A nice 30-minute radio documentary on famous phone phreaker Josef Carl Engressia, aka Joybubbles, with audio from his “Stories & Stuff” call-in recordings and interviews featuring John “Captain Crunch” Draper and “Jack the Ripper.”
Notes about audio
Seen above is a green disc, wax on brass, with an early recording of Hamlet’s “To be or not to be…” soliloquy, that likely hasn’t been heard in over 125 years. Created by Alexander Graham Bell’s Volta Laboratory in the late 19th Century and sent to the Smithsonian for archiving as they were created, the paranoid Bell failed to provide a playback mechanism for these discs, for fear that his competitors would appropriate his innovations.
Researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories are working on recovering these early audio recordings with a system called IRENE/3D that creates 3D optical scans of the old record-like discs:
Using methods derived from our work on instrumentation for particle physics we have investigated the problem of audio reconstruction from mechanical recordings. The idea was to acquire digital maps of the surface of the media, without contact, and then apply image analysis methods to recover the audio data and reduce noise.
The nifty thing about this form of hands-off scanning is that it can accommodate many types of otherwise mechanically incompatible media, from discs made of metal or glass to wax cylinders (quick, someone set this up to scan the Lazarus bowl!!). The 18-second snippet of Hamlet audio from the green disc above (maybe the voice of Bell himself?) has been posted on YouTube, or you can download more examples from the project in WAV and MP3 format.
The behind-the-scenes of one of my favorite Spike Jonze music videos, Pharcyde’s Drop (original video). The group had to learn to rap backwards to create the right lipsync for the effect, so Jonze hired a professional linguist to help transcribe the reversed audio track!
The BBC will be airing a never-before-seen interview this week with Delia Derbyshire, the woman who co-composed and performed the original Doctor Who theme, probably the most famous piece of purely electronic music. For a great account of the production (no synths back then, only novel, painstaking work involving test tone equipment, razor blades and tape!), check out Mark Ayres’s A History of the Doctor Who Theme.
(The interview will air on Inside Out, November 15 at 7:30pm on BBC One – not sure when/if those of us not in the UK will be able to see it, though…)
From Scientific American’s Observations blog, a report on a shared emotional code between music and speech:
Almost everyone thinks “Greensleeves” is a sad song—but why? Apart from the melancholy lyrics, it’s because the melody prominently features a musical construct called the minor third, which musicians have used to express sadness since at least the 17th century. The minor third’s emotional sway is closely related to the popular idea that, at least for Western music, songs written in a major key (like “Happy Birthday”) are generally upbeat, while those in a minor key (think of The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby”) tend towards the doleful.
The tangible relationship between music and emotion is no surprise to anyone, but a study in the June issue of Emotion suggests the minor third isn’t a facet of musical communication alone—it’s how we convey sadness in speech, too. When it comes to sorrow, music and human speech might speak the same language.
Or to quote Nigel Tufnel: “It’s part of a trilogy, a musical trilogy I’m working on in D minor which is the saddest of all keys, I find. People weep instantly when they hear it, and I don’t know why.”
Yukikaze, a “physical output device for a spectrum analyzer”. The idea is surprisingly simple, with elegant results: a case with powder beads that get blown around by sixteen DC fans mounted beneath, their speed controlled by Max/MSP. Real-life visualization fun.
The world’s only working (modern) Pallophotophone plays 80-year-old NBC radio broadcasts:
The pallophotophone was an early audio recorder created by GE researcher Charles Hoxie in 1922. Rather than using magnetic wire or lacquer disks, the device captured audio waveforms on sprocketless 35 mm film as a series of 12 parallel tracks reflected from a vibrating mirror. It was used to record some of the world’s oldest surviving radio broadcasts on Schenectady, New York radio station WGY between 1929 and 1931.
As a forgotten optical medium, I guess its more modern analog would be laserfilm discs. Sort of working along the right path, but just not practical compared to other media coming out at the time. There’s more about the rediscovered pallphotophone recordings on the GE Reports blog.
Sonar from Renaud Hallée on Vimeo.
Sonar by Renaud Hallée. Hypnotic music visualization (keyframe animated rather than generative, though). Reminds me of a cross between a backwards Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan and my favorite NASA video of all time, the Huygens Probe Descent Camera.
(Via Kitsune Noir)
The Discover blog reports on a Potemkin army:
Russian balloon maker Rusbal is working on an order from the country’s defense ministry to supply full-scale inflatable military models. The realistic-looking hardware is used in battlefield positions and to protect Russian strategic installations from surveillance satellites, distracting snoops and protecting real combat units from strikes. They can look like real vehicles in the radar, thermal, and near infra-red bands, so they’d even look right through night-vision goggles.
And now from Shakespeare’s Macbeth (Act V Scene IV — you know, the cool part where the incoming army disguises itself as the Birnam forest):
Let every soldier hew him down a bough
And bear’t before him: thereby shall we shadow
The numbers of our host and make discovery
Err in report of us.
Nothing much new, then. Simple visual misdirection is the magician’s greatest asset.
Research video demonstrating an ability to automatically select individual elements of a recorded song (like the vocal track, guitar solo, ringing cellphone, etc) by singing, whistling, or even Beavis & Butthead style grunting in imitation. Not 100% perfect, but it’s very clever. (I wish the video was embeddable…)
Here’s a link to the original paper (PDF) presented to at the 2009 ACM User Interface Software and Technology symposium.
From Endless loop: A brief history of chiptunes:
Pressure Cooker was an ambitious exception among its contemporaries. In 1980, most home computer music remained limited to single-voice melodies and lacked dynamic range. Robert “Bob” Yannes, a self-described “electronic music hobbyist,” saw the sound hardware in first-generation microcomputers as “primitive” and suggested that they had been “designed by people who knew nothing about music” (Yannes 1996). In 1981, he began to design a new audio chip for MOS Technology called the SID (Sound Interface Device). In contrast to the kludgy Atari TIA, Yannes intended the SID to be as useful in professional synthesizers as it would be in microcomputers. Later that year, Commodore decided to include MOS Technology’s new SID alongside a dedicated graphics chip in its next microcomputer, the Commodore 64. Unlike the Atari architecture, in which a single piece of hardware controlled both audio and video output, the Commodore machine afforded programmers greater flexibility in their implementation of graphics and sound […]
When I saw this headline linked by Waxy I took it to be an overview of the recent (late 90’s to now) chiptune music craze, but it’s actually a nice little overview of the nearly 30 years old history of writing music on game hardware. Even includes sections on cracktros, the demoscene, and the early advent of trackers, along with some good videos of the relevant technology.
(Photo of the SID chip via Chris Hand)
The Proclamation of the European Environmental Criminal Court at World Venice Forum 2009 as read by a piano.
For possibly the first time in 80 years this Krazy Kat cartoon, Ratskin, has been reunited with its original soundtrack recording, discovered on a rare Vitaphone disc in Australia. Found via Cartoon Brew, who has a good writeup of the discovery.
(note for George Herriman fans: the animated escapades of Krazy generally have little to do with the comic strip, more closely resembling Oswald the Lucky Rabbit or Felix the Cat’s hijinx)