Futuristic noise pollution

This story of unforeseen consequences of new technology reminds me of those energy-efficient LED traffic lights that couldn’t cope with snow.

Here’s The Guardian last year.

New law to tackle electric cars’ silent menace to pedestrians
They are green, clean and make very little noise. It is this latter quality, initially seen by many as a good thing, that has become an acute concern for safety campaigners, who fear that the rising number of electric vehicles constitutes a silent menace.

When they travel at under 20kph (12 mph) the vehicles can barely be heard, especially by cyclists or pedestrians listening to music through headphones. “The greatest risks associated with electric vehicles are when they are travelling at low speeds, such as in urban areas with lower limits, as the noise from tyres and the road surface, and aerodynamic noise, are minimal at those speeds,” said Kevin Clinton, from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents.

But the days of silence are numbered. From July next year, all new electric and hybrid models seeking approval in Europe will have to emit a noise when travelling at low speeds. Existing vehicles are expected gradually to be retrofitted with devices.

So, it’s now ‘next July’, and has the situation improved?

Futuristic sounds to make electric buses safer hit wrong note
John Welsman, from the policy team at Guide Dogs UK, who attended a TfL presentation last month, described the sounds as “all very spaceshippy” and said he would prefer electric buses to be fitted with a canned recording of the old Routemaster bus.

Welsman added: “They did play us a sound like someone blowing bubbles through a pipe. That just wouldn’t work. And there was an intermittent bleeping sound like an email alert that would increase or decrease in rapidity depending on the the speed of the vehicle. It was very irritating.”

Buses that sound like e-mail, cars that sound like something out of Star Wars.

Electric cars could sound really weird thanks to new EU regulations
After mood boards, focus groups, and plenty of testing, Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) came up with a futuristic sound akin to a spaceship in a sci-fi film – a suitable representation of the modern, sleek vehicle. But then they tested it on people, rather than looking around for the oncoming car, they looked up – apparently wondering where the alien spacecraft was. “It was very futuristic and did cause people to look in the wrong direction… upwards rather than outwards,” says Iain Suffield, noise, vibration and harshness engineer at JLR.

[…]

Some carmakers are already trying to be a bit different. Citroen’s concept car, the Ami One, has a unique sound design for its AVAS. Here, the aim is to use a human voice — not to shout warnings to pedestrians while it glides by them, but as the basis for the sound, layering a male and female voice together into the sustained sound required by regulations. It sounds a bit like a digital backup singer, or a robot humming.

Perhaps they should copy these old electric vehicles and use the clinking of hundreds of glasses bottles.

Listen to this, ol’ timer

Here’s an addition to the god-that-makes-me-feel-old list — the Walkman turns 40 this year. Fancy having to explain to someone what a Walkman was. Or what Napster was…

Walkman turns 40 today: How listening to music changed over the years
Though it was first invented 40 years ago, in 1979, the iconic cassette tape player defined the decade when legwarmers weren’t part of costumes and Reaganomics ruled the land. It was the first device that allowed listeners to take music with them on the go (hence, the name).

Since then, we’ve evolved to CDs, iPods, and the current age of streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music. It’s easy to forget how revolutionary the Walkman was for its time, and that it marked a pivotal moment in the nearly 150-year-old history of recorded music.

With that in mind, here’s a look at how we’ve listened to music through the years — from the 1800s to today.

There are some great photos here. We’ve certainly gone through a number of formats here. I wonder what’s next.

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Seeing sounds

It was the one on how quartz watches work that first caught my eye, but I’ve been enjoying working my way through the rest of Steve Mould’s science videos.

These two are my favourites so far, though I’ve yet to see them all.

Laser + mirror + sound
A laser shining on a mirror driven by a speaker creates cool patterns.

Interaural time difference and how to find your phone instantly
The science of sound localization is really interesting. This video is specifically about interaural time difference and how mobile phone ringtones are badly designed for the way our brains detect sound direction. You can make you phone easier to find by changing the ringtone to white noise. Also, emergency vehicle sirens like ambulances are badly designed for the same reason.

The sounds of up north

Made as part of BBC4’s ‘Listen to Britain’, this glimpse into a typical day and night round here shows that it’s not all green Dales and romantic moors.

That Yorkshire sound
A hand drawn animated documentary, following the rhythms of a day in Yorkshire. It captures the sound of Yorkshire, from it’s multicultural and bustling cities like Bradford and Sheffield, to the delicate sounds of birds in the country side and the hypnotic rhythm of the motorways and train tracks.

Charting frustration

An interview with US artist, Christine Sun Kim.

An artist who channels her anger into pie charts
A series of her large-format charcoal drawings, which explore navigating the hearing world as a deaf person, are now on view at the 79th Whitney Biennial in New York. The six works pair depictions of varying mathematical angles with correlative, rage-inducing encounters that are both broadly applicable — “being given a Braille menu at a restaurant” or “offered a wheelchair at an airport” — and painfully specific to her experience — “curators who think it’s fair to split my fee with interpreters.”

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Channeling her experiences into images of geometric angles, musical notes and meme-like pie charts, Kim playfully combines different sign systems to create what she calls a “common language that all people can connect to.”

Sound mirrors

With parallels to that giant, concrete speaker in Taiwan, photographer Piercarlo Quecchia has tracked down all of Britain’s remaining strange and sculptural sound mirrors, built after World War 1 to detect incoming enemy aeroplanes.

Acoustic defense: photo series reflects on derelict British “sound mirrors”
“They represent an incredible demonstration of how sound can generate a physical form: both the curvature radius and the dimensions of the dishes are studied and designed according to the sound frequency that they must reflect,” explains the photographer. He hopes the series will continue to raise awareness of these artifacts.

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There are more images of these brutalist-looking structures on his website.

Sound Mirrors’ Portraits – Piercarlo Quecchia
They consist of concrete parabolas with a diameter of a few meters. In the twenties of the last century, their use combined with microphones, allowed to intercept planes directed towards the coast, discovering in advance any possible attacks. The need to be positioned near the coasts mainly in raised areas, the strong materiality of the concrete and their huge dimensions make them spectacular and extremely fascinating structures, able to dominate the entire surrounding landscape.

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Sonic art in Taiwan

What can one do with a 10 metre high brutalist concrete speaker on a Taiwanese island that was used to blare out propaganda across the sea to China? Use it as the venue for “Sonic Territories”, of course.

Beishan Broadcast Wall: Taiwan’s eerie sonic weapon
It is the Beishan Broadcast Wall on one of Taiwan’s Kinmen Islands, just 2km (1.2 miles) away from China’s Xiamen city. Built in 1967, the broadcast wall used to be a strategic military stronghold that played a key role in sonic warfare across the straits, blasting out anti-communist propaganda. Nearly three decades after the tower stopped functioning, a group of artists based in Berlin and Taiwan are turning the forgotten historical site into an experimental art stage that investigates the idea of ‘territories’ beyond the conventional definition.

Such a strange place. It’s difficult to imagine what life must have been like to live there during that time.

The interaction with the local people during the performance, however, can only faintly bridge the gap between young Taiwanese and history. “To me Kinmen is an insane place. We visit the islands as if they were a history museum or a cabinet of curiosity. People there still live in another era, and young Taiwanese cannot imagine how they felt living under the terror of dictatorship,” Chang says.

ArtAsiaPacific: Sonic Territories Performance Recap
Berlin-based French artist Augustin Maurs’ segment reflected on the opposition between sound and silence in relation to trauma. His sound piece, played via the wall of speakers, comprised incantations of statements about that duality—sound and silence—including a translated, Mandarin version of a gut-wrenching speech made in opposition to gun violence by 16-year-old Emma Gonzalez in the wake of Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting earlier this year. In explaining his work, Maurs told ArtAsiaPacific: “It is about silence and the act of choosing when to speak, even when one does not necessarily wish to do so.”

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Aural exhibition inspired by Kinmen’s Beishan Broadcast Wall bound for Berlin
Yang said instead of focusing on the pain caused by war, the exhibition emphasizes blessings, peace and the need to cloak the former battlefield with a sense of spiritual calm. It is also an attempt to heighten international awareness of Kinmen’s complicated history and the development of democracy in Taiwan, she added. […]

According to Yang, recordings of Kinmen residents detailing life on the island, as well as the sounds of the waves, wind and other signature aspects of the local soundscape, will take center stage at the Berlin leg of the exhibition. These are to be complemented by an atmospheric video capturing the visual contrast between Beishan and the nearby shoreline.

You can see that shoreline with Google Maps, as well as get a sense of the distances these broadcasts were originally travelling, across to China.

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Bei Shan Precipices

Or take a trip there to see for yourself.

Beishan Broadcasting Wall: Classic Kinmen Travel
Situated on the cliff on Beishan, the Broadcasting Wall was built to protect speakers in the broadcasting station, and has a square shape formed with 48 speakers. From the exterior, it looks like a hive, and the sound can travel as far as 25 kilometers… And is the only tourist site all over the country where visitors can announce and spread propaganda mimicking a psychological warfare.

Sounds familiar? Maybe not, anymore

Another online museum to lose yourself in.

Conserve the sound
»Conserve the sound« is an online museum for vanishing and endangered sounds. The sound of a dial telephone, a walkman, a analog typewriter, a pay phone, a 56k modem, a nuclear power plant or even a cell phone keypad are partially already gone or are about to disappear from our daily life.

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