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tag: this week in sound

This Week in Sound: Quantum Microphones + Whispering Whales + …

+ Caption Culture + Sleep Apps + Sonic Erotica + More ...

This is an unusually long issue of the This Week in Sound email newsletter. Why? Because I took off a week. Why? Because of jet lag. So, think of this as a double issue. Because it is. To reduce the impact of so much sound news, I’ve divided this issue in half. There’s a brief intermission in the form of a beautiful excerpt from a bleak novel from 1946. Come to think of it, that doesn’t sound like much of a respite.

A lightly annotated clipping service

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.

Speak Now: There are ebooks and there are audiobooks, and if you purchase “DRM-free” ebooks you can run them through software that reads them to you, but if you purchase “non-DRM-free” ebooks then you can’t, because audiobooks are a big business, and the publishing industry is generally set up to make you buy the book twice. However, Audible appears to be reversing the process, with a new program: “The program, called Captions, which requires the company to transcribe audio to text, was highlighted in a story in USA Today with a headline touting that Audible is looking to let customers ‘”read” an audiobook while [they] listen.’ While the company disputes that description, saying Captions is not at all akin to the act of reading, publishers, literary agents, and organizations representing authors are skeptical. … While Audible said in a statement that Captions ‘does not replicate or replace the print or eBook reading experience,’ publishers are unconvinced.”

Hum Dinger: “The hum” is the term given to a constant sound heard by many people, a sound once written off as tinnitus, but increasingly considered to possibly be something else. The Atlantic highlights a video on the topic, part conspiracy theorizing, part fringe research, part obsessive inquiry.

App Amplitude: “Google has introduced Sound Amplifier which is a new communication mobile app that helps people hear more clearly. What it does is customize frequencies to augment any sound you need to hear.”

Ruido Awakening: The saga of the purported Havana, Cuba, sonic weapon that reportedly led to America diplomats suffering a range of maladies had an update this week, when the New York Times reported that brain analysis of the diplomats indeed evidences “something” happened. Slate followed up with “A Comprehensive List of All the Potential Causes of the Cuban ‘Sonic’ Attacks.” Note that sonic is still in quotes there. (via subtopes)

Shark Tank: The concept of a “sonic weapon” sounds sorta futuristic, but often it’s pretty mundane, like playing annoying songs on repeat to keep people away. In West Palm Beach, Florida, this means children’s music, like the “Baby Shark” song, is now the front line of an effort to disperse the homeless. It seems like a lullaby would be more humane.

Cop to It: “Amazon’s home security company Ring has enlisted local police departments around the country to advertise its surveillance cameras in exchange for free Ring products and a “portal” that allows police to request footage from these cameras, a secret agreement obtained by Motherboard shows.” While we’re busy worrying about the unintended consequences of modern technology, it can be helpful to remember sometimes the intended consequences can also be troublesome.

Vocal Opponent: NPR ran a story about how U.S. technology is helping the surveillance state in China grow stronger. The details about voice surveillance are especially chilling. For the radio spot, NPR had to use a voice actor to read the part of a Chinese interviewee named Alim, and this editorial decision became part of the story itself: “MIT is collaborating with a Chinese company called iFlytek, which supplied voice recognition technology to Xinjiang. By the way, this is why we’re using a voice actor for Alim. China has his voice now. And engineers at NPR told us, even if we tried distorting Alim’s voice to protect his identity, it could be reverse-engineered.”

Leak Siri: A whistleblower opens up about the confidential material overheard when Apple users think they’re just talking to their personal-assistant robot service: “There have been countless instances of recordings featuring private discussions between doctors and patients, business deals, seemingly criminal dealings, sexual encounters and so on. These recordings are accompanied by user data showing location, contact details, and app data.”

Animal Rites: The July 17 issue of New Scientist has reports on both goat and whale sounds. Apparently goats’ bleating actually discloses a range of emotional states, and whales “whisper” to their calves to avoid detection by predators.

Human V. Nature: It’s a core concept in sound studies that human hearing is an evolutionary trait that assists us in sensing danger. As it turns out, much as our ears keep danger at bay, our voices do as well: Researchers have found that “even the gentlest of human speech can make wild animals–even top predators–unnerved and watchful, in ways that shake entire food webs. It’s the clearest demonstration yet that we are among the scariest of animals–a super-predator that terrifies even the carnivores that themselves incite terror.”

A lightly annotated clipping service (continued)

Tiny Tunes: “Stanford physicists have developed a ‘quantum microphone’ so sensitive that it can measure individual particles of sound, called phonons. … The quantum microphone the group developed consists of a series of supercooled nanomechanical resonators, so small that they are visible only through an electron microscope. The resonators are coupled to a superconducting circuit that contains electron pairs that move around without resistance. The circuit forms a quantum bit, or qubit, that can exist in two states at once and has a natural frequency, which can be read electronically. When the mechanical resonators vibrate like a drumhead, they generate phonons in different states.” (via Micah Stupak-Hahn)

Word Play: It’s a bit ironic, for me at least, that this story about the increasing use of captions by people who aren’t hearing-impaired appears in The Guardian, since the primary reason I started using captions was to understand what British people were mumbling on my TV. And then it became something of a norm at home, yielding benefits like the identity of songs that are playing in the background, and unintended humor, like when particular soundtrack cues are identified for their narrative purpose (“solemn music,” “upbeat music,” etc.). Interestingly, this apparently isn’t a particularly recent trend. A study in 2006 found that “of the 7.5 million UK TV viewers using subtitles, only 1.5 million had a hearing impairment.”

I Like Mic: The New York Times Sunday Magazine has this excellent ongoing series where people write in favor of something. It’s titled Letter of Recommendation, and two weeks ago David Rees, best known for the Get Your War On comics, wrote in favor of piezo microphones: “They look unassuming, but once they’re plugged into an amplifier, piezo discs become psychedelic microscopes for your ears, completely changing your sense of sonic scale. I taped one to the bottom of a water bottle on a hot afternoon and ran the signal through a reverb pedal; the ice cubes banging around sounded like gongs from distant planets. Rubbing a piezo mic against a felt cowboy hat sent me down a sound-dappled path of contemplation, musing on the subtleties of surface texture and how difficult it would be to play croquet on a felt cowboy hat if you were, say, 10 molecules tall. My dumb guitar never led me to such insights.

Pillow Talk: Amanda Hess, in the New York Times, surveys the range of sleep aids in the form of meditation and related apps. Helpfully, she provides beneficial context: “Internet culture is often described as hyper-visual, but it has also cracked open new relationships to sound. The rise of podcasts — designed to be listened to alone, in interstitial moments — has forged new aural pathways, and carved out its own aesthetic category: the ‘podcast voice,’ that wry, stammering, cool-nerd cadence. YouTube’s A.S.M.R. practitioners work their whispers and breaths and mouth noises to evoke physical sensations. Even the sounds of jogging geese and crackling ice are preserved for their #oddlysatisfying effects.” Her main focus is the Calm app. (I’d also recommend Insight Timer.)

Good Sex (Writing): And at the New Yorker, Sarah Larson on a subset of post-podcast erotica: “audio details that enhance a sense of pleasure, safety, and calm.”

Material Whirl: The latest edition of the Journal of Sound Studies was edited by Caleb Kelly (author of the excellent book Cracked Media: The Sound of Malfunction, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year). I’m still working my way through it, but it’s packed with interesting material, which makes sense, since its subject is “materials of sound.”

Re: Recount: WNYC recorded what an election recount sounds like, and shared a nicely edited collection of those sounds in a short broadcast segment. (via Mike Rhode)

Semi Annual: The cicada family has some 2,000 species around the world, and, according to Japan Times, some 35 in Japan (where “cicada” translates as “semi”). As with much life here on Earth, the cicada’s sounds correlate with mating. “The distinctive sound, appearance and short lifespan of cicadas have earned them a special place in Japanese culture, and the insects have appeared in numerous pieces of art and literature over the years.”

Elementary, or Not: This is both utterly inconsequential and, yet, for pure curiosity’s sake, worth noting. IBM’s Watson Marketing is now owned by Centerbridge Partners, and that Watson business has been renamed … “Acoustic.” Even though it seems to have nothing in particular to do with, well, sound.

Kitchen Aid: In Puerto Rico, a metal food receptacle, known as the cacerola, has a history as an instrument of protest. (via Sounding Out!: The Sound Studies Blog)

Social Studies: A study finds that people laugh more at televised jokes that are accompanied by laugh tracks. I don’t watch much comedy, so I’ll trust the science on this: “we’re just naturally more receptive to jokes when we already hear people laughing at them.” One additional interesting aspect of the study: autistic individuals made up a third of the people whose reactions were observed. (via NextDraft)

Bone Spur: You know how in every slightly scifi spy show someone puts a finger near their ear and they can tech-magically communicate with someone else on their highly trained squad? Well, bone conduction may yet make that real, thanks to a Kickstarter. (via IFTF)

Game On: The excellent A Closer Listen website singles out the best video-game scores of the year thus far.

Casual FX: A lot of writing about sound in video games comes back to the moment-specificity of sound in massive games that distinguishes them from the fixed recordings that accompany movies. At the Gamasutra website, Pavel Shylenok talks about the other end of the spectrum: casual games.

Reading the web

I’ve had this separate section for a few issues now where I highlight recent blog entries. The fact is, what is and isn’t a blog is a bit hazy, and has been for a long time. In any case, these are interesting, recent items from the blogs of sizable American institutions. If you have a sound/music blog or if there’s a sound/music blog you love, lemme know.

Minnesota Ranger: Andrew Fenchel, who runs the excellent Chicago-based concert series and arts organization Lampo, wrote at the blog of the Walker Art Center about a day-long “marathon” of sound art performances. It’s a great piece, with highlights of work by Christine Sun Kim, Walter Kitundu, Haroon Mirza, and other artists.

Summer Schooled: A summer intern at the Library of Congress writes about his dive into the institution’s resources: “I was able to find a few news articles about why music gets stuck in your head, and using the Library’s database resources, I located quite a few journal articles relating to the topic of earworms, or, to use the more scientific terminology, involuntary musical imagery (INMI). Interestingly, these journal articles dated back to the mid-2000s at the earliest–for some reason it was not a topic that was studied very extensively until the 21st century, and there still is no definitive answer as to why earworms happen. However, most studies I looked at found that longer note lengths and smaller intervals between notes made songs more likely to appear as INMI.” (via Mike Rhode)

This is lightly adapted from an edition first published in the July 28, 2019, issue of the free weekly email newsletter This Week in Sound.

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The Bells of Simenon

And a handy reminder

I had a few hours to kill last Saturday night before going to see the band This Is Not This Heat at the Chapel here in San Francisco, so I did what you do in such cases, which is to go to a library and take out a slim Georges Simenon novel. I picked up The Mahé Circle, which isn’t one of Simenon’s Maigret detective novels, but one of his even darker, detective-less books, the so-called romans durs (“hard novels,” as in hard on the reader). As a die-hard backpack-wearer who feels like he’s missing a limb on the rare occasion when he leaves the house with nothing over his shoulder, I prize books that fit in a jacket pocket (I also wanted a break from Neal Stephenson’s recent novel, Fall, which I started reading the day it came out, and I’ve been stuck at about 92% for weeks). Anyhow, chapter five of The Mahé Circle opens with this absolutely gorgeous bit of description:

Bells. Masses of bells plunging into a sky like the sea, making trembling circles there. The circles widened, collided, merged with each other, and then the bells, with the elegance of dolphins, began to plunge again.

While on the topic, should any of you be Simenon scholars, I have a question: The Mahé Circle was first published in 1946, but the English translation didn’t come out until 2014. Any explanation for the delay, besides the fact, of course, that Simenon wrote hundreds upon hundreds of books?

. . .

And while I spelled “Maigret” correctly up above, I hadn’t in the email edition of the This Week in Sound newsletter in which the piece first appeared. As penance, here is a handy reminder:

Magritte: Surrealist
Maigret: Realist

Magritte: favored and painted hats
Maigret: favored hats

Magritte: Belgian, born to Belgians
Maigret: French, created by a Belgian

Magritte: René
Maigret: Jules

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This Week in Sound: Scream Studies + Ankle Eavedropping + …

+ Voice Recognition + Why Gorillas Sing + More ...

A lightly annotated clipping service

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.

Scream Therapy: “Recently, however, I have witnessed two cinematic screams that were neither sexy nor Snow White-y, but instead guttural and visceral and bizarre — and so vulnerable that I felt like a bit of a creep watching them,” writes Rachel Handler. The screams are Meryl Streep’s in Big Little Lies (anything to get that theme song out of my head) and Florence Pugh’s in Midsommar. Here’s to more scream studies, an essential branch of sound studies.

Insert Spinal Tap Joke: This is the second experimental archeology story in as many weeks: “A diminutive model of Stonehenge could help crack the acoustic secrets of the ancient site, according to scientists who have built a version of the megaliths at a 12th of their size.” (via Trevor Cox)

Leg Up: A little known fact about ankle monitors used by law enforcement: “officers wouldn’t just be able to track his location, as most electronic monitors do. They would also be able to speak — and listen — to him.” For context, the “him” in this example if a 15-year-old Chicago resident. (via Matthew Kenney)

Listen Up: After the “Belgian leak” brought renewed attention to the privacy issues surrounding voice assistants, Forbes weighed the weaknesses and norms within the system. On the one hand, “No part of this story indicates Google is listening surreptitiously to find out what people are saying.” On the other, “the fact that the leak occurred indicates data security for Assistant voice recordings is inadequate,” and: “Recording when the Assistant activates without hearing the wake-up command is a more serious problem.” You can put a piece of tape over your laptop’s camera, not so easily the microphones around you. Voice recognition, far less attended to by the press than is facial recognition, is a brave new territory, a story that is just getting started.

Let’s Buzz: “City officials in Philadelphia are under attack for their increasing use of an acoustic deterrent — described by a local councilwoman as a ‘sonic weapon’ — to keep the city’s children and young adults away from certain recreational areas at night.” This is the device known for years as “the Mosquito.”

Keeping Score: I’m kind of addicted to‘s detailed coverage of who is composing the music to which TV shows, movies, and (occasionally) video games. This week we learned that Dustin O’Halloran (of A Winged Victory for the Sullen) and Hauschka are scoring The Old Guard, adapting the Greg Rucka graphic novels (I kinda want Rucka’s Lazarus more, but hey, it’s something). Tyler Bates is scoring Primal, the highly anticipated forthcoming animated series from Genndy Tartakovsky (Samurai Jack, Star Wars: Clone Wars). Max Richter is scoring Temple, a UK medical drama. (And since I missed this last week: tomandandy are working on Lucky Day, a movie from Roger Avary, who worked on a lot of early Quentin Tarantino movies.) There’s a huge glut of video entertainment these days, and a good composer is as much a cue (so to speak) for me as to what to watch as are the writers, actors, or directors. Furthermore, in our current moment of streaming-entertainment overload, it’s clear the studios have better access to great mood-setting cinematographers and composers than to great writers (or they aren’t affording the writers time and resources to get the stories right). Even if the shows aren’t great, however, those scores are available to us to lend a soundtrack to our daily lives.

Monkey Business:Gorillas sing and hum when eating, a discovery that could help shed light on how language evolved in early humans. … Singing seems to be a way for gorillas to express contentment with their meal, as well as for the head of the family to communicate to others that it is dinner time.”

Hall Mary: “The silence of this place used to fill me with joy. Now it’s all I hear.” So says the disillusioned, and at the moment sauced, priest in the first episode of the new, fourth season of the TV series Grantchester.

Reading around the web

Space Is the Place: Jason Richardson picks up the Robert Fripp blog quote from last week’s issue of This Week in Sound (“The primary factor in choosing a setlist is the performance space”), and connects dots back to Bach, then back further to Gregorian chant, then on back to the recent past in the form of Bertolt Brecht, eventually coming around to a consideration of the role of digitally simulated reverb in today’s music: “Given how those reverbs impart a famed character and can be used to connote an atmosphere, it seems like we’re getting back to writing music with specific ambiences in mind.” I love this idea.

Air Play: Dan Carr at Reverb Machine breaks down Brian Eno’s classic 1978 album Music for Airports into its constituent parts and talks in detail about how the album was recorded, including Eno’s employment of graphic scores, a detail of which appears above: “There are no real melodies present, and the voices occasionally form chords, but there is no discernible structure. This song is composed of seven loops, all of different lengths, with each loop playing back a single, sung note. In the graphic score, you can see Eno’s use of rectangles to represent looped tracks, with the spaces between them varying.” The Carr piece even includes loops if you want to play with them yourself. (via Robin Rimbaud on Twitter)

Having Words: Tom Armitage goes into detail on “Building the world’s most advanced subtitling platform,” CaptionHub, which “allows teams to generate and edit captions inside a web browser, previewing them in a real-time editor.” Particularly interesting among the features that took hold: “adding a visible audio waveform on the timeline, generated by our encoder tool. This made cutting captions to video much easier — it was instantly possible to see speech starting or stopping, and mark the ins and outs of captions to match.”

Feed Bag: And in this ongoing discussion of blogs, Patrick Howell O’Neill has a simple proposal: “reconsider something that feels lost in this era of algorithm-fueled newsfeeds and timelines: RSS.”

This is lightly adapted from the July 14, 2019, issue of the free weekly email newsletter This Week in Sound.

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This Week in Sound: Experimental Archeology + Defiling Asimov + …

Sonic Fictions + Robert Fripp's set-list advice + more

A lightly annotated clipping service

If you find sonic news of interest, please share it with me ([email protected]), and (except with the most widespread of news items) I’ll credit you should I mention it here.

Choral Culture: “Experimental archeology at its finest.” That’s how Andrew Henry describes efforts to (re)experience chants in the sorts of ancient spaces where they were first performed. Henry hosts the Religion for Breakfast YouTube channel, and talks on a video for the 12tone YouTube channel about “How Music Shaped Roman Cities.” It’s less than seven minutes long, and well worth your time. Particularly interesting are observations about just how quiet life was before the invention of gun powder, how far such chants would travel in the relative silence of the era’s cities, providing a constant background sound to daily life: “Music would be heard hundreds of meters away as you went about your daily life.”

Cock Up: Put September 5 on your calendar. That’s when a French court will rule whether or not the now famous rooster Maurice is producing “abnormal noise.” Some background: “In 1995, faced with a similar case that led to a death notice being served on a cockerel, a French appeal court declared it was impossible to stop a rooster crowing. ‘The chicken is a harmless animal so stupid that nobody has succeeded in training it, not even the Chinese circus,’ that judgment said.”

Nuke Chords: Just to follow up on an item from two weeks ago about Hildur Guonadottir’s employment of nuclear-reactor field recordings for her score to the HBO series Chernobyl: the sound designers behind the video game Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 ventured to the infamous region to get audio for its production. The following article is a detailed overview of the audio development for the game, in particular about the use of “impulse responses” to provide a sense of different spaces: “In the exteriors the team had a system called ‘Bubblespace’, which constantly checks a player’s surroundings, and change the sounds of the ambience and reverbs based on where the player currently is. ‘For every single tree we have a specific leaves in wind sound (tied to the wind speed), as well as a chance to play D.C. specific bird-calls tied to the correct time of day.'”

Bad Robot: You know how voice assistants don’t always understand what you’re saying? Well, apparently even when Alexa understands you’ve requested to delete your voice recordings, it reportedly doesn’t actually follow through entirely with your request. If true, this seems to mean that Alexa is breaking the second of Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics: “Amazon last week confirmed that it keeps transcripts of interactions with Alexa, even after users have deleted the voice recordings. Based on reports that Amazon retains text records of what users ask Alexa, Sen. Chris Coons in May sent a letter to CEO Jeff Bezos, demanding answers.”

AVAS, Matey: To paraphrase Pavement, as I often do, “Sound scene is crazy / acronyms start up each and every day / I saw another one just the other day / a special new acronym.” Or at least new to me: “AVAS” stands for “acoustic vehicle alert system,” which means adding sounds to those vehicles that, due to the welcome retirement of internal combustion engines, no longer make the sounds to which humans have become accustomed. In the UK, AVAS has found a natural supporter in the Guide Dogs UK, a charity for the blind and partially sighted. As mentioned here last week, BMW hired film composer Hans Zimmer (The Dark Knight, Inception) to make sounds for its latest future car. In the UK, some of the vehicular sounds apparenlty suggest the ghost of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop is haunting newer-model driving machines: “At the presentation, the transportation organization reportedly played six sounds. Welsman [a Guide Dogs UK representative] assessed that the sounds were ‘all very spaceshippy,’ and suggested the electric buses instead use audio recordings of the classic Routemaster buses. ‘As a blind person I could spot the old Routemaster a mile off, because it was so distinctive, but that’s not what they are suggesting.'”

Children’s Revolution: Are hand dryers damaging to the ears of children? “To investigate that question, Nora Keegan, the study’s author, spent more than a year taking hundreds of measurements in public restrooms throughout Calgary, her hometown.” The key factor in this story: Keegan is, herself, just 13 years old.

Bird Brains: In Emergence Magazine, both text and podcast, David G. Haskell has a beautifully written piece on the languages of birds, and the many reasons that humans can’t comprehend them: “The same sound vibration is received and understood in profoundly different ways by birds and mammals.”

Out-Bopped: “Researchers from Queen’s University in Northern Ireland discovered that human background noise disrupts how robins hear aggressive warning calls, which could lead to population declines in urban areas.”

Play Time: The current edition of the American Theatre website contains a plethora of articles about the role of sound design in theatrical productions. Particularly informative is a piece singling out a half dozen plays for sonic excellence.

Reading around the web

“The primary factor in choosing a setlist is the performance space,” writes guitarist Robert Fripp, now on tour for the 50th anniversary of his band, King Crimson. The blog post continues: “Only part of this is the acoustics. Each performance space / venue / auditorium has its particular spirit of place: churches, burlesque theatres, rock clubs, classical halls small and large; with performance and listening practices, determined mainly by the culture and history of the region. All these situated within the wider social / cultural traditions and conventions of the locality; and, in Italy, also the idiosyncratic nature of how the business works.”

Georgi Marinov has some concerns about cassettes: “I keep thinking about cassette tapes. Specifically about their environmental impact. … Not sure how well known is that tapes have a nasty habit of shedding after a couple of decades (as in the particles falling off the carrier tape to which they’re ‘glued’). All that dirt ends up on the cassette deck transport and it starts malfunctioning with otherwise healthy tapes.”

Much of what I read is and has always been science fiction, and I’m becoming something of an obsessive for genres of music invented for future and alternate realities, such as those in Malka Older’s three Centenal Cycle books, as well as Ramez Naan’s Nexus Arc books. I just started reading Fonda Lee’s Jade City, and came across this in the fifth chapter:

As he drove away from the Kaul estate, Hilo rested an arm out of the open window and drummed his fingers in time to the beat from the radio. Shotarian club music. When it wasn’t Epsenian jiggy — or worse, Kekonese classical — it was Shotarian club.

There’s also an excellent bit earlier on in Lee’s novel, about how the titular jade enhances the listening powers of those who are capable of not being driven mad by its influence.

This is lightly adapted from the July 7, 2019, issue of the free weekly email newsletter This Week in Sound.

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This Week in Sound: Heartbeat Surveillance + Classical Metadata + …

A lightly annotated clipping service

This is lightly adapted from the June 30, 2019, issue of the free weekly email newsletter This Week in Sound. I don’t usually wait a full week to post the material on, but the July 4 holiday messed with my schedule. The July 7 issue of This Week in Sound went out a few minutes ago.

If you maintain a blog related to music and/or sound, please reply to this email to let me know. Thanks. Some recent favorite posts:

The bass player Steve Lawson ponders the pluses and minuses of making album-length recordings: “I just want to keep making the music that matters to me. And the few hundred people I need to be interested in what I’m doing in order to make it viable are statistically insignificant in terms of the wider music industries.”

Ethan Hein on developing an introductory course to music theory: “If you read this blog, you know that I take a dim view of traditional music theory pedagogy, which tends to present the aesthetic preferences of Western European aristocrats of the 17th and 18th centuries as if they’re a universally valid and applicable rule system.

This isn’t quite a blog, but Susanna Caprara, who goes by La Cosa Preziosa, has a great monthly newsletter that’s called The Secret Soundscape Club, and that’s what it’s about. It’s wonderful. (She also has a blog.)

A lightly annotated clipping service

Beat Surrender: Your heartbeat has a signature, and the Pentagon has developed technology to read it with a laser from a distance. “The system is 95 percent accurate and can be used at distances of at least 200 meters, making them useful at locations such as military checkpoints.”

Space Music: Brian Eno is now the name of an asteroid. The day prior to the announcement, he earned the Stephen Hawking Medal.

Cloud Cover: Bitcoin may be the “native currency” of the internet, but its diehards are looking for redundant forms of communication, should the internet fail them, so that their accounts are always accessible. They are now tapping satellites and even ham radio to do their bidding.

Speak & Teller: There’s a new version of the board game Monopoly that comes with a “voice-controlled AI” that manages players’ finances and transactions.

Blast from the Past: “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, something mysterious launched a burst of radio waves into the cosmos. Last September, that powerful pulse collided with an array of radio telescopes in the western Australian Outback. Though the fleeting barrage lasted mere milliseconds, scientists were able to trace the radio burst back to its source: A galaxy roughly four billion light-years away.”

Mic Drop: ProPublica and Wired reported on “an aggression detector that’s used in hundreds of schools, health care facilities, banks, stores and prisons worldwide, including more than 100 in the U.S.” The tool uses sound as a detector of suspicious activity. “Yet ProPublica’s analysis, as well as the experiences of some U.S. schools and hospitals that have used Sound Intelligence’s aggression detector, suggest that it can be less than reliable.”

Bat Mobile: Now that cars can be nearly silent, due to electric and hybrid engines, they require sounds to be added. BMW has tapped composer Hans Zimmer (Inception, The Dark Knight) for its forthcoming BMW Vision M NEXT concept car.

Right Stuff: The song of the North Pacific right whale has long eluded researchers, until now, reports Smithsonian Magazine. Why might this scarce species of whale sing? Same reason humans generally do: “the rarity of the whales has led to the animals becoming more vocal to find mates.” (via Subtopes)

Rock Lobster: It’s been said that the Chinese-American dish known as chop suey helped keep miners from getting scurvy. Madeline Leung Coleman argues persuasively that Chinese food later fueled West Coast punk rock. (via the NextDraft newsletter)

Within the Context of No-Context, Part 358: The information associated with streaming classical music, such as conductor, composer, and performers, is often found to be lacking: “critics of the status quo argue that the basic architecture of the classical genre — with nonperforming composers and works made up of multiple movements — is not suited to a system built for pop,” writes Ben Sisario. It’s worth nothing that the system fails pop music, too. Streaming services often leave out the record label, liner notes, band members, and song/production credits. Just this past week I was trying to find a 1996 album from the Lo Recordings label of collaborations (it’s titled Collaborations) that teamed pairs of musicians, only to find that Google Play Music leaves out half of each pair in the track listing.

Summer School: Ableton, the German software-development company behind the widely used digital audio workstation called Live, launched a fun web-based tool for teaching the basis of audio synthesis.

Concierge DJ: A year or so ago while searching for a hotel in New York City, I selected the Ace because it provided free loaner guitar to anyone staying the night, and I wanted to be able to practice while away from home. Were I to stay at the lower Manhattan hotel Sister City, created by the folks behind Ace, I might never even spend much time in my room, as musician Juliana Barwick has created a score for its lobby, and it’s interactive. Lobby music is the new elevator music.

Psych Out: This recent research may not bode well for my mental future, but let’s wait until its findings have been verified several times: “A machine-learning method discovered a hidden clue in people’s language predictive of the later emergence of psychosis — the frequent use of words associated with sound.” (via Jason Richardson)

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