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kottke.org posts about audio

The Sounds from Mars

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 19, 2021

For the last nine months, NASA’s Perseverance rover has been rolling around on Mars taking photos and doing science. It’s also been recording audio of its environment with a pair of microphones and in this video, a pair of NASA scientists share some of those recordings and what we might learn about Mars from them.

This is one of my absolute favorite sounds. This is the sound of a helicopter flying on Mars. We used this sound to actually understand the propagation of sound in general through the Martian atmosphere, and it turns out that we were totally wrong with our models. The Martian atmosphere can propagate sound a lot further than we thought it could.

And surprisingly for me, that’s my friend Nina in the video! (We eclipse-chased together in 2017.) I knew she was working on the rovers but didn’t know she was going to pop up in this video I found on Twitter this morning. Fun!

The Music of Subway Train Door Chimes

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 16, 2021

In The Hidden Melodies of Subways Around the World, the NY Times takes a look at an often overlooked aspect of transit design: the door closing sounds on the subway. My favorite door jingle is from the Paris Metro — I never knew where it came from:

In Paris, a simple “A” note plays as the doors shut. This is also a throwback, a sound that mimics the vibrations of a mechanical part that is no longer in use on any of the system’s trains. “But for a half century Parisians and visitors alike became used to that sound, so we decided to keep it, and recorded a synthesized version,” said Song Phanekham, a communications manager for the Paris transit system. “It’s a tribute to the heritage of the Paris Metro.”

In Tokyo, each station has its own custom jingle to signal departures. In Rio de Janeiro, the subway’s door chime pays homage to bossa nova. In Vancouver, the doors still close to a three-note sound that was recorded in the 1980s on a Yamaha DX7. (“The hallmark of any mid-80s pop song,” said Ian Fisher, manager of operations planning at British Columbia Rapid Transit Company.)

You can listen to more sounds of subway doors closing in these three videos recorded by Ted Green.

Update: Composer Minoru Mukaiya has made distinct door-closing jingles for each subway station in Tokyo.

(via waxy)

This App Identifies Birds by Their Songs

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 04, 2021

a bird singing and the Merlin app identifying what kind of bird it is

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology recently added the ability to identify birds from hearing their birdsong to their Merlin Bird ID app — a “Shazam for bird songs” as Fast Company says. You just start recording with your phone and the app starts telling you the birds it’s hearing. Here’s how it works:

Automatic song ID has been a dream for decades, but analyzing sound has always been extremely difficult. The breakthrough came when researchers, including Merlin lead researcher Grant Van Horn, began treating the sounds as images and applying new and powerful image classification algorithms like the ones that power Merlin’s Photo ID feature.

“Each sound recording a user makes gets converted from a waveform to a spectrogram-a way to visualize the amplitude [volume], frequency [pitch], and duration of the sound,” Van Horn says. “So just like Merlin can identify a picture of a bird, it can now use this picture of a bird’s sound to make an ID,” Van Horn says.

This pioneering sound-identification technology is integrated into the existing Merlin Bird ID app, meaning Merlin now offers four ways to identify a bird: by a sound, by a photo, by answering five questions about a bird you saw, or by exploring a list of the birds expected where you are.

Margaret Renkl tried the app out and it seems to work pretty well:

I set my phone down on the table on my back deck, opened the Merlin app, chose “Sound ID” and hit the microphone button. Immediately a spectrogram of sound waves began to scroll across the screen. Every time a bird sings, the sound registers as a kind of picture of the song. By comparing that picture with others in its database, the app arrives at an ID.

I watched as Merlin rolled out the names of bird after bird — tufted titmouse, European starling, Carolina chickadee, northern cardinal, American crow, white-breasted nuthatch, eastern towhee, house wren, American goldfinch, blue jay, eastern bluebird, American robin, Carolina wren, house finch. It didn’t miss a single one.

What amazed me was not merely the accuracy of the ID but also the way the app untangled the layers of song, correctly identifying the birds that were singing in my yard, as well the birds that were singing next door and the birds that were singing across the street. If the same bird sang a second time, the app highlighted the name it had already listed. Watching those highlights play across the growing list of birds was almost like watching fingers fly across a piano keyboard.

See also this video review. You can download the app here. I’m going to give this a shot over my lunch hour today. I try to eat outside when the weather is nice and there are always birds out singing.

Nissan Taps Video Game Company for New In-Car Warning Sounds

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 27, 2021

Car warning sounds urging drivers to buckle up or turn off the headlights can be quite unpleasant to listen to. So Nissan teamed up with sound designers at Bandai Namco, the gaming company known for Pac-Man and Tekken, to replace those warning noises with something more musical.

I had a car once that beeped really sharply and loudly whenever the temperature dropped to 37°F as a warning for potential slippery roads and it scared the shit out of me every time. As someone who is sensitive to sound, I applaud efforts like these to make non-emergency sounds less jarring. (via rob walker (again))

What Does Space Sound Like?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 26, 2021

In this collaboration between musician and filmmaker John Boswell (aka melodysheep) and the sound podcast Twenty Thousand Hertz, we get to listen to some of the actual and theoretical sounds of space, from what the Sun would sound like if space weren’t a vacuum (we’d hear it as loud as a jackhammer on Earth) to the sound of the Universe just after the Big Bang to thunder in the thick atmosphere of Venus to dreamlike piano music on Mars.

Floating in the silent void of space are trillions of islands of sound, each with their own sonic flavor — some eerily familiar, some wildly different than Earth’s. And even space itself was once brimming with sound.

This short film takes you on a journey back in time and to the edge of our solar system and beyond, to discover what other worlds of sound are lurking beyond Earth’s atmosphere. You won’t believe your ears :)

This is really well done, which isn’t surprising considering Boswell did the excellent Timelapse of the Future video a few years back. The soundtrack to The Sounds of Space video is available on Bandcamp. (via aeon)

Bone Music: Forbidden Soviet Records Made From Used X-Ray Films

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 14, 2021

a Soviet record made from a used x-ray film

a Soviet record made from a used x-ray film

a Soviet record made from a used x-ray film

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union controlled the music recording industry and even restricted the types of music that were allowed to be played & listened to. Or they tried to anyway. Enterprising Soviet bootleggers took used x-ray films, many of them still containing images of bones and skulls, and recorded forbidden music on them, including jazz and rock & roll from the West. They called it ribs, bones, bone music, or jazz on ribs. From a 2017 article in Vice:

X-rays proved to be an suitable medium. They were cheaply and easily (albeit illegally) acquired from local hospitals that were required to throw out the flammable sheets. They took the groove relatively well, though nowhere near as well as vinyl — some X-ray discs apparently sound like listening to music through sand — and they were easy to fold into a shirt sleeve of pocket for a quick transaction. The X-rays were also stunningly beautiful.

And from an NPR article on Soviet samizdat:

Before the availability of the tape recorder and during the 1950s, when vinyl was scarce, ingenious Russians began recording banned bootlegged jazz, boogie woogie and rock ‘n’ roll on exposed X-ray film salvaged from hospital waste bins and archives.

“Usually it was the Western music they wanted to copy,” says Sergei Khrushchev. “Before the tape recorders they used the X-ray film of bones and recorded music on the bones, bone music.”

“They would cut the X-ray into a crude circle with manicure scissors and use a cigarette to burn a hole,” says author Anya von Bremzen. “You’d have Elvis on the lungs, Duke Ellington on Aunt Masha’s brain scan - forbidden Western music captured on the interiors of Soviet citizens.”

To learn more about bone music, you can check out Stephen Coates’ book X-Ray Audio, The X-Ray Audio Project (which includes digital recordings made from some of the bone recordshere’s Lullaby of Birdland by Ella Fitzgerald), and this short documentary:

Footsteps: How Movie Sounds Are Made

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 03, 2021

As I’ve said before many times, I will never stop being fascinated by the work of Foley artists, the folks who make the sounds you hear in movies and TV shows. In this short film, we meet three Foley artists who work at Footsteps Studios, a custom designed facility in rural Ontario that includes a massive warehouse of props that can make any sound you can dream of. This video is full of lovely little moments and details — recommended.

Relaxing White Noise Album Made with Lego Bricks

posted by Jason Kottke   May 19, 2021

I’m always on the lookout for sounds that help you focus and/or relax; I’ve collected a number of video soundscapes here. If you happen to find the sounds of Lego bricks relaxing, you can add these videos to your routine:

The first one features the sound of Legos being poured and the second one is the sound of someone digging through the Lego bin & snapping pieces together. The full 3.5-hour album of Lego sounds is available to stream on Spotify and Apple Music.

Here’s the company’s press release and a behind-the-scenes look at the album’s production from The Guardian.

The project was devised by Lego’s “head of creative” Primus Manokaran, who describes the streaming-only album as “a collection of soundscapes” designed to promote relaxation and mindfulness. Although the seven tracks, which each run to half an hour in length, are different in their granular details, essentially they were made by Lego pieces being poured out of tubs, sifted through and clicked together.

Manokaran’s team began thinking about why people love Lego during lockdown, and realised that a big hook was how it sounds. Inspired by the online craze for white noise as an aid to relaxation and focus, they began recording. “The acoustic properties of each brick was slightly different,” he says. “It was like composing with 10,000 tiny instruments.”

(thx, martin)

The Otherworldly Sounds of Ice

posted by Jason Kottke   May 05, 2021

The holes drilled into Arctic, Antarctic, and glacial ice to harvest ice cores can be up to 2 miles deep. One of my all-time favorite sounds is created by dropping ice down into one of these holes — it makes a super-cool pinging noise, as demonstrated in these two videos:

Ice makes similar sounds under other conditions, like if you skip rocks on a frozen lake:

Or skate on really thin ice (ok this might actually be my favorite sound, with apologies to the ice core holes):

Headphones are recommended for all of these videos. The explanation for this distinctive pinging sound, which sounds like a Star Wars blaster, has to do with how fast different sound frequencies move through the ice, as explained in this video:

(via the kid should see this)

How Sounds Are Faked For Nature Documentaries

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 01, 2021

Foley artist Richard Hinton talks about how he creates sounds for nature documentaries like Planet Earth. I love watching Foley artists do their thing, but I have mixed feelings about these made-up sounds!

Despite the veneer of neutrality of nature documentaries, I know there’s no such thing as objective truth when you’re dealing with cameras and film editing. And silent video is boring. But on the other hand, just making up sounds that spiders don’t actually make — I don’t know. I’ve posted about this before, regarding a video series about how Planet Earth II was made:

I hope the third program is on sound, which has been bugging me while watching Planet Earth II. I could be wrong, but they seem to be using extensive foley effects for the sounds the animals make — not their cries necessarily, but the sounds they make as they move. Once you notice, it feels deceptive.

See also How Fake Are Nature Documentaries?

Is it manipulation? Or good storytelling? And what’s the difference between the two anyway? A silent security feed of a Walmart parking lot is not a documentary but The Thin Blue Line, with its many dramatizations and Philip Glass score, is a great documentary.

(via open culture)

Simulating Church Organ Music With a Commodore 64

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 29, 2021

Linus Akesson noticed that without the benefit of the acoustical properties of massive churches, the sound that comes out of organ pipes sounds tinny, like 8-bit chiptune sounds.

Back in 2008 I had an epiphany about church organs: At least in theory, organ pipes produce very simple waveforms, much like 8-bit sound chips do-and the reason church organs don’t sound like chiptunes is primarily because of the acoustics of the church.

Thinking that process could be reversed, he remapped the keys of a Commodore 64 so he could play it like an accordion, ran it though a reverb machine, and created the sixtyforgan. The Bach piece he plays at the end of the video above (and a different Bach piece here) sounds so much like it’s being played on an organ.

See also Hear How Choral Music Sounded in the Hagia Sophia More Than 500 Years Ago (in which a filter is applied to choral music to make it sound as though it’s being sung in a cavernous church). (via @emanuelfeld)

Testing Out a Giant Bell

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 03, 2021

If you’re anything like me and all you want to do today is watch some guys hand-ringing a giant bell, here you go. If we click play at the same time, we can watch it together. Ready? 3…2…1…go.

See also The Otherworldly Sounds of a Giant Gong. (via @MachinePix)

“Listen to a Random Forest”

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 22, 2020

A mossy forest

Tree.fm lets you tune into the sounds of different forests from around the world, bringing a taste of forest bathing to those who are staying at home, people in cities, or anyone else who needs to hear remote wild places. The sounds are taken from this crowdsourced forest soundmap that I featured a few months ago. Feature request: a “take me to another random forest in 10 minutes” button.

See also Gordon Hempton’s work and his recordings of forests and other wild places. (via kottke ride home)

Recommendation: The Audiobook for Barack Obama’s A Promised Land

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 14, 2020

I read both of the excerpts from A Promised Land, Barack Obama’s memoir of his time in the White House: I’m Not Yet Ready to Abandon the Possibility of America from The Atlantic and A President Looks Back on His Toughest Fight in the New Yorker. I have also been listening to the audiobook version, read by Obama himself, over the last few days and if you’re at all interested in this book, I would suggest going with the audiobook. Here’s an excerpt of Obama reading the preface (and several more of other parts of the book):

Not that there’s anything wrong with the written version, but the audiobook conveys more context and information. Much of the time, Obama writes like he talks, so listening to him read his own writing is like sitting across the dinner table from him as he tells you about how he became President. You can hear which parts of the book he really cares about and which parts are in there just to bridge gaps. He does impressions — of Desmond Tutu and his Kenyan relatives — and inflects words in other languages in the manner of Alex Trebek. He jokes around and gets serious. You can hear how frustrated he was, and continues to be, with Republican obstructionism. I’m only a few chapters in so far, but it will be interesting to hear his voice when he talks about the aspects of his Presidency that people believe didn’t live up to his lofty goals and visions. You really get the sense when listening to him that, unlike many politicians, he actually cares about helping people — or if you’re cynical, that he’s best-in-class at faking it; either way it’s fascinating to hear and make up your own mind.

You can listen to Obama read A Promised Land at Amazon or Libro.fm.

A Map of the Sounds from Forests and Woodlands Around the World

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 02, 2020

A site called Sounds of the Forest is collecting sounds from forests and woodland areas around the world and presenting them on a world map.

Sounds of the Forest

We are collecting the sounds of woodlands and forests from all around the world, creating a growing soundmap bringing together aural tones and textures from the world’s woodlands.

The sounds form an open source library, to be used by anyone to listen to and create from.

Here are a few of the sounds that they’ve collected.

See also the work of Gordon Hempton, who is trying to capture the sounds of the very few places left in the world without human noise. (via moss & fog)

Introducing the “Kottke Ride Home” Podcast

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 19, 2020

Hi folks, I’ve got some exciting news today. The newest addition to kottke.org’s tiny media empire debuted yesterday: the Kottke Ride Home podcast. It’s a bloggy daily podcast featuring some of the day’s most interesting news and links in just 15 minutes, and you can subscribe to it on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to your podcasts (more options). The cool thing is that the podcast is very much its own thing with its own engaging host. It’s not a recap of the site in audio form, but instead is a whole different crop of news & information from the Kottke.org Media Universe (the KMU lol).

Here’s the first episode of Kottke Ride Home, featuring segments on the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in America, AI-assisted MRI scans that are up to 4X faster, and the “Lost Colony” of English settlers from 1587:

Ok, now that you’ve returned from subscribing, let me tell you about the show and how it came about.

I’ve been toying with the idea of doing a podcast for awhile now1 — they’re the hot thing, etc. — but I could never get myself interested enough to make it happen as a host/interviewer. But I know a lot of you love podcasts, so the notion remained simmering on a back burner. Knowing of these podcast aspirations, my pal Brian McCullough recently approached me about collaborating on a podcast.

Brian is a fellow old school internet person, host of the Internet History Podcast (for which he interviewed me in 2018), and author of the 2018 book, How the Internet Happened: From Netscape to the iPhone. He’s now running a podcast startup called Ride Home Media that’s focused on delivering short daily news podcasts about a variety of different subjects — some of you might be familiar with their flagship podcast TechMeme Ride Home, which they’ve been publishing since March 2018. Brian told me a podcast version of kottke.org has been on his bucket list for quite awhile, so that’s what we’re doing.

Kottke Ride Home is hosted & curated by writer/speaker/YouTuber Jackson Bird, whose TED Talk How to talk (and listen) to transgender people has been viewed more than 1.6 million times. For the past few months, Jackson’s been hosting Good News Ride Home — “In just 15 minutes, the coolest stuff that happened in the world today. Science, progress, life-hacks, memes, exciting art and hope.” — which will seamlessly shift into Kottke Ride Home with nary a disruption to what he’s already been doing.1 I’ve been listening to the show for the past few weeks and am excited to partner with Jackson to bring the best of the internet to you.

The podcast and the site will operate independently from each other but will obviously cover the same sorts of things. Like I said above, the show won’t be a recap of kottke.org posts; it’s designed to complement the site, to scratch that kottke.org itch when you’re in podcast-listening mode. But like when the Jeffersons showed up on the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, there will undoubtably be things that make their way from the podcast to the site and vice versa.

Ok, that’s the skinny. You’ll be hearing more from me about the show in the coming days, but for now, check out Kottke Ride Home wherever you listen to podcasts.

P.S. Since it’s a new show — or rather a show with a new name — it will take some time for the name and artwork to propagate across the various podcast networks. You can find the show on the major services/apps using the subscribe button here, but here are some direct links: Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, RSS, Overcast, Castro, Pocket Casts, and Luminary.

  1. kottke.org members may recall that I recorded myself reading some posts a couple of years ago as a podcast test run of sorts. And if you don’t remember that, thank you for forgetting.

  2. Bonus origin story for the hardcare footnote readers! The podcast originally launched as the Coronavirus Daily Briefing (hence the weird unchangeable URL for the show) but they pivoted to Good News Ride Home after a few months, patterning the show after sites like kottke.org. Now with name change to Kottke Ride Home, we’ve made that philosophical affiliation official (say that three times fast…)

Researchers Can Duplicate Keys from the Sounds They Make in Locks

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 18, 2020

Researchers have demonstrated that they can make a working 3D-printed copy of a key just by listening to how the key sounds when inserted into a lock. And you don’t need a fancy mic — a smartphone or smart doorbell will do nicely if you can get it close enough to the lock.

Key Audio Lockpicking

The next time you unlock your front door, it might be worth trying to insert your key as quietly as possible; researchers have discovered that the sound of your key being inserted into the lock gives attackers all they need to make a working copy of your front door key.

It sounds unlikely, but security researchers say they have proven that the series of audible, metallic clicks made as a key penetrates a lock can now be deciphered by signal processing software to reveal the precise shape of the sequence of ridges on the key’s shaft. Knowing this (the actual cut of your key), a working copy of it can then be three-dimensionally (3D) printed.

How Soundarya Ramesh and her team accomplished this is a fascinating read.

Once they have a key-insertion audio file, SpiKey’s inference software gets to work filtering the signal to reveal the strong, metallic clicks as key ridges hit the lock’s pins [and you can hear those filtered clicks online here]. These clicks are vital to the inference analysis: the time between them allows the SpiKey software to compute the key’s inter-ridge distances and what locksmiths call the “bitting depth” of those ridges: basically, how deeply they cut into the key shaft, or where they plateau out. If a key is inserted at a nonconstant speed, the analysis can be ruined, but the software can compensate for small speed variations.

The result of all this is that SpiKey software outputs the three most likely key designs that will fit the lock used in the audio file, reducing the potential search space from 330,000 keys to just three. “Given that the profile of the key is publicly available for commonly used [pin-tumbler lock] keys, we can 3D-print the keys for the inferred bitting codes, one of which will unlock the door,” says Ramesh.

Here’s Ramesh presenting her research at a conference back in March.

This reminded me of a couple of things. If you have a photo of a key, you can make a copy of it. And if you record high speed video of objects like plants or potato chip bags, you can use the observed vibrations to reconstruct the sound near those objects. All these secrets lying out in the open, just waiting for clever technologies to hoover them up. (via @nicolatwilley)

This Kid Crashing Into Trash Cans Sounds Like Phil Collins’ Drums from “In the Air Tonight”

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 12, 2020

I love things that sound like other things and this video of a kid crashing into some trash bins on his bike sounds a lot like the drums in Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight”. (If I may play spoiler for just a second though, capturing the sound of those bins going over so clearly from that far away seems a little suspect. But let’s assume it’s real and have our fun.) See also This Stumbling Deer’s Hooves Sound Like Phil Collins’ Drum Fill on “In the Air Tonight”. (thx to everyone who sent this in)

Kulning, a Beautiful Medieval Nordic Herding Call

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 01, 2020

In this hauntingly beautiful video, Jonna Jinton performs an ancient Nordic herding call called kulning to summon a herd of cows.

The herds grazed during the daytime, wandering far from the cottages, and thus needed to be called in each night. Women developed kulning to amplify the power of their voices across the mountainous landscape, resulting in an eerie cry loud enough to lure livestock from their grazing grounds.

One should always take caution when hanging out with someone kulning, as it can’t be done quietly. Rosenberg, who’s researched the volume of kulning, says it can reach up to 125 decibels — which, she warns, is dangerously loud for someone standing next to the source. Comparable to the pitch and volume of a dramatic soprano singing forte, kulning can be heard by an errant cow over five kilometers away.

(via moss & fog)

The Missing Sounds of New York

posted by Jason Kottke   May 05, 2020

The NYPL has released an album of sound-based experiences that you might be missing right now as we all shelter at home: Missing Sounds of New York.

It’s a short album (16 min) and includes soundscapes like Serenity Is a Rowdy City Park, I’d Call a Cab to Anywhere, and The Not-Quite-Quiet Library.

See also this 3+ hour album of ambient city sounds. There are also many videos of ambient city sounds on YouTube, like this 10-hour video of ambient NYC sounds:

This is a mix of ambience sounds recorded around Christmas Eve as well as St Patrick’s Day. Enjoy the sounds of people talking, traffic noises, police sirens, subway sounds, footsteps around NYC. City sounds at night and day.

Or perhaps you’d like to go for a stroll in the city instead? (via the morning news)

Boots & Cats: A World Champ Explains the 13 Levels of Beatboxing Complexity

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 06, 2020

This is fantastic: former beatboxing world champion Butterscotch explains the 13 levels of complexity involved in beatboxing, from the simple “bass drum” to how to breathe while beatboxing to singing to emulating real instruments.

Expert beatboxers go so fast that it’s amazing to see someone with Butterscotch’s skill level break this down — like watching a water balloon bursting in slow motion. Her short explanation & demonstration of “breathing within the beat” bleeeewww my tiny little mind. Also, she is soooo good — what a treat to watch.

See also Robert Lang on the 11 Levels of Complexity of Origami, Tony Hawk on the 21 Levels of Complexity of Skateboard Tricks, and A Demonstration of 16 Levels of Piano Playing Complexity.

Update: Phil Guillory is a speech-language pathologist and he wrote up a technical analysis of Butterscotch’s explanation of beatboxing. It is gloriously nerdy and I love it.

Humming adds a really interesting layer to this. The act of humming itself is a natural nasal sound. The soft palate, or velum, is relaxed, allowing airflow into the nasal passages. Humming requires glottic closure in order to vibrate vocal folds, and those vibrations resonate up the oropharynx and, because the lips are closed, the air then has to travel into the nasopharynx to be released. When Butterscotch adds percussive beats on top of the hum, if there truly is nasal airflow, that would mean that her velum isn’t fully contacting the pharyngeal wall, and there would be a combination of nasal and pharyngeal air flow. Obviously, a video like this won’t allow us to visualize, so we’ll have to make a couple of assumptions here: a combination of oral and nasal airflow would (1) reduce the loudness of the beats while (2) also reducing the loudness of the hum itself. This is because air would be traveling in two directions, so there would be less pressure for both, and thus, less loudness and resonance. Given that the hum sounds pretty consistent, I think it’s safe to guess that Butterscotch is able to relax her velum to allow for nasal airflow voluntarily, which is indeed a very challenging thing to do given that velar movement is largely automatic. Super cool.

Cut Your Own Records with the Easy Record Maker

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 04, 2020

Easy Record Maker

Sound artist & designer Yuri Suzuki has designed the Easy Record Maker, an affordable machine for cutting your own records. Suzuki explains how it works on Instagram:

To cut a record, you simply play audio through an aux cable and lift the cutting arm onto a blank disc. Once the record is cut, you can instantly play back your recording through the tone arm and the in built speaker!

More like cute your own records — look at how wee this thing is:

Easy Record Maker

It’s out now in Japan and will be released in the US & UK later in the year. The price seems to be in the $80-100 range. Read more about the Easy Record Maker at Design Week. (via boing boing)

Hear How Choral Music Sounded in the Hagia Sophia More Than 500 Years Ago

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 06, 2020

When the Ottomans invaded and conquered Constantinople in 1453, the Orthodox Christian church Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque. As a result, the Christian choral music that had reverberated in this acoustical masterpiece for centuries was not allowed. But thanks to a digital filter developed by a pair of Stanford researchers, one an art historian (Bissera Pentcheva) and the other an acoustics expert (Jonathan Abel), we are now able to hear what a choir might have sounded like in the Hagia Sophia before the mid 15th century.

When they met, Pentcheva started telling Abel about the Hagia Sophia — how we couldn’t really understand the experience of worshipers there unless we could hear the music the way they did. And as she talked, Abel started to feel a prickling of excitement. They could recreate what that music would sound like. If only they could get in the Hagia Sophia and pop a balloon.

When a balloon pops, it makes an impulse, a sharp, quick sound that takes on the character of whatever space it’s in. So when a balloon pops, you’re really hearing the acoustics of the space itself, says Abel.

In this clip from 2013, the Cappella Romana choir sings a hymn passed through an early version of the Hagia Sophia filter:

The marble interior of Hagia Sophia was 70 meters long, while in height it reached 56 meters at the apex of the great dome. The vast chamber and its reflective surfaces of marble and gold resulted in unprecedented acoustics of over ten seconds reverberation time. As a museum Hagia Sophia today has lost its voice, no performances could take place in it. Using new digital technology developed at CCRMA, the second portion of Cappella Romana’s concert at Bing aims to recreate sound of what singing in Hagia Sophia must have been like. Each singer caries a microphone that records the sound transforming it into a digital signal, which is then imprinted with the reverberant response of Hagia Sophia. What you hear as a wet sound is the product of a digitally produced signal transmitted through loudspeakers placed strategically to create an enveloping soundfield. This digital signal may shock you with the way it relativizes speech, transforming its content into a chiaroscuro of indistinct but immersive sound. For the Byzantines, this sonic experience was associated with the water: the waves of the sea.

Last year, the Cappella Romana released an entire album of choral music recorded with the filter — you can listen on Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon, Tidal, or Pandora.

Needless to say, the album sounds better with the best pair of headphones you can muster. You can find out more information about the filter and the acoustics of the Hagia Sophia at Icons of Sound.

See also this online Gregorian chant generator.

Worldizing - How Walter Murch Brought More Immersive Sound to Film

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 31, 2020

I love echo - any kind of reverberation or atmosphere around a voice or a sound effect that tells you something about the space you are in.

That’s a quote from legendary film editor and sound designer Walter Murch. In the 70s, he pioneered a technique called worldizing, for which he used a mix of pristine studio-recorded and rougher set-recorded sounds to make a more immersive soundscape for theater audiences. He used it in The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, and American Graffiti:

George [Lucas] and I took the master track of the two-hour radio show with Wolfman Jack as DJ and played it back on a Nagra in a real space — a suburban backyard. I was fifty-or-so-feet away with a microphone recording that sound onto another Nagra, keeping it in sync and moving the microphone kind of at random, back and forth, as George moved the speaker through 180 degrees. There were times when microphone and speaker were pointed right at each other, and there were other times when they were pointed in completely opposite directions. So that was a separate track. Then, we did that whole thing again.

When I was mixing the film, I had three tracks to draw from. One of them was what you might call the “dry studio track” of the radio show, where the music was very clear and sharp and everything was in audio focus. Then there were the other two tracks which were staggered a couple of frames to each other, and on which the axis of the microphone and the speakers was never the same because we couldn’t remember what we had done intentionally.

Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 26, 2019

I am fascinated with the sound of movies, from the soundtracks to the foley effects and even temp music. Making Waves is a documentary about this integral aspect of cinema. Here’s a trailer:

Directed by veteran Hollywood sound editor Midge Costin, the film reveals the hidden power of sound in cinema, introduces us to the unsung heroes who create it, and features insights from legendary directors with whom they collaborate.

Featuring the insights and stories of iconic directors such as George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, David Lynch, Barbra Streisand, Ang Lee, Sofia Coppola and Ryan Coogler, working with sound design pioneers — Walter Murch, Ben Burtt and Gary Rydstrom — and the many women and men who followed in their footsteps.

(thx, dunstan)

Silence Is the Presence of Everything

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 10, 2019

This morning, instead of crawling straight from bed to desk and diving into the internet cesspool, I went for a walk. I went because I needed the exercise, because it was a nice sunny day out, because the changing leaves are super lovely right now. (Check out my Instagram story for some of what I saw along the way.) But I also wanted to listen to this episode of On Being with Gordon Hempton called Silence and the Presence of Everything. Hempton is an acoustic ecologist who has a lot of interesting things to say about silence and natural sounds.

Oh, grass wind. Oh, that is absolutely gorgeous, grass wind and pine wind. We can go back to the writings of John Muir, which — he turned me on to the fact that the tone, the pitch, of the wind is a function of the length of the needle or the blade of grass. So the shorter the needle on the pine, the higher the pitch; the longer, the lower the pitch. There are all kinds of things like that, but the two folders where I collected, I have, oh, over 100 different recordings which are actually silent from places, and you cannot discern a sense of space, but you can discern a sense of tonal quality, that there is a fundamental frequency for each habitat.

It sounds paradoxical, but I wanted to listen to this podcast in a setting with natural sounds, rather than in my car or on a plane. I had my AirPods in because they don’t block all outside sound, so I could hear the crunch of the road beneath my shoes as I walked and listened. The nature and animal sounds in the episode sounded like they were actually coming from all around me. I paused the episode for a minute or two to listen to a burbling brook I passed along the way. The whole experience was super relaxing and informative.1

You can read more about Hempton and his efforts in preserving the world’s silence places on his website The Sound Tracker or in his book, One Square Inch of Silence. Outside magazine recently profiled Hempton, who, in cruel twist of fate, has suffered dramatic hearing loss in recent years.

The problem Hempton hopes to take on is gargantuan. To understand it, try a little experiment: when you reach the period at the end of this sentence, stop reading for a moment, close your eyes, and listen.

What did you hear? The churn of the refrigerator? The racing hiss of passing traffic? Even if you’re sitting outside, chances are you heard the low hum of a plane passing overhead or an 18-wheeler’s air horn shrieking down a not-so-distant highway.

If you heard only the sounds of birds and the wind in the trees, you’re one of a lucky few. But it’s likely that quiet won’t last.

This short documentary, Sanctuaries of Silence, follows Hempton to some of the quietest places on Earth, including the Hoh Rain Forest in Olympic National Park.

I think what I like most about listening is that I disappear.

If you’d like to disappear for awhile but don’t have access to a quiet place, you should check out some of Hempton’s recordings on Spotify — I’m listening to Forest Rain right now.

Or try out the Sound Escapes podcast to check out some of his best natural soundscapes. (thx Meg, who sent along a link to the On Being episode after reading yesterday’s post on noise pollution)

  1. And it was another good example of the AirPods as an AR device.

The World’s Quiet Places Are Disappearing In a Technological Cloud of Noise

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 09, 2019

For The Atlantic, Bianca Bosker writes about the growing problem of noise pollution (because of our love of technology and hands-off governments) and why so few people take it seriously (because of our love of technology and hands-off governments).

Scientists have known for decades that noise — even at the seemingly innocuous volume of car traffic — is bad for us. “Calling noise a nuisance is like calling smog an inconvenience,” former U.S. Surgeon General William Stewart said in 1978. In the years since, numerous studies have only underscored his assertion that noise “must be considered a hazard to the health of people everywhere.” Say you’re trying to fall asleep. You may think you’ve tuned out the grumble of trucks downshifting outside, but your body has not: Your adrenal glands are pumping stress hormones, your blood pressure and heart rate are rising, your digestion is slowing down. Your brain continues to process sounds while you snooze, and your blood pressure spikes in response to clatter as low as 33 decibels-slightly louder than a purring cat.

Experts say your body does not adapt to noise. Large-scale studies show that if the din keeps up-over days, months, years-noise exposure increases your risk of high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, and heart attacks, as well as strokes, diabetes, dementia, and depression. Children suffer not only physically-18 months after a new airport opened in Munich, the blood pressure and stress-hormone levels of neighboring children soared-but also behaviorally and cognitively. A landmark study published in 1975 found that the reading scores of sixth graders whose classroom faced a clattering subway track lagged nearly a year behind those of students in quieter classrooms-a difference that disappeared once soundproofing materials were installed. Noise might also make us mean: A 1969 study suggested that test subjects exposed to noise, even the gentle fuzz of white noise, become more aggressive and more eager to zap fellow subjects with electric shocks.

Being pretty sensitive to noise, I read this piece with a great deal of interest. One of the benefits of living in the middle of nowhere in the country is that when I go outside, the sounds I hear are mostly natural: birds, streams, wind, frogs, and insects. In the winter, the quiet is sometimes so complete that you can only hear the sound of your own heart beating in your ears. But lately, some dipshit who owns a car with a deliberately loud after-market muffler has been driving through the surrounding hills, disrupting the peace. I can’t usually hear cars passing on the nearby road, but this muffler jackass you can hear literally miles away. It makes me want to smash things! I feel like a bit of a crank, but why does this person’s freedom to have a loud muffler override the freedom of the thousands of people within earshot to have quiet? (See also positive versus negative liberty and How Motorcyclists Think People React When They Drive By.)

The BBC’s Abridged Reading of Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 08, 2019

BBC Radio 4 has done an abridged audio reading of Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments, her followup to The Handmaid’s Tale. The series is composed of 15 episodes that run 14 minutes each — a total of 3.5 hours compared to the full 13+ hour audiobook. The episodes are only going to be available online for a short time though — the first one expires Oct 15 — so get in there if you’re going to listen. I’m reading the book right now, otherwise I’d be right there with you. (via open culture)

Yellowstone National Park’s Sound & Video Libraries Are Free for Anyone to Use

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 07, 2019

2018 Roadtrip

Yellowstone National Park maintains a collection of sounds and videos taken in the park that are in the public domain and free for anyone to use. The collection includes the sights and sounds of birds, geysers, bison, bubbling mud pots, fish, wolves, falling snow, storms, and all sorts of other ambient noises and videos.

AirPods, an Augmented-Reality Wearable Computer

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 19, 2019

For Real Life magazine, Drew Austin writes about wireless headphones and their potential effect on the public sphere if many people start wearing them. The bit that particularly caught my eye was the subtitle of the piece:

Wireless headphones are augmented reality devices.

And further down the page:

Much as phones have enabled and concretized the always-on nature of everyday life, introducing the constant interpenetration of physical and digital space to individual experience, wireless earbuds facilitate a deeper integration, an “always in” existence that we need never interrupt by looking down at a screen. Their aural interface means we don’t have to awkwardly switch attention back and forth between IRL and a screen as though the two are starkly separated. Instead, we can seem to occupy both seamlessly, an experience that other augmented-reality devices, like Google Glass, have promised with varying degrees of success.

I bought some AirPods several months ago thinking I was getting wireless headphones, but very quickly realized they were actually an augmented-reality wearable computer. In my media diet post from May, I called them “the first real VR/AR device that feels seamless”. Like regular wired earbuds or even over-the-ear Bluetooth headphones, AirPods provide an audio track layered over the real world, but they’re so light and let just the right amount of ambient sound in that you barely notice you’re wearing them — it just sounds like whatever you’re listening to is playing in your head, automagically. It feels, at least to me, like a totally different and far more immersive experience. Wearable computing still seems like a futuristic thing a few years away, but with AirPods and the Apple Watch, it’s solidly here right now.

P.S. In Dan Hon’s latest newsletter, he writes:

Given current phone/camera trends (or, I should say, current camera/phone trends), the Star Trek: TNG combadge is unrealistic because by the 24th century it’d be more like 99.9998% camera and 0.0002% phone.

The natural ancestor of the combadge seems more like AirPods than the iPhone. But the likelihood of AirPods 6.0 having a tiny camera embedded in it for, say, the facial recognition of whoever you’re speaking with (a la Miranda Priestly’s assistants in The Devil Wears Prada) or text-to-speech for whatever you’re looking at (signs, books, menus) seems quite high.