The voice you can hear above is Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone. Bell's voice, not likely heard anywhere since he died in 1922, was retrieved from a wax-and-cardboard disc recorded on April 15, 1885 and recently "played" for the first time in more than a century. That's the disc above, looking strangely similar to a CD. The recording was identified and digitized by a team including researchers from the National Museum of American History, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and the Library of Congress. In the clip above, Bell says "Hear my voice, Alexander Graham Bell." You can listen to nearly five minutes more of the recording session below. (via Smithosnian and The Atlantic)
I love hearing about sound effects in films and the work of foley artists, soundtrack composers, and sound designers. Back in 1997, I interviewed David Cronenberg for the bOING bOING print 'zine, and we mostly talked about the squishy oozy sounds he likes to use in his movies. Here's an excellent SoundWorks Collection interview with Oblivion director Joe Kosinski and the sound of his new movie. Some of his collaborates included composer Joseph Trapanese, Anthony Gonzalez (M83), re-recording mixer Gary Rizzo, and re-recording mixer Juan Peralta.
This review also appears on Download the Universe, a group blog reviewing the best (and worst, and just "meh") in science-related ebooks and apps.
When I go to science museums, I like to press the buttons. I'm convinced this is a special joy that you just do not grow out of. Hit the button. See something cool happen. Feel the little reward centers of your brain dance the watusi.
But, as a curmudgeonly grown-up, I also often feel like there is something missing from this experience. There have definitely been times when I've had my button-pushing fun and gotten a few yards away from the exhibit before I've had to stop and think, "Wait, did I just learn anything?"
Science museums are chaotic. They're loud. They're usually full of small children. Your brain is pulled in multiple directions by sights, sounds, and the knowledge that there are about 15 people behind you, all waiting for their turn to press the button, too. In fact, research has shown that adults often avoid science museums (and assume those places aren't "for them") precisely because of those factors.
Sound Uncovered is an interactive ebook published by The Exploratorium, the granddaddy of modern science museums. Really more of an app, it's a series of 12 modules that allow you to play with auditory illusions and unfamiliar sounds as you learn about how the human brain interprets what it hears, and how those ear-brain interactions are used for everything from selling cars to making music.
Anechoic chambers are pretty damn awesome. Basically, they're rooms designed to be sound-proofed against outside noise, while, inside, sound is prevented from bouncing off the walls. There's no echo. There's a number of ways you can build this, but one system at the University of Salford in England, is actually a room within a room, with the innermost chamber actually mounted on springs, rather than the floor of the outer room.
Anechoic chambers are often used to test out audio equipment or to get accurate audio measurements on systems that are supposed to operate very quietly.
To get into the anechoic chamber, you go through two bank vault-like doors. The floor in the room is mesh like a trampoline so there's nothing on the floor for the sound to bounce off of. The walls are lined with sound-proofing wedges that are a meter long so they absorb the sound.
...A typical quiet room you sleep in at night measures about 30 decibels. A normal conversation is about 60 decibels. This room has been measured at -9 decibels.
Listen to this recording. It sounds a little like Sputnik, but it's actually a noise that's not been heard in 165 million years.
This is the song of an extinct species of bush cricket, the fossils of which have been found in China's Inner Mongolia region. Researchers recreated the sound by studying the fossil remains of the crickets' sound-producing organs. From the BBC:
A "plectrum" on one wing was dragged along a microscopic comb-like structure on the other. This produces a continuous "chirp" as the male insects rub, or "stridulate" their wings in a scissor-like motion. Dr Zapata described this stridulation as similar to playing a tiny violin.
Dr Zapata then set out to calculate the frequency of the tone, which denotes how high- or low-pitched it sounded. To to this, he simply compared the size and shape of its music-making or "stridulatory" instruments to those of living cricket species
There are modern bush crickets, but their songs are played at a higher pitch. The low tones produced by this extinct cricket imply that it might have been best adapted to do its singing on the ground, rather than elevated on branches or tall stalks of grass. Lower pitched sounds travel further from that elevation than a high-pitched one would.
Los Angeles area radio station KPCC produced this lovely video portrait of designer, educator, and media artist Alex Braidwood. His work "explores methods for transforming the relationship between people and the noise in their environment." In the video, you'll see Alex wearing what I believe may be his Noisolation Headphones, "an invention for mechanically transforming the relationship between a person and the noise that immediately surrounds them." His video about that project is below.
At the French site Anecdote du Jour you can listen to the world's first audio recordings, made in 1859 and 1860 by Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville. The recordings, one of a tuning fork being struck and two of de Martinville singing, are scratchy and thoroughly eerie. All the more so because de Martinville himself never heard them. In fact, nobody heard them until 2008.
The reason we credit Edison with the invention of recorded audio and not de Martinville is that de Martinville failed to invent a way to play back his recordings.
De Martinville's phonautograph turned sound waves into 2-dimensional squiggles on soot-blackened paper or glass. It was meant to be a lab instrument, to help study acoustics, not a method of recording and playing back sound. Apparently, several decades passed before anybody even realized the sounds could, theoretically, be played back.
Composer Alex Braidwood whomped up these awesome "Noisolation Headphones," which are designed to "let your ears blink," and are quite eye-catching, in order to "start a conversation." And if you don't like the conversation they start, you can just shut your ears!
The Noisolation Headphones attempt to correct an oversight of our body: our ears can't blink. We can't block out molesting noise as easily as we can shut off light or disturbing images. In 2004 already, Dr Michael Bull was observing that iPods and other m3 players were used to control their environment, and in particular to shield their users from the sound of the city.
The Noisolation Headphones are a critical investigation that transforms the relationship between a person and the noise in their environment. While worn, exposure to the noise is structured through a sequence designated by a composer which controls the behavior of the sound-prevention valves. The composer also determines what values are adjustable by the listener through the single knob built into the device. The headphones mechanically create a personal listening experience by composing noise from the listener's environment, rendering it differently familiar.