This Week in Sound: Sing Reliably in the Depths of Night

A lightly annotated clipping service

These sound-studies highlights of the week originally appeared in the April 25, 2023, issue of the free weekly email newsletter, This Week in Sound.

This Week in Sound

▰ STRING THEORY: HARP stands for Heliophysics Audified: Resonances in Plasmas, a program that combines data from a quintet of NASA satellites. An article in the Washington Post announces that it “is now open to citizen scientists.” HARP is like neighborhood watch — but with your ears … in space. Writes Erin Blakemore: “The hope is that volunteers can help trawl through the massive amount of data while sussing out sounds that reveal more about the vibrations. Researchers will use their increased understanding of those interactions to help humans better prepare for future space weather events.” 

This is a graphic depicting how different types of space waves are analogous to different instruments, such as a clarinet or a guitar

Learn more at, where this accompanying image (by QiuGang Zong of the University of Massachusetts Lowell) depicts how “types of space waves are analogous to vibrations in air made by musical instruments.” (Thanks, Mike Rhode!)

▰ FIELD REPORT: I recently ordered an AudioMoth, an open-source device intended for use when making field recordings of sound in nature. It’s a great tool for acoustic ecology. (As The Economist has explained, “The device takes its name from the fact that moths can hear sounds across a wide frequency spectrum.”) I love that the mobile app for the AudioMoth does exactly one thing: it emits a chime that can set the device’s internal clock. 

▰ BRAND SLAM: WPP, an advertising conglomerate, has acquired amp (the name is all lowercase), a sonic branding company with such clients as Cadillac, Adobe, Dove, and Lay’s. Michele Arnese founded amp in 2009. I think the big question now is what this means for other small agencies that focus on sound branding: will they continue as standalone entities, or will we see an uptick of such acquisitions in 2023 and 2024? For my part, I think sound branding as a standalone operation isn’t as effective as within a larger organization, where it can be part of a broader, coherent strategy — though as in any field, there will always be small teams that push norms in a way larger organizations struggle to do.

▰ PHONE HOME: The CBC reports on a payphone in the middle of a forest. It is intended for “visitors dealing with the loss of a loved one to pick up the receiver and speak to those they miss.” (My dad died last June just shy of his 87th birthday, and I have an urge to use a wind phone as I type this.) Apparently the concept of the “wind phone” originated in 2010 thanks to Itaru Sasaki, a Japanese garden designer. You can find a wind phone near you at The nearest one to me (I live in San Francisco) is across the bay in Oakland on 5th Street below where Interstate 880 and Interstate 980 connect. According to that website, it was created by Jordan Stern in the memory of the three dozen people who died in the 2016 Ghost Ship Fire. Here’s a partial map of wind phone locations around the world. (Via Christof Migone)

▰ TRACK TRACKER: If film music is your thing, then you are probably already (or should be) checking out’s regularly updated news, such as that Kevin Kiner, known for his work on some great Star Wars animated series (most recently The Bad Batch) is scoring the forthcoming live-action Ahsoka (based on a character who originated in the animated series; now starring actual human Rosario Dawson), and that Mica Levi has a new assignment (The Zone of Interest, based on a Martin Amis novel from 2014 and from the director of Under the Skin, which Levi also memorably scored). Related topic: still no word on an album release for Siddhartha Khosla’s exceptional score for the TV series Rabbit Hole

QUICK NOTES: Wind Bag: A scientist explored an idiomatic expression and learned it’s mistaken: “It isn’t harder to shout into the wind; it’s just harder to hear yourself.” (Thanks, Glenn Sogge!) ▰ Orchestral Maneuvers: “The Los Angeles Metro is using classical music on its light rail system to deter homeless people from congregating and sleeping in a downtown station.” (Thanks. Rich Pettus!) ▰ Bird Brain: The podcast from Emergence Magazine recently had an episode titled “The Nightingale’s Song,” featuring “acclaimed folk singer, conservationist, and song collector Sam Lee, who steps into the forest each spring to sing with these beloved birds.” ▰ Channel Surfing: What appears to have been an intercepted comment on a taxi radio “has become a sensation in Argentina after the driver’s taxi radio interfered with the signal from the International Space Station and popped up live during NASA’s live broadcast of a spacewalk.” ▰ App Alert:“Voicemod, the popular voice changer and soundboard, has just landed on macOS, allowing Mac users to transform their voices and trigger sound effects in real time.” ▰ Hearing Aid: A new tool in speech-to-text recognition is modeled on the human ear. ▰ Speak AI: Speech recognition software is increasingly part of the medical world, and a recent study, using mock patient encounters, explores its effectiveness in history-taking. ▰ Planet Rock: Jenna Jones and Joseph Joyce, for Ableton, summarize the benefits of data sonification as a tool for climate action. ▰ When a Problem Comes Along: A podcast called the Wind has a new episode about the politics of the whip: “How a small sonic boom came to represent homelessness in Reno, and how the city responded to unhoused people taking up sonic real-estate.” (Via Rob Walker’s always excellent The Art of Noticing newsletter) ▰ Avian Squad: One of my favorite online nature features is the “Shriek of the Week” by Charlie Peverett of Birdsong Academy, who this week highlighted the nightingale, one of the “few birds to sing reliably in the depths of night and during the day.”

This Week in Sound: The Difficulty of Not Making Sounds

A lightly annotated clipping service

This Week in Sound

These sound-studies highlights of the week originally appeared in the April 18, 2023, issue of the free weekly email newsletter, This Week in Sound.

▰ FILM THREAT: You’ve probably read enough stories by now about why dialogue on TVs is hard to hear, even if your ears haven’t neared middle age. But there is hope on the audible horizon. A forthcoming feature from Amazon Prime Video, called Dialogue Boost, “lets you raise the volume of dialogue relative to background music and effects.” Does it do this by accessing the source audio from the original production? No, the application uses artificial intelligence — which if it is sentient must be happy to, for a moment, be a savior rather than a threat: “Dialogue Boost analyzes the program’s audio and uses AI to spot points where dialogue may be tough to hear. Then speech is isolated and its audio enhanced to make dialogue clearer.” Now let’s ponder unintended consequences, like people turning off the music entirely from films and recommending their own alternate scores, or movie studios suing to maintain the intended level of mumblefication. (Thanks, Bart Beaty!)

▰ CALL OF THE WILD: In a radio broadcast, KERA’s Krys Boyd interviews New Yorker staff writer Burkhard Bilger on the “surprising musicality” of animals. Bilger profiled neuroscientist-composer David Sulzer in a recent issue of the magazine on this topic. Boyd asks whether we, as humans, invented music, or just discovered it. Bilger replies: “I feel like we invented a certain kind of music but I agree with Sulzer that it’s something that’s sort of threaded through the world around us that we’ve just learned to echo it more than invent it.” (Thanks, Rob Walker!)

▰ OFF THE RAILS: The redevelopment of downtown LaGrange, Georgia, has a perceived sonic obstacle: the noise of its railroad. “The horns can be heard throughout the downtown area, even in the downtown hotel, where guests will complain about the horns blaring,” said Phillip Abbott, who is identified as a local business owner and redeveloper. As a result, the city voted “to determine how much it would cost to convert railroad crossings around downtown to silent crossings.” (Since you may be wondering, as did I: This isn’t the La Grange made famous in the ZZ Top song that goes “haw, haw, haw, haw.” That one’s in Texas. And in any case, the song is about a house of ill repute on the outskirts of town.)

▰ SPLIT TIME: Adam Sliwinski of Sō Percussion does an excellent, playful close read of John Cage’s 4’33”, inspired by the observation that David Tudor, who premiered the work 71 years ago in Woodstock New York, “stopped and re-started the stopwatch between movements.” That’s in contrast with the accepted norm: “Most of the performances I can remember,” he writes, “articulated the movements within the time frame, but didn’t ‘stop’ time in between.” (Thanks, Rich Pettus!)

▰ ON THE CLOCK: There’s a lot of talk regarding autonomous vehicles, as with merely electric and hybrid ones, as to what sounds they should emit. Researchers from Cornell have discerned something: “It was the timing of the sound that was most important. … In analyzing the videos, Pelikan and Jung saw that regardless of which sound they played, the timing and duration were most important for signaling the bus’s intentions.” The study is by lead author Hannah Pelikan, a doctoral student at Linköping University in Sweden (and a recent visiting scholar at Cornell), and Malte Jung, associate professor of information science at Cornell. (And yeah, the word “intentions” is extra interesting in this context.)

▰ QUICK NOTES: Keyed In: If you wish your plain old laptop sounded like a clackety mechanical keyboard, there’s an app for that. And, yeah, it’s called Klack. ▰ Noise Floor: A guy in Hong Kong was tired of his very loud upstairs neighbors so he aimed a speaker at them through his ceiling (and their floor). ▰ Sex Works: Selene Ross (Radiotopia’s The Kitchen Sisters, KALW, NPR, KCRW) on how working in erotic fiction informed her broader work in audio: “I had to ensure every sound effect — every swish of bedsheets shifting, every dress falling softly to the floor — landed the way we wanted.” ▰ Walk This Way: How Sperry, the shoe maker, came up with its sonic brand, “an eight-second sound(plus a shorter, two-second version) composed of ocean sounds and an A major seventh chord played on an acoustic guitar.” ▰ Grate Outdoors: A video from Wired explains how a “line array” speaker system has improved sound at concert festivals. ▰ Foley Folly: The hardest part of action scenes? Shadow and Boneactor Ben Barnes describes “the difficulty of not making sounds during action scenes.”

Subscribe to This Week in Sound at

This Week in Sound: Ways of Listening Beyond the Human

A lightly annotated clipping service

This Week in Sound

These sound-studies highlights of the week originally appeared in the April 11, 2023, issue of the free weekly email newsletter, This Week in Sound.

▰ BACKING TRACKS: How does music support work activities? Nikki Forrester of Nature spoke with a variety of scientists, including Manuel Gonzalez, an organizational psychologist at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey: “Gonzalez encourages his lab members to avoid music when delving into new territory, so that they can apply all their mental resources to process what they’re doing and learning. As researchers become more proficient in particular methods, complex tasks can start to feel routine, a better scenario for incorporating music.”

▰ AIR HAZARD: A lizard called the Colorado checkered whiptail deals with noise pollution by stress-eating: “After aircrafts passed, the lizards’ levels of cortisol, a hormone linked to stress, had skyrocketed, the team reports in a paper published last week in the journal Frontiers in Amphibian and Reptile Science,” writes Carolyn Hagler of Smithsonian Magazine. “Their behavior also shifted—the lizards moved around less and ate more in a likely attempt to rebuild the energy resources lost during their stress reaction.”

▰ AUTO PLAY: Wired’s Boone Ashworth profiles Jeremy Yang, lead sound designer for the robovan company Zoox: “Robotaxis have to use a whole suite of noises to guide a rider through the journey and keep them from doing anything stupid along the way. Most of it is standard car stuff: sounds to let you know a door is ajar, sounds to tell you to put your seat belt on, sounds to alert you that the route has changed. The challenge is making the bleeps and bloops communicate as clearly as a human would.”

▰ VEG OUT: More on the sounds of agitated plants, via the New York Times’ Darren Incorvaia: “The vexed vegetables didn’t air their grievances randomly but rather made specific complaints that matched up with the type of stresses they were under. A machine-learning program could correctly tell, with 70 percent accuracy, whether the grumbling plant was thirsty or at risk of decapitation.” (Thanks, Mike Rhode!)

▰ OTHER EARS: Ithaca College hosted a presentation by Kate Galloway on video games that engage with animal perspectives, and how doing so “articulates the complexity of human-animal relationships, displaces the boundaries between human and other, and articulates ways of listening beyond the human to actual and virtual sensory ecologies.”

▰ QUICK NOTES: Growth Market: Noisy incubators could stunt the growth of premature infants ( ▰ GPS Whiz: Meet Karen Jacobsen, whose voice is used ubiquitously by Google Maps — and yet which Siri has difficulty recognizing ( ▰ Ear-ly Adopter: Martha Joseph of the Museum of Modern Art surveyed MOMA’s past engagement with sound art ( ▰ On Brand: Wikipedia debuted its new sound logo ( ▰ Road Rage: Traffic noise makes blood pressure rise (

This Week in Sound: The Aural Periodic Table

A lightly annotated clipping service

These sound-studies highlights of the week originally appeared in the January 10, 2023, issue of the free weekly email newsletter, This Week in Sound.

▰ PERIOD PIECE: Jill Linz, a physics instructor at Skidmore College, has a project that “mapped atomic data into unique audible tone,” yielding an “aural periodic table.

“By examining the waveforms and tonal qualities of each element in the table, she’s beginning to explore how this ‘sonification’ of atoms might reveal unexpected structural relationships among elements.” 

These are waveforms of the first dozen elements: 

“From top to bottom, the left column shows hydrogen, helium, lithium, beryllium; the middle column shows boron, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen; and the right column shows fluorine, neon, sodium, magnesium.”

Listen at, Glenn Sogge!)

▰ BLIND SPOT: A point, from Fast Company, about how noise-canceling headphones can be too good at their job. This is in the context of the Dyson Zone, which combines air filter mask and ear gear:

“Then there’s the noise-canceling issue with the headphones. Yes, noise pollution is certainly a problem in cities like Manhattan with its cacophony of car horns and sirens. But, as annoying as those sounds can be, completely cutting them out in a dense metro area could constitute a health hazard. Situational awareness is pretty important with that many vehicles and people nearby.”

▰ TALK THERAPY: Novelist V. V. Ganeshananthan, author of Love Marriage and Brotherless Night, wrote for Time about turning to voice recognition software after losing use of her hands — and how much the tools still need to improve in order to truly serve the disabled:

“I found that I preferred Mac voice control and Google Docs voice typing because the lag between what I was thinking and what the software was typing was shorter; even if the difference was infinitesimal, it mattered. Because of its speed and its slightly better performance with non-Anglo proper nouns, I chose Google Docs for my novel. Sometimes I closed my eyes and muttered scenes into the screen, my former copyeditor’s self unable to bear the typo-written transcription. Sometimes when I could not resist touching the keyboard, I ended up having to wear ice sleeves. Sometimes I opened my eyes only to find that the dictation had stopped working partway through my sentences. If I used a phrase that was also a song or film title, Google would sometimes capitalize it. (“I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” one character might have said to another.) As when I had typed for myself, I found that I could not write fiction in the presence of others. It felt too intimate. But eventually that self-consciousness fell away. It had to: The software was capable of composition, but when it came to revision, the amount of time and skill it would take to get things done was beyond me and my looming deadline.”

▰ SPEAKER SYSTEM: Apple is experimenting with using AI voices to narrate audiobooks: “[S]ome in the publishing industry are skeptical about replacing human narrators—often professional voice actors or the authors themselves—with A.I. They say that audiobooks are a form of art, and that human narrators help enhance the experience.” Meanwhile, apparently Amazon requires its Audible audiobooks “be narrated by a human.”

▰ BUG REPELLANT: The noisier humans get, the less successful grasshoppers are at having sex. Even though “their calls can reach intensities of 98 decibels at one metre, which is about as loud as a hand drill,” we can muffle that with our own sound: “As this species is highly dependent on acoustic communication for mate location, the reduced calling effort demonstrated by males at both study sites might have a negative impact on mating success.”

▰ QUICK NOTES: RING TONE: The Kitchen Sisters have an episode on the great sound artist Bill Fontana’s work based on the silenced bells of Notre Dame(Thanks, Lotta Fjelkegård!) ▰ LIST LESS: Nothing particularly sound related ranked among the top 10 technological innovations as determined by MIT’s, nor among the four additional items readers are to vote for. ▰ LEADER BILLBOARD: Ranking the 10 best games based on their sound design:▰ FOLEY DU JOUR: Learn how game designers behind Dead Island 2 made the sound of zombie guts, among other subjects.

This Week in Sound: The Daily Hum of Nearby Surroundings

A lightly annotated clipping service

These sound-studies highlights of the week originally appeared in the January 3, 2023, issue of the free weekly email newsletter, This Week in Sound.

RATTLE & ROLL: All about a device that helps us experience “The Unheard Symphony of the Planet” — read on via this gift link (and thanks, Paolo Salvagione!).

“The Raspberry Shake — a small device that combines a cheap computer called a Raspberry Pi with a monitor that measures minuscule ground movements — has, since 2016, helped to make seismology more accessible to the public. Raspberry Shakes are less sophisticated than professional seismographs but a fraction of the cost, and around 1,600 of the devices are scattered around the planet, livestreaming their open access data online to form the largest, real-time seismic network in the world. The network of “Shakers,” as the community likes to call itself, is made up of hobbyists, professionals and educators, whose instruments pick up the seismic waves of earthquakes as well as the daily hum of their nearby surroundings.”
THE SPINAL TAP THEOREM: “A team of researchers at the University of Manchester’s Centre for Audiology and Deafness, has found that musicians tend to listen to music at louder volume than non-musicians.” (Thanks, Glenn Sogge!)

To 11 and Beyond! Research by Antonia Olivia Dolan, Emanuele Perugia and Karolina Kluk

JUST DESERTS: Erik Davis brings us up to speed on Kim Haines-Eitzen’s book Sonorous Desert: What Deep Listening Taught Early Christian Monks — and What It Can Teach Us:

“In this relatively brief and beautifully written volume, Haines-Eitzen interleaves a study of what McLuhan would call the “acoustic space” of early desert monasticism — whose promise of silence struggled with winds, canyon echos, beasts, and demonic noise — with the author’s own quest to both understand the yen for silence that seizes many of us today (including myself) and to record the sonic landscapes of the world’s deserts (with QR codes at the end of the chapters linking to her lovely recordings online).”
SPEAK NOT: About that smart speaker your cousin gave your for the holidays — via researcher Matt Kunze:
“Once a hacker manages to connect their account to the Google Home speaker, they get access to the smart devices in the victim’s home. The bad actor could operate switches, play music, turn on and off appliances, and more. A hacker can also initiate a phone call via the smart home speaker, making it possible to record everything happening in the victim’s home. While in a phone call, the smart speaker’s lights turn blue, but if the victim is someone who doesn’t use this feature or isn’t well versed with Google Home’s options, they might just assume the speaker is updating or otherwise busy.”
BACK UP: Warren Ellis ponders always-on “memory prosthetics,” quoting Matt Webb:
“Sooner or later, every single conversation I have will be recorded and transcribed and I’ll be able to look back at it later – details from a phone call with the bank, in the hardware store asking a question, someone mentions a book at the pub, an idea in a workshop. Ignoring the societal consequences for a sec lol ahem… how should the app to manage all that chatter work?”
QUICK NOTES: BOW FLEX: The Musée Mécanique, here in San Francisco, where I live, has a thing called the Mills Bow-Front Violano Virtuoso, “a century-old self-playing device which performs duets on piano and violin.” (Thanks, Rich Pettus!)WHAT’S SHAKIN’?: All about EarSpy, an experiment in using motion sensors to tap into mobile phone conversations. ▰ WAX ON: A device called the Endpoint Cylinder and Dictabelt Machine has allowed fragile wax cylinders, over 100 years in age, to be digitized. (Thanks, Brian Biggs!)BOSS LEVEL: What is the greatest ever sound effect from a video game? ▰ DEVOTION COMMOTION: Reportedly there is faith-based sonic warfare happening in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh through loud prayer. ▰ LATEST BUZZ: Perhaps the first instance of a mysterious hum in 2023 has been reported in the town of Hinckley in Leicestershire, England.