This Week in Sound: Singing Volcanos, Rats with Mics

A lightly annotated clipping service

These sound-studies highlights of the week are lightly adapted from the June 6, 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.

“[R]esearchers have found a new way to identify key signs of Kilauea’s eruptive potential—by listening to vibrations from these lava lakes. Eventually, they hope to use these lava ‘songs’ to forecast when a volcano will start and stop erupting.” Zack Savitsky reports on the phenomenon of “singing” lava lakes. ➔

“Takara Tomy, a popular Japanese toymaker, will soon release its AI smart speaker that can easily copy a person’s voice using deepfake. … This smart home gadget is perfect for parents who want to read bedtime stories to their children even though they are away from home.” This is either a technological marvel or a dystopian act of outsourcing affection. Perhaps both. ➔

“A call made by a humpback near Bermuda,” writes Elizabeth Kolbert, “would take twenty minutes to reach a humpback swimming off the coast of Nova Scotia. If the Canadian whale answered immediately, it would be forty minutes before the Bermuda whale heard back. To imagine what it’s like to be a whale, ‘you have to stretch your thinking to completely different levels of dimension,’ Clark says.” (Clark is Christopher Clark, a Cornell researcher.) ➔

Matt Burgess summarizes the state of voice privacy, as well as the main ways to maintain enhance it. These include “obfuscation”: “Simple voice-changing hardware allows anyone to quickly change the sound of their voice. More advanced speech-to-text-to-speech systems can transcribe what you’re saying and then reverse the process and say it in a new voice.” And “distributed and federated learning” (“where your data doesn’t leave your device but machine learning models still learn to recognize speech by sharing their training with a bigger system”). And “anonymization” (“attempts to keep your voice sounding human while stripping out as much of the information that could be used to identify you as possible”). ➔

To the rescue: “rats will wear tiny backpacks with built-in microphones so rescue teams can communicate with survivors trapped in rubble.”

The TV series Under the Banner of Heaven‘s sound editor, Michael J. Benavente, talks about accomplishing “Utah quiet” in the making of the show. From a police stations to neighborhood kids playing, he always pulled things back, in his words, to get at the region’s atmosphere. ➔

“Road traffic noise outside schools may impair the development of a child’s attention span and short-term memory.” A studied looked at data on 2680 students from 38 schools. “The children in schools with higher average indoor noise levels — defined as above 30 decibels, about the volume of whispering — saw a slower improvement in attentiveness, measured by comparing their performance on tests at the start of the year with those at the end of the year.” Quoted in the coverage is Maria Foraster, Assistant Research Professor at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health. ➔,

As voice expands its presence in the asynchronous web, new UX scenarios arise. In Discord, “users can drop a link, text, GIF, emoji, in the chat during their video calls.” ➔

Slack update: “New features include the option to add name pronunciation guides (either by recording audio or adding phonetic spelling).”

Apple had one of its occasional products/services/software announcements today. In terms of sound, “Personalized Spatial Audio uses the TrueDepth camera on an iPhone running iOS 16 to scan your ears and the area around you, delivering a unique listening experience that’s tuned to you.” Also, the new MacBook Air retains its 3.5 mm audio jack. ➔,

“While the top of the podcast charts on Spotify and Apple are still dominated by garrulous, jawboning hosts, these days you can also reliably find a smattering of white noise shows appearing in the mix,” reports Ashley Carman. One white noise purveyor is making over $18,000 a month. ➔

“If you are a billionaire, you can afford the best soundproofing, so when we are in the company run by Mike Prince [played by Corey Stoll], it’s very quiet.” Notes on sound production work for the TV show Billions. ➔

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