone LW is in touch with through a boyfriend. Friend is a friend of CM.

▰ Q: Marc, you seem to enjoy all the novels you read. How is that possible?

A: With rare exceptions, I simply stop reading the novels I don’t enjoy. (After completing Le Carré, it took a lot of false starts to locate Mick Herron. Same thing on the long trip to Becky Chambers.)

▰ Why did I wait this long to start reading Julian Barnes?

▰ I need a new, long poster for my small office space, something long to fill the wall above a heating vent. I look through my old posters, and of course find I need a new poster. Recommendations appreciated. Roughly 3′ to 4′ feet long, preferably 2′ (up to 3′) feet wide.

▰ You can have your iOS Shortcuts, and your Memoji, and your Interactive Memories — the great thing, for me, about iOS 15 is the newly introduced (as of 15.4) Universal Control, a serious variant on Sidecar, where your MacBook keyboard can control your iPad. It’s remarkable.

▰ “digital indigestion”

When you start to receive repeating email advertisements from a restaurant shortly after dining there for the first time.

late Middle English; early 21st-century

▰ Waiting for my copy of Dilla Time. Meanwhile, there’s Ethan Hein on it: “we don’t have the analytical tools to study this music, and we need to develop them, because there is a whole world of microrhythm and groove out there that we have been neglecting.”

▰ Relieved that, according to today’s time-travel episode of Picard, there’s no radiation fallout evident in Earth’s atmosphere in the year 2024.

▰ I don’t think that rattle was the bus passing by. (Quake data: