This Week in Sound: A Lone High-Pitched Honk

A lightly annotated clipping service

These sound-studies highlights of the week originally appeared in the December 6, 2022, issue of the free Disquiet.com weekly email newsletter This Week in Sound: thisweekinsound.substack.com.

SILENT VS. DEADLY: “The nearly silent motor of the ebike — a factor that can make them an accident risk in the busy city — has become the surprise secret weapon for saving the world’s most endangered species.” Yeah, park rangers are using ebikes in Mozambique, on the southeast coast of Africa, to catch poachers.

BATS, MAN: One thing that Substack subscribers helped me do was rationalize a subscription to New Scientist: “Bats are known for their high-frequency calls, which they use to echolocate and catch prey, but they also let out much lower frequency calls for bat-to-bat communication. The structure in a bat’s larynx that lets them produce these sounds is the same one used by death metal singers to growl out low notes. … Lower frequency squeaks came from the bats’ false vocal folds, which get their name from the fact that ‘in humans they are rarely used, never for speech’.” (Thanks, Rich Pettus)

BATHROOM TONE: “Scientists have created a machine that will listen to your farts, pee, and poop. Yes, that’s right. The machine will recognize and analyze the sound of each bathroom-related activity.” It is not April Fools Day, though the scientists sure have a sense of humor. The machine is called Synthetic Human Acoustic Reproduction Testing machine — or S.H.A.R.T. for short. “Scientists are training AI to detect and scrutinize scatological sounds so that it can one day help in diagnosing deadly diseases like cholera and nip a potential outbreak in the bud.”

GADGETS WITH BIG IDEAS: Popular Science’s list of the year’s 100 best inventions includes at least one mentioned here previously (Sony earbuds with an “open ring” to make sure you hear the outside world while you’re outside in it, for safety’s sake). ▰ There’s also GameDAC (digital audio converter), which “connects to multiple systems and pumps out high-res certified sound with 360-degree spatial audio from whatever source you choose.” ▰ And a soundbar, the Diome, that may be worth the price. ▰ And most interestingly (to me), a drone (named the Zipline) that use sound to avoid obstacles: “Eight microphones on the drone’s wing listen for traffic like an approaching small plane, and can preemptively change the UAV’s route to get out of the way before it arrives.”

This is an image showing how flying objects can avoid each other
Air Lines: Graphic from the flyzipline.com website illustrates how drones “autonomously and continuously monitor for airspace traffic”

GOOSE CHASE: One of my favorite newsletters (Substack or otherwise) is This Week in Birding by Bob Dolgan, whose writing about his dedicated pursuit can be quite beautiful. Here he is on the trail of the Cackling Goose, which sounds like something Edward Gorey might have come up with:

“I stood on a snowy baseball field and looked up a cackler video on my phone and compared it to the birds around me. The nearby geese were considerably larger with a slightly different posture than the bird in the video. As I was doing this, a lone high-pitched honk pierced some momentary quiet and seemingly hung in the wintry air for a moment.”

BOXED IN: A “boxy” heating solution called the heat pump is gaining popularity in Germany, but first someone has to sort out the noise concerns. (Thanks, Mike Rhode!)

Aware of the problem, German manufacturers have been fine-tuning their machines to make them quieter. Vaillant has altered the angle of the blades and cut zigzagged notches into their edges, testing the results in an acoustics room on the premises of their factory.

QUICK NOTES: STILL LIFE: John McNamee looks at the role of silence in the comics of the Norwegian cartoonist who simply goes by the name Jason (via Mike Rhode). ▰ DEAF TONE: There’s lots of talk about recent legal changes opening the market for cheap(er) hearing aids — now there’s news about low-cost tests for hearing loss, too. ▰ FOOD FIGHT: I couldn’t help but notice that the Kenyan “upmarket” suburb where a local restaurant has gotten noise complaints is named Karen. ▰ PING PONG: I love when a UX fetishist details such a minor thing as the change in sounds made by Google’s Messages app. ▰ WILD THINGS: At least 53 creatures “thought to be soundless are actually communicating with vocalizations” (and more at nature.comthanks again, Rich Pettus!).

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