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tag: this week in sound

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 lifehacker.com.

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 dgmlive.com

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 fastcompany.com, 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 theinformation.com.

We All Scream: Someone hacked the LinkNYC internet booths in New York City and made them play the music from ice cream trucks, per motherboard.vice.com, 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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This Week in Sound: To Serve and Project

+ silent flights + next-gen gigs + NSA data purge + voice-computing + much more

An annotated clipping service

To Serve and Project: The above photograph was posted during the Saturday, June 30, protests in Chicago. The photo is by local sound artist Jeff Kolar, who tweeted it that same day. What is displayed appears to be a sonic weapon — a sonic dispersement tool — being utilized by the Chicago Police Department. People marched across the United States last weekend, in Chicago and other cities around the country. The marches were announced in advance. This wasn’t a mythical flashmob situation. The police, nonetheless, brought out their next-gen apparatuses — to what end remains unclear. Walking in protest hasn’t changed much over the years. You walk, you hold a sign, and there’s a chant — likely rhyming couplets, maybe iambic pentameter. Nonetheless, the technology of the police has been upgraded, and significantly — begging the question, to what end? Perhaps there is no explanation for police interest in the sonic weapon better than this: water cannons make for bad photo opportunities. The sonic weapon may be more effective, but it’s effective largely because its effects are invisible.

Jetless Packs: Late last month I finished reading the recent novel Autonomous by Annalee Newitz, a cofounder of one of the first websites I read every morning, io9.com. The book is packed with crazy not-so-near-future science, like biohacking maker communes, programmable tattoos that move, personal submarines, and sentient robots with human brains in their bellies and nascent sexual-orientation issues on their indentured digital minds, just to name a few of Newitz’s projections. Nonetheless, maybe the most seemingly unlikely (for me) concept was in this sentence, which appeared toward the end of a chapter set in Casablanca: “At last a helicopter skimmed over the mosque toward them, its engines noise-cancelled to the point where all they could hear was the air being beaten with such regularity that it became a long, unending sigh.”   / / /   And then I read the news. The Yomiuri Shimbun reports, “In a bid to achieve the practical use of self-driving flying cars (see below) in the 2020s, the government will establish a public-private council possibly within this year to discuss safety issues, technological development and other matters. … As they will not produce engine noise, noise pollution will also be reduced when they fly over densely populated areas.”   / / /   Meanwhile, NASA is testing “quiet supersonic” aircraft: engadget.com.

DJ Sofritas: Billboard ran an article on new jobs in the music industry. They include “data jockey,” “personal documentarian,” “royalties miner,” “voice-activation expert,” “song monetizer,” “metadata repairman,” “wearables designer,” “playlist scientist,” and “Chipotle playlist curator.”

Straight Outta Fort Meade: The NSA announced this week that it was deleting a cache of voice data. “Consistent with NSA’s core values of respect for the law, accountability, integrity, and transparency we are making public notice that on May 23, 2018, NSA began deleting all call detail records (CDRs) acquired since 2015 under Title V of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA),” began an annoucement at nsa.gov. The explanation continued: “NSA is deleting the CDRs because several months ago NSA analysts noted technical irregularities in some data received from telecommunications service providers. These irregularities also resulted in the production to NSA of some CDRs that NSA was not authorized to receive.” (Found via engadget.com.)

“I’m Upset”: A new Drake album that wasn’t named for that goofy white-hat hacker CBS TV show broke the records on Spotify and Apple this week — with the apparent assist, at least on Spotify, of that album popping up in lots of playlists. “Spotify, meanwhile, went even further by inserting into numerous playlists, including unexpected ones like Afternoon Acoustic and Ambient Chill,” writes Jon Finas at engadget.com. (Note: it doesn’t appear to be the case with my Spotify ambient playlist, the Stasis Report.) Now, this isn’t quite on the scale of that one time at Bandcamp — actually, in 2014 via iTunes — when Apple “gave” everyone a new U2 album (wrote Vijith Asar at the time on wired.com, “[T]here’s a very simple reason why this is unprecedented, and that is because it doesn’t make any sense”).   / / /   Still, people are, to borrow the title of one of Drake’s singles, upset, and Jazmine Sleman at crackmagazine.net has instructions on how to get a refund “for excessive Drake promotion.”

Audio Briefs: Additional news. Type Cast: “Some computer scientists turn to voice-command tools to avoid the pain of typing,” writes Anna Nowogrodzki: nature.com   / / /   Tape Heads: There will (finally!) be toys based on the Transformers that hide among us mere humans as mere tape cassettes, rather than as muscle cars: io9.gizmodo.com.   / / /   Habla Overkill: The EFF helped fight back a patent that “essentially covers a language lesson on tape”: eff.org.   / / /   Tome Raider: The rise in audiobook purchases means Amazon, which owns Audible, may have something of a lock on an entire medium: newrepublic.com.

This was first published in the July 5, 2018, issue of the free weekly email newsletter This Week in Sound.

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This Week in Sound: Sonic Domestic Abuse + Audio AI Games

+ Interpol voice database + the history of Speak & Spell + much more

An annotated clipping service

Disrupting Abuse: “Abusers — using apps on their smartphones, which are connected to the internet-enabled devices — would remotely control everyday objects in the home, sometimes to watch and listen, other times to scare or show power. Even after a partner had left the home, the devices often stayed and continued to be used to intimidate and confuse,” writes Nellie Bowles in a widely circulated New York Times article. Bowles details how “Internet of Things” gadgets have become the tools of domestic abuse. It feels like we’re well past the idea of “unintended consequences,” an overused term that has an undeservedly forgiving geewillikers quality to it (“Just some good ol’ software engineers, never meaning no harm …”). We’re deep in the territory of what you might call “blind-eye consequences,” the consequences when technologists don’t do sufficient due diligence on the impact, the mis-use, the unintended use, of their inventions.

Dino-Mite: There is a game spun off of the Jurassic World movie that is played entirely using your voice on Alexa-powered devices. “You’re following a podcaster named Janet Best who is traveling to Isla Nublar to get the story of what’s going on with the dinosaurs on the island,” writes Ben Kuchera at polygon.com. “It’s up to you help her make decisions about how to survive by speaking the commands into your device.”   / / /   There’s also one for Westworld, writes Alexis Nedd at mashable.com: “Westworld: The Maze is a voice game in which players take on the role of a park host who, like Maeve, Akecheta, and Dolores, needs to power through their programming to arrive at the center of the titular Maze and achieve consciousness.”

Spoke & Spelled: It’s coincidence, but also excellent timing that the “voice games” for Alexa spun off of Jurassic World and Westworld coincide with the 40th anniversary of the progenitor of electronic voice games: Speak & Spell. Ernie Smith takes us wayback on tedium.co: “The reason the Speak & Spell, despite being a primitive device by modern standards, was such a fundamental piece of technology was that it hit a masterful mix of ambition and access. It did something legitimately novel–it taught children how to spell using sound synthesis, rather than tapes or records. And it did so while still being small enough and cheap enough that picking one up in a store seemed like a reasonable thing to do.” (Via subtopes.)

AI Yay Yay: There is, of course, the underlying anxiety about the role of always-listening devices such as Alexa in our lives — a future-shock phenomemon ripe for a novel by the late Michael Crichton, who originated both the rebooted series mentioned above, Jurassic Park and Westworld. Last month, Amazon explained how a private conversation was accidentally sent to one of an Alexa user’s contacts: “As unlikely as this string of events is, we are evaluating options to make this case even less likely,” quoted by Richard Gao at androidpolice.com.

Spies Like Us: And even when our home appliances aren’t busy spying on what we say, we can be relieved that actual spies are still spying on what we say. “Last week, Interpol held a final project review of its speaker identification system, a four-year, 10 million euro project that has recently come to completion,” writes Ava Kofman in theintercept.com. “Speaker identification works by taking samples of a known voice, capturing its unique and behavioral features, and then turning these features into an algorithmic template that’s known as a voice print or voice model.” (Via subtopes.)

Duplex Planet: And when voice AI isn’t spying on us it is, bringing us back around to Westworld, trying to sound like us. Lauren Good, at wired.com, brings us up to speed on the development at Google of Duplex, its concierge AI voice system that makes reservation phone calls: “Google is trying to give its phone-calling robot a do-over. The company is attempting to prove it has addressed some of the concerns about Duplex. And its latest pitch around transparency is coming at a time when some of its more critical use cases for AI are being seriously questioned.”

Audio Briefs: Additional news. Drip Drop: Q: Why does tap water dripping sound like that? A: Resonant oscillations of an entrapped air bubble: nature.com.   / / /   The Free App: Garage Band Re-Revisited: The latest update of Apple’s Garage Band will help you learn an instrument: cdm.link.   / / /   Sponsor Blocker: “Tomek Rękawek, irritated by ads on the radio, created an app that mutes them. Radio Adblock uses digital signal processing to detect distinctive audio patterns that signal the beginning and end of breaks”: boingboing.net   / / /   Tech Support: And lifehacker.com helps solve a very specific but annoying problem: listening to audio files you receive as text messages. (Probably especially useful when your friend’s Alexa accidentally sends you one.)

Audio Life: 1. Turns out there was nothing wrong with my Bluetooth headphones that a cable couldn’t fix.   / / /   2. This is a new hassle for me: finding my place in an audiobook I fell asleep listening to. My TV guesses pretty well when I nod off. My phone apparently doesn’t.

This was first published in the June 28, 2018, issue of the free weekly email newsletter This Week in Sound.

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This Week in Sound: Cars + Cuba + Cut Glass + Christian Marclay

+whistling on The Good Fight, and much more

An annotated clipping service.

Car and Woofer: The sounds added to electric vehicles aren’t merely for the sake of pedestrian safety, writes Chris Perkins at Road and Track: “When you’re trying to drive fast, especially at a place you’re unfamiliar with, you take all the feedback a car can give you.” Sound, as in the Jaguar I-Pace that Pace was testing, is an essential part of the driving experience. “The artificial sound gives you a great sense of speed you otherwise wouldn’t have in an electric car. The sounds might have been cheesy, but I was glad they were there.”

Mambo: First Blood Part II: The closest thing there may be to new news about the mysterious sonic assault reported by embassy workers in Cuba is a seemingly related incident in China. But as Rachel Becker writes at the Verge, sorting out what happened is hampered as much by diplomatic face-saving as by the privacy of medical reports, and potentially by bad science. Becker’s article draws from Sergio Della Sala and Roberto Cubelli’s research in Cortex, which brands the notion of a “sonic assult” as “a case of poor neuropsychology; clinically inappropriate and methodologically improper.”   / / /   Michael Hiltzik at the Los Angles Times reported similarly.   / / /   Writing at theoutline.com, Caroline Haskins focused on “interference of eavesdropping devices.”

Her Lowness: Women’s voices in the U.K. are lower than they were generations earlier. This register shift reflects “changing power dynamics between men and women,” according to research by Cecilia Pemberton, of the University of South Australia, and a team of researchers. A BBC article by David Robson explains that the “fundamental frequency” of women’s voices had dropped 23 Hz in recent decades. “That’s a significant, audible difference.” The voice of the Queen herself is said to have “lost some of the cut-glass vowels of her youth.” (Found via Hyperallergenic.)

Tele-Gram: Instagram is a great resource for all sorts of videos, including the sort of fine live ambient performances I track actively on YouTube. My focus on YouTube may shift, and so may yours, thanks to the debut of Instagram’s new IGTV app and initiative, per Richard Nieva at Cnet: “Videos on IGTV can also be longer than the 60-second maximum for regular Instagram videos. For IGTV, videos can run 10 minutes, though some accounts will be able to post videos that are up to an hour long.”

Fight Club: The second season ended a few weeks ago, but if you’re not watching The Good Fight, CBS’s sequel to The Good Wife, it’s highly recommended. Every episode of this legal drama is packed with wit, ingenuity (often of the meta variety), and remarkable performances. The show also has carried on The Good Wife‘s attention to sonic detail, from the soundmarks of social media to the aural choreography of urban life. The season’s penultimate episode, “Day 485” (each week jumps ahead by seven days from the previous, and takes its episode title from the number of days into the current U.S. presidential administration), ends with a character walking free of a potentially life-changing legal hassle. He is heard whistling as he walks down the street. What he is whistling is the show’s theme song.

Sounds of Science: Short bits from the annals of science.   / / /   The Vision: The role of vision in shaping “audio spatial metric representation around the body” — in other words, how sight helps us hear better: nature.com.   / / /   Brain Meld: How “interpersonal neural synchronization” (INS) allows an individual to hear another individual across a packed, noisy room: nature.com. (INS refers to how “brain activities from two persons covary along the time course.”)   / / /   Fashion Sense: In ever-so-vaguely related news, male peacocks can emit a sound with their celebrated plumage that makes the crest of a female “vibrate energetically”: newscientist.com.   / / /   The Conversation: And this goes back a couple months, but related Google research involving ability for AI to detect a specific voice in a crowd: androidpolice.com   / / /   The Meg: On the development of a Super-Oscillatory Acoustic Lens (SOAL) that “operates in the megasonic range”: nature.com.   / / /   Blipverts: If the simultaneous appearance of the terms “stealth placement marketing” and “limbic lobe” in the same article intrigues (i.e., frightens) you, then read this research, which “used the representation or sound of brand placement as independent variables to test the effects of brand placement on the viewers’ discrimination and preferences, with reference to brain activity indicators”: nature.com.

Audio Briefs: Additional news.   / / /   Snap Art: Christian Marclay, the acclaimed sound artist, teamed up with Snapchat, per nytimes.com. The resulting art exhibit runs through tomorrow, June 22, at La Malmaison in Cannes, France. (Via Brian Scott of Boon Design)   / / /   Lens Flare: In related news, late last month Snapshat announced that it has a lens that “reacts to sound”: engadget.com   / / /   Sound Ware: The Apple iOS software suite iWork has introduced audio recording, via macstories.net. As of version 4.1 of iWork, “Pages, Keynote, and Numbers have all added the ability to record audio in-app that is saved inside your document.”   / / /   Speaker Not: The “sound” category on Kickstarter continues to be overpopulated with speakers, especially Bluetooth ones: kickstarter.com.   / / /   Corporate Noise: The ambient sounds of Google Assistant and Google Home are avaialable (with a semi-hack) on Google’s new Podcasts app, via androidpolice.com.   / / /   Power Down: And these little “sleepbuds” are pricey personal white-noise devices for bedtime: gizmodo.com

This was first published in the June 21, 2018, issue of the free weekly email newsletter This Week in Sound.

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This Week in Sound: Dementia Relief + Muted Violin +

oyster ears + mood music + the sonic weaponry that wasn't +

A lightly annotated clipping service

Sound Tonics: Up for debate in the scientific community is the extent to which listening to audio recordings (or watching videos) of loved ones might alleviate issues for individuals with dementia, per Dr. EO Ijaopo in the latest issue of Translational Psychiatry. … In health-related news, Dutch designer Marcel Wanders is creating a super-quiet (and quite beautiful) violin (shown below) for a friend whose hearing is threatened by her violin playing, per the current issue of Metropolis. I was wondering if it would help to use a MIDI violin, so the audio can be emitted from a speaker across the room, rather than directly into the player’s ear, or to perhaps have a violin where the sound comes out the bottom, so the audience hears it, but again the sound isn’t aimed at the player.

Clam Up: “Oysters can ‘hear’ the ocean even though they don’t have ears,” according to scientists at the University of Bordeaux in France, including Jean-Charles Massabuau, who used accelerometers to gauge the response of test subjects. Oysters appear to be sensitive primarily in the realm of 10 and 200 hertz (humans hear between 20 to 20,000 hertz). One result of this finding is the awareness of a broader range of sea creatures that are potentially impacted by noise pollution.

Music Moods: People’s minds wander less (if I’m reading this correctly) when listening to “happy” music than to “sad” music, according to researchers Liila Taruffi, Corinna Pehrs, Stavros Skouras, and Stefan Koelsch in a paper published this month in Scientific Reports. That’s a short summary for a long and detailed study that’s worth a read. The main takeaway: “In conclusion, we demonstrate that music modulates self-generated thought: During sad (vs. happy) music, listeners direct their attention inwards, engaging in spontaneous thoughts, which are related to the self and emotional aspects of life; during happy (vs. sad) music, listeners are more focused on the music itself and exhibit reduced mind-wandering levels.”

Sonic Weapon (Not): “The New Zealand Defence Force’s explosive ordnance disposal squad was flown to Dunedin by helicopter to carry out a controlled explosion of the cassette tape” — so goes the story of a noise musician named Dene Barnes, 44 whose recording set off a threat alert. More specifically, it was the poem accompanying the album, Street Noise, he released under the name LSD Fundraiser. He seems to be on Bandcamp (at lsdfunraiser.bandcamp.com), but that particular album doesn’t appear to be.

Kid Said, Her Said: Children are, appropriately, protected in the United States during our increasingly electronic age by various FCC regulations. Funny thing about regulations, such as those laid out in the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, is they aren’t always future proof. A case in point is how voice assistants function. A computer has to retain a spoken command, even briefly, in order to act on it, as Jon Fingas outlined in a brief Engadget.com story.

Footloose in NYC: “A nearly century-old law that turned New York bars into no-dancing zones, prevented singers like Billie Holiday and Ray Charles from performing and drew protest from Frank Sinatra, is finally set to be struck down,” writes Annie Correal in the New York Times, or as an uncredited Times headline author put it: “After 91 Years, New York Will Let Its People Boogie.” The longstanding law has made it difficult for generations of bar owners and bar-goers to manage the impulse to, you know, dance. (I grew up on Long Island, went to college in the Tri-State Area, and lived in New York City before moving to California, so I know of the hassle that this could be.) Check out this statistic before going on to read the full story: “In New York City, only 97 out of roughly 25,000 eating and drinking establishments have a cabaret license.”

Big Listener: Facebook continues to struggle to convince people it isn’t listening in on conversations, writes Adrianne Jeffries at theoutline.com, citing anecdotes by people who seem to only recall saying things aloud and yet still having them show up in ads served to them on the platform. The strangest related thing that’s ever happened to me was when I was seated, shall we say, in my home’s bathroom and the word “bathroom” briefly appeared — I swear — on my phone’s screen. I imagined the phone’s operating system was somehow mapping my home, and I wondered if the sound of the room might be assisting that effort. Of course, it could all just be a delusion brought on by tech-anxiety.

Text-to-Speechless: In a humorous instance of the unintended consequences of text-to-speech, a New York Times’ reader’s comment to a news story began “Zero optimism that the Democracts …” before wending quickly into peculiar gibberish: “hello hi oh you’re there are you outside,” etc., etc. The commenter eventually returned to the thread and explained, “I was composing a message using the autospeak, and a friend arrived early at my house. I had no idea all that drivel was being recorded.”

Internal Branding: You can soon get a cochlear implant designed specifically to work from its “surgically embedded sound process” in tandem with iOS devices, writes Juli Clover at macrumors.com. Give that my relatively recent generation iPod isn’t allowed to run the latest version of iOS, I wonder what assurance (or insurance) one has regarding upgrades.

Fade Out: I read the obituaries each morning over iced coffee. It’s a simple ritual. Perhaps much ritual is simple by definition? I’ve come to realize that I never copy/paste the names of these newly dead musicians when following up on the day’s obituaries. I always type out their names when searching for particularly informative write-ups, or for examples of their recordings. I use copy/paste all the time, of course, but something about this early-morning obituary ritual has me typing out their (often, to me, unfamiliar) names in full. Perhaps this ritual form of inscription is a gesture of respect. Perhaps it’s a superstition. Perhaps I have difficulty distinguishing between the two. … Deaths of Note: RIP, Hungrarian musician Lajos Som (b. 1947), of the bands Piramis and Neoton Família. … RIP, Daniel Viglietti (b. 1939), Uruguayan singer-songwriter. … RIP, funk musician [Keith Wilder] (68?), of Heatwave. … RIP, Raúl García Zárate (b. 1931); Andean guitarist popularized “Adiós pueblo de Ayacucho.” … RIP, Juliette Cavazzi (b. 1926), “wholesome” Canadian TV figure known simply as Juliette. … RIP, Mike Hudson (61) of the punk rock band the Pagans. … RIP, Fats Domino (b. 1928), a founding father of rock and roll. … RIP, Larry Ray (b. 1954) of the Detroit band Outrageous Cherry. … RIP, Robert Guillaume (b. 1927), TV and film actor, singer (The Lion King, Guys and Dolls). … RIP, Girija Devi (b. 1929), Indian classical singer, “Queen of Thumri.” … RIP, George Young (b. 1946), Easybeats member, “Friday on My Mind” co-writer, AC/DC producer. … RIP, guitarist Scott Putesky aka Daisy Berkowitz (b. 1968), of Marilyn Manson. … RIP, Al Hurricane (b. 1936), “Godfather of New Mexico music.”

This was first published in the October 31, 2017, issue of the free weekly email newsletter This Week in Sound.

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