Guest blogger: Meara O'Reilly!

Hello! I'm Meara O'Reilly. My thing is auditory perception. I've been exploring this through making instruments, heirloom science demonstrations, auditory illusions, and singing.

I write and build things for Make and I was in the band Feathers, and have played a lot in Brightblack Morning Light and with Michael Hurley, but now I do my singing alone, sometimes with a chladni plate. Right now I'm trying to make a glass vocoder and I live with the people from Encyclopedia Pictura, at our experimental woodland creative dojo.

These next couple of weeks, I'm going to write about new musical instruments and technologies, auditory perception, and inspirational approaches to farming and land management. I'll also profile some incredibly unique musicians and composers that maybe you haven't heard yet. Thanks to Mark for inviting me here, I'm really excited to be a part!

(Photo: Aubrey Trinnaman)


  1. I was thinking this pretty lady looked familiar and then I got to the Feathers part. I saw you guys open for smog like 5 or so years ago and I remember thinking you had one of the nicest voices ever! Cheers!

  2. I’m curious if you played keyboard with Brightblack Morning Light on their latest tour. If so, I saw you play at the Magic Stick in Detroit. Was a pretty fantastic acoustic ride.

  3. Meara,
    looking forward to your guest posts. I got involved in sounds and the manifestations of sound a few years back when I translated researcher Alexander Lauterwasser’s book “Water Sound Images” from German into English.

    My friend Jeff Volk, who had acquired the English rights to this book, now publishes it through his house Macromedia (no, not the one that was bought by Adobe ;-)
    It was a very interesting project, a collaboration of Jeff and I, where I was the part to get the German meaning, expressing it in English and then Jeff ‘Englishifying’ it, getting my Germanisms out and putting English Poetry back in, with me then, once more, assuring that German and English expressed the same emotions and meaning.

    Mr. Lauterwasser had built on the work of Chladni and build his own apparati to excite water with sound and create stunning imagery, photographing form developing in the water.

    So, yes, I am very excited, looking forward to your contributions.

  4. I just listened to your amplified cutlery and I’d like to join the chorus of excited anticipation!

  5. Howdy Meara!
    I’m the biggest fan of Michael Hurley that has ever lived, and excited to see his name come up here. I also enjoy far out sounds, and super cute girls. Welcome!

  6. Oh my, Brightblack Morning Light is one of my favorite groups ever. They’ve really upped the pedigree around here, I really look forward to reading your posts.

  7. You look like an O’Reilly, which is good, as we are all gorgeous of course, but this ‘experimental woodland dojo’ thing. Oh dear me.

  8. Meara, you need to put a contact email or from on you website,

    thought you might enjoy this little bit form Blink the book, I though about it after reading you bit on the glass vocoder project, specifically: the language is entirely musical bit.

    Recently the medical researcher Wendy Levinson recorded hundreds of conversations between a group of physicians and their patients. Roughly half of the doctors had never been sued. The other half had been sued at least twice, and Levinson found that just on the basis of those conversations, she could find clear differences between the two groups. The surgeons who had never been sued spent more than three minutes longer with each patient than those who had been sued did (18.3 minutes versus 15 minutes). They were more likely to make “orienting” comments, such as “First I’ll examine you, and then we will talk the problem over” or “I will leave time for your questions”—which help patients get a sense of what the visit is supposed to accomplish and when they ought to ask questions. They were more likely to engage in active listening, saying such things as “Go on, tell me more about that,” and they were far more likely to laugh and be funny during the visit. Interestingly, there was no difference in the amount or quality of information they gave their patients; they didn’t provide more details about medication or the patient’s condition. The difference was entirely in how they talked to their patients.

    It’s possible, in fact, to take this analysis even further. The psychologist Nalini Ambady listened to Levinson’s tapes, zeroing in on the conversations that had been recorded between just surgeons and their patients. For each surgeon, she picked two patient conversations. Then, from each conversation, she selected two ten-second clips of the doctor talking, so her slice was a total of forty seconds. Finally, she “content-filtered” the slices, which means she removed the high-frequency sounds from speech that enable us to recognize individual words. What’s left after content-filtering is a kind of garble that preserves intonation, pitch, and rhythm but erases content. Using that slice—and that slice alone—Ambady did a Gottman-style analysis. She had judges rate the slices of garble for such qualities as warmth, hostility, dominance, and anxiousness, and she found that by using only those ratings, she could predict which surgeons got sued and which ones didn’t.

  9. Loveloveloved the Hermeto Pascoal post (butterflies!). So glad you’ve joined the BoingBoing conversation and I look forward to what you have to share.

  10. Meara – I found an old article from 12/3/2000 in the NYTimes Magazine on Audio Archaeology entitled Eavesdropping on History : “A technician named Richard Woodbridge III coined the phrase “acoustic archaeology” in the August 1969 issue of Proceedings of the I.E.E.E., the engineering journal. Woodbridge theorized that there were many occasions when sound might innocently get scooped out of the air and preserved. For example, when an ancient potter typically held a flat stick against a rotating pot, he was accidentally (and crudely) recording into the clay the sound around him. Woodbridge wrote about experiments he performed pulling basic noises off a pot. Another experiment involved setting up a canvas then talking while making different brush strokes. ‘This is to record the finding of a spoken work in an oil portrait,’ Woodbridge wrote. ‘The word was ‘blue’ and was located in a blue paint stroke – as if the artist was talking to himself or to the subject…’ ” — — George

  11. Meara!

    This sounds amazing, i can’t wait to read about what you’re doing and the interesting connections and instruments you’re involved with and creating! and will keep my eyes and ears out in london for any good links. Lara

  12. A friend sent this to me today, though i’m sure you’ve heard about it – the Fluid Piano? Reminded me of you.

    Imagine an acoustic piano that is no longer restricted to ‘western tuning’. A ‘multi-cultural’ piano with an immense diversity of bespoke tuning layouts and indigenous scales from around the world (e.g. from Middle Eastern cultures).
    A piano that enables musicians to experiment by altering each note separately by precise microtonal intervals, that even allows you to alter the tuning whilst playing – or simply to remain in the standard ‘Western’ tuning should you wish.

    Invented by Geoff Smith, The Fluid Piano is all these things and this special event features world premieres of compositions for the piano composed and performed by Smith (who will also be using the Fluid Dulcimer) and composers/pianists Matthew Bourne, Pam Chowhan, Nikki Yeoh plus a special guest performance by Iranian pianist Ramin Zoufonoun.

    ‘The musical equivalent of splitting the atom.’ (The Guardian)

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