This Week in Sound: The Science of Calling a Cat

Plus: sound gadgets for infants, onomatopoeia ingenuity, and more

These sound-studies highlights of the week originally appeared in the May 9, 2023, issue of the weekly email newsletter, This Week in Sound.

JUST KIDDING: There is a Kickstarter (I have no association with it) for a “smart pacifier.” The little device, which seems to combine a harmonica and a binky, is designed to “activate the creative mind at an early age, making passive listeners into musicians before they can say their first words.” … And separately, news about a nursery device that turns “patented auditory sequences into soothing melodic and other background tracks to help the infant brain do its job of paying attention to environmental sound changes.” It’s the Smarter Sleep Sound Soother from RAPT Ventures.

WHISKER WHISPERERS: “Scientists in France might have just found the most effective way to catcall an unfamiliar cat. The team discovered that cats living at a cat cafe responded most quickly to a human stranger when the stranger used both vocal and visual cues to get their attention. The cats also appeared to be more stressed out when the human ignored them completely,” writes Ed Cara at Gizmodo. Here’s a helpful diagram of how the experiment, by Charlotte de Mouzon and Gérard Leboucher at Paris Nanterre University’s Laboratory of Compared Ethology and Cognition, was undertaken:

THE THIX OF IT: “Irish inventors Rhona Togher and Eimear O’Carroll created an advanced acoustic material that reduces noise and can be used with household appliances, as well as in the automotive, construction, and aerospace industries.” The material is called SoundBounce, and it “has a cellular structure that works in tandem with a thixotropic gel placed inside the cells that allow sound to be dampened, reducing noise transmission from one space to another.” FYI, “thixotropic” means “Becoming a fluid when agitated but solid or semi-solid when allowed to stand.” Togher and O’Carroll are currently in the running for a European Inventor Award 2023.

CROSSTOWN TRAFFIC: The ecommerce/delivery reality is making life louder: “With millions of Americans now living in close proximity to a warehouse, it’s time to start treating these drab, feature-less buildings like pollution hotspots, says a recent report by the Environmental Defense Fund. Warehouses are quickly popping up all over the US, bringing truck traffic and tailpipe emissions with them. And yet there is no federal database to see where current or proposed warehouses are located, unlike other major sources of pollution like oil and gas facilities. … [T]here’s significantly more traffic, air pollution, and noise in census tracts with warehouses compared to those without them, another study based in California found last year.”

QUICK NOTES: Rim Shot: Netflix has a news desk (I don’t know how new it is) and it’s called “Tudum” — i.e., onomatopoeia for the network’s sonic brand logo — and that is sorta genius ( ▰ Bank Teller: Voice biometrics was the focus of a letter sent by Senator Sherrod Brown, chairman of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, reportedly to JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Morgan Stanley, Charles Schwab and TD Bank. ▰ Moon Man: Austin Kleon did a new blackout poem inspired by comments I madein recent issue of This Week in Sound. ▰ Bull Market: The Shriek of the Weekwas the bullfinch, “adept mimics” that “can be taught to whistle a human tune like a parrot.” ▰ Mo’ Mojang: There’s new ambient music in Minecraft (update 1.20) and Rohan Jaiswal knows where to find it. ▰ Street Scene: Check out this microtonal composition based on data related to Krasnodar Public Transport in Russia. (Thanks, Glenn Sogge!) ▰ Blue Jay Way: Soundfly, which offers courses for musicians and connects them to mentors, has a story about bird song — I love the idea of musicians having an avian tutor.

Scratch Pad: Fog, NCC-1701, the ’90s

I do this manually each Saturday, usually in the morning over coffee: collating most of the little comments I’ve made on social media, which I think of as my public scratch pad, during the preceding week (or in this case, the past two weeks). These days that mostly means (Mastodon).

▰ Tried to type “Tonka truck.” My phone corrected it to “atonal truck.” Now I want an atonal truck. I assume it’s an EV with bespoke music licensed from the estates of serialist composers and revised by an AI.

▰ I’m so into the music in the TV series Rabbit Hole that last night I apparently dreamed a scene that wasn’t in the show. The composer is Siddhartha Khosla (Only Murders in the Building, The Mysterious Benedict Society, This Is Us).

▰ Morning sounds: ticking clock (the only one in the house that ticks, in the kitchen), passing cars, distant motorcycle revving (now drawing closer), overhead jet plane, low level hum of the refrigerator

▰ The foghorns are in full-blown Wookiee-in-heat mode

▰ The Roddenberry Archive ( of all the major Star Trek Enterprise ships in 3D is pretty cool, but it feels like a missed opportunity in that, far as I can tell, there’s no sound, which was such an important part of the place-setting in the shows and movies:

▰ Now this took me back: “The History of the Bay Area’s Most Notorious ’90s Rave Warehouse” ( The article itself was published a year ago, but the events at the Oakland International Trade Center (near the Home Base store, from which the space took its name) were back in the 1990s, not long after I’d moved to California. I used to joke, back at the time, that it shoulda been called Home Bass. I recall one night with Juan Atkins and Derrick May, where they played for hours without seeming to look at each other once and yet remained perfectly in sync. Magic time. I remember a DJ — maybe someone in Cold Cut, or maybe Kid Koala? — had a camera focused on the turntable’s tone arm, projected on a huge screen. Anyhow, lots of great memories. My favorite spot was standing in the void between two different simultaneous acts, and enjoying how the contrasting music overlapped. Eventually cellphones changed everything. You no longer got lost in the crowd. Safety-wise, definitely a good thing, but it also changed the experience irreparably.

Sound Ledger¹ (FAA, Wilhelm, Plants)

Audio culture by the numbers

$19,000,000: Amount, in $US, awarded by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to 14 universities to reduce aviation noise

39: Length, in seconds, of the original (and newly rediscovered) recording session that yielded the famed “Wilhelm scream”

40: Average number of “clicks” emitted by “stressed” plants over the course of an hour

. . .

¹Footnotes: FAA: Wilhelm: (via John Kannenberg). Plants:

Some Favorite Morning Sounds

Let's start with four

1: How if I’m the first to open the refrigerator, I hear its deep descending tones as it comes out of whatever constitutes overnight mode.

2: The pop and click of ice cubes in my one daily glass of iced coffee. This specific sound, a constant in my life for 20 years or so, was on my mind for the first Disquiet Junto project.

3: The bubbling of freshly cooked oatmeal (savory, with scallions, pepper, and sometimes mushroom and garlic).

4: On days when it’s cold, the sudden air-influx whoosh of the gravity heater when the flip is switched.

A Virtual Stroll Through Mexico City’s Sounds

Listen to the "informal economy" of street life

Take a virtual/interactive browser-based stroll through the sounds of Mexico City, aka Ciudad de México, aka CDMX), and learn about the sonic aspects of the “informal economy” that is street vending. “The soundscape of the city is not fixed,” the narration goes. “It changes as the city does. As services become outdated — needs and preferences evolve, residents are displaced by new waves of gentrification and development, regulations shift — sounds inevitably disappear. … Similarly, the music of organ grinders (once an iconic sound of CDMX) may soon fade from the streets, despite its promotion by local government. Organ music simply isn’t as appealing to younger generations.” Check it out ➔

Originally published in a special, experimental September 23, 2022, “TWiS x 3” edition of the This Week in Sound email newsletter. Get it in your inbox via