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tag: this week in sound

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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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, 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:

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 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

“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 (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, “[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 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:   / / /   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:   / / /   Habla Overkill: The EFF helped fight back a patent that “essentially covers a language lesson on tape”:   / / /   Tome Raider: The rise in audiobook purchases means Amazon, which owns Audible, may have something of a lock on an entire medium:

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 “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 “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 “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

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 “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, 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:   / / /   The Free App: Garage Band Re-Revisited: The latest update of Apple’s Garage Band will help you learn an instrument:   / / /   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”:   / / /   Tech Support: And 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, 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:   / / /   Brain Meld: How “interpersonal neural synchronization” (INS) allows an individual to hear another individual across a packed, noisy room: (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”:   / / /   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:   / / /   The Meg: On the development of a Super-Oscillatory Acoustic Lens (SOAL) that “operates in the megasonic range”:   / / /   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”:

Audio Briefs: Additional news.   / / /   Snap Art: Christian Marclay, the acclaimed sound artist, teamed up with Snapchat, per 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”:   / / /   Sound Ware: The Apple iOS software suite iWork has introduced audio recording, via 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:   / / /   Corporate Noise: The ambient sounds of Google Assistant and Google Home are avaialable (with a semi-hack) on Google’s new Podcasts app, via   / / /   Power Down: And these little “sleepbuds” are pricey personal white-noise devices for bedtime:

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

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