Read this: a history of the MP3, arguing that it’s more influential than vinyl

Eamonn Forde at The Quietus has a great new piece celebrating the 25th anniversary of the MP3, arguing that it was the single most influential music technology revolution in history — even moreso than the phonograph or early vinyl recordings. If you ask me, he makes a pretty convincing argument:

In terms of the history of music ownership – something that has really only existed for just over a century – the MP3 was not a full stop but rather an ellipsis.

It was the last audio format that people could own but, as it was a digital string of zeros and ones, it was inherently intangible. You cannot look at an MP3 but you can see its impact everywhere.

[…]

This is important: it was technology first, music second. It was created as part of a strategy of media synergy. It was by the record business, for the record business. Most significantly, it was the last time record labels (or, more precisely, their parent companies) were to be technology powerhouses.

The MP3 was created outside of the music industry – developed without its blessing, but mostly without its interest. It was in many ways an opportunity for audio engineers to show other audio engineers their chops. In the mid-1990s, home computers were not that common, the internet was mainly confined to academia (its campus location is critical for Phase Two) and the Discman was the apex of music portability.

[…]

The record industry lost serious ground here because it was focused on its war against free and crummy audio when the MP3’s headline appeal was about convenience and the fizzing thrill of instant accessibility.

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Coffee shop ambient sound, for those staying at home who miss it

Unmute your volume, go into the kitchen, and make yourself some coffee now. Read the rest

Ghost boxes, psycho-phones, and other devices for listening to spirits

Dating back to the 19th century, occultists, engineers, and hoaxers have employed new audio technology to communicate beyond the grave. This includes wax cylinders, white noise generators, AM radios, hacked phonographs, and other curious contraptions. Even Thomas Edison got in on the phone, making a machine to communicate with the spirit world. He later admitted it was a joke but, of course, his phonograph does enable anyone to hear from those who have passed on (and left a recording behind). Over at the Daily Grail, John Reppion surveys the history of "Ghost Boxes and Psycho-Phones":

In 1957 a Swedish painter by the name of Friedrich Jürgenson – a man so famed for his artistic ability that Pope Pius XII had a total of four portraits painted by him at his personal request – purchased a reel to reel tape recorder. Jürgenson only wished to record his own voice singing but, listening back to the tapes, he began to notice strange fadings in and out. In 1959 he and his wife went to spend the summer at a cottage they owned in the countryside, and Jürgenson took his tape recorder along. The machine had been left running outdoors to record the bird song, but on listening back hardly any birds could be heard. What sounded like a thunderstorm of static was, shockingly, interrupted by a loud trumpet and then a voice speaking in Norwegian. Friedrich was amazed to realise that it was the voice of his own long-dead father, seemingly speaking directly to him through the machine.

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Where did the laser sound in STAR WARS come from anyway?

Twenty Thousand Hertz is a very cool podcast hosted and created by Dallas Taylor that explores the stories behind iconic sounds — from cartoon voices to tape reel mastering to the backmasking tactics of the "Satanic Panic." And just in time for May the 4th, they've just released a teaser for their upcoming episode that focuses on the sound design behind the Star Wars universe.

Because everyone's familiar with the mod specs on Han Solo's coveted BlasTech DL-44 blaster pistol. But the actual real-world origins of that iconic pkew pkew sound are less well-known. Check it out.

As it turns out, sound designer Ben Burtt quite literally stumbled onto the tone by accident while he was out hiking. After his backpack got caught on a guy-wire in the Poconos, he knew that the twang of elasticity was right — he just had to find a way to replicate and perfect it. Along the way, he also found the sound of a Y-Wing engine.

The full episode will be available on May 13th, with Burtt and host Dallas Taylor going even more in-depth into the physical and material voices that brought the Star Wars galaxy to life. But for now, this little clip is a nice snack for May the 4th.

Twenty Thousand Hertz Podcast

Image: Jon McCormack / 2ok Hz. Used with permission. Read the rest

DIY method for transmitting audio in large spaces directly to people's hearing aids

IEEE Spectrum's David Schneider participates in Quaker meetings where there are many elderly people who, even though they are wearing hearing aids, have a hard time catching comments from others around the room. One common solution to this problem is to provide headphones with FM receivers to pick up the sounds of the microphones. That approach isn't ideal, Schneider writes, because "a little awkward, in part because it makes you stand out. So Schneider and a friend bought a 1,000 feet (304 meters) roll of two-conductor, 20-gauge wire $125 and homebrewed an audio frequency induction loop that transmits the sound so it can picked up directly by hearing aids that contain a telecoil (T-coil). From IEEE Spectrum:

These hearing aids can be switched to a mode whereby they pick up audio-frequency signals electronically instead of using their built-in microphones. This system for passing the signal wirelessly doesn’t involve radio transmissions—it just uses magnetic induction. Suitable audio induction loops for energizing T-coils are found in all sorts of places, including museums and theaters; even some taxicabs are equipped with them...(S

I constructed an induction coil from a six-turn square loop of magnet wire that was about a half meter on a side (I taped the wire to a flattened cardboard box), using wire of the right diameter to make the loop resistance 8 ohms. I then attached it to the speaker terminals of an ordinary stereo receiver, one that was collecting dust in the back of my garage....

(Encouraged by initial tests and further refinements of the , another friend and I recently placed a similar wire loop in the attic of the building—which was a lot harder than laying it on the floor because we had to snake the wire around an obstacle course of roof trusses and HVAC ducting.

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Uncovering two lost comedy albums from cult comic Dick Davy, who once championed civil rights and antiracism

Jason Klamm from the Comedy on Vinyl podcast (previously) writes, "In late 2018, I uncovered the true identity of comic Dick Davy. Since starting his archive, I've come across some real gems, but in August, one find took the cake. His niece, Sharon, mailed me two records that had been sitting in a box, and it turns out these are unreleased acetates of material no one has heard in almost sixty years. I had Firesign Theatre archivist Taylor Jessen transfer and do a quick clean-up of them. This episode discusses their contents and what their future might be." (MP3) Read the rest

Listen to this strange and compelling mix of field recordings, cut-ups, and sound art

Composer Janek Schaefer drew from the work of John Cage, DJ Shadow, The Orb, Marina Abramović, Steve Reich, Chris Watson, and so many other greats to create this powerfully evocative and weird 90 minute mix. A former architect, Scahefer has masterfully designed a haunting, expansive environment of found sound. This is the way, step inside...

Schaefer also prepared a complementary essay and annotated tracklist for the mix. From The Vinyl Factory:

I loved how sound creates images that you cannot see, capturing an impression of spaces and places that can only be revealed again thought playback over time...

This C-90 style mixtape, entitled ‘New Dimensions In Time, Space and Place’, is a meander through my physical collection of works that have inspired me over the last 36 years, and I still enjoy. The loosely connecting themes explore found sound, ready-mades, collage, samples, sound design, sculpture, performance, field recordings, sonic art, appropriation, alteration, and accidents. The context of these sounds brings meaning to the works, and our understanding of that context brings the work to life when listening to it.

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Michael Moore just launched a new podcast and it's great, full of hope and anger

I just got back from a longer-than-usual family holiday during which I did much less work than I usually do when I'm off (I recommend both to you!), but one exception I made was tuning into Michael Moore's outstanding new podcast, Rumble, which Moore records from his apartment, usually with a special guest (I tuned in when I saw that he'd done an episode with the wonderful Anand "Winners Take All" Giridharadas (previously). Read the rest

Bluetooth bookshelf speakers with great midrange

These Edifier S1000DB speakers will be the ones I listen to while I work.

I left my old home stereo in my old home. It was hard-wired into the walls and I didn't want the new owners to have to sort all that shit out. As I move into a new place I do not want to deal with wires at all. Bluetooth 4.0 has become plenty good enough for my daily listening.

Also: I really enjoyed my previous set of Edifier bookshelf speakers.

I gave the prior set away when I moved out of said home and into a VW Van for the summer, or I'd still be using them!

Not having the RT1700BTs any more, however, left me to check out what else Edifier might have to offer and the S1000DB caught my eye, and ear. The bass on the S1000DB is cleaned up. The mid-range is clear, warm and super well defined. I found that I could distinctly hear and place instruments while listening to music played via iTunes.

While there are many wiring options, I use the speakers via Bluetooth. I am trying to avoid wires for now. That'll likely come back to haunt me.

The cases do not look as cheap as the RT1700BT and I have also considered placing these in the living room for general household music.

While big, and heavy, if you want a nice listening experience while working on your computer all-day either of these sets of speakers are a treat, but the S1000DB are a much more polished product. Read the rest

Talking with the Left Field podcast about Sidewalk Labs's plan to build a surveilling "smart city" in Toronto

We've been closely following the plan by Google sister company Sidewalk Labs to build a surveilling "smart city" in Toronto; last week, I sat down with the Out of Left Field podcast (MP3) to discuss what's going on with Sidewalk Labs, how it fits into the story of Big Tech, and what the alternatives might be. Read the rest

Talking Adversarial Interoperability with Y Combinator

Earlier this month while I was in San Francisco, I went over to the Y Combinator incubator to record a podcast (MP3); we talked for more than an hour about the history of Adversarial Interoperability and what its role was in creating Silicon Valley and the tech sector and how monopolization now threatens adversarial interop and also how it fuels the conspiratorial thinking that is so present in our modern politics. We talk about how startup founders and other technologists can use science fiction for inspiration, and about the market opportunities presented by challenging Big Tech and its giant, massively profitable systems. Read the rest

Cautionary Tales: a new podcast that tells the intriguing stories of historical "mishaps, fiascos and disasters"

Economist, author, podcaster and radio presenter Tim Harford (previously) has a fantastic new podcast: Cautionary Tales, which Tim describes as "Eight stories of mishaps, fiascos and disasters - served with a twist of nerdy social science." Read the rest

Quiet.js broadcasts data from your browser as ultrasound

Quiet.js converts data to an audio signal--optionally beyond the range of human hearing--and plays it in the browser. If you can't imagine what this might be useful for, note that it can also receive such data. If you're still stumped, you might be a saint surely some tunes are obviously the devil's.

This is a javascript binding for libquiet, a library for sending and receiving data via sound card. It can function either via speaker or cable (e.g., 3.5mm). Quiet comes included with a few transmissions profiles which can be selected for the intended use. For speaker transmission, there is a profile which transmits around the 19kHz range, which is essentially imperceptible to the human ear.

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Get 35 free audio books from Tor's new horror imprint

Renowned sci-fi and fantasy publisher Tor just launched a new book imprint called Nightfire, focusing on new horror fiction. And to celebrate, they're giving away 35 free short horror stories as audiobooks. The list includes stories by Alyssa Wong, Chuck Wendig, China Miéville, Carmen Maria Machado, and more.

The only catch is that the stories are only available through the GooglePlay Store, or through Google Assistant commands. This is only really a minor inconvenience if you (like me) are not an Android user—but also if you're like me, it's totally worth it.

Come Join Us By The Fire: 35 Short Horror Tales From Nightfire Books Read the rest

The wonderful You Must Remember This podcast returns to tell the secret history of Disney's most racist movie, Song of the South

Song of the South is one of the most obscure and most popular of all the Disney movies: despite the fact that Disney has not made it available for a generation, the movie is the basis for the "Splash Mountain" flume rides at the Disney parks, and the movie's theme, "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah" remains a familiar anthem. Read the rest

Talking science fiction, technological self-determination, inequality and competition with physicist Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a physicist at JPL and the author of many popular, smart books about physics for a lay audience; his weekly Mindscape podcast is a treasure-trove of incredibly smart, fascinating discussions with people from a wide variety of backgrounds. Read the rest

The complicated, nuanced story of how racialized French people fought to save their local McDonald's

On NPR's always-excellent Rough Translation podcast comes an incredibly complex and nuanced story (MP3, transcript) about marginalized, racialized people in public housing in Marseille who found an accepting haven in a local McDonald's franchise, and who banded together to save it -- and other nearby McD's -- in a series of direct actions ranging from occupation to threats of self-immolation. Read the rest

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