Finding Quiet Places with the SoundPrint app

On iOS and Android

Have you ever found yourself wanting some quiet time, perhaps in an unfamiliar town, and not known where to go? The app SoundPrint (available for iOS and Android: is a crowdsourced service that rates locations — with an apparent emphasis on eateries — by their relative volume and din. And unlike Yelp reviews, where your favorite local spot gets downgraded because an entitled out-of-town grouch wanted the waiter to smile more, SoundPrint’s core information is primarily quantified in nature, rather than anecdotal.

To participate in rating a place, you click the SoundCheck button, to which you feed at least 15 seconds of uninterrupted sonic mise-en-scène. Your individual data is then processed and collated alongside previously submitted user data. When you click through to a specific location, you see all the SoundChecks to date, plotted by time period within a given day. It’s not an exact science by any means, but it’s a good enough gauge whether a given coffee shop doubles as a heavy-metal meet-up, and if a nearby museum’s restaurant is hermetic or boisterous.

When you do a local search, the locations pop up with color-coded, numerical ratings that represent averages of the submitted information. A search of my neighborhood definitely aligned with my personal experience:

This is a screenshot of the SoundPrint app, showing restaurants and their ratings by decibel level.
App-etizers: Note the color-coded decibel levels

The restaurant Steins, for example, while often playing some alien-to-me sports event on a huge TV behind the bar, is quite large, with a high ceiling that provides space for sound to disappear into. Chili House (one of my two favorite Sichuan restaurants in San Francisco, I should mention — the other being the quieter Sichuan Home) can, indeed, get exceedingly loud, with packed tables and a generally upbeat clientele. (For the record, I’m still living pandemic-style and eating outdoors. Chili House, fortunately, has its own dedicated parklet.)

The design of SoundPrint’s layout is worth looking at more closely. Not only are there decibel levels (69 for Steins, 91 for Chili House), there are colors that make the relative volumes easier to distinguish at a glance. In addition, some places, like the Richmond (which is, indeed, very quiet), get highlighted thanks to user nominations.

The one thing that stands out to me, at this phase of the SountPrint app’s development, is how the decibels are given such weight. Most people aren’t familiar with the meaning implicit in the numbers, and so users may not recognize that 61 is, in fact, quite quiet for a restaurant. I could imagine a situation where, in the future, either people do come to understand those numbers, or the app diminishes their prominence in favor of colors and some other form of data visualization — perhaps like how in Los Angeles an A, B, or C serves as shorthand for the top 30% of food-safety ratings, with the numerical score posted only for those that get a 69 or under (at least that’s how I think it works).

As with any crowdsourced app, SoundPrint will only be as good as its users — unless, of course, Nest or Siri or other digital assistant gadget gets involved, and locales start submitting their own realtime data. And if such a thing happens, then there will be inevitable scandals about how some restaurant is feeding recordings of empty rooms into SoundPrint to cheat the system. Which now that I type it, seems more likely than not. (Thanks, Glenn Sogge!)

An Ambient Employment of a Granular App

Dave Stafford's video "Formation of the Universe"

Dave Stafford’s video “Formation of the Universe” is a solid introduction to an amorphous, fluid music application. The application is Borderlands Granular. It allows the user (né musician) to locate tiny segments of pre-existing music and build from them glistening, refracting cues that cycle in a random, often curiously delightful state. Stafford mixes vocal samples with less identifiable source material. In addition to posting the video, he wrote a lengthy appraisal of the app, which is one of his favorites. Stafford goes into detail on how it functions. The music makes good background listening as you read up on how it was recorded.

It’s the latest piece I’ve added to my ongoing YouTube playlist of fine “Ambient Performances.” Video originally posted to Stafford’s YouTube channel. More from Stafford at and

The App Developer Prepares a Performance

Chris Carlson plays inside the guitar

Chris Carlson has a performance coming up. This is of note because Carlson is the developer of an iOS app called Borderlands Granular. Carlson’s app allows for a gestural, elegant, detailed exploration of the sounds within sounds. He has posted pre-performance test runs of his approach (the track’s title is “Pigment Library”), which in this case involves guitar chords as the source audio. The result is at times more orchestral than it is rock, more the jubilant yet anxious chaos of strings tuning up than the strumming, however fierce, of a six-string. You can hear moments of guitar-like presence, like the touching of fingers to taut metal, the bending of the wires. But more often than not Carlson is deep inside the guitar, the cloud-like structures of his Borderlands app unfolding the source material, laying bare and layering its inherent textures.

Below is an image of what a Borderlands looks like in action:

Screen Shot 2016-04-18 at 10.33.33 PM

Track originally posted at More from Carlson at,, and

The Ever Portable Ukulele Meets Mobile Digital Audio Processing

In three experiments by Ashley Elsdon

There are many types of music apps — that is, apps employed in the making of music. In terms of the intent packed into those apps, through both features and branding, they can been seen, very broadly, to fall into two categories: first, apps that miniaturize for our phone/tablet age tools that existed in the past; second, apps that go new places.

As a longtime follower of digital music-making tools intended for use on the go, blogger Ashley Elsdon falls firmly in the latter camp — a subject explored in depth in an interview I did with him late last year (“Immediacy + Accessibility = Joy”). When I did the interview, I was very familiar with Elsdon’s fixation on mobile music making, from its early-ish fledgling flourishing on the defunct Palm platform, on through the golden age of iOS apps.

What I wasn’t familiar with was Elsdon’s own music. I shouldn’t have been surprised, though, to hear these recent experiments of his for digitally processed ukulele. All three employ different apps (as detailed in a short post at to both halo and process the ukulele’s unique, casual, often gestural tonalities. They’re quite distinct recordings from each other, but they also hold together as a set. “Ukulele Exploration 1” in particular rewards repeat listening, with its dubby echoes of gentle plucking and strums.

Tracks originally posted at

Life After Nintendo

Shiny chiming jangles made in Nanoloop


There are several dozen tracks thus far in the “sound diary” credited on SoundCloud to Corruption, who gives as a residence Funabashi, Japan. Many are noisy escapades, tagged simply as “sound diary,” while the one dated “2013.11.19” and given the subtitle “like a moth to a candle” bears a second tag: Nanoloop. That’s the name of a popular piece of electronic music software that originated on the Nintendo Gameboy and has been since ported to iOS and Android. What was, back in 1998, an esoteric dream of handheld music-making has become pop culture, an everyday activity. In Corruption’s hands, Nanoloop makes sequences of shiny chiming jangles that ebb and flow like a low-resolution tide. There’s a glitchy quality to it at times, lending the work a welcome complexity, a dark undercurrent to its slow pace. Corruption does not identify which edition of Nanoloop is employed.

Track originally posted for free download at More on Nanoloop at The above screenshots are from the Android version.