This Week in Sound: Nanoscience + Whale Socialization

A lightly annotated clipping service

These sound-studies highlights of the week originally appeared in the September 20, 2022, issue of the free weekly email newsletter This Week in Sound:

A study on four rising stars in nanoscience includes Sabina Caneva. Her research in “protein fingerprinting” involves “using sound waves to guide the proteins to their target. Given that the wave lengths are bigger than the proteins, she’s figuring out how to attach larger beads to the proteins, which are more likely to be caught by the sound waves.” ➔

Introducing Sanas: a “startup that’s building real-time voice-altering technology that aims to help call center workers around the world sound like westerners.” As writer Wilfred Chan notes, it brings to mind the comedy Sorry to Bother You, “in which Cassius, a Black man hired to be a telemarketer, is advised by an older colleague to ‘use your white voice.’” Sociologist A. Aneesh (author of Neutral Accent: How Language, Labor and Life Become Global) has mixed feelings on the topic, expressing concerns about “indifference to difference.” Says Aneesh, “It allows us to avoid social reality, which is that you are two human beings on the same planet, that you have obligations to each other. It’s pointing to a lonelier future.” ➔

Researchers are suggesting that the clicking of sperm whales amounts to “symbolic marking,” along the lines of how humans distinguish themselves with their hair, wardrobe, etc. “Otherwise used to echolocate prey, these sounds can take the form of emitted morse code-like sequences that the scientists call ‘identity codas’. When different clans of whales come together, they appear to use these codas to identify themselves. They are saying: this is us.” ➔

Is there life after foghorns? It’s been less than a month since the New York Times commented on how much San Franciscans actually like our summer fog. So, of course, the newspaper had to go ahead and rip the fog right out from over us, by charting its reported decline. This is an anxiety-provoking article, to be sure, with some lovely descriptive material throughout:

There is little precision or pageantry to the use of the bridge’s foghorns. When the electrician on duty notes that it is too foggy to see across the mile-wide channel of the Golden Gate, the foghorns are turned on with a click of a computer mouse.

Inside a room on the south end of the bridge, Del West, an electrical superintendent, decided it was time. He warned workers all over the bridge by walkie-talkie, warned them again, then once more.

The bellow of a foghorn can be deafening, or even more dangerous, to people nearby. “It can interrupt your heartbeat,” Mr. Rosenkild said. It didn’t sound like a joke.

Mr. West clicked an icon on the computer screen that read “fog horns.” A moment later, bass tones bellowed from the belly of the bridge.

Read it in full ➔

Noise pollution is cited as a key concern as e-commerce warehouses proliferate in New York City: “The Last-Mile Coalition, named for the final step of the direct-to-door delivery chain the warehouses sustain, submitted a proposed amendment to the city’s zoning rules Wednesday that would ramp up regulations for such facilities totaling at least 50,000 square feet. The proposal would also bar warehouses within 1,000 feet of schools, parks, nursing homes, public housing buildings, or any other such warehouses.” ➔

Debate continues in Austin about the local police department’s acquisition of LRADs, or long-range acoustic devices, the volume of which can hit 160 decibels. ➔

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