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

tag: noise

Signal Tapper (MP3)

Lifelike emanations amid the very low frequencies, by Dan Tapper

20130313-dantapper

The latest from the excellent Chicago-based broadcast/podcast Radius may be its most quiet yet. “Recording the Spirit Level” is Dan Tapper’s excursion into “very low frequency”” (VLF) signals. As the site explains:

These signals are generated through electromagnetic fluctuations, or changes in magnetic signals produced naturally by the ionosphere, including lightning strikes and the Aurora Borealis. Collected using a homemade loop inductor, the raw magnetic sounds collide with interference produced by man-made technology to illustrate the relationship between humanity and the natural world.

The result is more akin to the soundscape of remote pond life than to an industrial grid, or perhaps more to the point a shallow pond near a single whirring electrical post. It’s all light glitching, amphibious burps, amid a low-level hum of nuanced communications effluvia.

The great things about listening to Radius, which is organized by Jeff Kolar, is the way each project provides a different aspect of the myriad ways that radio signals can provide the starting point, rather than merely a means to transmit, artistic practice.

Episode originally posted for free download at theradius.us/episode37. More from Dan Tapper at magneticsignals.tumblr.com.

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TheAtlantic.com: “Toward Silent Computing”

“Toward Silent Computing” is a piece I had published today at theatlantic.com, the website of the magazine The Atlantic. It’s a combination of news-you-can-use tips on quieting a laptop that’s running the OS X Lion operating system, and a reflection on the unintended consequences inherent in sound design: Remove one sound, and others appear. The background becomes the foreground. In the case of the laptop that is the subject of the piece, my month-old Macbook Air, the removed sound is that of the hard drive and, by extension, the computer fan that is often called into service when the drive or CPU go into overdrive.

Here is the first paragraph:

I changed laptops about a month ago. I had a Windows netbook, and I opted up, as it were, to a Macbook Air. Part of the attraction of the Macbook Air was its solid-state drive. Unlike a traditional hard drive, which is in effect a high-tech LP player with read-write capability, the SSD has no moving parts — well, except at the level of the electrical charge that allows data to be stored. (If you can hear that, please get in touch while the next X-Men movie is still in pre-production.) The lack of a physical interface means the SSD is silent, and also less likely to trigger the computer’s fan, which in most cases is the primary producer of computer noise on a laptop or desktop. (Note: You can, indeed, upgrade netbooks to SSD drives, but the one I had, a slim Acer, had its drive buried so deep in the device that it was beyond my abilities and my time.)

I then cover three particularly annoying sounds: the trackpad click, the boot-up sound, and the plink that accompanies the raising or lowering of the machine’s volume.

Here’s a fourth tip that didn’t really fit in the article:

Once upon a time, in Apple’s OS you could hold Shift+Option while raising and lowering the volume of the computer (speaker or headphone jack), and you’d quadruple the scale at which it shifted up or down. This didn’t make it louder, or quieter for that matter — it just provided a more gradated range between silent and whatever the machine’s loudest level was. That may sound unnecessary, but the fact is that at midnight, if all is quiet, the difference between silent and just a notch above silent can be significant. Unfortunately, Shift+Option doesn’t work in OS X Lion. I tweeted something to this regard (“OS X Lion could use 1/16th the number of keyboard-lighting settings and 16x the number of volume-level settings”), and got a prompt reply from Lin Mu (aka @linmu), directing me to an anonymous post at hints.macworld.com from this past August that provides a hack to regain the finer-grain volume shifting. (For the record, I haven’t actually tried this approach yet.)

Amid all this detailed trivia about the sound design of Apple’s operating system, it’s worth noting that Apple’s OS outdoes Spinal Tap. Its volume control goes to 16:

For a long time, DownBeat (founded: 1934) was the oldest magazine I’d ever written for. Then it was Nature (founded: 1869). But The Atlantic was founded in 1857, so it’s now the oldest I’ve been published in (again, technically, I wrote for its website).

You can read “Tower Silent Computing” at theatlantic.com.

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Tangents: Lunch Sounds, Shuffler.fm, Polluting Noise, …

Audio Flaneur: The excellent soundscrapers.blogspot.com by Nick Sowers is three deep in a new series of “Lunchwalks.” What’s a lunchwalk? Explains Sowers, “Got an hour? Take a walk. Inside of a thirty-minute radius, an infinitely detailed (though finitely bound) landscape is within reach.” On each walk, he records the sounds he encounters. He maps the walks, and takes photos, which tend to feature his microphone, which in turn takes on the appearance of Sowers’ fuzzy walking buddy (see above). His descriptions are splendid (“The gear boxes and cable junctures add a constant hum to the background static of the city”), and he also posts samples of the audio, such as this from his third walk:

Read them, as his walking progresses, at soundscrapers.blogspot.com.

Banner Music: I don’t look too deeply into the statistics for this site. When you write about free music and about galleries that require no entry fee, as well as commercial music that often sells in the under-500-unit zone, the whole notion of pageviews can be an exercise in misdirection, if not futility. I do take note, because the dashboard in WordPress (the publishing tool that is this site’s backend) puts the information front and center, that this site seems to get a lot more visitors via Facebook than Twitter, even though I dedicate more time to Twitter than to Facebook. (Perhaps the automated posting of Disquiet’s RSS feed to Facebook that currently occurs is something I should do more of on Twitter? Somehow that doesn’t seem right. My approach to Twitter is conversational.) Anyhow, in the mix of sites sending somewhat significant traffic to this one is a service that was previously unfamiliar: shuffler.fm. The site is an aggregator of blog-filtered music (it bills itself as an “audio magazine made by music blogs”). You can search and sort by artist, genre, blog, and so forth. And, niftily enough, you can end up navigating this very site with a top bar that lets you listen to the music on a given page and navigate the site that way. The following link, unlike the previous one in this entry, will take you to an example: shuffler.fm. For the time being, the shuffler.fm service doesn’t seem to be infringing on this site’s non-commercial Creative Commons license, though there is a page on the site that talks about advertising.

Outside Man: Perhaps the craziest thing about the movie Bunraku isn’t its surreal set (part Kill Bill, part Sin City), its peculiar cast (Demi Moore and Ron Perlman and Woody Harrelson and Josh Hartnett), or the voice of its narrator (Mike Patton, of Faith No More, Mr. Bungle, Fantômas, etc.), but that the score is by trumpeter Terence Blanchard, best known for his numerous Spike Lee films. (The New York Times called the movie “a potpourri of genres that ends up a morass of clichés”) Back in reality, Blanchard is also tied to Red Tails, about the African American Tuskegee Airmen.

Dark Portal: The second and third freely downloadable volumes of the score to the excellent video game Portal 2 are available at thinkwithportals.com. The first volume was covered here in late June, in the Downstream department. (Via joystiq.com and nobuooo.com.)

Polluting Noise: Noise pollution is a subject that gives noise a bad name. A story in a local news site in my area, the San Francisco baycitizen.org, touched on how emotions color perception of noise: “On Sept. 12, 2001, no flights took off at San Francisco International, but complaints were lodged nevertheless.” The science-and-scifi site i09.com has been noting how birds and dolphins have shown adverse effects of human-made sound.

The Listener: Author Warren Ellis has launched a new podcast. Second episode came out the 5th of this month, at warrenellis.com, featuring such Disquiet.com favorites as Daphne Oram and Scott Tuma. Episode one had Moondog and Tangerine Dream.

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Blurry Images from the Right Coast

As we know from William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition, sometimes fuzzy images that you come upon courtesy of the Internet carry the greatest meaning, if only in terms of mystery.

The following two arrived in quick succession from my mother this evening, straight from her BlackBerry, with no additional information:

She and my father live on Long Island, and I knew they were headed to a concert that evening, so I guessed that the blurry shots of junkyard metal were from the performance of Magnus Lindberg‘s Kraft, which has three performances this week in Manhattan by the New York Philharmonic. (More on the dates at nyphil.org.) Though the work’s composition was completed a quarter century ago, this is its New York premiere. There’s a great video on youtube.com of Lindberg in which he talks about, among other things, the influence of Einstürzende Neubauten on Kraft:

 

In a PDF of program notes provided by the Philharmonic, some text from that video is transcribed:

I was living in Berlin in those days, and that was the time when the alternative music scene in Berlin was very strong,with a kind of post-punk music and groups like Einstürzende Neubauten. They had drills on stage, and they made an amazing noise with a kind of non-tonal pop music, and this aspect of it I found very fascinating. In a way, it was a shock for me to see that this kind of music was going on, and I was jealous about the sound — the impact of the sound and the huge forces they managed to put together. And I thought, “Why couldn’t we do this with the forces of the symphony orchestra, which has so much potential in different types of sound?”

After the concert, I received an email confirming my guess. Wish I could have been there.

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In London, Noise = Noise

A live show from the London-based Noise = Noise concert series has been posted by Charles Céleste Hutchins, whose set, despite reported technical glitches (of the “messed-up sound system” variety, not the “inspired by Oval” variety), provides heady drones worth submerging oneself in. And just as those lulling tones fill the sonic periphery, easily mistaken as both sensory overload and sensory deprivation, in clicks the 4-bit percussion, and then a nearly sub-aural bass that rattles not only ears but body cavities. And when there is feedback (of the “messing with tech variety,” not the “messed-up sound system” variety), it is that digital squeal that’s the laptop equivalent of Hendrix’s burning guitar (MP3).

[audio:http://www.berkeleynoise.com/celesteh/mp3s/2010/live_noise_19.mp3|titles=”Lupita”|artists=Charles Celeste Hutchins]

Writes Hutchins of the set, which was put together quickly:

In the first part of it, I’m playing my MOTM synthesizer and live sampling that in my SimpleSample SuperCollider patch, controlled by a wireless gamepad. However, one channel seemed to be out on the PA and it seemed like a lot of my SC stuff wasn’t making it out to the PA either. At some point, the joystick gave up the ghost completely, so it switched to being all modular synth.

More on the event at berkeleynoise.com. More on Noise = Noise at myob.to. More on Hutchins at celesteh.blogspot.com.

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