This Week in Sound: “The Silence Screamed, Terrible”

A lightly annotated clipping service

These sound-studies highlights of the week originally appeared in the May 2, 2023, issue of the weekly email newsletter, This Week in Sound.

▰ GROUND SWELL: Absolutely fascinating: Listening to the earth — to soil — as a means of gauging biodiversity in a forest restoration: “With emerging sound recording technologies, ecological acoustic survey methods — also known as ‘ecoacoustics’ — are increasingly available. These provide a rapid, effective, and non-intrusive means of monitoring biodiversity. Above-ground ecoacoustics is increasingly widespread, but soil ecoacoustics has yet to be utilised in restoration despite its demonstrable effectiveness at detecting meso- and macrofauna acoustic signals.” (Thanks, Nicola Twilley!)

▰ TALK TALK: Fascinating research into how the language in which one is raised “shapes cognition,” per Courtney Hilton, a cognitive scientist at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, co-author of a study with Jingxuan Liu and others: “Speaking a native language that requires tones appears to boost perception of melody, but at the cost of rhythm.” (Thanks, Glenn Sogge!)

Voices Carry: A map of languages used in the study, showing sample sizes for each language (grouped by three language types)

▰ SHIP SHAPE: Novelist Robin Sloan has a new album out under the name Cotton Modules, his collaboration with musician Jesse Solomon Clark. The album, titled The Greatest Remaining Hits, was created with AI-generated voices. The name of the album comes from a tragic short story, written by Sloan, that provides a sci-fi backdrop for the overall concept. It’s a quick read, and highly recommended. The story appears on the website one phrase or sentence at a time. The main thing I want to highlight at this juncture is a particular sentence. It will make more sense after you read the story, but the point of it is that the silence outside the spacecraft — the silence of the void of space — is all the more harrowing when there is a deep, terrible silence inside the ship. This moment is exquisite. 

▰ OLD SCHOOL: “On one side of the road, exposed rock the color of raw liver angles up the valley slope. Entombed within this stone are the ancestors of the insects that fly and sing around me. One of this fossilized swarm bears the earliest known sound-making structure of any animal, a ridge on the wing of an ancient cricket. This fossil is the oldest direct physical evidence of sonic communication,” writes David George Haskell, describing “The First Known Earthly Voice.” (An excerpt from his excellent book Sounds Wild and Broken.)

▰ VALLEY GIRL: “My quiet place is not always without sound: sitting on a dune at dusk, I hear the soft rustling of the wind against the grains of sand,” writes Yulia Denisyuk of Jordan’s Wadi Rum valley for Condé Nast Traveler. “Leaving my tent at sunrise, I notice the bellows of camels as they return from their daily excursions. A crackling of the fire fills the long pauses in the unhurried conversations at night. The presence of this silence is a salve that helps me connect to the core of who I am.”

▰ BATS, MAN: A new exhibit at the British Library, Animals: Art, Science & Sound, is the subject of the BatChat podcast, itself a service of the Bat Conservation Trust ( “Hear the recordings of horseshoe bats made on one of the first commercially available bat detectors; the Holgate Mk VI and you can see this detector within the exhibition along with photographs of the waveforms it could make from recordings. It sits alongside other important works such as Ernst Haeckel’s Kunstformen der Natur (Artforms in nature) with the plate of bats on display.” (Thanks, Lotta Fjelkegård!)

▰ OUT THERE: Via SETI: “One of the world’s most powerful radio telescope arrays is joining the hunt for signals from other galactic civilizations. The National Science Foundation’s Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA), situated about 50 miles west of Socorro, New Mexico, is collecting data that scientists will analyze for the type of emissions that only artificial transmitters make, signals that would betray the existence of a technically accomplished society. … The new processing system for SETI is dubbed ‘COSMIC’ – the Commensal Open-Source Multimode Interferometer Cluster – and is spearheaded by the SETI Institute, in collaboration with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory and the Breakthrough Listen Initiative.”

QUICK NOTES: Balls Out: Soccer becomes truly multi-lingual in Mexico now that the games are broadcast in not one (as has been the case in the past) but seven languages, the other six being major native ones: “Maya, Nahuatl, Mixteco, Chatino, Zapoteco and Mixe” ( ▰ Ears Have It: Google Pixel phones may “proactively displaying warnings for potentially harmful conditions like sleep apnea” ( ▰ Night Time(r): YouTube Music has added a sleep timer ( ▰ Casting Change: Bernie Wagenblast, “the voice of NYC’s subways,” has come out as trans ( (Thanks, Mike Rhode!) ▰ Two Wheels Bad: News of a Belgian protest against motorcycle noise (

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