Hum and Sing - Ethan Rose

This morning while doing some packing I had a chance to catch up with Radius, a fantastic podcast and radio show featuring live-recorded compositions, experimental music and sound art. They are currently in the middle of GRIDS, a series of four commissioned broadcasts at Chicago-area electrical stations. Series episode 51 features a work by Ethan Rose called “Hum,” a droning interplay between the human voice and the electrical apparatus. You can listen to the entire 60-minute piece below, and read a write-up over at Vice.

I first came across Rose’s work back in 2010, when he did a collaboration with songwriter Laura Gibson called Bridge Carols, which is absolutely stunning. Here is the video for “Younger”:

One Small Step

Yesterday marked the 45th anniversary of Neil Armstrong setting foot on the surface of the moon as a part of the Apollo 11 mission with Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. That event is rightly remembered as a televised one: Walter Cronkite himself later said the landing was “almost as remarkable a feat for television as the space flight itself.”1

However, the audio itself is also pretty interesting, and thanks to NASA and the Internet Archive you listen to the entire mission. The big moment—”One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”—happens starting at the 11:13 moment of the following clip:

The complete audio for many other missions is available for streaming and download via the NASA Audio Collection.

  1. Walter Cronkite, A Reporter’s Life, p. 277.

Silence and Noise

Last month I saw some nifty looking embedded Ngrams in a blog post by Chris Long, and I was reminded of two things: 1) I haven’t messed with Ngram in awhile, and 2) I wasn’t entirely sure how HTML iFrames would embed on this new blog. I’m happy to report that both turned out great—in fact, much better than I expected.

One of the things that comes up in my research in is how “noise” was incorporated into environmentalist discourse in the 1960s as a kind of “pollutant.” This was, in part, a technique mobilized by anti-supersonic flight activists who thought the sonic boom was a problem. (They were right.) Though one Ngram certainly doesn’t tell this whole story, it was interesting to see it corroborated: the occurrence of “noise” surpasses “silence” right around 1961.

This change seems to have started around 1920; before that, silence and noise have remarkably similar curves, with silence occurring at a much higher rate. Of course, what is also interesting—and, to me, totally unsurprising—is the meteoric rise of “silence” in the last decade (2004-onwards). Silence has again become a kind of urban and environmental cause of the moment, which is again reflected in the data.

There is certainly a lot more to say about this, but it’s a great kind of synergy when testing some new tools and website tricks leads you down a more productive and stimulating road.

A New Site

It’s always a combination of exactly two things that make me want to update my website: 1) the development of a large or small life change, and 2) the desire to procrastinate from a larger and scarier task at hand. In this case, I was thrilled to finally announce that I’ll be an ACLS Public Fellow working on To the Best of Our Knowledge starting in September combined with the related fact that I have a ton to do before we move to Madison, both at home and in terms of some writing commitments. With that in mind, I’m planning on moving to this new set-up, which is powered by Jekyll, styled by making some slight modifications to Ian Camporez’s fantastic Thinny theme, and hosted using Bluehost Spoke.

One of the main reasons I was interested in Jekyll is that it is a kind of anti-platform platform—it’s really just a Ruby script that generates a static version of your site that you can then host from anywhere. I think anyone considering academic “domain of one’s own” initiatives like this one and this one—which are clearly a great idea—also needs to consider what Wanye Marshall has appropriately called “platform politricks”. One of the many lessons there is if you really want a domain of your own, then you need to actually own it. In fact, I would love to host this website myself from a computer sitting in my house, but I’m not quite there yet.

A second is reason is that even though there were Tumblr themes that claimed to be specifically styled for long-form writing, most of Tumblr just doesn’t seem to work that way, which made me feel like I was doing it wrong. I think this site can and will function more like a traditional blog, but I still managed to migrate all my previous Tumblr posts over here—and old URLs should (should) redirect.

There are still a ton of kinks to work out—and hopefully some new features to add—so if/when you find something broken or wonky or weird, let me know here in the comments (which you can access from the home page with the little chat icon below each post) or hit me up on Twitter.

As always, thanks for reading!

Link Roundup: Social Sound

Making the rounds this week was this aricle on why we need “an Instragram for sound,” which reminded me of this article by Robin James on why we probably won’t get one. And then there was this article about why sound doesn’t go viral in the first place.

I have some thoughts on all this which I haven’t fully put together yet, but by way of personal experience I will say that I used Audioboo for about a week before I abandoned it…

ACLS Public Fellowship

I’m happy to finally announce that I’ve been named a 2014 ACLS Public Fellow. For the next two years, I’ll be working with To the Best of Our Knowledge, an arts and humanities radio show produced by Wisconsin Public Radio and distributed nationally by PRI. If you’re a reader of this blog and haven’t heard the show—or haven’t checked it on out in a while—please do. (You can grab the podcasts in iTunes here.) Each hour-long show explores a theme through in-depth interviews as well as some shorter segments.

Over the last year or so, the producers of the program have been “rethinking the show from top to bottom”, and I’m excited to jump in and be a part of that process in my role as digital producer. I’ll be mostly working on online and other non-broadcast projects to start, so keep your eyes on this space and the TTBOOK website for more details as they unfold. I officially start in September.

As excited as I am for this new opportunity, I’m equally sad to be leaving Penn State and the IAH, which has been an incredibly supportive home for the last year. This will always be the place that gave me my first job, and I’ll forever be grateful to Michael Bérubé and Hester Blum and all of the great people I’ve met here in State College.

Still: On Wisconsin!

Herbert in the Archives

It’s Matthew Herbert (of _One Pig_ fame) messing with the British Library’s sound archives. The idea of getting a DJ/producer and giving them free reign in an audio archive will never get old with me, but this one is especially great.

See also: DJ Spooky’s _Sound Unbound_

Uncube 21: Acoustics

Uncube 21: Acoustics

I had never heard of uncube magazine until their most recent issue on acoustics came across my desk, but I love it: it’s a beautiful (if a bit confusing to navigate) combination of words, sounds, and images. Features an article by David Byrne, if you need some enticement.

Dragons at the Zoo

Just a few weeks ago I posted a photo of Douglas Burden, nature filmmaker and museum display innovator. Perhaps the single event that launched Burden to fame was a trip he took to Java where he successfully captured two live Komodo dragons and brought them back to the Bronx Zoo in 1927.

Then, over the weekend, a headline catches my eye: “Dragons Return to the Bronx Zoo” (NYTimes link; might need subscription). It appears as if they have some new specimens—siblings, in fact. Conveniently, the article forgets to mention that Burden’s original captors didn’t fare so well. According to Gregg Mitman:

The captured dragons were donated to the Bronx zoo, where attendance was said to have increased by thirty thousand people a day…Unfortunately, the dragons did not live long at the zoo, and the “lethargic, deflated captive” failed to give “any impression of his aggressive, alert appearance in his wild home.”1

But in death, the dragons were able to appear more “lifelike” through the processes of taxidermy and film. Burden donated the animals to the American Museum of Natural History, where they created a taxidermic “habitat group,” and played some of Burden’s films beside the display. It was likely the first time that films accompanied a natural history museum display—though the films were silent.

  1. Gregg Mitman, “Cinematic Nature: Hollywood Technology, Popular Culture, and the American Museum of Natural History,” Isis 84.4 (1993): 643-644.

Sound Systems and Animal Death

A heartbroken Wirth later said the horse was startled by what Wirth thinks was the sound of a starting gate bell coming from a commercial on Churchills massive new video board. The system includes 750 speakers. “We teach horses to break from that,” he said. “And you’ve got it on a loud speaker that everybody in a two-city block can hear. Well, what’s she going to do? She thinks shes supposed to take off. And thats what she did. And when she did, she lunged and she lost her balance and went down.”

That’s from a devastating story from ESPN this morning on how a loud sound may have been responsible for the death of a horse. Theres a lot to consider hereincluding the ethics of horse racing itselfbut it reaffirms for me how much there is to be done at the intersection of sound studies and animal studies from both the sciences and the humanities.