New Disquietude podcast episode: music by Lesley Flanigan, Dave Seidel, KMRU, Celia Hollander, and John Hooper; interview with Flanigan; commentary; short essay on reading waveforms. • Disquiet.com F.A.Q.Key Tags: #saw2for33third, #field-recording, #classical, #juntoElsewhere: Twitter, SoundCloud, Instagram

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

tag: this week in sound

This Week (or So) in Vocal Deepfakes:

Lightly annotated

  1. The director of a documentary film uses an AI engine so that his celebrated, deceased subject can speak from beyond the grave: theverge.com.

  2. A musician creates a business built around deepfake technology, letting other musicians engage with her voice: rollingstone.com.

  3. Bedroom producers make “fan fiction” songs featuring the AI-engineered voices of actual stars: billboard.com.

  4. Synthetic voices belatedly catch up with CGI, and all-digital animation may be in our near future: technologyreview.com.

Initial vaguely related thoughts:

  • All bands start as cover bands.

  • There’s a whole culture of nightclub performers, cover bands, and actors having careers (or partial careers) being other people.

  • There’s an uncanny valley between John Fogerty being sued for sounding like himself and the verdict against Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams in the “Blurred Lines” case.

  • A lot of the voices of fictional robots and androids in film and television are the voices of humans (see: 2001: A Space Odyssey, WarGames, Max Headroom, Colossus: The Forbin Project, and so on).

  • The future is especially meaningful when viewed through the lens of the past.

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Soundbites: Deaf Bell, Social Sound, Venue-less Gigs

Recent reads (etc.) on sound

A lightly annotated sound-studies clipping service, collected in advance of the next issue of my This Week in Sound email newsletter (tinyletter.com/disquiet):

The mother of the father of the telephone was deaf. Alexander Graham Bell’s own father developed a system called Visible Speech to facilitate communication. Bell eventually himself married a woman who had lost her hearing in childhood. And now, Katie Booth, in her new book, The Invention of Miracles: Language, Power, and Alexander Graham Bell’s Quest to End Deafness, traces this throughline in Bell’s life and work: “his creative genius and his misguided efforts to eradicate Deaf culture,” as Valerie Thompson puts it in a review. Here’s a particularly damning statement from Bell’s wife: “You are tender and gentle to deaf children, but their interest to you lies in their being deaf, not in their humanity.”
https://blogs.sciencemag.org/books/2021/04/06/the-invention-of-miracles/

LinkedIn is reportedly looking to add an audio chatroom feature, which makes sense, given how much of Clubhouse, the “audio social network,” has been professional conversations. This feature expansion would be part of a broader range of changes LinkedIn is making to flesh out its social capabilities.
https://www.firstpost.com/tech/news-analysis/linkedin-confirms-that-it-is-working-on-a-clubhouse-like-audio-chatroom-feature-9483741.html

Miss live music? Then I recommend this Gabriele de Seta essay on Hong Kong’s “no-venue underground” (a term credited to Rob Hayler), drawing from personal experience (2012-2016) playing in a city with few places to perform experimental music in the first place: “It is somehow ironically appropriate that, in this city without ground, experimental musicians find themselves relegated to a precarious underground actively carved out of fleeting spaces strewn across the upper floors of post-industrial peripheries. These precarious venues appear and disappear following the inexorable inflation of property prices and the investment decisions of landlords, leaving local show organizers to work in the present tense with whatever space is available at the moment.” It’s a timely, applicable piece during our moment of place-less livestreams. The essay is from the new book Fractured Scenes: Underground Music-Making in Hong Kong and East Asia, edited by Damien Charrieras and François Mouillot, both professors at universities in Hong Kong.
https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-981-15-5913-6_7

Erik Davis, author of Techgnosis and a friend of mine since college, writes about taking guitar lessons for the first time since high school. I myself started taking weekly lessons a few years ago, and can relate to this distinction he draws: “Rather than playing guitar, I am practicing with it. I don’t mean rote exercises — though I do some of those — but something more like meditation practice: a daily commitment to disciplined method and unpredictable encounter, to emotional exploration and deconstruction, to attention and listening as much as to performance or ‘doing.’” Likewise, he talks about trying to reconsider the role of recording in his efforts: “I want the recording device to become part of practice rather than ambition, no longer a staff sergeant of the Productivity Regime but a challenging feedback friend, breaking the spell to deepen it.”
https://www.burningshore.com/p/open-tunings

News of Google’s Project Wolverine goes back a month, but I don’t want to lose track of it. It’s reportedly a supercharged earbud. According to a summary by Ashley Carman, “[T]hey’re currently trying to figure out how to isolate people’s voices in a crowded room or make it easier to focus on one person when overlapping conversations are happening around you.” Carman compares this with Whisper (whisper.ai), and others to the lamented, defunct Doppler Labs. As David Pierce put it in his overview of Doppler’s fall back in 2017, it “had the bad luck of being a hardware company at a time when the biggest players in tech — Microsoft, Apple, Google, Amazon, and Facebook — are all pouring billions into developing their own gadgets.” Now Google appears to be pursuing the endeavor.
https://www.theverge.com/2021/3/4/22313421/alphabet-project-x-wolverine-hearing-aid-project
https://www.businessinsider.com/google-x-alphabet-hearing-project-wolverine-codename-augmented-reality-2021-3

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Soundbites: Audio Branding Audio, Ikea Podcast, De-gendered Siri

Recent reads (etc.) on sound

These are the sort of items I’d usually put in the This Week in Sound email newsletter (tinyletter.com/disquiet), but I’ve been super busy, too busy for a new issue, and so at a friend’s suggestion I am initially noting some here.

The serial-fiction audio/text hybrid company Serial Box has changed names. It’s never a particularly good idea to make such an announcement on April 1, as Realm (né Serial Box) elected to do, but there was nothing inherently funny in the company’s blog post, so no reason to doubt it. The name change arrives with other changes, like the availability of some Realm shows as podcasts. Next up: “some fancy brand sounds,” de rigueur for many companies these days, and virtually essential for a company whose product line is largely sonic itself. The key thing isn’t the name. The key thing is how complicated it is to characterize Realm, because it was never just audiobooks, or just a publisher of original fiction, and now it’s that plus podcasts. It’s all those things, wrapped in a new subscription service, with a la carte fees retained for some titles. A new name for the company is a step forward. But what Realm may really need is a name for what it is. (And if you’ve read this far, I recommend the series Ninth Step Station.)
https://www.realm.fm/blog/serial-box-is-now-realm

Also not an April Fools joke (and announced in March, anyhow) is that Ikea has rendered its catalog as a podcast, having previously done so, two years ago, in Swedish for the hometown audience. In a piece for Quartz, Anne Quito connects the move to phenomena like lockdown acculturation to podcasts and a rise in “the voice shopping feature on Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.” (Via Rob Walker)
https://qz.com/1982468/ikea-replaced-its-print-catalog-with-an-audiobook/

It’s said that you can judge a culture by how it treats its most vulnerable. So, too, its AI. To wit, Apple’s Siri now has more voices than ever, but more newsworthy is the removal of a female voice as the default. No less than the U.N. has called out Siri and Alexa for what could be called, quite literally, codified sexism. The default of the subservient role in many countries to a female voice was one among a larger set of symptoms. From an earlier New York Times piece by Megan Specia on the topic: “The [U.N.] report borrows its title — ‘I’d Blush if I Could’ — from a standard response from Siri, the Apple voice assistant, when a user hurled a gendered expletive at it. When a user tells Alexa, ‘You’re hot,’ her typical response has been a cheery, ‘That’s nice of you to say!'”
https://techcrunch.com/2021/03/31/apple-adds-two-siri-voices/

“In 1878, Thomas Edison recorded — on a piece of tinfoil — 78 seconds that may be the oldest playable recording of an American voice and the earliest known recording of a musical performance.” That’s from a Library of Congress announcement of new audio added to the National Recording Registry. (Via Lowell Goss)
https://www.loc.gov/item/prn-21-015/

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Sound Bites: Pandemic Playlists, Disliking Dislikes, Martian Noise

Recent reads (etc.) on sound

These are the sort of items I’d usually put in the This Week in Sound email newsletter (tinyletter.com/disquiet), but I’ve been super busy, too busy for a new issue, and so at a friend’s suggestion I am initially noting some here.

It’s good YouTube experiments with hiding dislikes. I’m not sure it’s just about creator ego or hate mobs. The interface is flawed. We’re used (post-Netflix) to dis/liking things to nudge the algorithm. Hiding lets users register taste without offending. (I wrote about this two years ago in “Speaking Privately to the Algorithm.”)
https://www.theverge.com/2021/3/30/22358992/youtube-hiding-dislikes-experiment-creator-review-bomb

“Getting ‘vaxxed at moscone and they’re literally playing Here Comes the Sun on the PA and I’m shaking,'”: Peter Hartlaub quotes local food critic Soleil Ho at the start of this piece about the playlist at Moscone Center, one of the San Francisco Bay Area’s major vaccination centers. Her tweet was the first I’d heard of the music there, as well. I’m still ineligible for vaccination, but have been following along as folks tweet (and otherwise share) their shots. The playlist originated, interesting, not for patients but for administers: “it was initially created for staffers arriving early for their first day of work.” (via Daniel Raffel)
https://www.sfchronicle.com/local/article/Here-s-the-story-behind-the-amazing-Moscone-16061677.php

Robocalls have altered our relationships with phones, both household and mobile. Good news: The FCC has been taking action. Less good: “A fine, even the biggest in the agency’s history, is unlikely to rein in robocalls. In fact, there’s evidence to suggest they haven’t been effective at all.” More good: “If there’s good news, it’s that the FCC isn’t limiting itself to fines. In a separate announcement, the agency detailed its new anti-robocall agenda. Acting Chair Jessica Rosenworcel has established a Robocall Response Team. Made up of 51 FCC members across six offices, the team will coordinate the agency’s anti-robocall efforts and develop new policies for it to put in place.”
https://www.engadget.com/fcc-225-million-fine-194419208.html

We’ve been back on Mars barely a month and already introduced noise pollution: “It’s so noisy that Dave Gruel, the lead engineer for the EDL (entry, descent and landing mic) system, said he’d pull over and call for a tow if he heard these sounds while driving his car.” (And, yes, I first read that as Dave Grohl, too.)
https://www.engadget.com/perseverance-driving-on-mars-sounds-063118359.html

Geeta Dayal surveys the past and future of music at Mills College, which has been home to such musical mavericks as Pauline Oliveros, Darius Milhaud, John Cage, Fred Frith, Steve Reich, Terry Riley, Laetitia Sonami, and Roscoe Mitchell, in light of the institution ceasing to grant degrees.
https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/30/arts/music/mills-college-music.html

You know how with each successive generation, ties to ethnic and cultural heritage diminish? It’s true of birds, too. “As the population of the critically endangered regent honeyeater plummeted over the years, some young birds could no longer find older ones to teach them to sing, a new study reports.”
https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/17/science/bird-honeyeater-australia.html

The Foghorn’s Lament: The Disappearing Music of the Coast, a new book from Jennifer Lucy Allen, is due out in later this year (May in the U.K., where she is based, and July in the U.S.). Allen received her PhD, with a thesis titled Fog Tropes: The social and cultural history of the foghorn 1853 to the present day.
https://www.hachette.com.au/jennifer-lucy-allan/the-foghorns-lament-the-disappearing-music-of-the-coast

Whale song can be used “to map undiscovered faults through tectonic sound recordings of the sea,” Geoff Manaugh notes from paper in Science. https://www.bldgblog.com/2021/03/cetacean-surroundsound/

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This Week in Sound: Wonky Skulls

A lightly annotated clipping service

These sound-studies highlights of the week are lightly adapted from the July 27, 2020, 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.

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THIS WEEK IN SOUND

The big sound-studies story this week has been the fake (or “fake”) crowd noise at professional sports events being broadcast during Covid. How long these events will go on is unclear, what with Major League Baseball having postponed two games scheduled for this evening. Igor Bonifacic reports that the NBA will be using Teams, the Microsoft answer to Slack: “The displays will allow players to see and hear the people who are watching them via Teams.” How long that’ll last before people start making noise and doing things at home they wouldn’t do in person is also unclear. Joe Reedy notes: “Stadium sound engineers will have access to around 75 different effects and reactions.” These sounds originated in the video game series MLB The Show. (And since most of what I know about baseball originates either as scandal in the news pages or as fiction, this scenario has sent me back to reread Jonathan Lethem’s short story “Vanilla Dunk.”) “You’re still focused on the game but that noise is very helpful. I could tell the first few scrimmages with pure silence was tough for some guys,” Reedy quotes Eric Sogard of the Milwaukee Brewers.
https://www.engadget.com/nba-microsoft-teams-192426876.html https://abcnews.go.com/Sports/wireStory/ballparks-crowd-noise-video-game-season-71833283

Before getting to all those stories about how quiet the world is getting, first note that noise complaints in New York City are up nearly 300 percent. Shaye Weaver attributes the uptick to “more people crammed together at the same time,” as well as to protests and the fireworks running up to the Fourth of July. The research cited was an analysis by apartmentguide.com of data from NYC Open Data.
https://www.timeout.com/newyork/news/noise-complaints-in-nyc-have-increased-almost-300-percent-since-february-072720
https://www.apartmentguide.com/blog/new-york-noise-complaints/
https://data.cityofnewyork.us/Social-Services/311-Noise-Complaints/p5f6-bkga

“We can safely say that in modern seismology, we’ve never seen such a long period of human quiet,” according to seismologist Raphael De Plaen. Tanya Basu writes on how Covid has quieted the planet: “Everyday urban activities like commutes, or stadiums full of fans simultaneously going wild in ‘football quakes,’ are strong enough to register on seismometers.” (Thanks, Rob Walker!)
https://www.technologyreview.com/2020/07/23/1005574/lockdown-was-the-longest-period-of-quiet-in-human-history/

Michael Le Page reports on “optical cochlear implants that use light to stimulate the nerve cells.” Note that the nerve cells must be genetically modified for this to take effect.
https://www.newscientist.com/article/2249633-hearing-restored-in-rats-by-modifying-ear-cells-to-respond-to-light/

“The two major tools to promote deaf accessibility in video games are (1) subtitles/captions and (2) visual cues.” Morgan Baker provides a detailed primer.
https://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/MorganBaker/

“In most toothed whales, the internal organs in the skull are squashed into the left side to make way for soft tissues which help them to echolocate”: Katie Pavid explores the science of why whales look that way. Apparently such skulls are called “wonky.” The article uses variations on the word “wonky” eight times. (Via Cheryl Tipp)
https://www.nhm.ac.uk/discover/news/2020/july/echolocation-gives-whales-lopsided-heads.html

“A team from the Systems Engineering Department at the University of Lagos in Akoka, Lagos, Nigeria, have discovered that people can identify other people by the matchless nature of their laughter because, unlike voice and manner of speech, laughter almost cannot be mimicked,” writes Anton Shilov. In other words, your next password may be your laugh, no kidding.
https://www.techradar.com/news/your-next-banking-password-could-be-based-on-laughter

“Half a century later and visual and voice deepfake technology can give a glimpse at an alternate reality where the landing failed”: The landing is the U.S. arrival on the moon. The deepfake is of Richard Nixon announcing the death of the astronauts. There are 98 days until the next U.S. presidential election, and the concept of audio deepfakes isn’t quite keeping me up at night, but it sure is heavy on my mind. Read Eric Hal Schwartz on the topic. And if your middle name is Hal, it’s sort of inevitable you end up on the artificial intelligence beat, right? (This isn’t the first time I’ve quoted Schwartz in the newsletter, but I think it’s the first time I’ve made that joke.)
https://voicebot.ai/2020/07/20/rewriting-the-moon-landing-with-a-deepfake-built-on-synthetic-speech/

“Hackers use machine learning to clone someone’s voice and then combine that voice clone with social engineering techniques to convince people to move money where it shouldn’t be,” writes James Vincent of the “audio deepfake scam.”
https://www.theverge.com/2020/7/27/21339898/deepfake-audio-voice-clone-scam-attempt-nisos

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GRACE NOTES

▰ The trailer for the upcoming TV series Biohackers features an amazing urban doorbell and a homebrew “biopiano” using plants. I’m in. (And a silent rave, too, which Beth Elderkin of io9 pointed out.) The Netflix algorithms have my number.

▰ The narration of this audiobook I’ve been listening to while going for walks is so stilted, I bet if I found a printed copy I could confirm pauses align with pages being turned. Also, though it’s from the library’s online service, it includes spoken instruction to change CDs.

▰ I don’t miss concerts half as much as I miss running into people at concerts.

▰ The unique internet pleasure of observing a musician you admire purchase a used piece of music equipment in which you are interested, and then awaiting a release that features the result.

▰ My next sequencer is MIDI data of people nodding in agreement on Zoom conferences posted to YouTube where folks are in sync, so to speak, with what the speaker is saying.

▰ Ableton Quantum Entanglement Link

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