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This Week in Sound

Listening to art. Playing with audio. Sounding out technology. Composing in code. Rewinding the soundscape.

This Week in Sound: “Deepfake Birds” & “Oenesthesia”

A lightly annotated clipping service

These sound-studies highlights of the week originally appeared in the October 25, 2022, issue of the free Disquiet.com weekly email newsletter This Week in Sound: thisweekinsound.substack.com.

PUT A CORK IN IT: “[In Charles] Spence and Janice Wang’s 2017 study, 140 tasters with a range of wine expertise were asked to rate a pour. After hearing the sound of a cork popping, their quality ratings went up 15% and their celebratory ratings rose 20% — even though they were drinking the exact same sparkling.” Spence heads the Crossmodal Research Laboratory at Oxford, and Rebecca Deurlein at Wine Enthusiast looks into how sound influences taste. “As multisensory and experiential wine research continues, the terms ‘sonic seasoning’ and ‘oenesthesia’ have entered scientists’ conversations”

FLIGHT CLUB: Brian Eno explains to Wired interviewer Sophie Charara that some of the birds heard on his new album, ForeverAndEverNoMore, are, in fact, faked — or, to use a more current term, deepfaked: “I just listen to bird sounds a lot and then try to emulate the kinds of things they do. Synthesizers are quite good at that because some of the new software has what’s called physical modeling. This enables you to construct a physical model of something and then stretch the parameters. You can create a piano with 32-foot strings, for instance, or a piano made of glass. It’s a very interesting way to try to study the world, to try to model it. In the natural world there are discrete entities like clarinets, saxophones, drums. With physical modeling, you can make hybrids like a drummy piano or a saxophone-y violin. There’s a continuum, most of which has never been explored.”

DR. WHOOSH: I love local news. I love hyper-local news. I love hyper-local news about noise. I love hyper-local news about noise that seems to suggest there was a mysterious noise that caused substantial confusion (“Residents living around the Croydon Flyover spent much of the weekend wondering what the eerily strange, out-of-this-world noise was coming from one of the new-build towers”) only, upon solving the mystery, to clarify maybe not (“Staff at the site say that they received only half a dozen or so calls about the noise, and that they apologise for the inconvenience”). Says one resident of the location where the noise originated: “It almost sounded like it might have been a helicopter that had landed, maybe the air ambulance. But it just went on and on, a whooshing noise, all night long.” Another witness suggests it “sounded like something off Doctor Who, when the aliens land.” Those investigating the situation did learn at least one thing in the process: “the council no longer has a 24-hour reporting line for noise pollution, despite having a phone number on their online form.” And here’s what appears to be the final word: “Investigations by Inside Croydon have found that a fire alarm in Kindred House had been set off inadvertently. Sources at the site suggest that it could have been something as innocent as a pigeon getting into the building.”

CRUNCH TIME: Coverage of a panel discussion about the development of a sonic logo for Tostitos, the popular snack food: look past generic buzzwords like “authentic” (Tostitos? “Authentic”?), and note both some research-informed self-awareness on the part of the parent company, Frito-Lay (which “found evidence that consumers go for their dip first and the ‘carrier,’ or chip, second”), and some significant usage data (“Ads with sonic branding elements see an uplift in attention by 8.5 times those that don’t” and “[T]here was a 38% increase in brand recall stemming from the audio addition”) — all with a sound element that lasts barely 1.5 seconds.

GAME ON: Even casual video games benefit from considered sound design, according to Azur, the studio that created such titles as Stack Ball, Worms Zone, and Bottle Jump 3D: “[T]he company has found out that over 50% of hyper-casual gamers play with the sound turned on.” It’s also refreshing to hear such practical concerns leavening the user-data analysis: “The sound design in games should be practical first, but at the same time, you shouldn’t forget about the artistic value. This is the main challenge of working in game development: finding a sound that complements the gameplay and doesn’t annoy the players after they hear it for a few hours.”

REMEMBER THE AL-GORITHM: “The Texas attorney general filed a privacy lawsuit against Google on Thursday, accusing the internet company of collecting Texans’ facial- and voice-recognition information without their explicit consent.” The law has been on the books since 2009. “Until this year, Texas” — which must, per the legislation, sue on the behalf of consumers — “had not enforced its law.” This year is an election year, and the attorney general is up for re-election.

LIFE LINE: “[S]ound is a universal and perhaps older mechanism of communicating information in nature than sight. When life evolved on Earth, before creatures had eyes, they had cilia. Cilia are essentially one of the major mechanisms that are used to send sound. If you think about it, it makes perfect sense. There’s a great evolutionary advantage to being sensitive to other creatures and sound as a primordial way of conveying that information.” That’s from an interview with Karen Bakker about her new book, The Sounds of Life: How Digital Technology Is Bringing Us Closer to the Worlds of Animals and Plants.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website Disquiet.com in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media

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