My 33 1/3 book, on Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works Volume II, was the 5th bestselling book in the series in 2014. It's available at Amazon (including Kindle) and via your local bookstore. • F.A.Q.Key Tags: #saw2for33third, #sound-art, #classical, #juntoElsewhere: Twitter, SoundCloud, Instagram

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

field notes

News, essays, reviews, surveillance

Corporate Blogs and Social Media

When and why did writing for oneself begin to decline?

Sometimes I think the decline of blogging coincided with the rise of the corporate blog, and with that the sense if you couldn’t blog under a paying banner it was perceived as a vanity plate, as less than serious, as even embarrassing, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary.

I don’t think it’s that complex, though. I’ve come to think the decline of the blog is, indeed, simply a matter of social media, on which you can say far less and receive far more of a response. The ratio is disproportionate, and blogging against that tide is tough going.

Hasn’t deterred me. Been at it since 1996, before “blog” was a recognized word. I continue to recommend blogging (in essence: writing a public journal), and have been happy to see activism in favor of blogging on the upswing lately.

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This Week in Sound: Death of a Field Recording Artist + …

A lightly annotated clipping service

This is lightly adapted from an edition first published in the August 26, 2019, issue of the free Disquiet.com weekly email newsletter This Week in Sound (tinyletter.com/disquiet).

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.

Field recording is not for wimps. Remember the scene in Grizzly Man, the Werner Herzog documentary, in which we watch the director’s slowly contorting face as he listens, in a mix of fear and astonishment, to the audio of a dying Timothy Treadwell, the film’s title character, as Treadwell (an unfortunate name in this circumstance) is mauled by a bear? Keep that in mind as you read about the reported death of Julien Gaulthier, a “French artist who used sounds of nature in his music.” Gaulthier had been traveling in a remote stretch of Canada with a biologist, Camille Toscani, “recording new sounds for his work.” Toscani reports a “bear entered their camp at night and dragged Gauthier away.” (via Daniel C and Tobias Reber)

Sarah Jeong, a member of the editorial board of the New York Times, writes about Facebook and audio surveillance as part of The Privacy Project. It’s a limited-run email newsletter. The crux: “insistence that Facebook is not listening to you is, predictably, undermined by Facebook, which sometimes is secretly listening to you.” Jeong is distinguishing a widespread perception (that Facebook or some other service is serving something up to you in an ad or other content based on something you have said) from a reality (that Facebook, for example, is using humans to transcribe audio you may believe to be entirely private). This is the difference between a deep-seated anxiety and a practical, uncomfortable reality.

Consider sonic warfare as a subset of “hostile architecture“: that is, as an audio parallel to uncomfortable benches, skateboard-resistant ledges, and spiked window ledges.

“The harvesting of biometric data from sometimes vulnerable populations has raised concerns about the potential for mass surveillance.” Madhumita Murgia, European technology correspondent for the Financial Times, ties audio surveillance together with eye, face, and other technologies into a concern about biometric data.

That hyperviolent fighting video game is actually vegan food-violence porn. Or at least its sound effects are. (via NextDraft)

“Last month alone, Americans received an estimated 4.7 billion illegal spam calls.” Apparently a dozen major telecom providers are teaming up to fight this. The name of the underlying technological fix is STIR/SHAKEN, which sounds like a James Bond reference, apparently stands for “Secure Telephony Identity Revisited and Secure Handling of Asserted information using toKENs.”

The only thing worse than receiving a call from a spam number may be inadvertently asking your voice assistant to dial one. Your robo-assistant may be doing you a disservice that has nothing to do with invading your privacy. At least not in the manner you’ve come to be concerned about.

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Ancient Visage

From LACMA's exhibit on Korean writing

Start the day by returning the gaze of a 7,000-year old face: a petroglyph rubbing from the excellent LACMA exhibit Beyond Line: The Art of Korean Writing. I’m fascinated by the absence of ears. Is this how someone saw themselves? Is it a drawing of a mask? Stare back in time.

More on the exhibit at lacma.org

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Action as Atmosphere in Thief

An essay I wrote for Hilobrow

Jessie turns to Frank, the titular thief played by James Caan, and asks, “What does this mean?”

Frank replies, “It means heat.” What Frank means by “heat” is “attention from formidable adversaries on both sides of the law who were my dowry when you and I became a couple,” but he might as well have said, “It means Heat and Manhunter and The Insider and Collateral.”

That is from a short essay I just had published at the excellent hilobrow.com website. The subject is Michael Mann’s first theatrical-release film, Thief, which came out in 1981. (And, yes, there is a brief mention of Tangerine Dream’s score.)

The essay is part of the Convoy Your Enthusiasm series “analyzing and celebrating some of our favorite action movies from the Seventies (1974-1983).” There are 25 entries in the series. Other contributors include Madeline Ashby on Blade Runner, Jonathan Lethem on Straight Time, Erik Davis on Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, and Luc Sante on Black Sunday.

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This Week in Sound: Mice v. Deep Fakes + Hackers v. Smart Speakers + …

A lightly annotated clipping service

This is lightly adapted from an edition first published in the August 18, 2019, issue of the free Disquiet.com weekly email newsletter This Week in Sound (tinyletter.com/disquiet).

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.

If you’re a whale, audio surveillance has your (hump)back: A system deployed in the Santa Barbara Channel “could capture whale calls as far as 30 miles away. Cables connected the listening station — about 600 feet below sea level — to a buoy floating on the surface.” The goal is to warn ships away from cetacean hangouts.

Mice may be the canaries in the deep-fake coal mine: “A research team is working on training mice to understand irregularities within speech, a task the animals can do with remarkable accuracy.” Bonus points for distinction drawn between “deep fakes” and “cheap fakes.” (via subtopes)

More mice news, this time relating to repairing human hearing: “Using genetic tools in mice, researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine say they have identified a pair of proteins that precisely control when sound-detecting cells, known as hair cells, are born in the mammalian inner ear. The proteins, described in a report published June 12 in eLife, may hold a key to future therapies to restore hearing in people with irreversible deafness.” (via Tom Whitwell)

No one apparently wants to be left out of the recent speech-to-surveillance bingo matrix: Facebook reportedly “paid contractors to transcribe users’ audio chats.” Thus the service’s Messenger has joined Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, and Google’s more anthropomorphism-neutral Assistant in sounding alarms about consumer voice privacy.

More positive news about voice recognition, from Google’s Project Euphonia: Euphonia is an “attempt to make speech recognition capable of understanding people with non-standard speaking voices or impediments. The company has just published a post and its paper explaining some of the AI work enabling the new capability.”

And a positive spin on deep fakes, as artistic pursuit: For some, the technique is a propaganda tool. “For others, this nascent technology holds great promise, offering realistic vocal models for people with speech impairments, more convincing voice assistants, intimate chatbots, and myriad uses in the entertainment industry. Motivated more by artistic interests than commercial applications, musicians in particular envision different possibilities for the future of human and machine collaboration.”

The room tone of the planet is hell on earth for some: Infrasound is sound at the floor of human perception, but some humans perceive better than others, sometimes to their detriment. “It’s like as if someone is driving needles through me. … It’s not a noise so much as you’re hearing with your ears, it’s a vibration,” says one sufferer.

The city of Malibu is exploring an outdoor public warning system for fires: “The city is asking consultants/consulting firms to identify the optimum placement of multiple sirens along the 21-mile length of the city that could be heard everywhere in an emergency and provide an overall detailed and comprehensive plan for an outdoor siren warning system.”

Your kitchen-counter smart speaker is being recruited as a weapon of sonic terror: “Matt Wixey, cybersecurity research lead at the technology consulting firm PWC UK, says that it’s surprisingly easy to write custom malware that can induce all sorts of embedded speakers to emit inaudible frequencies at high intensity, or blast out audible sounds at high volume. Those aural barrages can potentially harm human hearing, cause tinnitus, or even possibly have psychological effects.”

Movie theaters in Maryland are working to serve their hearing-impaired audiences: Via the Twitter of Sean Zdenek, who notes: “Hawaii is the only U.S. state with open captioning laws.”

Composer Geoff Barrow (of Portishead) agrees that people are using movie soundtracks to score their own lives: “It’s amazing to see just how many people are getting into the idea of listening to film scores, outside of just listening to a band’s album with 10 tracks. It’s because they want a new musical experience. It’s like reading a book, they want to be taken on a musical journey. It’s basically the modern classical.” (This via Jason Richardson, who made similar comments in his blog the week prior.)

In a surprise move, a horror-film director may have exaggerated scientific evidence, in this case of fish noises: The director of 47 Meters Down: Uncaged, Johannes Roberts, says of the movie’s screaming fish, “I wouldn’t want to necessarily swear to it, that that’s a very accurate thing that fish do.”

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