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tag: this week in sound

This Week in Sound: Whispering Gallery

A lightly annotated clipping service

These sound-studies highlights of the week are lightly adapted from the May 4, 2020, issue of the free weekly email newsletter This Week in Sound (

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.

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“The role of a skilled medical transcriptionist is declining by the day as transcription documentation requires a lot of manual work, and more hospitals are gravitating towards a digital system, right from transcription (voice to text) to record-keeping (data lake or data warehouse).”

“It’s a perfectly valid concern, and my whole team had not thought of that ethical side of things.” That’s a Carnegie Mellon researcher commenting, per a piece by Aaron Holmes, on a project “building AI that would diagnose COVID-19 by listening to people talk.” The online portal for it was closed down in about 48 hours because it “could have run afoul of FDA guidelines and be misinterpreted by people regardless of the disclaimer.” (Via the hypervisible account on Twitter)

“An important consequence is that sound is always directed toward the future. Its future tense is so strong that sound is the sensory medium in which coming time is felt. That means in turn that sound is the sensory medium in which continuing life is felt. Although we commonly speak of looking into the future, in ordinary life what we really do is listen to the future arriving.” That’s Lawrence Kramer, author of The Hum of the World (2019), from an essay about listening lockdown.

“‘Audiophiles listen with their ears, not with their hearts,’ Hutchison said. He added: ‘That’s not our game, really.'” Ben Sisario profiles the vinyl craft of the London-based Electric Recording Co. “Mastering a vinyl record involves ‘cutting’ grooves into a lacquer disc, a dark art in which tiny adjustments can have a big effect. Unusually among engineers, Hutchison tends to master records at low volumes — sometimes even quieter than the originals — to bring out more of the natural feel of the instruments.” Quoted is Pete Hutchison, the company’s founder.

“According to Waxy, Jay-Z’s company Roc Nation LLC filed copyright claims against two videos featured on the Vocal Synthesis YouTube channel. The company argued, ‘The content unlawfully uses an AI to impersonate our client’s voice.'” At issue, according to a report credited to, are audio deepfakes.

“I’ve heard speculation that when Stonehenge was complete in 2,200 BC, the outer sarsen circle might have behaved like a whispering gallery.” That’s Trevor Cox, who has capaciously documenting his sonic archeology of the famed spot. In the end, Cox finds “No evidence of whispering gallery waves in Stonehenge,” but the whole piece is worth a read to see (and hear) how he reached that conclusion.

“The delineation itself didn’t recognize the way modern-day films create sound.” Chris O’Falt reports on the Oscars combining two awards, Best Sound Editing and Mixing, into one category: Best Sound.

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▰ I have fond memories of waking on a Saturday, getting dropped at the LIRR, taking the train to Penn Station, and walking to Greenwich Village, and then wandering around for hours buying records. But it was nice to buy things on Bandcamp this morning while drinking coffee.

▰ So much gestural data packed into a single fader: “Things like Position (with varying rates of slew), overall Activity rate, distance travelled, time between changes in direction, velocity (Distance/Time).” That’s Rodrigo Constanzo describing his experiment. Check out the video at

▰ The aesthetic of Fourth World music was envisioned by Jon Hassell as “unified primitive/futuristic.” That paradox sums up the sad state of healthcare, in that he must resort to internet-based crowdsourcing to help fund his medical expenses. Do give.

▰ Last Wednesday in my sound course, Sounds of Brands (week 12), we were fortunate to have representatives of a microphone company talk about the organization, how they develop and sell equipment. My favorite takeaway phrase: “mic tastings” (events where professionals sample their wares).

▰ Stage 1: Modular synths are a great break from computers. Stage 2: [Spends hour updating firmware on modules by downloading files to laptop and connecting laptop to modules via USB cables or, alternately, moving SD cards back and forth.]

▰ Last night: I’m gonna work on using my synthesizer to recognize certain volume thresholds as triggers for other sounds. This morning: Vibrations and noise outside from street-repair crews at work are setting off car alarms around the immediate neighborhood.

▰ My personal experience remains: One doesn’t “dream of wires.” One is up late not sleeping (i.e., when one should be dreaming), and one is thinking of wires.

▰ Lee Tusman wrote a generous overview (“Learning Communities: Juntos, Woodsheds, Trainwrecks, Assemblies, Academies”) of online communities, including the Disquiet Junto. Here’s a brief excerpt: “I enjoy this creative making and learning community. It’s something that I enjoy being able to dive into or walk away from depending on how busy my life is. I like that when I want to engage, I can jump into the group and participate in a small way by making a short music track or listening to music or commenting on others’ work. When I want to be highly engaged because I have more time or a creative making prompt is really exciting to me I can jump in much more and participate in the online forums in discussion. It’s a creative group model that should be more widely imitated by creative practitioners.” Elsewhere in the essay, Tusman also writes about Glorious Trainwrecks, Navel’s Assemblies, and Babycastles Academy.

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This Week in Sound: An Opportunity to Listen

A lightly annotated clipping service

These sound-studies highlights of the week are lightly adapted from the April 27, 2020, issue of the free weekly email newsletter This Week in Sound (

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.

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“[T]here is some research showing that younger children distrust voice assistants,” writes Eric Hal Schwartz. “That may be partly because they have trouble being understood.” Schwartz is covering a recent investment in the company SoapBox, which is developing children-focused speech recognition technology.

“We have an opportunity to listen – and that opportunity to listen will not appear again in our lifetime.” That’s Cornell-based marine acoustician Michelle Fournet speaking with writer Karen McVeigh about how the Covid-induced silence has provided whales, among other sea creatures, a respite from noise, and those who study aquatic life a unique vantage.

“Jail and prison officials in at least three states are using software to scan inmate calls for mentions of the coronavirus. … Known as Verus, it was first deployed several years ago to forestall suicide attempts, mine calls for investigative tips, and for a range of other purposes.” (via Subtopes, Alice Speri)

“The bear was probably the hardest animal to make sound believable,” Hinterland Studio audio director Glenn Jamison tells writer Lauren Morton as part of her overview of how animal noises are recorded for video games. Other tidbits: “Animals as a rule of thumb are often fairly quiet and generally only vocalise if something is happening, for example when they feel threatened or during mating rituals.” “Another animal which surprised me was the polar bear which purrs when content.” (via Simon Carless’ excellent Video Game Deep Cuts email newsletter)

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▰ Field recordings are sonic readymades.

▰ Such a tremendous opportunity. For week 11 of my Sounds of Brands course, we had the incredible Marcos Alonso (thank you!), creator of the great Samplr iOS music app, in class (well, via Zoom) to discuss interface design, the visualization of sound, and how bugs become features. I may post some material from the presentation and discussion in the future.

▰ Five Weeks Ago: Well, at least there are no late fees at the libraries. This Morning: That pile of books is sorta tall and in the way.

▰ A bit more, in video form, on the MIDI device Tom Whitwell made based on a request I’d made for a highly portable controller:

▰ Related: Been locked down so long I’m almost used to not wearing a backpack. Well, kinda almost.

▰ Huh, Reverb LP shut down about two months ago. I had no idea.

▰ Occasional reminder that since folks are streaming, instead of performing in person, the San Francisco Bay Area’s excellent experimental-music calendar is of use to anyone with an internet connection and an interest in the music:

▰ “Waiting for the organizer to arrive.” I remember when I’d post (tweet, generally) these bits of conference-call hold-status detail, and people would find them humorous, even alien. Now such circumstances are part of a lot more people’s lives, and make up a lot more of those daily lives.

▰ I was already forgetting the Tuesday noon siren before Tuesdays became less a concrete temporal reality and more of a kind of fungible concept. (Context: The weekly public-warning tests here in San Francisco went on a two-year hiatus late last year.)

▰ Folks ask about a paid version of the This Week in Sound email newsletter. I don’t think, at the moment, I’d do that. Substack’s minimum fee is $5/month, I think, which is more than I’d expect someone to pay. I may add a “tip jar” at some point. The main tips I’d appreciate, though, are examples of sound you come across.

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This Week in Sound: Hearing Tiny Earthquakes

A lightly annotated clipping service

These sound-studies highlights of the week are lightly adapted from the April 20, 2020, issue of the free weekly email newsletter This Week in Sound (

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.

“[S]cientists are recording small earthquakes all over the world that normally go unnoticed,” writes Mia Rabson. “All those planes, trains and automobiles that aren’t running because of stay-home policies meant to fight the spread of COVID-19 have cut noise pollution in some cities by more than half, allowing seismologists to record sounds from inside Earth they never could before.”

“We’ve been trying to create sounds which are aesthetically pleasing and calming — sort of anti-road rage,” says composer Hans Zimmer (in an interview by Stephen Williams). Best known for his work on movies like Gladiator, Dunkirk, and Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies, Zimmer is describing here his collaboration on the sounds for an upcoming car, the BMW i4. (Thanks, Bruce Levenstein!)

“The neural networks located in data centers are trained using millions of samples in a method that resembles successive approximation; errors are initially very large, but are reduced by feeding the error back into an algorithm that adjusts the network parameters. The error is reduced in each training cycle. Training cycles are then repeated until the output is correct. This is done for every word and phrase in the dataset. Training such networks can take a very long time, on the order of weeks”: Peter AJ van der Made goes into detail on “keyword spotting,” the training of AI to recognize virtual-assistant alerts like “Hey, Google” and “Hey, Siri.”

“The expectation that a sonification of a virus potentially carrying deadly diseases would also sound threatening and deadly, is a deeply anthropocentric one: an expectation that treats a scientific sonification like an aesthetic artifact, a musical composition. Yet, a scientific sonification is not a musical composition“: Holger Schulze ponders the purpose and potential of sonified data.

“Yes, there was a noticeable absence of certain sounds at both morning and night (no doubt conversely permitting other sounds to be heard more clearly), but perhaps these newfound observations might simply be attributed to a state of heightened awareness to my surroundings?” That’s the always interesting Tristan Louth-Robins from his blog on his experience of the Covid-era quietude.

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▰ Shortly before the nation started shutting down, I was due to review a live concert performance here in San Francisco. I canceled the afternoon of the show, due to safety concerns, and my editor was supportive of the decision. This weekend I “attended” a three-hour online concert (streamed live from various locations) for the same magazine, in order to review it. I’ll let you know when the article comes out. In some ways it wasn’t unlike going to a local experimental-music concert, in that I went alone, recognized some people I knew (in the chat room), and spoke (well, texted in the browse) with one of them. [clapping emoji]

▰ Wild weekend. Took almost five minutes to clean the synth patch cables off my home-office floor this morning.

▰ On the one hand, it’s unfortunate Devs was only eight episodes long and now it’s over. On the other, it was only eight episodes long, so I could probably just watch it all over again.

▰ Belated RIP to John Conway, who died on April 11 at the age of 82. Conway was synonymous with the Game of Life, not the Milton Bradley game, but the cellular-automaton evolving system. I spoke with him once on the phone for … I’ve no idea how long. It was a tremendous conversation, not intended for publication so I didn’t record. I’d confirmed with a magazine its interest in me mediating a conversation between Conway and Brian Eno. Eno, through management, was apparently into the scenario, but Conway had retired and told me he was more than ever just focused on the things he wanted to focus on. Thus, the three-way conversation never managed to occur, but I treasure the time I got to speak with him.

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This Week in Sound (Update)

The best tips in life are free.

I got another issue of the This Week in Sound email newsletter out last night. Topics included:

▰ hearing tiny earthquakes
▰ “anti-road rage” electric car sounds
▰ machine listening of “keyword spotting”
▰ sonification skepticism
▰ TikTok as musical tool
▰ + more

You can subscribe, for free, at

Folks ask about a paid version. I don’t think, at the moment, I’d do that. Substack’s minimum fee for subscribers is $5/month, I believe, which is more than I’d expect someone to pay. I may add a “tip jar” at some point. The main tips I’d appreciate, though, are examples of sound you come across, especially in specialized fields where sound may not normally be a topic of conversation.

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This Week in Sound: Stationary v. Non-Stationary Noise +

A lightly annotated clipping service

These sound-studies highlights of the week are lightly adapted from the April 13, 2020, issue of the free weekly email newsletter This Week in Sound (

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.

Fascinating explanation from Robert Aichner, of Microsoft Teams, on how they’re using AI to increase noise cancellation, and the difference between “stationary” (“such as a computer fan or air conditioner running in the background”) and “non-stationary” noise, in this interview by Emil Protalinski. “Going forward, Microsoft Teams will suppress non-stationary noises like a dog barking or somebody shutting a door. ‘That is not stationary,’ Aichner explained. ‘You cannot estimate that in speech pauses. What machine learning now allows you to do is to create this big training set, with a lot of representative noises.'” (Via subtopes)

“It starts with a single neighbor clapping. Soon dozens more join in, throwing open their front doors or hanging from their windows to put their hands together,” writes Amanda Hess of New York City’s answer to Italy’s singing, praising quarantine applause. “Clappers may have learned of the ritual through a Facebook post or a message chalked on the pavement of a neighborhood park. But it persists because we hear it, and we want to keep hearing it. Some days it is the only thing I hear from outside that is not an ambulance siren.”

If a largely forgotten voice AI is shut down, who misses its unique sonic qualities? “Back in 2012, Samsung introduced its S Voice assistant as it sought to keep up after Apple went all-in on Siri,” writes Richard Lawler. “Samsung acquired Viv to use its tech for a replacement, Bixby. Bixby hasn’t made that much of a mark either, but now Samsung is pulling the plug on S Voice. … S Voice service will end as of June 1.”

“Without the broad-spectrum filters of trains and traffic hum, every layer of that soundscape can be heard clearly once more,” writes Tim Rutherford-Johnson. “As with the air, particulates and pollution are dropping away. Sound and breath both arrive in higher fidelity. This week, British seismologists have noticed that the ‘cultural noise’ of the earth has started to quieten too.””

A health app that listens to and reports back on your cough? I checked that the date on this piece said April 10, not April 1, and it turns out to be true. Read up as JC Torres explains what the Coughvid app does: “The team is using AI to distinguish between different kinds of coughs the same way doctors listen to your cough. The idea is to help reduce the number of people going to doctors demanding for a test when they don’t exhibit the symptoms.”

“NLS [the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled] holds more than 25,000 braille transcriptions of musical scores and instructional texts; large-print scores, librettos, reference works and biographies; instructional recordings in music theory, appreciation and performance; and music-related talking books and magazines,” writes Mark Hartsell. “NLS also commissions 40 to 50 transcriptions each year — last year, it produced a braille version of the massively popular musical Hamilton.'” (Via Mike Rhode)

Find music you can’t help but dance to like Dieter Rams dances to Oscar Peterson in Gary Hustwit’s documentary Rams (with music, as well, by Brian Eno). (As mentioned here last week, it streamed for free through April 14 at

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I spend a lot of time on YouTube. It’s one of the main places I listen to music, especially the thriving culture of live electronic music performances. As a result, I can’t help but track certain visual techniques, tropes, and stylistic touches, things like houseplants, and commonly employed angles, and nature shoots, and the careful deployment of color and cute objects.

I sure hope the projection technique employed in this video by German musician Perplex On catches on. Note the lights on the small controller in front of the iPad, as well as on the musician’s fingers. You have to check it out:

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▰ I’ve gotten really into, of all things, The Great Pottery Throw Down series on TV, and have been pondering the purposefully cracked glaze of Japanese “raku” ware as an early glitch-aesthetic progenitor.

▰ April 7, 2020: So, I decided to talk a walk. It was so beautifully clear and sunny outside it’s absurd, in contrast with what’s happening in general right now. I looked at my phone to turn on an audiobook, and the news was there. One of my heroes is gone. Hal Willner is dead. I used to tweet each morning every musician (and related) I saw on Wikipedia’s death reports and in obituary pages, and it got to be too much. These days, it would really be too much. Since Hal Willner died, pretty much all I’ve been doing on guitar (I started taking lessons a couple years ago) is trying to learn “Little Rootie Tootie” by Thelonious Monk. I mean “learn,” but, you know, it’s been pretty satisfying.

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