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tag: this week in sound

This Week in Sound: Field Recording, the Video Game

A lightly annotated clipping service

These sound-studies highlights of the week are lightly adapted from the September 6, 2021, 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.

There’s a new video game coming out about field recording. It’s called Season, and based on various reports it seems to involve a protagonist “creating ‘a time capsule’ and deciding ‘what would capture the spirit’ of this world.” Despite the soothing premise, it has a dramatic backdrop involving, perhaps, some sort of “world-ending event” that sets the field recordist’s task in motion. PlayStation announced the game in December 2020. It’s being developed by the Scavengers Studio, based in Montréal, Québec.
https://happymag.tv/season-field-recording-game/
https://blog.playstation.com/2020/12/10/introducing-season-a-game-about-capturing-that-fleeting-moment/
https://www.play-season.com/

Pilita Clark in the Financial Times decries the use of voice recognition software “to allegedly predict good recruits,” pointing to it as an example of algorithmic overkill in modern hiring.
https://www.ft.com/content/85278dcc-fed1-4c44-90e6-bceed6828c41

“Among the important facts would be the nature of the clip, the purpose of the use, the intention of the creator and the user, and the perception, actual reliance and reasonableness of reliance of the listener.” A laywer breaks down some of the factors to consider in light of the rise of audio deepfakes. The author is Katherine B. Forrest, a former U.S. District Judge in New York and former Deputy Assistant Attorney General with the U.S. Department of Justice.
https://www.law.com/newyorklawjournal/2021/08/30/hearing-voices-from-beyond-the-grave-emerging-uses-of-deepfakes/

A bird appropriately named Echo at a Sydney zoo has taken to imitating, with eerie and alarming accuracy, the sound of crying babies. The lyrebird, a resident of Taronga Zoo, apparently can also do a solid rendition of the “evacuation now” announcement, too. (Via Lawrence English)
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/sep/02/targona-zoo-lyrebird-perfectly-mimics-the-ear-splitting-wail-of-a-crying-baby

What the Arctic loses in ice it gains in shipping traffic, and what it gains in shipping traffic it seems prone to lose in sea life. Marguerite Holloway explores how noise pollution has led narwhals to cease making noises themselves. “That is a very worrisome trend, of course,” says Susanna Blackwell, a marine-mammal-acoustics expert, “because that means that these long-distance communicators can’t hear each other any longer.”
https://www.newyorker.com/science/elements/the-acoustic-lives-of-narwhals

“In place of the tendency to fixate on the quantity of sound in our environment,” writes Feargus O’Sullivan, “we should think a lot more about its quality.” The article is an overview of how the “soundscape” approach to urban planning judges factors beyond merely decibel levels. “There’s no consensus about the types of sounds that are intrusive, either. Research comparing the U.K. with China and Taiwan has found marked differences. When residents of Sheffield, England, were asked which sounds they preferred coming into their living area from outside, 71.4% of respondents chose birdsong and no one chose music. When the same question was posed to residents of Beijing, 60% chose music first and only 17.5% chose birdsong.”
https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2021-covid-city-noise/

“Environmental researchers warned about the damage that noise pollution is causing in natural areas due to ecotourism and recreation activities (such as electronic music parties) that are being carried out in the jungles of Quintana Roo.” The article quotes a Dr. Yann Hénaut, of El Colegio de la Frontera Sur.
https://www.theyucatantimes.com/2021/08/noise-pollution-is-killing-birds-and-mammals-in-quintana-roo/

Amazon has updated its Echo devices to recognize high background sounds, and compensate accordingly. “The feature gives Alexa the ability to respond to questions at a higher volume when loud background noise is detected,” writes Molly Price. “It’s a handy option that is surprisingly late to the game, given that Alexa has known how to whisper for some time now.”
https://www.cnet.com/home/smart-home/how-to-use-alexa-adaptive-volume-on-your-amazon-echo/

Abner Li lays out potential Google Assistant technology that might bypass the need to say “OK, Google.” Ankit Banerjee checks in about potential privacy concerns.
https://9to5google.com/2021/09/01/google-assistant-quick-phrases/
https://www.androidauthority.com/google-assistant-ok-google-optional-2745962/

Apple has acquired a company called Primephonic, a streaming service focused on classical music.
https://www.forbes.com/sites/rashadgrove/2021/09/06/apple-announces-its-acquisition-of-primephonic-a-classical-music-streaming-service/

“The steep climb to commercializing voice” is pondered by Ken Sutton, CEO and co-founder of Yobe, an AI/voice software company. Yobe refers to this as “the cocktail party problem”
https://techcrunch.com/2021/09/03/the-cocktail-party-problem-why-voice-tech-isnt-truly-useful-yet/

The folks at Nintendo Life discuss their favorite “isn’t-quite-music” sounds from video games. Winners include the Metroid Prime Trilogy, Super Mario World, Super Mario Sunshine, and Resident Evil 4, among others.
https://www.nintendolife.com/news/2021/09/talkingpointwhatsthebestsoundinvideogames

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This Week in Sound: The $12,262 Megaphone

A lightly annotated clipping service

These sound-studies highlights of the week are lightly adapted from the August 30, 2021, 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.

Your home speaker can leak what you’re saying from over 100 feet away, just with careful observation of fluctuation in its LED. “The results aren’t crystal clear,” reports Andrew Liszewski, “and the noise increases the farther away from the speaker the capture device is used, but with some intelligent audio processing, the results can undoubtedly be improved.”
https://gizmodo.com/eavesdroppers-can-hear-what-speakers-are-playing-by-wat-1847555441
https://www.nassiben.com/glowworm-attack

Gravitational waves are “ripples in spacetime” and a new resonator may have identified high-frequency ones never recorded before. But it could be something else: “Besides gravitational waves,” writes Isaac Schultz, “other explanations for the signal could be interference from other particles making their way through the detector, a nearby meteor, the detector itself having a technical problem, or, perhaps most tantalizingly — high-mass dark matter candidates.”
https://gizmodo.com/new-dark-matter-detector-records-rare-high-frequency-e-1847555426

“Troy police plan to purchase a high-decibel long-range acoustic device, called an LRAD or sonic cannon,” writes Melanie Trimble, a regional director of the New York Civil Liberty Union, in an opinion piece. “The Troy City Council has approved the purchase of military-style crowd-control tools for the Troy Police Department. Troy is just one of the many police departments across the state that are becoming increasingly militarized. And all too often, these crowd-control weapons provoke violent confrontations.” Why, asks Trimble, is it necessary to purchase “what will essentially serve as a $12,262 megaphone”?
https://www.timesunion.com/opinion/article/Troy-does-not-need-sound-cannons-for-policing-16412336.php

A device developed by the US Navy can cancel out someone’s speech in real time. It “records a target’s speech with a long-range microphone and plays it back to them with a tiny delay,” per David Hambling. (Via subtopes)
https://www.newscientist.com/article/2287973-sneaky-us-navy-feedback-device-could-stop-people-being-able-to-speak/

A long in the works audio device developed by Kanye West reportedly can “split any song into stems,” which the user can then manipulate. The device, called the Stem Player, was created in collaboration with the company Kano, best known for its Raspberry Pi computer kits for kids. How exactly these stems are extracted remains unclear.
https://www.stemplayer.com/

A man served a almost a full year in prison reportedly for incorrect data from ShotSpotter, “a network of surveillance microphones that uses a secret AI-powered algorithm to identify and triangulate gunshots with varying degrees of success.” The arrest took place in Chicago, Illinois. Writes Nathan Ord, “[I]t appeared that this loud noise was identified by the AI as a firecracker with a 98% confidence rating. However, an employee reclassified the sound to a single gunshot a minute after detection.” Reminder: AI is people, on both sides of the algorithm. (Via subtopes)
https://hothardware.com/news/man-jailed-over-ai-powered-gunshot-detection

The villain in the rebooted film Candyman is the title character, but an AI audio advertising campaign provides its own reasons for concern. The web-based interface allows for tracking, per Chris Sutcliffe: “you can track visitors’ experience, which is a really good engagement stat to bring back to the client.” To the filmmakers’ credit, if you opt not to share your voice, there’s a humorous animated GIF that says “Don’t. Don’t say that.”
https://www.thedrum.com/news/2021/08/25/say-his-name-how-horror-movie-candyman-using-voice-activated-ar-engage-audiences
https://idareyou.candymanmovie.com/

“The cello provides a lot of warmth you don’t normally hear in hold music.” That’s composer Justin Sherburn talking with Dan Solomon about the gentle instrumental tracks he and the ensemble Montopolis recorded as hypothetical replacements for the repetitive beep that plays when waiting for the Texas Workforce Commission to address your employment issues. Following NPR coverage of an album of Sherburn’s music, the Commission has actually adopted it for use on their phone calls.
https://www.texasmonthly.com/being-texan/texas-workforce-commission-hold-music/
https://montopolismusic.com/album/1853128/texas-workforce-commission-hold-music

People may be upset about the machine-generated Anthony Bourdain spoken segments in a recent documentary, but actor Val Kilmer is thankful for the technology. He worked with the company Sonantic to re-create his voice after losing it to throat cancer, reports Eric Mack. (The voice doesn’t appear in the recent Kilmer documentary, Val.)
https://www.cnet.com/news/hear-val-kilmers-voice-re-created-by-ai-after-throat-cancer-took-it-away/

A short episode of the Atlas Obscura podcast takes listeners to the Tank, a massive (seven stories) industrial structure in Colorado now used as a music performance space, known for its extensive reverberation. (Thanks, Mike Rhode!)
https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/podcast-the-tank

The Havana syndrome, which is not the name of a Michael Crichton novel, delayed U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris’ trip to Vietnam. The syndrome had initially been attributed to a purported sonic weapon, the existence of which remains a topic of debate. Per the Associated Press’ Alexandra Jaffe and Jonathan Lemire: “Some of those impacted report hearing a loud piercing sound and feeling intense pressure in the face. Pain, nausea, and dizziness sometimes followed.” From the Economist: “CIA officers working at the American embassy described the sensation of pressure in their heads and the sound of what sounded like a swarm of cicadas.”
https://apnews.com/article/havana-vietnam-86a12de5be0f755406ef19522f11b2b0
https://www.economist.com/the-economist-explains/2021/08/23/what-is-havana-syndrome-the-puzzling-malady-plaguing-western-diplomats

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Sound Verbs

From This Week in Sound

For at least the last 34 issues of the This Week in Sound email newsletter (tinyletter.com/disquiet), I’ve swapped out a different verb each time to close out the introductory section. The following are those 34 words in reverse chronological order of their use in the newsletter.

swish, crackle, thwack, clang, chirrup, howl, mumble, bay, hiss, mutter, sibilate, blow, nasalize, burble, resound, whisper, purr, sigh, bombinate, rustle, intone, echolocate, susurrate, murmur, buzz, hum, trill, vibrate, whir, harmonize, drone, thrum, rumble, oscillate

Do you have any favorite verbs related to sound?

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Why This Week in Sound

Process, signal to noise, irony

The newsletter I send out, This Week in Sound (tinyletter.com/disquiet), works for me because it helps me process all the material I come across in a given week. I collect a dozen or so key items, each an instance of sound in one or another of various realms. I do so as I read, and listen, and watch, and go for walks, and talk with family, friends, and colleagues. Some of these instances are sound in the purest sense: a gadget for delivery, something about the physics of audio reception or production. Others are more musical: a feature iteration of a streaming service, an innovative record release, an ingenious instrument. Others are about music or sound in another media contexts: a TV score, a bit of user interface, a sound art installation. From there the search branches out further, and the further the better: a military-industrial weapon of sound, the role of sound in urban planning, some means by which sound connects us to the natural environment, or lets us understand civilization’s history. The further afield from sound the sound appears, the more it is of interest to me. I come across more of such information each week than I know how to manage, and sending out the newsletter — preparing the newsletter — is the best way I’ve found to handle it all. Taking an hour or so to sift through and cull all but the most interesting observations and news items, and then excerpting and commenting on them, is how I make sense of them, how I piece them into a whole, how I notice patterns connecting them, how I come to absorb them.

There is an irony to the newsletter: The more often I send it out, the more emails I get from readers with tips, with bits of sonic awareness from their own lives and professions, regions and interests, cultures and perspectives. A historian of engineering tells me something about an early telephony apparatus. An elementary school teacher has observed something about pedagogy in the age of virtual conference calls. An architect has some details about a new noise dampening technique. It’s true that the more often I send out the email, the more information I receive, when all along I’m sending out the newsletter to deal with what is already an embarrassment of riches. However, the signal to noise ratio on the inbound information from readers is quite high, and I welcome it.

I go through spells of sending out my This Week in Sound email newsletter. I do it for a few weeks, then get overwhelmed, or distracted, and then the backlog of material becomes too great for me to get my head around it, and then time passes, and the process begins again. I got an issue out last week, and I have material prepped for Monday. We’ll see how it goes.

There are tons of newsletters these days, many on services designed with a commercial component. I do have a tip jar in mine, and the tips I get (financial, in addition to informational) are not so much an economic underpinning as a sign of life, a form of encouragement. The subscription model is, for the time being, less interesting to me. I got on the internet too early to have a natural inclination that involves a firewall, and firewalls are a key aspect of most newsletter subscription services. Some folks have helped me understand that subscriptions and firewalls aren’t intrinsically connected to each other, and I’m learning more as I compare services beyond Tinyletter’s bare-bones offering. I’m sorting it out as I go. It’s all an experiment, an ongoing one.

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This Week in Sound: Deepfakes, Subways, NSFW

A lightly annotated clipping service

It’s been a while. Best way to dust off the This Week in Sound apparatus is to kick out a new issue, which I did last night (subscribe at tinyletter.com/disquiet). Things have been busy. A lot of writing, a lot of working, a lot of pandemic-era living. As always, tips on topics related to sound are always appreciated. Send them my way, please. They’re in no short supply, but the best examples often originate from sources deep into a seemingly non-sonic topic that ends up having unique sonic components.

There’s a company called Pindrop that was created to pinpoint the presence of deepfakes. They think they’ve sorted out which bits of the recent Anthony Bourdain movie, Roadrunner, were created artificially. The director, Morgan Neville, had said they would be “undetectable,” writes Tom Simonite, when Neville elected to have machines impersonate Bourdain to record things the late author and television personality had written but never spoken. Pindrop (and various online commenters) now think otherwise. As for the filmmaker’s ethics, this section of Simonite’s Wired story is especially solid: “[I]t is still possible to inform listeners about the source of what they’re hearing. At one point in Roadrunner, a caption advises viewers they are hearing ‘VOICE OVER – OUTTAKE.’ It’s not clear why Neville didn’t use a ‘synthetic audio’ caption for his AI-generated clips — or if disclosing them in the film, not just interviews in which he boasted they were undetectable, would have softened the backlash.”
https://www.wired.com/story/these-hidden-deepfakes-anthony-bourdain-movie/

I can’t remember the last time an article was shared with me more often than the recent New York Times online piece, complete with audio selections, about the sounds of subways around the world. It’s filled with choice details, such as how the “synthetic ‘doo-doo-doo'” of the Montreal system has its roots in a sound that was a byproduct of the circuitry. And with nuances regarding the employment of sound: “It seems to a layperson like a door chime is innocuous, but it’s a really critical part of keeping the capacity of the subway up,” reports a New York City Transit conductor. (Article by Sophie Haigney and Denise Lu, design by Gabriel Gianordoli and Umi Syam.)
https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/08/13/arts/subway-train-sounds.html

Without quoting it directly, I will simply say there is a NSFW and highly satisfactory anecdote in Rebecca Mead’s profile of Jesse Armstrong, writer and creator of the HBO series Succession. I recommend reading the whole thing, but you can also just search for the word “slapping” and learn about the role of music in masking the sonic byproduct of certain group activities.
https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2021/08/30/the-real-ceo-of-succession

R. Murray Schafer, to whom we owe the modern concept of the “soundscape,” has died at age 88. “In a way, the world is a huge musical composition that’s going on all the time, without a beginning and, presumably, without an ending,” he is quoted by Robert Rowat in this obituary. Schafer died a little under a month after his birthday, July 18, which has served, in his honor, as the date of the annual World Listening Day.
https://www.cbc.ca/music/r-murray-schafer-composer-writer-and-acoustic-ecologist-has-died-at-88-1.5404868

Quiet Parks International (quietparks.org) is identifying the “last quiet places” on our planet, ranging from the rural, such as the remote Zabalo River in Ecuador, to urban ones, such as Hampstead Heath in London. According to Nell Lewis, the organization has identified “260 potential sites around the world.”
https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/quiet-parks-quiet-places-noisy-planet-spc-intl/index.html

Hans Zimmer has written music for numerous movies, and now he’s added a book to his resume, alongside providing sounds for everything from apps to cars. He hasn’t written a book. He’s written music to accompany a book, specifically a limited edition art book on Denis Villeneuve’s forthcoming adaptation of the Frank Herbert novel Dune. Zimmer also scored the film, of course. And don’t fret the “limited” situation. Abbey White reports that it will be available for streaming and download.
https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/movies/movie-news/hans-zimmer-second-dune-score-film-companion-book-1234997876/

Windows 11 is due make users less “jumpy” thanks to a new suite of sound cues produced by sound designer Matthew Bennett. “The new sounds have a much rounder wavelength, making them softer so that they can still alert/notify you, but without being overwhelming,” according to a company spokesperson. Bennett shared some examples, including default beeps and calendar notifications.
https://www.cnbc.com/2021/08/22/microsoft-delivers-calm-system-sounds-in-windows-11.html

The “quiet” of the title locale in journalist Stephen Kurczy’s new book, The Quiet Zone, is not literal. The town is Green Banks, West Virginia, and the “quiet” involves restrictions on “devices emanating electromagnetic emissions,” writes Don Oldenburg. This is all so as to not interfere with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. And as it turns out, this town is in many ways the opposite of quiet.
https://www.usatoday.com/story/entertainment/books/2021/08/04/stephen-kurczys-the-quiet-zone-explores-town-without-cell-phones/5471413001/

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