Those weird sonic attacks at U.S. embassies? Microwave weapons, experts say.

Remember the stories over the past year or so about mysterious attacks at U.S. embassies harming diplomatic staff and their families? William J. Broad's story in the New York Times today reports that doctors and scientists are now coming to the conclusion that microwave weapon strikes capable of causing “sonic delusions” and brain damage are to blame. Read the rest

Watch these hypnotic Chladni patterns in color

Colored sand, a Chladni plate, and a little Bach make for a very soothing demonstration of cymatics. Read the rest

Hear the sounds of the Sun

NASA scientists listen to the low-frequency pulsing hum of the Sun to gain insight into the star's atmosphere over time. The raw data comes from the ESA (European Space Agency) and NASA’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) launched back in 1995. Researchers from Stanford Experimental Physics Lab then process and filter the data and speed it up "a factor 42,000 to bring it into the audible human-hearing range."

From NASA:

“Waves are traveling and bouncing around inside the Sun, and if your eyes were sensitive enough they could actually see this,” said Alex Young, associate director for science in the Heliophysics Science Division at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland...

Data from SOHO, sonified by the Stanford Experimental Physics Lab, captures the Sun’s natural vibrations and provides scientists with a concrete representation of its dynamic movements.

“We don’t have straightforward ways to look inside the Sun. We don’t have a microscope to zoom inside the Sun,” Young said. “So using a star or the Sun’s vibrations allows us to see inside of it..."

These vibrations allow scientists to study a range of complex motions inside the Sun, from solar flares to coronal mass ejections.

“We can see huge rivers of solar material flowing around. We are finally starting to understand the layers of the Sun and the complexity,” Young said. “That simple sound is giving us a probe inside of a star. I think that’s a pretty cool thing.”

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To some, the loudest sound ever recorded underwater is still a mystery

In 1997, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recorded "the bloop," a one-minute sound emanating 1,500 miles west of Chile's southern coast. The unexplained sound was never recorded again. Read the rest

The Sounds of the Junk Yard, a 1964 vinyl record

Last week, I posted about The Sounds of the Office, a 1964 vinyl record released by Folkways Records of field recordings by Michael Siegel. This week, it's The Sounds of the Junk Yard, another 1964 Folkways collection of Siegel's field recordings, ranging from an Acetylene Torch to Alligator Shears to a Paper Baler.

Moses Asch founded the incredibly influential Folkways Records label in 1948 to record and share music and sounds from around the world. Along with bringing the music of Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Lead Belly, and Elizabeth Cotten to wider audiences, Folkways, acquired in 1987 by Smithsonian, also issued incredible sound recordings from the Ituri rainforest, Navajo Nation, Peru, and many other locations and indigenous peoples across the globe. (In fact, the label provided several tracks for the Voyager Golden Record, now 12+ billion miles from Earth! Researching that project with my partner Tim Daly, a DIY musicologist himself, I've become absolutely enchanted by Folkways. If any of you dear readers have Folkways LPs collecting dust, I'd give them a wonderful home.)

Along with music, Folkways released LPs with poetry, language instruction, nature sounds (frogs! insects), and other field recordings. The Sounds of the Junk Yard reminds me of an Einstürzende Neubauten album but was issued a decade before the birth of "Industrial Music" was born.

"Some junk yard equipment is common to all of them, some is more specialized," wrote Siegel in the album liner notes. "All these sounds were recorded in yards in Warren, Pennsylvania."

Hear more samples at the Smithsonian Folkways page here. Read the rest

'Sound Journeys' merge natural sounds and human-made environments

Art collective The Principals put together Sound Journeys, an immersive multimedia project focusing on how sounds shape human response to environment. Read the rest

How to get rid of ear worms

Annoying song stuck in your head? This BrainCraft video explains that listening to it from beginning to end may free you from its burden. It's a technique based on the Zeigarnik effect, the tendency we have to remember things which are uncompleted.

To try it yourself, listen to this first:

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Hear the din of cafes, showers, crackling logs, and other great ambient sound sites

Several years back, we posted about the wonderful site youarelistening.to, a strangely soothing mix of ambient music and police radio chatter (!) from various cities. Youarelistening.to isn't the only source of lovely and relaxing field recordings and ambient noise though. Here are a few of DIGG's favorites:

Coffitivity

If your cup of coffee isn't giving you the kick you need, flipping on Coffitivity might be a good next step. Coffivity provides the cozy and comforting sounds of a cafe (which can help you focus according to scientific research) in six flavors, including Paris Paradise, Texas Teahouse, and Brazil Bistro.

Virtual Shower

Mimicking the sounds of the room in the house where everyone does their best thinking, Virtual Shower also boasts a temperature setting that changes the color of the page. You can't hear it, but you'll know it's there.

Blazing Logs Another simple one. Flip this year-round-yule log on to hear the crackle of a fire and not much else.

"The Most Relaxing Ambient Sound Sites On The Internet" (DIGG) Read the rest

Watch ultrasensitive microphones barely register owls flying

This remarkable demonstration of a pigeon, a falcon, and an owl flying past six extremely sensitive high-end microphones shows just how quiet owls are when they fly. Read the rest

This person designs alarm sounds to wake,warn, annoy, or otherwise alert you

Carryl Baldwin, a professor of cognition and applied auditory research, designs and tests sounds for "use as alarms in household, aviation, medical, and automotive settings." Atlas Obscura explores the art and science of making sounds that convey a spectrum of urgency:

One of the main considerations is the annoyance factor. To test for annoyance in the lab, says Baldwin, “we’ll construct sounds and we’ll look at all of the different acoustic parameters, so we might vary, for instance, intensity, frequency, the number of harmonics, how fast it ramps up and down, the temporal characteristics—like whether it’s going d-d-d-d-d-duh rapidly or duhhhh-duhhhhh-duhhhh.”

The faster an alarm goes, the more urgent it tends to sound. And in terms of pitch, alarms start high. Most adults can hear sounds between 20 Hz and 20,000 Hz—Baldwin uses 1,000 Hz as a base frequency, which is at the bottom of the range of human speech. Above 20,000 Hz, she says, an alarm ”starts sounding not really urgent, but like a squeak.”

Harmonics are also important. To be perceived as urgent, an alarm needs to have two or more notes rather than being a pure tone, “otherwise it can sound almost angelic and soothing,” says Baldwin. “It needs to be more complex and kind of harsh.” An example of this harshness is the alarm sound that plays on TVs across the U.S. as part of the Emergency Alert System. The discordant noise is synonymous with impending doom.

"An Alarm Designer on How to Annoy People in the Most Effective Ways" (Atlas Obscura) Read the rest

Cool video of sound waves pulsing in gallium and water

Peter Clark collaborated on this cool cymatics video for Thump, but the even cooler stuff is the camera test and the behind the scenes footage: Read the rest

Stunning and weird portraits of musical note vibrations

Artists Jeff Louviere and Vanessa Brown explore cymatics, the study of wave phenomena and how they are represented visually. Using black-colored water, a laptop computer, and a modified guitar amp, they captured "portraits" of the 12 notes in the chromatic scale. From my sister-in-law Heather Sparks's profile of their project in Nautilus:

In each ("portrait"), Louviere and Brown saw a distinct image: G looks like a devil, C# is the tree in the Garden of Eden, and F is something like the underbelly of a frog. If you were to repeat this experiment, you would get the same designs.

Pressing further their idea that “sight can be seen and images can be heard,” Louviere turned the 12 sound-induced patterns back into sound using Photo Sounder, a program that assigns sounds to the black and white values it scans along the x and y axes of an image. After applying the program to the 12 portraits, Louviere had 12 very distinct, “odd and bleepy” sound files, which he mixed together into a final soundscape born from the visuals of all 12 notes.

"This Is What Musical Notes Actually Look Like" (Nautili.us)

The audio is now available on a beautiful vinyl record: Louviere + Vanessa: Resonantia

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Fantastic short documentary on movie sound effect artists

Director Daniel Jewel invites us into the magical and world of foley artist Pete Burgis and Sue Harding who create sound effects using techniques that look odd when you see them but sound spot on when paired with the right visual.

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Audio fandom: exploring the ambient noises of stfnal spaceships

Spike Snell is a Star Trek fan whose thing is the ambient noise that the series' sound-designers created for the fictional spaceships, sounds that are never meant to be in the foreground, but which are always informing the viewer about both the ship's architecture and layout and its current status. Read the rest

What it's really like to read lips

Directed by David Terry Fine and based on the essay "Seeing at the Speed of Sound" by Rachel Kolb, who narrates this short film.

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Dead media soundboard: the Museum of Endangered Sounds

Brendan Chilcutt's Museum of Endangered Sounds preserves the sounds made by "old technologies and electronics equipment." Read the rest

Trumpet sounds heard across Jakarta signal end of the world (or not)

Last Friday evening, numerous people in Jakarta, Indonesia reported and recorded mysterious, low trumpet-like sounds in the sky. Listen for yourself below. Scientists often try to explain away these strange noises as "Earth sounds" caused by shifting tectonic plates, atmospheric phenomena, geomagnetic activity, or the like. But we all know it's really the trumpets of the apocalypse.

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