In this episode, we discover how manipulating sound can transform our experience of food and drink, making stale potato chips taste fresh, adding the sensation of cream to black coffee, or boosting the savory, peaty notes in whiskey.
One takeaway: don't listen to the sound of breaking glass if you want to continue eating potato chips:
He recruited 200 volunteers willing to eat Pringles for science, and played them modified crunching sounds through headphones, some louder and some more muffled, as they ate. And he found that he could make a 15 percent difference in people's perception of a stale chip's freshness by playing them a louder crunch when they bit into it.
"The party version" of this trick, according to Spence, was developed by colleagues in the Netherlands and Japan. Volunteers were asked to crunch on chips in time with a metronome, while researchers played crunching sounds back, in perfect synchrony, through their headphones. All was well until the researchers replaced the crunching with the sound of breaking glass-and "people's jaws just freeze up."
This 90s TV interview with Seinfeld theme song composer Jonathan Wolff is more interesting than you'd think. He talks through how he matched the theme to Jerry's standup delivery tempo and how each episode's song had to be customized the match the pacing of Jerry's particular monologue that week. (via digg, which is particularly good today)
The show's producers were having difficulty finding music that wouldn't overpower the comedian's opening routines. "Jerry, you've already given me the melody and theme," Wolff told Seinfeld. "My job is going to be to support you and the organic nature of your voice." Wolff sampled his own mouth noises and slapped some funky bass over it and the rest is history. He built the theme to be manipulated - the rhythm of the mouth pops, shakers, and bass notes changed ever so slightly to fit the different monologues that opened every show.
As part of the Moby Dick Big Read project, dozens of people collaborated on an unabridged audiobook of Moby Dick. Each chapter has a different reader and the readers included Stephen Fry, David Attenborough, and Benedict Cumberbatch. Tilda Swinton started things off with chapter one:
At the risk of turning this into an Adele fan site, here are the isolated vocals for her performance of "Hello" for Saturday Night Live. They are raw and flawless and real and everything pop music isn't these days.
Update: That YouTube video got yanked, but I found the vocals on Soundcloud. We'll see how long that'll last.
The University of California, Santa Barbara library is digitizing its collection of wax cylinders from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Over 10,000 audio files from the collection are now available online.
The UCSB Library, with funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Grammy Foundation, and donors, has created a digital collection of more than 10,000 cylinder recordings held by the Department of Special Collections. To bring these recordings to a wider audience, the Library makes them available to download or stream online for free.
This searchable database features all types of recordings made from the late 1800s to early 1900s, including popular songs, vaudeville acts, classical and operatic music, comedic monologues, ethnic and foreign recordings, speeches and readings.
The Foley Artist a charming short film on how a Foley artist would sound design a day in an ordinary life. Running hands through spaghetti noodles stands in for hair washing, a spray bottle sounds like rustling sheets, that sort of thing.
"If you look at encrypted communication, if they are properly encrypted, there is no real way to tell that they are encrypted," Snowden said. "You can't distinguish a properly encrypted communication from random behaviour."
Therefore, Snowden continued, as human and alien societies get more sophisticated and move from "open communications" to encrypted communication, the signals being broadcast will quickly stop looking like recognisable signals.
"So if you have an an alien civilization trying to listen for other civilizations," he said, "or our civilization trying to listen for aliens, there's only one small period in the development of their society when all their communication will be sent via the most primitive and most unprotected means."
After that, Snowden said, alien messages would be so encrypted that it would render them unrecognisable, "indistinguishable to us from cosmic microwave background radiation". In that case, humanity would not even realise it had received such communications.
Skip Lievsay is one of the best sound designers in the business, having won an Oscar for his work on Gravity and worked on such films as Goodfellas, Silence of the Lambs, Do The Right Thing, and all of the Coen brothers' movies. Jordan Kisner recently profiled Lievsay for The Guardian.
It is a central principle of sound editing that people hear what they are conditioned to hear, not what they are actually hearing. The sound of rain in movies? Frying bacon. Car engines revving in a chase scene? It's partly engines, but what gives it that visceral, gut-level grist is lion roars mixed in. To be excellent, a sound editor needs not just a sharp, trained ear, but also a gift for imagining what a sound could do, what someone else might hear.
My commute these days doesn't lend itself to listening to headphones and I can't listen to anything with words while I work, so I don't listen to many podcasts. But I've been driving more than usual this summer, so I've had a chance to dip into some shows, oldfavorites and newcomers alike.
I've only listened to the first three cases so far, but Starlee Kine's new Mystery Show is particularly well done. The conceit of the show is that each week, Kine and her team of investigators solve a mystery for someone. Everyone loves a mystery, but the real draw of the show for me is Kine's ability to get normal people to say interesting things about themselves along the way.
The celebrity aspect and the Britneyology was interesting -- What sort of person is Britney? Is she a reader? -- but the best part of the whole thing was Kine's conversation with Dennis, a Ticketmaster customer service representative. She asked Dennis his opinion of Britney and somehow the exchange very quickly got intimate. You could feel their crackling connection right through the phone line, and seemingly out of nowhere, he utters the line, "you can get addicted to a certain kind of sadness", which totally left me breathless. Kine, Dennis, Britney, and I, all suddenly exposed. Fantastic stuff.
Two weeks ago, 99% Invisible broadcast an audio documentary from 1998 about one of the last remaining flophouses on The Bowery in NYC called The Sunshine Hotel. It is an amazing time capsule from a Manhattan that just doesn't exist anymore.
The Sunshine Hotel opened in 1922. Rooms -- or really, cubicles -- were 10 cents a night. The Sunshine, like other flop houses, was always a men-only establishment. In 1998, the hotel had raised it's rates to 10 dollars a night and it was managed by resident Nathan Smith. He sat behind a metal cage at the front desk, answering the phone and doling out toilet paper to residents for 35 cents. Smith had once worked in a bank until he was injured, and then fired. His wife left him and he ended up in the Bowery, and eventually at the Sunshine Hotel.
Oh man, this episode of This American Life on desegregation and the Normandy School District (aka the Missouri district that Michael Brown attended) just totally wrecked me. Tears of sadness and rage.
Right now, all sorts of people are trying to rethink and reinvent education, to get poor minority kids performing as well as white kids. But there's one thing nobody tries anymore, despite lots of evidence that it works: desegregation. Nikole Hannah-Jones looks at a district that, not long ago, accidentally launched a desegregation program.
The Rosses were expecting twins but learned that one of the two, Thomas, wouldn't live much past birth. They decided to donate Thomas's body to science. And then, they decided to investigate just what it was they had given and how it had helped others. Great piece by Radiolab.
The next day, Gray met James Zieske, the institute's senior scientist, who told her "infant eyes are worth their weight in gold," because, being so young, they have great regenerative properties. Thomas' corneas were used in a study that could one day help cure corneal blindness.
Thirteen more studies had cited that study. Gray felt a new emotion: pride.
It took archivists a dozen years to complete the monumental task. The collection contains nearly 150,000 digital audio recordings equaling more than 10 terabytes of data with a total run time of 7,513 hours. About 9,000 species are represented. There's an emphasis on birds, but the collection also includes sounds of whales, elephants, frogs, primates and more.
Even with those thousands of hours of recordings, some contemporary species remain unrecorded. The library maintains a list of their most wanted calls. On the list for North America are the Arctic Loon, Shiny Cowbird, and Surf Scoter. (via @alexismadrigal)
When they were launched in 1977, the two Voyager spacecraft each carried with them a 12-inch gold-plated copper record containing images and sounds of Earth for the viewing pleasure of whichever aliens happened across them. NASA has put the sounds of the Golden Record up on Soundcloud. Here are the greetings in 55 different languages (from English1 to Hittite to Polish to Thai):
What's missing from the two playlists is UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim's greeting:
...as well as several other UN greetings overlaid with whale sounds:
Due to copyright issues, also missing are the 90 minutes of music included on the record. Among the songs are Johnny B. Goode by Chuck Berry, The Rite of Spring by Stravinsky, and Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground by Blind Willie Johnson. Here Comes the Sun by The Beatles was originally supposed to be included, but their record company wouldn't allow it, which is pretty much the most small-minded thing I have ever heard.
The English greeting was spoken by Nick Sagan when he was six years old. Nick is the son of Carl Sagan, who chaired the committee that selected the contents of the record.↩
Initial attempts hitting a fixed kettle drum with paddled-drumsticks didn't work, with Spivak saying the sound wasn't "fleshy" enough. An experiment beating the floor failed as well. So Spivak decided to beat one of his assistant's chests with drumsticks instead, saying "If wood will not take the place of flesh, then let's use flesh." Sure enough, this was the sound used for production.
The stabbing noise in Psycho is a knife plunging into a melon:
In a recording studio, prop man [Bob] Bone auditioned the melons for Hitchcock, who sat listening with his eyes closed. When the table was littered with shredded fruit, Hitchcock opened his eyes, and intoned simply: "Casaba."
And my favorite, from Terminator 2:
In Robert Patrick's T-1000 prison break scene, the robot phases through the cell bars with a slurpy metallic sound. Oscar-winning sound designer Gary Rydstrom revealed the effect was achieved by a simple solution from the sound of dog food being slowly sucked out of the can.
The New Yorker did a short feature on Charlie Pellett, the voice of the NYC subway.
This deep, sometimes vexing voice -- which also apologizes for "unavoidable delays" -- belongs to a man named Charlie Pellett. A radio anchor for Bloomberg News, Pellett was raised in London but cultivated an American accent by listening to the radio. His work for the M.T.A., which is done on a volunteer basis, is the only non-reporting voice-over work that he's done.
Taking inspiration from the opening sequence of Contact, lightyear.fm is a musical journey away from the Earth. As you get farther out (say, 10 light years away, just past star Ross 154 in the constellation of Sagittarius), you hear music that was broadcast on the radio at that time (Gold Digger by Kanye West).
Radio broadcasts leave Earth at the speed of light. Scroll away from Earth and hear how far the biggest hits of the past have travelled. The farther away you get, the longer the waves take to travel there -- and the older the music you'll hear.
A company called Persistent Surveillance Systems has built a "pre-crime" surveillance system. The idea is that you fly a cluster of video cameras over an area that can be the size of a small city -- using an airplane or even a drone -- and you transmit the day's activities of the entire city to a computer on the ground. When a crime is committed, a system analyst can scrub the video forward and backward in time to find out where the perpetrator came from and where they go after. Ideally, this happens minutes after the crime is committed so the perps can be apprehended. Radiolab recently had a great piece on this technology and its privacy implications.
The system also has other uses -- like tracking traffic patterns -- but yaaawn. In one of the trials of the technology described in the show, the surveillance video of a hit on a police officer in Juarez, Mexico by members of a drug cartel showed them driving back to what turned out to be the cartel's headquarters. Another trial, in Dayton, OH, resulted in the capture of a burglar only a few blocks from where the crime was committed. Radiolab called this technology a superpower, like Batman hacking into all of the world's cellphones or Superman hovering above the Earth listening to everyone's conversations. Less imaginary comparisons would be to London's network of CCTV cameras or the NSA's recording of a large amount of the world's electronic communications. Fascinating and terrifying all at once.
Siri needs to be able to say just about everything in the English language, and that took a lot of hard work.
"I recorded four hours a day, five days a week for the month of July," Bennett says. For a voice actor, that workload causes a lot of strain. "That's a long time to be talking constantly. Consequently, you get tired."
The original Siri "was to sound otherworldly and have a dry sense of humor," Bennett says. She added that to her take on the character, even as she focused on staying consistent and clear.
A profile of Gregg Barbanell, who is a Hollywood Foley artist responsible for the ambient sounds (walking, clothes rustling, gunshots, etc.) in Breaking Bad, Little Miss Sunshine, and The Walking Dead. The best bits are about how specific sounds are made.
Popular apocalyptic zombie TV series The Walking Dead has no shortage of gore -- and as the show's Foley artist, Barbanell is tasked with creating most of its gruesome "blood and guts" sounds. "They're pulling organs out of bodies, they're slicing heads off, reaching into bodies, pulling out things," says Barbanell, with disgust. "So, we get creative."
For "gushy, squishy sounds" like oozing blood, Barbanell uses chamois (a leather cloth made from the skin of mountain sheep). "You soak it, then lay into it, and it just oozes -- it's something you can control really easily," he says. "And when you put pressure on it, you get these amazing, gory noises." Sometimes, when that extra oompf is needed, he'll go out and buy a whole, raw chicken to stuff the chamois inside of.
For "breaking bones," big, full stocks of celery are employed -- not merely individual stocks, mind you, but HUGE bunches capable of producing layered, complex snaps. "They give you this huge, sinewy stringy sound," adds Barbanell. "It's very effective."
Oh, and his collection of shoes for making different walking sounds, some of which are shown here:
The McGurk effect is a perceptual phenomenon that demonstrates an interaction between hearing and vision in speech perception. The illusion occurs when the auditory component of one sound is paired with the visual component of another sound, leading to the perception of a third sound. The visual information a person gets from seeing a person speak changes the way they hear the sound. People who are used to watching dubbed movies may be among people who are not susceptible to the McGurk effect because they have, to some extent, learned to ignore the information they are getting from the mouths of the "speakers".
Update: The Vine clip I previously posted just yanked the bar/far comparison from a AsapSCIENCE video, so I've replaced the imposter with the real thing. (via @michaelck & jess)
This is allegedly a recording of a voicemail that Hunter S. Thompson left for the AV company that wrongly installed his home theater system.
If your setup is still here tomorrow night, I'm gonna destroy it and write about it. Yeah, I write a column, several, I write about a lot of things, you might of heard of the rest of my name somewhere, I write books, I write things that get out and people read! I'll ruin your fucking name! You goddamn idiots, you fuck up my system!!
The Design Audio/Video team got back to Thompson and fixed the problem which, it turned out, they hadn't actually caused. The items had actually been sold to the author by another local dealer, which McCorkle knows but would not name.
"It turns out, we didn't sell him the stuff, but we ended up fixing it for him," McCorkle said. "In true Hunter style, he never apologized for it, but he was grateful."
This episode, we make three earnest, possibly foolhardy, attempts to put a price on the priceless. We figure out the dollar value for an accidental death, another day of life, and the work of bats and bees as we try to keep our careful calculations from falling apart in the face of the realities of life, and love, and loss.
I have always really liked Radiolab, but it seems like the show has shifted into a different gear with this episode. The subject seemed a bit meatier than their usual stuff, the reporting was close to the story, and the presentation was more straightforward, with fewer of the audio experiments that some found grating. I spent some time driving last weekend and I listened to this episode of Radiolab, an episode of 99% Invisible, and an episode of This American Life, and it occurred to me that as 99% Invisible has been pushing quite effectively into Radiolab's territory, Radiolab is having to up their game in response, more toward the This American Life end of the spectrum. Well, whatever it is, it's great seeing these three radio shows (and dozens of others) push each other to excellence.
You don't typically think of The Wire as a show that used audio to great effect, but you'd be wrong. From the show's use of music only ambient to the scene (e.g. a car radio playing), the season-end montages, and the background soundtracks that accompanied certain characters or situations, The Wire's use of music and sound was quite calculated and effective. At Reddit, a sound editor who worked on the show shared her experiences.
One of my crew's challenges, then, was to find ways to evoke mood with backgrounds. When a character is in a crowded situation he is not comfortable with, listen for background laughter. When McNulty is drunk and on the prowl, listen for dogs barking (because he's a dog - my own private commentary on his character). There was a whole world of work that went in to creating the sound of Hamsterdam and building it from an empty to thriving enterprise.
Working with Felicia Pearson was challenging:
Snoop was tricky. That DeWalt scene wasn't the first time she was in the show (she's a scout for Marlo the first time we see him in season three maybe?) but it was the most dialog she had up until then, and the HBO note was that she was completely unintelligible. I had her in the studio to do pretty much the entire scene over it felt like, and whenever I had a new actor in the studio, I would always ask (unless I recognized them from something else) if they had done ADR before because "The Wire" used so many non-actors. She said "no ma'am" so I walked her through the process and she did a great job. Stayed in sync, matched her cadence... and sounded exactly as unintelligible as she did on set!
But so was Dominic West:
McNulty (Dom West) came in often and was awesome, as well. His accent showed most often when the character was drunk or angry. Oddly, the name "Stringer Bell" tripped him up a lot. "Stringa" and then a very over-enunciated end to "Bell-eh." Also, the words "fuck" and "cunt" came out "feck" and "cahnt" and the only way to break him of it was to stand right in front of him (so he could watch the mouth shape) and say the word over and over again. So a Dom West ADR session often went like this:
Me (with Dom staring at my mouth): Cunt. Cunt. Cunt.
Dom: Cahnt. Shit, do it again, please.
Me: Cunt. Cunt. Cunt.
Dom: Cunt. Cunt. OK, let's record...
(three beeps, the line starts and):
Dom: ...cahnt. Feck! Say it again.
There were some instances where we didn't bring Dom in for ADR because the emotion and energy of the scene would be compromised if we tinkered with his accent, and I support that decision, but it still pains me to hear those lines and feel like something slipped by me. I was like, the last checkpoint before dialog went on the air.
Which reminds me, the "Fuck" scene (McNulty/Bunk) -- when picture came to me, there were only about 30 "fucks" in it. We brought the guys in together and played the scene over and over and slammed a variation of "fuck" everywhere it would fit. I think the final mix tops off at somewhere in the 80 range? My personal contribution was Bunk's "fuck, fuck fuckitty fuck."
And Michael K. Williams cannot whistle:
Michael K Williams cannot whistle! It's totally true. We brought him in and he tried but it just wasn't happening. Omar's whistle is provided by a lovely and talented loop group member named Susan, who is an actor and John Waters' personal assistant.
To which another Redditor replied, "Susan's coming yo!" The whole thread is great, read it.
Book 1 of Karl Ove Knausgaard's epic My Struggle is now available in English as an audiobook. This was by far my favorite book of 2014...the first 50 pages punched me in the gut about 10 times and the rest did not disappoint. After a bit of a break to recover, I am looking forward to tackling Book 2 & Book 3 in the next couple of months. (via @tylercowen)
Update: Legendary reporter Jimmy Breslin wrote a piece shortly after the shooting about the police officers that drove Lennon to the hospital that night.
As Moran started driving away, he heard people in the street shouting, "That's John Lennon!"
Moran was driving with Bill Gamble. As they went through the streets to Roosevelt Hospital, Moran looked in the backseat and said, "Are you John Lennon?" The guy in the back nodded and groaned.
Back on Seventy-second Street, somebody told Palma, "Take the woman." And a shaking woman, another victim's wife, crumpled into the backseat as Palma started for Roosevelt Hospital. She said nothing to the two cops and they said nothing to her. Homicide is not a talking matter.
Francine journeys through time and space to uncover the mysteries of this 1968 classic. Searching for the mind of H.A.L. and lost alien worlds among the delights of the Stanley Kubrick Archive at London's University of the Arts. Joining Francine on her voyage of discovery are 2001 chronicler Piers Bizony, former urbane spaceman Keir Dullea and the woman who built the moon! Other voices include production designer Harry Lange, make-up genius Stuart Freeborn, editor Ray Lovejoy, all now so much stardust, as well as those of lead ape 'Moonwatcher' (Dan Richter) & Stargate deviser Douglas Trumbull.
A look at the sound design of Interstellar, including some of the cool rigs they built to record sounds for the movie, including a truck driving through a corn field, sand hitting the outside of a car, and robots walking.
I look forward to every Thursday in a way that I don't remember awaiting the release of an episode of anything recently. There's something very intimate about someone telling you a story that close to your ears.
That's Jason Reitman echoing the thoughts of the many listeners who have turned Serial -- a new podcast from the producers of This American Life -- into the fastest growing podcast ever. Twenty years ago, we were all hooked on TV and radio. Twenty years of technology advances later, we're all hooked on TV and radio. Content is king.
My show is a shadow of the news, so I have to know what shadow it's casting right now, so I can distort it in my own way.
At the 13 minute mark, he talks about how the team communicates with each other about how the show is shaping up, changes, concerns, etc. They do it all by what sounds like text messaging. Paging Stewart Butterfield, you should get those folks on Slack. (via digg)
The sound made by the Krakatoa volcanic eruption in 1883 was so loud it ruptured eardrums of people 40 miles away, travelled around the world four times, and was clearly heard 3,000 miles away.
Think, for a moment, just how crazy this is. If you're in Boston and someone tells you that they heard a sound coming from New York City, you're probably going to give them a funny look. But Boston is a mere 200 miles from New York. What we're talking about here is like being in Boston and clearly hearing a noise coming from Dublin, Ireland. Travelling at the speed of sound (766 miles or 1,233 kilometers per hour), it takes a noise about 4 hours to cover that distance. This is the most distant sound that has ever been heard in recorded history.
A much much smaller eruption occurred recently in Papua New Guinea. From the video, you can get a tiny sense of the sonic damage unleashed by Krakatoa:
Holy smoking Toledos indeed. On Reddit, a user details how loud a Saturn V rocket is and what the effects would be at different distances. At very close range, the sound from the Saturn V measures an incredible 220 db, loud enough to melt concrete just from the sound.
At 500 meters, 155 db you would experience painful, violent shaking in your entire body, you would feel compressed, as though deep underwater. Your vision would blur, breathing would be very difficult, your eardrums are obviously a lost cause, even with advanced active noise cancelling protection you could experience permanent damage. This is the sort of sound level aircraft mechanics sometimes experience for short periods of time. Almost twice as "loud" as putting your ear up to the exhaust of a formula 1 car. The air temperature would drop significantly, perhaps 10-25 degrees F, becoming suddenly cold because of the air being so violently stretched and moved.
Even at three miles away, the sound is loud enough to cause permanent hearing damage. But that's nothing compared to the Krakatoa sound. The Saturn V sound is ~170 db at 100 meters away while the Krakatoa explosion was that loud 100 miles away! What happens at 170 db?
...you would be unable to breathe or likely see at all from the sound pressure, glass would shatter, fog would be generated as the water in the air dropped out of suspension in the pressure waves, your house at this distance would have a roughly 50% chance of being torn apart from sound pressure alone. Military stun grenades reach this volume for a split second... if they are placed up to your face. Survival chance from sound alone, minimal, you would certainly experience permanent deafness but probably also organ damage.
The word "loud" is inadequate to describe how loud that is. (thx, david)
This week, Studio 360 is broadcasting from 1914, covering the cultural happenings of a remarkable year. Charlie Chaplin debuted the Tramp, the character who defines the silent film era, in that year; one of America's great newspaper cartoonists invented the first animated character, Gertie the dinosaur; and George Bernard Shaw opened a front in the war between the sexes with Pygmalion.
On this edition of HowSound, the staff at Studio 360 walks us through the metamorphosis of Kurt's voice. Senior Broadcast Engineer John DeLore dissects the production process including the use a cone from an Edison Standard Phonograph. David talks about writing in the diction of 1914. And, Kurt describes narrating in a stilted and formal voice.
"Napkin #1'' is Bradley's drawing for This American Life, a structure Ira Glass has talked about ad infinitum: This happened. Then this happened. Then this happened. (Those are the dashes.) And then a moment of reflection, thoughts on what the events mean (the exclamation point).
The description of Radiolab is the most fun to read. That show doesn't quite have the non-linearity of Pulp Fiction, but it's a good example of hyperlink radio (a la hyperlink cinema). (via explore)
Every year, a bunch of folks play a game called Last Man, in which the participants attempt to be the last person to find out the result of the Super Bowl. TLDR did an entertaining podcast on this year's contestants.
Most of the runners, however, found themselves waking up each day in a cold sweat. "I feel like I'm being sequestered for the stupidest jury trial in modern history," one competitor said. "It's gotten to the point where three things may end me: recklessness, homesickness, or sheer boredom."
For the past 30 years, Hempton has made it his mission to discover what he calls the last great quiet places, areas that clock in at audible human noise-free intervals of 15 minutes or more. He only counts areas of around 3,100 square kilometres (1,200 square miles) or larger -- enough to create a sound buffer around a central point of absolute quiet. Over the years, his list has shrunk as he returns to a previously quiet spot, only to find it now polluted by noise. Still, he says 12 such quiet places exist in the US, with more found around the world. A spot in the Hoh Rainforest in Washington is one, as are places in Grasslands National Park in Canada, Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Minnesota and Haleakala National Park in Hawaii. The others, however, he keeps confidential.
Working for CBS and later on his own in the 40s and 50s, sound engineer Charley Douglass perfected the laugh track technique, which was then called sweetening. His secret weapon was the laff box, a machine that you could use like a typewriter to produce the type and sequence of laughter you needed for a particular situation. Here's how the machine worked:
The one-of-a-kind device -- affectionately known in the industry as the "laff box" -- was tightly secured with padlocks, stood more than two feet tall, and operated like an organ. Only immediate members of the family knew what the inside actually looked like (at one time, the "laff box" was called "the most sought after but well-concealed box in the world"). Since more than one member of the Douglass family was involved in the editing process, it was natural for one member to react differently to a joke than another. Charley himself was the most conservative of all, so producers would put in bids for other editors who were more liberal in their choice of laughter. Douglass used a keyboard to select the style, gender and age of the laugh as well as a foot pedal to time the length of the reaction. Inside the machine was a wide array of recorded chuckles, yocks, and belly laughs; exactly 320 laughs on 32 tape loops, 10 to a loop. Each loop contained 10 individual audience laughs spliced end-to-end, whirling around simultaneously waiting to be cued up. Since the tapes were looped, laughs were played in the same order repeatedly. Sound engineers would watch sitcoms and knew exactly which recurrent guffaws were next, even if they were viewing an episode for the first time. Frequently, Douglass would combine different laughs, either long or short in length. Attentive viewers could spot when he decided to mix chuckles together to give the effect of a more diverse audience.
I found out about the laff box from Kevin Slavin & Kenyatta Cheese's talk about how, with the Internet, the audience now has an audience.
A: I own some vinyl and occasionally buy other albums, but nothing in multiples like the White Album.
Chang has taken 100 of those records, recorded the audio, and overlaid the resulting 100 tracks into one glorious track. Here's Side 1 x 100 (Side 2 is available on vinyl only):
The albums, as it turns out, have also aged with some variety. Some played cleanly, others had scratches, noise from embedded dirt, or vinyl wear. And though the recordings are identical, variations in the pressings, and natural fluctuations in the speed of Mr. Chang's analogue turntable, meant that the 100 recordings slowly moved out of sync, in the manner of an early Steve Reich piece: the opening of "Back in the U.S.S.R." is entirely unified, but at the start of "Dear Prudence," you hear the first line echoing several times, and by "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" the track is a nearly unrecognizeable roar.
The Roaring 'Twenties website is dedicated to that challenge, attempting to recreate for its listeners not just the sound of the past but also its sonic culture. It offers a sonic time machine; an interactive multimedia environment whereby site visitors can not just hear, but mindfully listen to, the noises of New York City in the late 1920s, a place and time defined by its din.
Steinway & Sons, the celebrated piano making company, recently produced this video of how their grand pianos are constructed. Their process for building pianos has changed so little that they were able pair 1980s factory tour audio from former chairman John Steinway to contemporary footage of their Astoria, NY factory.
You can see how little has changed as you watch this 1929 film of how a Steinway piano was made:
Some of the shots in the two videos are identical, e.g. the men pulling the piano rim out of the mold or choosing spruce for the sounding boards. It interesting to compare these two videos with Wednesday's video of how Telsa sedans are made. Together, the three form a view of the progression of automation in manufacturing. I wonder if the Tesla robots could construct a piano that sounds as good as a Steinway? (via open culture)
Volcanoes "scream" before they erupt. And they also have a heartbeat of sorts. Listen to these surprisingly intense sounds emitted by a volcano in Alaska before it erupted. The first recording condenses 10 minutes of audio into 10 seconds, so you can hear the pre-eruption scream:
The second recording is of 10 hours of pre-eruption mini earthquakes condensed into one minute of audio.
The pause right before the eruption is Mother Nature dropping the beat. (via @DavidGrann)
In 1964, when they were teenagers at New Trier High School near Chicago, Michael Aisner and James Stein interviewed Louis Armstrong backstage at one of his concerts. In his boxers.
You can't take it for granted. Even if we have two, three days off I still have to blow that horn a few hours to keep up the chops. I mean I've been playing 50 years, and that's what I've been doing in order to keep in that groove there.
Alexander Graham Bell famously participated in the first telephone call, but until very recently, we had no idea how his voice sounded. Then researchers used high-resolution optical scans of old audio discs and cylinders and converted them to audio...and found a short passage recited by Bell:
If you can't quite catch it, Bell is saying "hear my voice, Alexander Graham Bell."
During a walk with noise historian Hillel Schwartz, Peter Andrey Smith discovers that parts of Manhattan, which many think of now as quite deafening, used to be even noisier.
"There was a constant flotilla of barges taking construction detritus away from the city, toward the Jersey shore," he said. "All of these Irish tugboat captains probably knew the service staff, and they would be signaling to them, 'Hi, I'm coming by!' But they would be signaling with these huge horns! And they would be signaling late at night, also, to their complement of workers, who were now on shore, drinking heavily in a nearby tavern: 'O.K., time to call it quits!' The number of horns recorded over the course of an evening amounted to thousands. I hesitate to call them toots. They were horn swarms."
The NOAA's Dr. Christopher Fox does not believe its origin is man-made, such as a submarine or bomb, or familiar geological events such as volcanoes or earthquakes. While the audio profile of the Bloop does resemble that of a living creature, the source is a mystery both because it is different from known sounds and because it was several times louder than the loudest recorded animal, the blue whale.
From inside the club, Aisner and his friend watched out the front window as Ali screetched up in a red Cadillac convertible, parked in front of a fire hydrant, and jumped over the car door.
For the next 20 minutes, Ali talked boxing, footwork, why he wanted to fight -- and launched into an epic, unprompted riff about traveling to Mars and fighting for the intergalactic boxing title. All went smoothly -- until Aisner realized he'd forgot to turn on the tape recorder.
"I was mortified," he says. "I said, 'Champ, do you think you could do that again?'"
MoMA Unadulterated is an unofficial audio tour of some of the works on the museums fourth floor, narrated by kids aged 3-10.
Each piece of art is analyzed by experts aged 3-10, as they share their unique, unfiltered perspective on such things as composition, the art's deeper meaning, and why some stuff's so weird looking. This is Modern Art without the pretentiousness, the pomposity, or any other big "p" words.
A lot of these sound like my internal monologue when looking at art. What's the difference between childish and childlike again?
And a podcast! It's called Here's the Thing and it features a different guest every two weeks.
Award-winning actor Alec Baldwin gives the listener unique entree into the lives of artists, policy makers and performers. Alec sidesteps the predictable by taking listeners inside the dressing rooms, apartments, and offices of people such as comedian Chris Rock, political strategist Ed Rollins and Oscar winner Michael Douglas. Here's The Thing: Listen to what happens when an inveterate guest becomes a host. Subscribe now and get new interviews every two weeks.
"The wind, rain, and surf sounds are pretty cool, but I usually sort of zone out when it gets to the crickets chirping, and then I just end up turning it off," said Ellinger, adding that he will sometimes put the record on as background noise when he's cleaning his electro-biological habitat.
Current status of The Onion: still really pretty good.
The long periods of silence by Mike Daisey were among the most compelling parts of the most recent episode of This American Life...you know the one. Michael Sippey edited together the silences into one glorious clip, the best audio of silence since Cage.
Reading the transcript of the Retraction episode of This American Life is one thing; listening to it is another. The most interesting bits were the silences, not only because Daisey is so clearly uncomfortable answering the questions, but also because we've been trained as radio listeners to abhor silence -- it makes *us* incredibly uncomfortable.
Ira also talks with Mike Daisey about why he misled This American Life during the fact-checking process. And we end the show separating fact from fiction, when it comes to Apple's manufacturing practices in China.
The audio is not available on the site yet (because the show hasn't aired yet?), and the audio for the retracted show is no longer available on their site (but you can listen to it here). Mike Daisey, the performer of the retracted piece, responds on his web site:
What I do is not journalism. The tools of the theater are not the same as the tools of journalism. For this reason, I regret that I allowed THIS AMERICAN LIFE to air an excerpt from my monologue. THIS AMERICAN LIFE is essentially a journalistic -- not a theatrical -- enterprise, and as such it operates under a different set of rules and expectations.
I have difficult news. We've learned that Mike Daisey's story about Apple in China - which we broadcast in January - contained significant fabrications. We're retracting the story because we can't vouch for its truth. This is not a story we commissioned. It was an excerpt of Mike Daisey's acclaimed one-man show "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs," in which he talks about visiting a factory in China that makes iPhones and other Apple products.
You've likely seen other videos taken from cameras attached to the Space Shuttle and its boosters, but this is one is exceptional in two regards: it's in HD and the sound has been remastered by Skywalker Sound.
Watch, and more importantly, listen to the whole thing...at the very end, you can see the second booster land a few hundred yards away from the first one. Who knew that being in space sounds like being trapped with a whale underwater in a tin pail? (via ★mouser)
Last Summer, Alabama passed HB56, the most sweeping immigration bill in the country. It's an example of a strategy called "attrition through enforcement" or, more colloquially, "self-deportation" -- making life so hard on undocumented immigrants that they choose to leave the country. But as reporter Jack Hitt found, the new law has had lots of other unintended consequences.
Most of the This American Life production staff spent the weekend at Penn State, and found that drinking is the great unifier at the school. Ira Glass, Sarah Koenig, Lisa Pollak and Jane Feltes report on tailgating parties, frat parties, an article of clothing known as a "fracket," and a surprising and common drunken crime.
Audiosurf is a racing game where the courses are determined by the music you play from your own library. There are all sorts of YouTube clips of the gameplay (which is reminiscent of Guitar Hero)...here's a representative one:
The Inception iPhone app takes the music from the movie and remixes it with the sounds around you (office chatter, street noise, etc.).
Inception The App transports Inception The Movie straight into your life. New dreams can be unlocked in many ways, for example by walking, being in a quiet room, while traveling or when the sun shines. You will get realtime musical experiences, featuring new and exclusive music from the Inception soundtrack composed by Hans Zimmer.
Bad: I can hear the people in the office talking, which is the precise thing I'm attempting to prevent by wearing headphones.
If you've got a Mac, the "droid" sound that Android phones make -- yep, the one from the commercials -- can be produced in the following manner:
1. Open Terminal.app
2. Type say -v "Cellos" "droid" at the prompt
3. Experiment: say -v "Cellos" "droid. sucks."
4. Or say -v "Cellos" "droid want to be iphone when droid grow up"
5. And finally, say "i am trying to unlock the mysteries of the universe, like how the big bang happened and where all the lost socks go after being in the dryer that really makes me mad"
William Gladstone was very nearly Abraham Lincoln's exact contemporary, both born in 1809 (Lincoln was 10 months older), only he was born in Liverpool, not Kentucky. He was a legendary orator and liberal lion, like an approximation of Lincoln and Ted Kennedy. He served as a member of parliament for almost 50 years, including as Prime Minster four times, before retiring in 1894. (Could you imagine if Lincoln had lived until 1894?)
He also had a great nickname: G.O.M., for "Grand Old Man." His Tory counterpart Disraeli called him "God's Only Mistake."
The request that you have done me the honour to make - to receive the record of my voice - is one that I cheerfully comply with so far as it lies in my power, though I lament to say that the voice which I transmit to you is only the relic of an organ the employment of which has been overstrained. Yet I offer to you as much as I possess and so much as old age has left me, with the utmost satisfaction, as being, at least, a testimony to the instruction and delight that I have received from your marvellous invention. As to the future consequences, it is impossible to anticipate them. All I see is that wonders upon wonders are opening before us.
Edison hired an actor to re-record Gladstone's lines
Gladstone sent someone else to read for him
and Edison either:
passed it off as Gladstone's voice anyways or
collectors later falsified it or got confused.
Anyways, the following clip has been put forward as a more credible candidate for being an actual recording of octogenarian Gladstone (reading the same text, which if true throws doubt on the whole "he sent somebody else to read it" theory):
Actually, I can imagine this scenario:
Gladstone records his voice
Edison's unhappy with the quality, asks Gladstone to re-record it
Gladstone sends a friend to tell Edison to sod off,
Edison says, fuck it, let's loop it, who knows what Gladstone sounds like anyways
Electro-acoustic sample wizards The Books have a new album out, and they have a Tumblr that annotates each track. "A Wonderful Phrase By Gandhi" includes a sample of the Mahatma's voice from a 1931 gramophone recording.
Mostly I think of this track as a P.S.A. Everyone should know what Gandhi's voice sounds like; it's timbre communicates so much regardless of what he's saying, if we can help spread it in our small way it seems worth the 18 seconds.
Nick Zammuto goes on to compare Gandhi's voice to Einstein's, whose voice graces a track on the band's second album. This comparison, and the scarcity of fair-quality recordings of Gandhi's voice, made me realize how important our memory of an historical figure's voice can become. Try to imagine FDR, Martin Luther King Jr, or Hitler without thinking of their voice. Yet we don't know what Lincoln sounded like, or Napoleon, let alone Confucius or Cicero.
"Kids are going to flock to these sites just to see what it is about and it can lead them to other places," said OBNDD spokesperson Mark Woodward. The digital drugs use binaural or two-toned technology to alter your brainwaves and mental state. "Well it's just scary, definitely scary. Just one more thing to look out for," said parent Kelly Johnson.
I just got so wasted on this and then did a whole kilo of pure heroin; stuffed it right into my ears:
Look at that, I'm a drug dealer now! Now you'll all be pounding on my door in the middle of the night looking to score some tunes. (via clusterflock)
In 2005, David Foster Wallace gave the commencement address at Kenyon College. After a transcript of the speech was posted online (the original was taken down...a copy is available here), it became something of a high-brow viral sensation and was eventually packaged into book form.
Instead of being against noise, I think we need to begin making a case for silence. This means getting imaginative about expanding our understanding of silence in ways that develop associations between silence and a vibrant, fulfilling life. Anti-noise activists often compare noise pollution to air pollution. But unlike smoke, lots of noises are good, at least some of the time. Instead, we might frame noise as a dietary problem. Most of us absorb far too much sonic junk. We need to develop a more balanced sound diet in which silence, and sounds we associate with quiet states of mind, become part of our daily regimen.
They discuss blogging for a living, general vs. niche blogs, content longevity, making the transition to full-time blogging, how taking a break (even for a week) can affect traffic, finding links, guest bloggers, the good and bad of comments, and more.
(Christ, is that my voice? I *was* just getting over a cold...)
I feel like I've linked to this before but in case I haven't: the BBC and The British Museum are collaborating on a radio series (and more) called A History of the World.
At the heart of the project is the BBC Radio 4 series A History of the World in 100 objects. 100 programmes, written and narrated by Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum, and focusing on 100 objects from the British Museum's collection. The programmes will travel through two million years from the earliest object in the collection to retell the history of humanity through the objects we have made. Each week will be tied to a particular theme, such as 'after the ice age' or 'the beginning of science and literature'.
Act Two. The Good Son. - A story about a mother who wants to commit suicide and a son who dutifully helps her do it-even though his mother is a happy, healthy, independent person. How did they manage to pull it off? Practice, practice, practice.
We catch back up with the people we met in 2008, to see how they've fared over the last 18 months. We talk to Clarence Nathan, who in 2008 received a half million dollar loan that he said he wouldn't have given himself; Jim Finkel, a Wall Street finance guy, who put together and managed complicated mortgage-based financial securities; Richard Campbell, the Marine who was facing foreclosure; and Glen Pizzolorusso, the mortgage company sales manager who led the life of a b-list celebrity.
Based upon what I read, and what I learned about the hookworms I decided that I was going to try and infest myself with hookworms in an attempt to cure my asthma. I was not willing to wait ten or more years for the drug companies to bring a drug to market. It was obvious to me that hookworms, for a healthy adult with a good diet, are quite benign. This account details my experiences, how I went about it, and the things I have done since infestation to calibrate my level of infestation so that in the end I was able to cure my asthma and hay fever with hookworms. These same techniques are of course applicable to any hookworm infestation, whether you want to control asthma, hay fever, colitis, Crohn's disease or IBD.
Lawrence even sells hookworms to others so that they won't have to travel to a third world country to contract them.
We had a few complaints that the MP3s of our last record wasn't encoded at a high enough rate. Some even suggested we should have used FLACs, but if you even know what one of those is, and have strong opinions on them, you're already lost to the world of high fidelity and have probably spent far too much money on your speaker-stands.
This conversation with Greenwood is part of a new series by Sasha Frere-Jones' on the sound quality of recorded music.
Sine-wave speech -- artificially degraded speech that sounds like old Doctor Who sound effects -- can be difficult to understand but becomes clear once the listener knows what to listen for.
Listening to the sine-wave speech sound again produces a very different percept of a fully intelligible spoken sentence. This dramatic change in perception is an example of "perceptual insight" or pop-out. We have argued that this form of pop-out is an example of a top-down perceptual process produced by higher-level knowledge and expectations concerning sounds that can potentially be heard as speech.
iTunes U is a section of the iTunes store that houses educational audio and video files for free use by anyone.
iTunes U is a part of the iTunes Store featuring free lectures, language lessons, audiobooks, and more, that you can enjoy on your iPod, iPhone, Mac or PC. Explore over 75,000 educational audio and video files from top universities, museums and public media organizations from around the world. With iTunes U, there's no end to what or where you can learn.
This radio program made the rounds last week, but I finally got caught up this weekend so I'll add my voice to the chorus urging you to listen to This American Life's episode on the financial crisis, Another Frightening Show About the Economy. Paired with The Giant Pool of Money from back in May, this is an excellent overview of what's going on in the financial markets right now. The hosts of the two shows are also doing a daily blog/podcast thing at Planet Money In addition, the last half of this week's TAL concerns the political angle of the financial mess. I haven't had a chance to listen yet, but check it out if you're into that sort of thing.
The speech accent archive uniformly presents a large set of speech samples from a variety of language backgrounds. Native and non-native speakers of English read the same paragraph and are carefully transcribed. The archive is used by people who wish to compare and analyze the accents of different English speakers.
Host Ira Glass plays the song "Mystery of the Dunbar's Child" by Richard "Rabbit" Brown. It describes Bobby Dunbar's disappearance and recovery and the trial of his kidnapper, all of which was front page news from 1912 to 1914. Almost a century after it happened, Bobby Dunbar's granddaughter, Margaret Dunbar Cutright, was looking into her grandfather's disappearance and found that the truth was actually more interesting than the legend. And a lot more troubling.
On a summer day in 1951, two baby girls were born in a hospital in small-town Wisconsin. The infants were accidentally switched, and went home with the wrong families. One of the mothers realized the mistake but chose to keep quiet. Until the day, more than 40 years later, when she decided to tell both daughters what happened. How the truth changed two families' lives -- and how it didn't.
The worst part about the whole thing is that the mother that knew, Mrs. Miller, always treated her non-biological daughter differently, like she wasn't really a full part of the family. The Millers sound like awful people.
We hear a long interview with Benny Perkins, who won the truck one year and was back the year they made their film to try to win again. He says a contest like this is not easy money. You slowly go crazy from sleep deprivation.
I wanted to listen to my music in the shower but the iPhone's speaker would get lost in the noise from the shower. So I directed the iPhone's audio straight towards me. Worked pretty well. Just ask my neighbors.
Scott is in many ways an unlikely hero of recorded sound. Born in Paris in 1817, he was a man of letters, not a scientist, who worked in the printing trade and as a librarian. He published a book on the history of shorthand, and evidently viewed sound recording as an extension of stenography. In a self-published memoir in 1878, he railed against Edison for "appropriating" his methods and misconstruing the purpose of recording technology. The goal, Scott argued, was not sound reproduction, but "writing speech, which is what the word phonograph means."
Whistled languages are normally found in locations with difficult mountainous terrain, slow or difficult communication, low population density and/or scattered settlements, and other isolating features such as shepherding and cultivation of hillsides. The main advantage of whistling speech is that it allows the speaker to cover much larger distances (typically 1 - 2 km but up to 5 km) than ordinary speech, without the strain (and lesser range) of shouting. The long range of whistling is enhanced by the terrain found in areas where whistled languages are used.
New York Works is an audio portrait of a vanishing city. From a knife sharpener who still makes house calls to one of Brooklyn's last commercial fisherman, New York Works tells the stories of those who keep the city's past alive.
I've gotten totally re-obsessed with Kathy Acker, the East Village writer who died in 1997. It started with this recording of Acker reading a poem [Warning: audio, 2 minutes, 28 seconds, and not really safe for work!] that was released in 1980 on the LP "Sugar, Alcohol & Meat" by Giorno Poetry Systems and recently digitized by UbuWeb. Her New York accent is one that has largely disappeared since; she sounds amazing. Then I found this, which is an incredibly long mp3, the first 3/4s of which is a Michael Brownstein reading. The end, though, is a monologue which then becomes a stageplay by Acker about a woman, her suicide, her grandmother, and her psychiatrist. It is absolutely not safe for work, what with its endless use of a certain word for ladyparts that goes over well in Scotland but not at all (yet!) in the U.S.