This Week in Sound: PCB Birds, Ad-Spy Gadgets

A lightly annotated clipping service

These sound-studies highlights of the week are lightly adapted from the May 2, 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.

Your walls don’t have ears, but that gadget on your kitchen counter does: “report concludes that Amazon and third parties (including advertising and tracking services) collect data from your interactions with Alexa through Echo smart speakers and share it with as many as 41 advertising partners.” ➔

“[R]esearchers at MIT have developed a paper-thin speaker that can be applied to almost any surface like wallpaper, turning objects like walls into giant noise-cancelling speakers.” Writes Andrew Liszewski of this “noise-cancelling oasis”: “The domes are just ‘one-sixth the thickness of a human hair’ in height and move a mere half micron up and down when they vibrate. Thousands are needed to produce audible sounds, but the researchers also discovered that changing the size of the laser-cut holes, which also alters the size of the domes produced, allows the sound produced by the thin-film panel to be tuned to be louder. Because the domes have such minute movement, just 100 milliwatts of electricity were needed to power a single square meter of the material, compared to more than a full watt of electricity needed to power a standard speaker to create a comparable level of sound pressure.” ➔

Sophie Elmhirst surveys the British telephonic landscape: “At their peak, in the mid-1990s, the British population of phone boxes was about 100,000. Now, there are just over 20,000 working boxes left. … Those that remain occupy a particular place in Britain’s idea of itself.” (Apparently some five million phone calls are still made annually on these old analog devices.) ➔

“Kelly Heaton makes birds out of electronic circuitry that can be adjusted to produce a wide variety of birdsong.” They’re called Printed Circuit Birds, and they’re super cool. ➔ (via Ryan Ruppe)

“The level of detail in sound design is unknown to those not attuned to its complexities. A touch of reverb, textural density, a sense of whether sound is concentrated within the observable reality of the screen or whether it pulls out beyond the frame, a subtle sense of physical location.” David Toop goes rewardingly deep into the films of Apichatpong Weerasethakul, mostly recently Memoria with Tilda Swinton, which no I haven’t seen yet. ➔

Gary Hustwit’s next film is a documentary about Brian Eno. His previous one was about Dieter Rams, which both featured a score by Brian Eno and managed to capture a brief moment of Rams, master of emotinally cool design, dancing. As I joked on Twitter, now Rams should do the score to this film. ➔

Dig into a very complex combination of DIY open source music machines, climate crisis awareness-raising, and role-playing games: “CCI is an open source game for the monome norns sound computer in which players lead the CC Incarnadine and her crew of climate-punks, nautical drones, and GMO algae on a mission to heal the desiccated coral reefs.” ➔

“Some Mac Studio owners have noticed that their machines are making a high-pitched ‘whining’ sound that appears to be coming from the fan.” I’d make a joke with a title along the lines of “When the fan hits the fanboys,” but this does sound terribly annoying. ➔

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