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tag: this week in sound

This Week in Sound: Silent Ride-sharing + Radio Games + …

A lightly annotated clipping service

Dead Media: In a widely circulated story that within days launched lawsuits, Jody Rosen in the New York Times looked back at a 2008 fire whose cultural toll is yet to be fully comprehended. Every few weeks there’s a new bit of history that clarifies for a younger generation (and reminds an older, nostalgic generation) that the pre-streaming record industry didn’t always have musicians’ best interests at heart. It may be a while before an article tops this one in that regard.

Bring the Noise (App): There’s a lot of talk about noise online, but Apple is being literal with a new health-conscious app named Noise, designed to let those with Apple Watches remain alert to sounds above a certain decibel level. How the app can tell such sounds from cuffs rubbing against the device is yet to be seen. The question is also how effective such a thing will be, and whether it’s really a gimmick designed to spur sales in response to a moral panic about sound. “I think that they’re trying to appease the public,” Larry Rosen, a California State University, Dominguez Hills, psychologist, is quoted in the article below. There’s, in addition, a question of how such an app balances against the very same industry putting speakers everywhere from our ears to our wrists to our kitchen counters. Perhaps a more useful app would be named Off.

Single Girl: Miki Berenyi of the band Lush and, more recently, Piroshka penned a detailed essay, utterly bereft of glamor, on the ins and outs, the triumphs and deeply felt antagonisms, of being part of a creative ensemble. (h/t Michael Siou)

Mute Point: As if there were any doubt that so-called ride-sharing services are built on and even exacerbating class divisions, Uber is now testing a tool that allows customers to inform their drivers, with the push of a button, of their desire that the driver cease speaking: “Uber claims it is responding to concerns from customers that drivers will give them low star ratings if they don’t want to chat; drivers meanwhile often fear entering into conversations with passengers for the same reason.”

Background Beat: You may get an ad-free experience if you pay for Spotify, but it doesn’t mean advertisers aren’t benefiting from what Spotify learns about you. Liz Pelly breaks down the process in a Baffler piece. Todd L. Burns, praising Pelly’s article in his Crambe Repetita email newsletter, focused on a particularly rich paragraph: “Jorge Espinel, who was Head of Global Business Development at Spotify for five years, once said in an interview: ‘We love to be a background experience. You’re competing for consumer attention. Everyone is fighting for the foreground. We have the ability to fight for the background. And really no one is there. You’re doing your email, you’re doing your social network, etcetera.’ In other words, it is in advertisers’ best interests that Spotify stays a background experience.”

Make Not: Maker Media, home to Make Magazine and the Maker Faire, has, reports say, essentially been shuttered. It’s a huge loss to the DIY world, though it’s also worth noting how much of what Make has accomplished will live on in the efforts of those it has inspired in its 15-year run. I moderated a panel at the very first Maker Faire, back in 2006, about homemade and circuit-bent musical instruments. It featured Krystyna Bobrowski, Chachi Jones (aka Donald Bell), and Univac. An audio recording appears at

Sound Salvation: Alt-Frequencies is a smart new video game that takes turning the dial as a form of maneuvering truths: “And while it may play with an old-fashioned radio gimmick, each station essentially represents a Facebook group or a curated Twitter list. These channels essentially give the audience what it wants rather than what it needs, all while a populace is increasingly at one another’s throats.” (h/t Simon Carless’ Video Game Deep Cuts email newsletter)

The Hustle: “On July 12th 1979 disco records were destroyed as part of the in-match entertainment. It has come to be seen as an appalling act of prejudice,” per The Economist. Despite which, the Chicago White Sox just celebrated its anniversary with t-shirts emblazoned “Disco Demolition – the night records were broken.”

This is lightly adapted from an edition first published in the June 16, 2019, issue of the free weekly email newsletter This Week in Sound.

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This Week in Sound: Silent Tires + Speech2Face + …

A lightly annotated clipping service

Don’t Tread: Despite the fact that sounds are being added to electric and hybrid cars to compensate for how quiet they are, Bridgestone has produced a new tire, the Turanza QuietTrack, designed to muffle the familiar noise of rubber on tarmac. Soon enough we’ll be adding electronic tire sounds to compensate for the newly quiet tires. Then perhaps we’ll replace car horns with what sounds like a parent screaming in the middle of the night upon stepping on a Lego tire.

Visage Thing: MIT researchers report they can deduce what your face looks like from what your voice sounds like: “The paper, ‘Speech2Face: Learning the Face Behind a Voice,’ explains how they took a dataset made up of millions of clips from YouTube and created a neural network-based model that learns vocal attributes associated with facial features from the videos. Now, when the system hears a new sound bite, the AI can use what it’s learned to guess what the face might look like.” (Via the Twitter account of Robin James, who appears to be understandably skeptical about this announcement.) Of perhaps more interest is the Fast Company article’s focus on the way “Voice privacy has taken a backseat to the push to regulate face recognition.”

Nay, Robot: The FCC appears to have taken steps to stem the tide of robocalls. Whether the actions will have an impact is yet to be seen. I have worried that robocalls will be impossible to regulate due to some obscenely broad interpretation of free speech. You can’t yell fire in a crowded theater. Nor should you be able to contribute to a denial-of-service attack on the household phone by loading it down with scam pitches and spoofed numbers.

Not OK: Apparently when the band Radiohead declined to pay a ransom, someone posted 18 hours of bootlegged rarities from their OK Computer recording sessions. (Update: Radiohead then went ahead and put the whole thing online, temporarily, at

To Beep: To coincide with the 50th anniversary of the first Moon landing, Fast Company has been running a series of stories on 50 related subjects, such as Tang and Velcro. The eighth such story is about “the birth of the electronic beep”: “The CBS News special devoted to the launch and impact of Sputnik opened with 18 seconds of the recorded beep.’Until two days ago,’ said anchor Douglas Edwards, ‘that sound had never been heard on this Earth. Suddenly, it has become as much a part of 20th century life as the whirr of your vacuum cleaner.'”

Fly in a Wall: A prototype sound proofing material has been derived from “the tiny sound absorbent scales found on the wings of a giant species of moth,” the African Cabbage Tree Emperor.

Two to Tango: The video game Dance Dance Revolution turns 20 this year. According to the New York Times, there are now only two remaining DDR machines at Manhattan arcades. The newspaper’s scrolling photo essay takes readers to the scenes. (Via Simon Carless’ excellent Video Game Deep Cuts weekly email newsletter.)

This was first published in the June 9, 2019, issue of the free weekly email newsletter This Week in Sound.

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This Week in Sound: Fungus + Echolocation + Deepfakes + …

A lightly annotated clipping service

Earworm-Ready: In an effort to find consumer-grade utility for synthetic biology, researchers developed headphones grown from fungus, as well as “bacteria and biosynthetic spider silk.” (Via Subtopes)

Trainspotting 2.0: Learn about the “oto-tetsu” scene in Japan, where musicians use railway sounds to create music. “At the heart of what oto-tetsu creators do is love. The love of trains, the love of making tracks about trains. They are well-known only by each other; they’re not fame-seeking because it’s a scene that feeds itself.” (Thanks, Paul Socolow)

Pod People: Apple out of the blue released a new iPod, the seventh generation of the device. The sixth generation came out way back in 2015. In related news, Apple is rumored to be retiring iTunes at the Worldwide Developers Conference in San Jose, California, this week.

Practical Magic: In a kind of low-rent version of The Matrix, much of the ingenuity attributed to virtual assistants “relies on massive data sets built by subcontracted human workers earning low wages.”

3D Eavesdropping: New technology is combining echolocation and artificial intelligence “to decipher what the person is doing from the reflected sound alone.”

Political Slur: Deepfakes are an emerging technology of deception, but you don’t need to stick someone’s head on someone else’s body to create disinformation. The Minority Leader of the United States House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, has criticized Facebook for not removing a doctored video that showed her “appearing to slur her words and stammer and has been viewed and shared on social media millions of times.”

Bose Silence: When physicists worked in a lab to confirm Stephen Hawking’s black hole theory, they used “the point of no return” for sound rather than light, called the Bose-Einstein condensate.

Ear Buds: There’s a parody of fine dining in the new Netflix film from Ali Wong and Randall Park and directed by Nahnatchka Khan, Always Be My Maybe (much of which is set in my longtime San Francisco neighborhood, the Richmond District). In a scene shot downtown, transforming the playful geometry of Daniel Libeskind’s Contemporary Jewish Museum into a hushed, haughty restaurant, a character (whom I won’t identify so as not to spoil a separate joke) asks the waiter, “Do you have any dishes that play with time, the concept of time?” The waiter replies: “It comes with headphones so you can hear the sound of the exact animal you are about to consume.”

Thinking About Frameworks: I didn’t want to waste time at the start of this issue noting how long it’s been since I last sent one out. It takes awhile to get an issue together, all the more so when I miss a week, when life and work intervene. The sonic data runneth over. I love running this newsletter. I’ve run various email newsletters since 1994. The This Week in Sound email, to me, provides a framework. I think a lot about frameworks. There are various frameworks that help me process things, get things done, move ideas forward, close the loop on ideas., which I’ve run since 1996, is a framework in the form of a long-running blog (I think it might even be OK, at this point, to refer to it as a very long-running blog, to the extent that its launch predates the word blog by several years). The Disquiet Junto music community, now in its 8th year, is a framework for collaborating with musicians and working out ideas about sound, music, and networked creativity in real time. The course I teach each spring, “Sounds of Brands,” at a local art college here in San Francisco is a framework for focusing specifically on that topic and working through the ideas with students, who, thanks to being from all over the world, bring their own diverse experiences and perspectives to the discussion. (It’s the only place I have experienced a student from Kazakhstan talk about the stultifying silence of Eastern Bloc educational institutions. The only place I have witnessed a chance conversation between students from Thailand and Saudi Arabia about the whistles they attach to their pet birds. The only place I’ve heard a student, whose family lives in a vast desert, talk about how compounds employ rifles to signal distant neighbors regarding everything from “There’s an emergency!” to “The party has started!”)

Writing freelance articles is a framework. Working for clients is a framework. Writing books is a framework. Fiction I’ve been working at provides a framework. In any case, This Week in Sound is a framework I value a lot, despite the gaps in when I manage to send it out.

This was first published in the June 2, 2019, issue of the free weekly email newsletter This Week in Sound.

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This Week in Sound: Naughty Gadgets

+ RIP, HAL + RIP, FMA + RIP, the free time of Autechre fans

An annotated clipping service

It’s been far too long since I last hit sent on an email to this list, not since mid-July.

Disconnect Me: Shakespearian actor Douglas Rain, the voice of HAL in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, has died at the age of 90: This year, 2018, marks the 50th anniversary of the movie’s release.

Naughty List: Mozilla, maker of the Firefox browser, has created a list (at of smart devices in an effort to gauge consumers’ sense of their “creepy” factor. The items range from the Nintendo Switch to the Parker Teddy Bear. (Via Next Draft.)

Volume Off: The Free Music Archive is reportedly closing down:

Robot Overload: A few days ago, the British electronic duo Autechre revealed it had uploaded 444 (yes, 444) new (yes, new) videos to YouTube, totally more than 13 (yes, you know the drill) hours of music. The result brings to mind a neural network’s combination of Hiroshi Sugimoto’s horizon-view ocean photography and Brian Eno’s colorful light installations. As is the case with many an internet Easter Egg hunt, the communal scrambling to make sense of the ambiguous material is reminiscent of the mysterious Russian video footage at the heart of William Gibson’s 2003 novel, Pattern Recognition.

This was first published in the November 20, 2018, issue of the free weekly (well, kinda weekly, in a hopeful way) email newsletter This Week in Sound.

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This Week in Sound: Another Kind of Mouth

+ parenting + surveillance + sonic weapons + Fripp apps + more

An annotated clipping service

Outboard Voice: “What’s a wheelchair but another kind of movement? What’s a device like this but another kind of mouth?” — a parent, Jamie Sumner, writes in the New York Times (“Helping My Nonverbal Son Find His Voice”) about her son, who has cerebral palsy, and his use of technology that gives him if not speech then “bits of speech.”

Telegram Parenting: “Mommy-gram (and Daddy-gram) is an Alexa skill that essentially allows you to text back and forth with your child at home without he or she having a phone or even needing to know how to spell or read,” writes Emily Price at

Mic Off: The human voice gets just one brief mention (“Chinese companies are developing globally competitive applications like image and voice recognition”) in this lengthy New York Times article on the Chinese surveillance state (“Inside China’s Dystopian Dreams: A.I., Shame and Lots of Cameras”), which certainly begs the question: What about the microphones? Hopeful for follow-up coverage. And, um, a future that looks less like that recent Clive Owen / Amanda Seyfried straight-to-Netflix movie, Anon.

Sonic Sickness: The Center for Disease Control has joined the research investigation into the reported “sonic attacks” in Cuba and China, via Boing Boing.   / / /   Meanwhile, perhaps all this sonic-weapon anxiety has overlooked opportunities.

Schizoid Apps: If you dug Brian Eno’s Bloom app, then check out the latest trio of apps from his co-developer on that, Peter Chilvers. It’s a set of “virtual live performance” apps featuring King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp and flautist/saxophonist Theo Travis. More at

Echo Location: You apparently don’t actually need an Amazon Echo to play that audio-only Westworld game mentioned here recently.

Format Function: WYNC asks what a DJ is in the digital age. “We’re getting more music sent to us than ever in our history, and yet most of it’s digital and contains no other context so it gets ignored,” the article quotes Ken Freedman, the General Manager and Program Director at WFMU (via Mike Rhode).

Multi Media: The Telemetron is a brand new instrument intended for use in zero gravity. It was developed by Nicole L’Huillier and Sands Fish at the MIT Media Lab.   / / /   Also from MIT, an AI “can recognize instruments in a video, identify specific ones at pixel level and isolate the sounds they produce.”

Face Dance: Latest reports, via, that Facebook isn’t using “ambient audio” techniques to spy on its users — despite having a patent to, in essence, do just that, per the article.

Duplex Planet: That Google Duplex AI mentioned here recently that can make phone calls for you might also find its way into call centers, per

We All Scream: Someone hacked the LinkNYC internet booths in New York City and made them play the music from ice cream trucks, per, via Dan M.

Sports Doctor: My lack of knowledge regarding competitive sports can fill a stadium, so I’m always glad when someone like Gabrielle Cornish, a PhD candidate in Musicology at the Eastman School of Music, can do something like break down the sounds of soccer.

Unquiet Place: “The premise: there is a mysterious and terrifying noise called The Sound that attracts children when they hear it.” That’s the story of a forthcoming film based on “first time filmmaker Julian Terry’s horror short They Hear It,” per Deadline.

News Submissions: 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.

This was first published in the July 12, 2018, issue of the free weekly email newsletter This Week in Sound.

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