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Posts Tagged ‘sound

“I see by hearing”*…

 

Echolocation_1

Daniel Kish navigates the world like a bat does—and he does so without ever leaving the ground.

After losing his vision as an infant, Kish taught himself to move around with the help of echolocation. Like bats, Kish uses his mouth to produce a series of short, crisp clicking sounds, and then listens to how those sounds bounce off the surrounding landscape. (Our winged neighbors tend to emit these clicks at frequencies humans can’t hear, but Kish’s clicks are perfectly audible to human ears.) From there, Kish makes a mental map of his environment, considering everything from broad contours—like walls and doors—down to textural details.

Kish now teaches echolocation, mostly to students who are blind. For these students, Kish believes that an echolocation practice can buoy confidence and independence. Kish’s own experience is persuasive—he famously bikes along hilly, car-lined streets—and a growing body of scholarly research has begun to unpack exactly how expert echolocaters do their thing. This research has also backed up the idea that this skill is highly learnable. When researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, asked novice echolocators to use tongue clicks to determine which of the two objects in front of them was larger, the newbies were soon able to do so in a way that the scientists couldn’t attribute to chance.

Whatever your sightedness, there’s something to be said for learning to listen more attentively to sonic scenery. Kish believes that vision has a way of blunting the other senses unless people work to really flex them. Deft echolocators, he says, are able to perceive fine differences—distinguishing, say, between an oleander bush (“a million sharp returns”) and an evergreen (“wisps closely packed together, which sound like a bit like a sponge or a curtain”). They’re discovering sonic wonder wherever they go…

A beginner’s guide to navigating with sound: “Teach Yourself to Echolocate.”

* Darrin Lunde, Hello, Bumblebee Bat

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As we take sound advice, we might send closely-heard birthday greetings to Sir Frederic Charles Bartlett, FRS; he was born on this date in 1886.  A psychologist (and the first professor of experimental psychology at the University of Cambridge), he was one of the pioneers of both cognitive psychology and cultural psychology.  His 1932 book Remembering was hugely influential in its demonstration (via the experiments it reports) that memory is not a consultative process that retrieves facts from an immutable record, as most then believed; rather, it is reconstruction, open it a variety of influences that can shape what is recalled.

But relevantly here, he also studied sound and its impact on humans.  His 1934 book The Problem of Noise is a study of “sound that is a nuisance,” and its impact, both physiological and psychological, on hearers.  It was, though probably unintended, Bartlett’s contribution to “clearing the air” for echolation.

Bartlett source

 

Written by LW

October 20, 2018 at 1:01 am

“There is in souls a sympathy with sounds”*…

 

A Marconi-Stille recording machine, which the BBC helped to develop. It used thin steel for tape, a single spool of which weighed more than 20lb. (Photo taken in 1936)

In the worlds of television. audio, and film production, The BBC Sound Archive is legendary.  Founded in 1936, its holdings date back to the late 19th century and include many rare items, including contemporary speeches by public and political figures, folk music, British dialects and sound effects– along with most BBC Radio programs.  The pace of collection has flagged a bit under recent budget pressures; still, the archive is 350,000 hours of material in total duration.

The public has had some access to the archive through the British Library.  But now there is a more direct channel: the BBC has made 16,000 sound effects available (for personal, educational or research use) for download directly on its web site. From “Drilling and reaming machine operating, with occasional pauses” to “Tropical Forest, West Africa at dawn.” there’s (literally) a world there to hear.

* William Cowper

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As we lend an ear, we might recall that it was on this date in 1888, that Nikola Tesla was issued several patents relating to the induction magnetic motor, alternating current (AC) sychronous motor, AC transmission, and electricity distribution (Nos. 381,968-70; 382,279-82).

In his extraordinary career, Tesla patented over 110 innovations, ranging from these (which he deployed at Niagara Falls among other spots; in the long run, Tesla was right and Edison– proponent of direct current/DC, and vicious opponent of Tesla– wrong: AC became the standard) to the first wireless remote control.  Tesla designed and began planning a “worldwide wireless communications system” that was backed by JP Morgan…  until Morgan lost confidence and pulled out.  “Cyberspace,” as described by the likes of Bill Gibson and Neal Stephenson, was largely prefigured in Tesla’s plan.  Often mis-remembered (as a fringe figure, almost a looney), if at all, Tesla was a remarkable genius, whose talent ran far, far ahead of his luck.  He died penniless in 1943.

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Written by LW

May 1, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Ah this indeed is music–this suits me”*…

 

When Bebe and Louis Barron got married in 1947 they received a wedding gift from the future. Louis’s cousin was an executive at 3M and his present was one of the first tape recorders in the United States, plus a steady supply of reels of newly created magnetic tape. Bohemians, musicians, and tinkerers, the Barrons took their gear with them to Manhattan, where they set up a legendary electronic studio for the avant-garde at 9 West 8th Street…

Pressing [Anaïs] Nin readings to red vinyl and collecting “small sounds” for John Cage didn’t really pay the bills, so they jumped at the chance to make sounds for Hollywood… Rather than compose, though, they built…

Norbert Wiener was fixated on the possibility that delegation of weapons control to machines running game theory models would likewise wipe out the human race. But in their studio, Bebe and Louis were inventing a different and more interesting kind of future, a greenhouse of messy, perverse electronics that coexist with us, a population of cybernetic familiars and kinds of minds all singing together…

From the always-fascinating newsletter Passing Current, “The Overload.”

* Walt Whitman

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As we tweak the gain, we might recall that it was on this date in 1972 that the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was passed by the Senate and then sent to the states for ratification.  The ERA, as it became known, prohibited discrimination on the basis of gender, stating, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex,” and that “the Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.”  Although 22 of the required 38 states quickly ratified the Amendment, opposition arose, ostensibly over concerns that women would be subject to the draft and combat duty, along with other legal concerns.  Despite an extension of the deadline to June 1982, the ERA eventually failed (by 3 states) to achieve ratification.

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Written by LW

March 22, 2017 at 1:01 am

“There is in souls a sympathy with sounds”*…

 

We know that there is sound on planets and moons in the solar system – places where there’s a medium through which sound waves can be transmitted, such as an atmosphere or an ocean. But what about empty space? You may have been told definitively that space is silent, maybe by your teacher or through the marketing of the movie Alien – “In space no one can hear you scream”. The common explanation for this is that space is a vacuum and so there’s no medium for sound to travel through.

But that isn’t exactly right. Space is never completely empty – there are a few particles and sound waves floating around. In fact, sound waves in the space around the Earth are very important to our continued technological existence. They also they sound pretty weird!…

More– including another, different opportunity to listen in and info on how you can help– at “What does empty space sound like?

* William Cowper

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As we prick up our ears, we might recall that it was on this date in 1956 that American International Pictures released Shake Rattle and Rock!, a comedy-drama (featuring the music of Fats Domino) directed by Edward L. Cahn, who went on to notoriety, if not fame, two years later with It! The Terror from Beyond Space, the film that inspired the 1979 film Alien.

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Written by LW

December 1, 2016 at 1:01 am

“A volcano may be considered as a cannon of immense size”*…

 

On August 27, 1883, the Earth let out a noise louder than any it has made since.

It was 10:02 a.m. local time when the sound emerged from the island of Krakatoa, which sits between Java and Sumatra in Indonesia. It was heard 1,300 miles away in the Andaman and Nicobar islands (“extraordinary sounds were heard, as of guns firing”); 2,000 miles away in New Guinea and Western Australia (“a series of loud reports, resembling those of artillery in a north-westerly direction”); and even 3,000 miles away in the Indian Ocean island of Rodrigues, near Mauritius (“coming from the eastward, like the distant roar of heavy guns.”). In all, it was heard by people in over 50 different geographical locations, together spanning an area covering a thirteenth of the globe.

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. Traveling at the speed of sound (766 miles or 1,233 kilometers per hour), it takes a noise about four hours to cover that distance. This is the most distant sound that has ever been heard in recorded history…

More at “The Sound So Loud That It Circled the Earth Four Times.”

(And for a consideration of “the noise beneath the noise,” check out “The Noise at the Bottom of the Universe.”)

Oliver GoldsmithGoldsmith’s Miscellaneous Works (1841), 90

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As we Bring the Noise, we might that it was on this date in 2013 that the eruption of Ecuador’s Tungurahua volcano sent a massive plume of ash, stones, and vapor soaring more than eight miles into the sky above the Andes.

Pyrocumulus clouds soaring high above the Andes due to the eruption of Ecuador’s Tungurahua volcano

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Written by LW

July 19, 2016 at 1:01 am

“I used to think information was destroyed in black holes. This was my biggest blunder, or at least my biggest blunder in science”*…

 

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Gravitational waves sent out from a pair of colliding black holes have been converted to sound waves, as heard in this animation. On September 14, 2015, LIGO [the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory] observed gravitational waves from the merger of two black holes, each about 30 times the mass of our sun. The incredibly powerful event, which released 50 times more energy than all the stars in the observable universe, lasted only fractions of a second.

In the first two runs of the animation, the sound-wave frequencies exactly match the frequencies of the gravitational waves. The second two runs of the animation play the sounds again at higher frequencies that better fit the human hearing range. The animation ends by playing the original frequencies again twice.

As the black holes spiral closer and closer in together, the frequency of the gravitational waves increases. Scientists call these sounds “chirps,” because some events that generate gravitation waves would sound like a bird’s chirp.

More background from LIGO:

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* Stephen Hawking

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As we scan the event horizon, we might send difficult-to-detect birthday greetings to Lawrence Maxwell Krauss; he was born on this date in 1954.  A theoretical physicist and cosmologist, Dr. Krauss was among the first to propose the existence of the enigmatic dark energy that makes up most of the mass and energy in the universe.  He directs the Origins Project, and has written several books on science for the general public, including Fear of Physics (1993), The Physics of Star Trek (1995), Quantum Man: Richard Feynman’s Life in Science (2011), and A Universe from Nothing (2012).

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Written by LW

May 27, 2016 at 1:01 am

“But he who dares not grasp the thorn should never crave the rose”*…

 

If hearing Bret Michaels serenade Rock of Love contestants with his 1988 hit “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” wasn’t painful enough for you, artist Michael Ridge has come up with just the thing to give this hoary old power ballad some spice. With the aid of a contact mike, Ridge has figured out how to play Poison’s hit on his turntable using a branch from a rose bush in place of a stylus arm, and like actual thorns doing the needle’s job…

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More at “An actual rose bush plays ‘Every Rose Has Its Thorn’“; and more of Ridge’s remarkable work at the creator’s link at the Vimeo page above and on his Soundcloud page.

* Anne Brontë

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As we drop the needle, we might recall that it was on this date in 1883 that Ladies Home Journal was first published.  Born of a a popular double-page supplement in the American magazine Tribune and Farmer titled Women at Home, it quickly became the most popular magazine of its type, and in 1903 became the first American magazine to reach 1 million subscribers.  One of “The Seven Sisters”– publications aimed at women: the Journal, plus Better Homes and Gardens, Family Circle, Good Housekeeping, McCall’s, Redbook and Woman’s Day— the Journal led the pack in circulation until 1963 (when it fell behind McCall’s).  Since 2014 its emphasis has been on the web; it has been available in print on newsstands only as a quarterly.

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Written by LW

February 16, 2016 at 1:01 am

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