This Week in Sound: A Protective Web of Sound

A lightly annotated clipping service

These sound-studies highlights of the week are lightly adapted from the August 1, 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.

“A zero-emissions vehicle has obvious benefits for the environment, but a quiet car is a mixed blessing for the public good. Automobile engines, however annoying non-driving citizens find them, are rich in information, providing a protective web of sound that cushions us from collisions as we navigate the streets. Not only does engine noise announce a vehicle’s presence; it can also convey its direction, its speed, and whether it is accelerating or decelerating. … [A]n automotive engineer made a suggestion. Since maximum-noise laws for gas-powered automobiles already existed, why not establish a minimum-noise standard that E.V.s had to meet?” John Seabrook asks “What Should a Nine-Thousand-Pound Electric Vehicle Sound Like?” ➔

The Hulu streaming service created “‘ambient rooms’ on Youtube to promote the new series of hit drama Only Murders in the Building. … Popularity grew over the course of the pandemic, with some ambient rooms earning tens of millions of views.” ➔

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have identified “two areas of the auditory cortex [that] are specialized to recognize human voice sounds that, unlike speech, do not carry linguistic meaning.”

Interview with Julia Whelan, well-regarded audiobook reader/narrator, who reports that the biggest threat to her work is her stomach: “It’s just really fucking loud.” The title of the article calls Whelan “The Adele of Audiobooks.” This being The New Yorker, I initially wondered which character from which 19th-century French novel was being referred to. Then I realized they meant “Rolling in the Deep” Adele. In any case, she may have sold a lot of copies of Gone Girl, but she’s still just paid by the hour: “It’s an egregious miscarriage! This industry hasn’t caught up with how popular audiobooks are.” ➔

Steven Gonzalez Monserrate writes about the people who monitor cloud computing infrastructure: “I listen to the ambient din of fans roaring and cannot discern the sound of overheating he is describing. My untrained ear cannot differentiate that noise from the rest of the mechanical thrumming around me. But Tom can. Conditioned by countless hours in these mechanical halls, he hears the individual parts in a symphony of beeps, tones and pulses coming from air conditioners, power distribution units, servers, smoke detectors, fire prevention systems, ungrounded cables, and heat. In this world of computational chill, heat is nuisance, an invisible enemy and index of harm, what the symbolic anthropologist Mary Douglas might have called ‘matter out of place’. Listening for heat is a skill Tom has honed, and one that he wields to ensure that the computational river of the digital continues to flow, unimpeded.” ➔ (via the NextDraft newsletter)

A chilling detail from an Austin American-Statesman about how the newspaper edited the sound of Uvalde’s Robb Elementary School shooting: “We also have removed the sound of children screaming as the gunman enters the classroom.” ➔ (via The Present Age newsletter)

“I had taken the sounds of home for granted. My grandmother’s bellows from across the apartment, my friends screaming my name from the street below my window. The garbage trucks, the car alarms, the fireworks set off nowhere near the Fourth of July. The music. I had thought these were the sounds of poverty, of being trapped. I realized, in their absence, that they were the sounds of my identity, turned up to 11.” Xochitl Gonzalez, author of Olga Dies Dreaming, asks “Why Do Rich People Love Quiet?” (Bonus: my old friend Jorge Colombo, whom I met in the early 1990s when he drew comics I edited for Tower Records’ Pulse! magazine, did the accompanying illustration.) ➔

“Noisy City lets you scroll over an illustration of Brussels that looks a bit like a heat map: The quietest areas are portrayed in green, the loudest show up in purple. It’s a colorful feast for the eyes, but it’s actually all about the ears. That’s because Noisy City is an audible data-visualization map. You can toggle the sound on and off, move the cursor around, and experience how individual streets sound.” It was developed by Karim Douïeb. ➔

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