Subterranean Saxophony

[Image: Photo by Steve Stills, courtesy of the Guardian].

Over in London later today, the Guardian explains, composer Iain Chambers will premiere a new piece of music written for an unusual urban venue: “the caverns that contain the counterweights of [London’s Tower Bridge] when it’s raised.”

The space itself has “the acoustics of a small cathedral,” Sinclair told the newspaper, citing John Cage as an influence and urging readers “to listen to environmental sounds and treat them as music,” whether it’s the rumble of a bridge being raised or the sounds of boats on the river.

In fact, Chambers will be performing one of Cage’s pieces during the show tonight—but, alas, I suspect it is not this one:

It is rumored that the final, dying words of composer John Cage were: “Make sure they play my London piece… You have to hear my London piece…” He was referring, many now believe, to a piece written for the subterranean saxophony of London’s sewers.

Read much more at the Guardian—or, even better, stop by tonight for a live performance.

(Spotted via @nicolatwilley).

Forest Megaphone

[Image: Photo by Tõnu Tunnel].

These architectural objects are “gigantic wooden megaphones” for the forest, part of an acoustic installation in Estonia’s gorgeous Pähni Nature Centre for amplifying the sounds of the landscape.

[Image: Photo by Tõnu Tunnel].

“According to interior architect Hannes Praks,” we read in a newly published press release, “who leads the Interior Architecture Department of the [Estonian Academy of Arts] that initiated the installation project, the three-metre diameter megaphones will operate as a ‘bandstand’ for the forest around the installation, amplifying the sounds of nature.”

The actual design is by a student named Birgit Õigus.

[Image: Photo by Tõnu Tunnel].

Part building, part furniture, part recreational folly, they’re meant to focus visitor attention on the smallest acoustic details of the site—rainfall, branches brushing against one another in the breeze, distant footsteps, thunder.

[Image: Photos by Tõnu Tunnel].

Sit in them, read books, whisper to friends, listen to birds.

[Image: Photo by Tõnu Tunnel].

Not having visited these in person, I can’t speak to their performance—i.e. whether they function as planned—and the relatively orderly placement of each structure in the woods might very well lead to some unfortunately conservative acoustic effects.

[Image: Photo by Tõnu Tunnel].

Nonetheless, it’s a great idea for a project, and the geometric simplicity of the stained timber frame is compelling.

[Image: Photo by Tõnu Tunnel].

Of course, these bring to mind the so-called “acoustic mirrors” of coastal Britain that we looked at here more than a decade ago.

[Image: Photo by Tõnu Tunnel].

In turn, makes me wonder how these forest megaphones might appear six or seven decades from now, when small groups of hikers stumble upon the moss-covered forms of this old acoustic infrastructure, trying to determine amongst themselves if the strange audio effects and interrupted echoes they notice still filtering through the wooden forms are a curious accident or an engineered goal.

[Image: Photo by Tõnu Tunnel].

Horse Skull Disco

[Image: Horse skull via Wikimedia].

If you’re looking to install a new sound system in your house, consider burying a horse skull in the floor.

According to the Irish Archaeological Consultancy, the widespread discovery of “buried horse skulls within medieval and early modern clay floors” has led to the speculation that they might have been placed there for acoustic reasons—in other words, “skulls were placed under floors to create an echo,” we read.

Ethnographic data from Ireland, Britain and Southern Scandinavia attests to this practice in relation to floors that were in use for dancing. The voids within the skull cavities would have produced a particular sound underfoot. The acoustic skulls were also placed in churches, houses and, in Scandinavia especially, in threshing-barns… It was considered important that the sound of threshing carried far across the land.

They were osteological subwoofers, bringing the bass to medieval villages.

It’s hard to believe, but this was apparently a common practice: “the retrieval of horse skulls from clay floors, beneath flagstones and within niches in house foundations, is a reasonably widespread phenomenon. This practice is well attested on a wider European scale,” as well, even though the ultimate explanation for its occurrence is still open to debate (the Irish Archaeological Consultancy post describes other interpretations, as well).

Either way, it’s interesting to wonder if the thanato-acoustic use of horse skulls as resonating gourds in medieval architectural design might have any implications for how natural history museums could reimagine their own internal sound profiles—that is, if the vastly increased reverberation space presented by skulls and animal skeletons could be deliberately cultivated to affect what a museum’s interior sounds like.

[Image: Inside the Paris Natural History Museum; photo by Nicola Twilley].

Like David Byrne’s well-known project Playing the Building—”a sound installation in which the infrastructure, the physical plant of the building, is converted into a giant musical instrument”—you could subtly instrumentalize the bones on display for the world’s most macabre architectural acoustics.

(Via @d_a_salas. Previously on BLDGBLOG: Terrestrial Sonar).

Terrestrial Sonar

I found this thing in my desk again last night, and, as you can tell from the date in the image, below, it’s been following me around since 1998 (!). However, after seventeen years of carrying random clippings like this around in files, folders, drawers, and envelopes—after all, this is only one of many dozens—I decided it was time to get rid of it.

But not before writing a quick post.

[Image: From Scientific American, September 1998].

The original article actually appeared in Scientific American way back in their 1898 issue, making the fragment, scanned above, just a snippet published 100 years later.

The original was called “A Brazilian Indian Telephone,” and you can read it over at Archive.org. Here’s the bulk of the story:

Mr. Jose Bach, in a narrative of his travels among the Indians of the regions of the Amazon, describes in L’lllustration an instrument by means of which these people communicate with each other at a distance.

These natives live in groups of from one hundred to two hundred persons, and in dwellings called “maloccas,” which are usually situated at a distance of half a mile or a mile apart. In each malocca there is an instrument called a “cambarisa,” which consists essentially of a sort of wooden drum that is buried for half of its height in sand mixed with fragments of wood, bone, and mica, and is closed with a triple diaphragm of leather, wood, and India rubber.

When this drum is struck with a wooden mallet, the sound is transmitted to a long distance, and is distinctly heard in the other drums situated in the neighboring maloccas. It is certain that the transmission of the sound takes place through the earth, since the blows struck are scarcely audible outside of the houses in which the instruments are placed.

After the attention of the neighboring maloccas has been attracted by a call blow, a conversation may be carried on between the cambarisas designated.

According to Mr. Bach, the communication is facilitated by the nature of the ground, the drums doubtless resting upon one and the same stratum of rock, since transmission through ordinary alluvial earth could not be depended upon.

While, in and of itself, this is pretty awesome, there are at least two quick things that really captivate me here:

1) One is the simple idea that the geology of the forest itself can be instrumentalized and turned into a “telephone” network, in the most literal, etymological sense of that word (voices [-phone] at a distance [tele-]). The landscape itself becomes a percussive grid of underground communication, pounding out messages and warnings from home to home, like submarine captains pinging Morse code to one another in the deep.

It’s fascinating and, in fact, deeply strange to imagine that little rumblings or booms in the soil are actually homes corresponding to one another—and that, given the context, they might actually be talking about you.

2) The other thing is how this could be updated or, as it were, urbanized for today. You go down into the basement to get away from your family, bored of your life, trapped in a house you want to leave, wondering if you’ll ever meet true friends, and you start randomly tapping away on the sump pump, when—lo!—someone actually answers back, skittling out a little rhythm for you from another cellar just up the street. A whole suburb of feral children, drumming messages to each other in the dark, hammering on their basement floors.

It’s like those scenes in old prison flicks, where two men tap back and forth all night on their cell walls, only, here, it’s people banging on cellar floors in New York City high rises or hitting sump pumps with mallets in the wilds of suburbia, speaking back and forth through their own “Brazilian Indian Telephone,” a kind of terrestrial sonar.

(See also: using barbed-wire fences as rural telephones).

The Los Angeles County Department of Ambient Music vs. The Superfires of Tomorrow

You might have seen the news last month that two students from George Mason University developed a way to put out fires using sound.

“It happens so quickly you almost don’t believe it,” the Washington Post reported at the time. “Seth Robertson and Viet Tran ignite a fire, snap on their low-rumbling bass frequency generator and extinguish the flames in seconds.”

Indeed, it seems to work so well that “they think the concept could replace the toxic and messy chemicals involved in fire extinguishers.”



There are about a million interesting things here, but I was totally captivated by two points, in particular.

At one point in the video, co-inventor Viet Tran suggests that the device could be used in “swarm robotics” where it would be “attached to a drone” and then used to put out fires, whether wildfires or large buildings such as the recent skyscraper fire in Dubai. But consider how this is accomplished; from the Washington Post:

The basic concept, Tran said, is that sound waves are also “pressure waves, and they displace some of the oxygen” as they travel through the air. Oxygen, we all recall from high school chemistry, fuels fire. At a certain frequency, the sound waves “separate the oxygen [in the fire] from the fuel. The pressure wave is going back and forth, and that agitates where the air is. That specific space is enough to keep the fire from reigniting.”

While I’m aware that it’s a little strange this would be the first thing to cross my mind, surely this same effect could be weaponized, used to thin the air of oxygen and cause targeted asphyxiation wherever these robot swarms are sent next. After all, even something as simple as an over-loud bass line in your car can physically collapse your lungs: “One man was driving when he experienced a pneumothorax, characterised by breathlessness and chest pain,” the BBC reported back in 2004. “Doctors linked it to a 1,000 watt ‘bass box’ fitted to his car to boost the power of his stereo.”

In other words, motivated by a large enough defense budget—or simply by unadulterated misanthropy—you could thus suffocate whole cities with an oxygen-thinning swarm of robot sound systems in the sky. Those “Ride of the Valkyries”-blaring speakers mounted on Robert Duvall’s helicopter in Apocalypse Now might be playing something far more sinister over the battlefields of tomorrow.

However, the other, more ethically acceptable point of interest here is the possible landscape effect such an invention might have—that is, the possibility that this could be scaled-up to fight forest fires. There are a lot of problems with this, of course, including the fact that, even if you deplete a fire of oxygen, if the temperature remains high, it will simply flicker back to life and keep burning.

[Image: The Grateful Dead “wall of sound,” via audioheritage.org].

Nonetheless, there is something awesomely compelling in the idea that a wildfire burning in the woods somewhere in the mountains of Arizona might be put out by a wall of speakers playing ultra-low bass lines, rolling specially designed patterns of sound across the landscape, so quiet you almost can’t hear it.

A hum rumbles across the roots and branches of burning trees; there is a moment of violent trembling, as if an unseen burst of wind has blown through; and then the flames go out, leaving nothing but tendrils of smoke and this strange acoustic presence buzzing further into the fires up ahead.

Instead of emergency amphibious aircraft dropping lake water on remote conflagrations, we’d have mobile concerts of abstract sound—the world’s largest ambient raves—broadcast through National Parks and on the edges of desert cities.

Desperate, Los Angeles County hires a Department of Ambient Music to save the city from a wave of drought-augmented superfires; equipped with keyboards and effects pedals, wearing trucker hats and plaid, these heroes of the drone wander forth to face the inferno, extinguishing flames with lush carpets of anoxic sound.

(Spotted via New York Magazine).

London Bells / Urban Instruments

[Image: Outside the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, London; all photos by BLDGBLOG].

Before leaving London last week, I learned that the Whitechapel Bell Foundry was offering walk-in tours for the duration of the Olympics, so Nicola Twilley and I headed out to see—and hear—what was on offer.

[Image: Inside the Whitechapel Bell Foundry].

I’d say, first off, that the tour is well worth it and that everyone on hand to help us along on the self-guided tour seemed genuinely pleased to have members of the public coming through. Second of all, if you have any interest at all in the relationship between cities and acoustics—say, the influence of bells on neighborhood identity or the subtle differences in city soundscapes based on different profiles moulded into church bells—then it’s a fabulous way to spend the afternoon.

We were there for nearly two hours, but I still felt like we were rushing.

[Image: Bell-making tools at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry].

In any case, the Foundry bills itself, and is apparently recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records, as the oldest manufacturing company in Britain. They made Big Ben; they forged the first Liberty Bell; they created, albeit off-site, the absolutely massive 23-ton 2012 Olympic Bell; and, among thousands of other, less well-known projects, they even made the famed Bow bells whose ringing defines London’s Cockney stomping ground.

[Image: The ingredients of loam].

The self-guided tour took us from buckets of loam, used to shape the earthen moulds into which “bell metal” (an alloy of copper and tin) is later poured during casting, all the way to the mind-blowing final sight and sound of the bell-tuning station.

Here are some quick photos, then I’ll come back to the tuning process.

[Images: Interior of the Foundry, plus some of the casting/pouring equipment. In the bottom two images, the frames visible on the back wall were used to cast, from left to right, Big Ben; the original Liberty Bell; the Bow bells; the enormous 2012 Olympic Bell; and another bell, on the far right, that I unfortunately don’t remember].

The next sequence shows the casting of hand bells. We were basically in the right place at the right time to see this process, as the gentleman pictured—whose denim vest had written on it in black marker, “I’m not mad, I’m mental, HA! HA! HA!”—pulled apart the suitcase-like casting frame seen in these photos to reveal gorgeously bright golden bells sitting silently inside.

Using powder, almost like something you’d use to sugar a cake, and an air-hose, he removed the bells from their loamy matrix and got the frame ready for another use.

[Image: The bells are revealed and powdered].

The whole thing was a kind of infernal combination of kilns and liquid metal, soundtracked by the sharp metallic ring of bells resonating in the background.

As the origin site for urban instruments—acoustic ornaments worn by the city’s architecture to supply a clockwork soundtrack that bangs and echoes over rooftops—the Foundry had the strange feel of being both an antique crafts workshop of endangered expertise (kept afloat almost entirely by commissions from churches) and a place of stunning, almost futuristic, design foresight.

In other words, the acoustic design of the city—something that isn’t even on the agenda of architecture schools today, considered, I suppose, too hard to model with Rhino—was taking place right there, and had been for centuries, in the form of vast ovens and casting frames out of which emerge the instruments—shining bells—that so resonantly redefine the experience of the modern metropolis.

So that brings us to the final stage of the Foundry tour, which was the tuning station.

[Images: Tuning a bell; note the shining flecks of metal on the floor, which have been scraped out of the bell in order to tune it. “Tuning” is thus a kind of mass reduction, or reductive sculpting].

Assuming I remembered this correctly, modern bells are tuned by having tiny bits of metal—mere flecks at a time—scraped or cut away from the inside. This produces an incredible texture of bright, polished grooves incised directly, even violently, into the metal; the visual effect is absolutely magical.

[Image: The grooved interior of a recently tuned bell; in the bottom image, note the word “tenor” written on the bell’s inner rim].

Even better, while these massive bells are rotating anti-clockwise on their turning plates, having their insides scraped away, they are actually ringing!

Deep below the abrasive droning roar of the bell turning you can make out the resonant tone of the bell itself. The effect was like listening to tuned rocks falling endlessly in a tumbler, polished into acoustically more beautiful versions of themselves. This process alone could make a new instrument: a full orchestra of bell-tuning stations, as if mining shaped metals for their sounds.

Finally, then, the tuning process is controlled by one of three ways, often used in combination. One uses software; you bang the bell with a mallet and the software tells you if it’s resonating at the right frequencies. The second method uses an oscilloscope, which looks like something straight out of a 1980s submarine-warfare movie.

[Image: As if looking for ghosts inside the bell, the oscilloscope spins and glows].

And the third is much more analogue, relying entirely on the tuner’s own sense of pitch and the use of tuning forks.

[Image: Tuning forks at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry].

At the risk of going on too long about this, there really was something almost indescribably beautiful about the tuning process: watching, and listening to, otherwise featureless metal surfaces be sculpted and inscribed from inside by an anti-clockwise machine as the weird circular howl of the bell grew gradually more distinct, more precisely pitched with every scraping away of unpolished metal.

Being, as you’ll know by now, prone to clichés, I can’t help but think of William Blake’s “Satanic Mills” of the Industrial Revolution every time I enter an industrial facility these days, and a vision of some titanic factory somewhere in the pollution of a future era, spinning raw metal into bells, golden and shrieking things droning as if enspirited or possessed, is almost too fantastical to contemplate.

Anyway, the Whitechapel Bell Foundry is open for walk-in tours, for £10 per adult, until the end of the 2012 Olympics, after which the tours go back to advance reservations only (and the ticket price goes up to £12). Enjoy!

Impact / Collapse

[Image: A ghostlike “sonographic image” taken from part of Mark Bain’s sound file].

On the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, sound artist Mark Bain has released the full audio file of the sound of the Twin Towers collapsing, a melancholic howl terrestrially amplified by the region’s geology. You can listen to it here:

What you’re hearing is the “audification of the seismological data record,” as Bain explains it, “which occurred in the area of New York State, New Jersey, and New England during the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings on September eleventh, 2001.”

The data streams were acquired from Columbia University’s Geological survey lab, which run a network of earth monitoring stations in the area; with the closest being 34 km away from the epicenter of the event. A process of data conversion and signal translation was used to make the normally inaudible seismic waveforms both audible and to play back in real-time as the event unfolded. No other processing or effects were added to the tracks. The registration includes four events, two impacts and the two collapses along with the inbetween sounds of the drone of the earth. The heaviest impact of the collapse registered 2.4 on the Richter scale, a signal which traveled throughout the earth.

The piece is not intended as a memorial, Bain adds, but as “a bell-like alarm denoting histories in the making.”

Cathedral Scan

Artist Blake Carrington turns Gothic cathedrals into sound.

As Carrington explains it, his project Cathedral Scan—which will be performed live on Thursday, March 3, in the basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral in New York City—”translates the architectural plans of Gothic cathedrals into open-ended musical scores via custom software. Treating the plans as a kind of map, in the live performance Carrington navigates through them to create diverse rhythms, drones and textures.”

Groups of scanners filling the sonic spectrum may act in synch, forming a single harmonically-dense rhythm, or they may scan the plans at different speeds, resulting in complex polyrhythms. Each plan is treated as a modular score, with a distinct rhythm and timbre of its own. Also, by varying the speed and intensity of each scanning group, drone-like sounds may emerge based on the “resonant frequency” of the black and white plan.

Coming out later this month, March 2011, is an album version, on which Carrington’s work is “edited from a live concert in a large church space, and combines the direct signal created in software with the immense natural reverberation of the performance space.”

The video embedded above consists only of the “direct signal”—that is, “without spatial acoustics”—recorded during a concert in Montréal back in October 2009.

Of course, it’s difficult not to wonder what this might sound like applied to radically other architectural styles and structural types, from, say, the Seagram Building or the Forth Bridge to underground homes in Cappadocia. Further, it would be interesting to see this applied not just to plans or sections—not just to architectural representations—but to three-dimensional structures in real-time. Laser scans of old ruins turned from visual information to live sound, broadcast 24 hours a day on dedicated radio stations installed amidst the fallen walls of old temples, or acoustically rediscovering every frequency at which Mayan subwoofers once roared.

If you’re in NYC, be sure to check out Carrington’s concert.

(Thanks to Christophe Guignard, Sublamp, and Blake Carrington for the tip! Earlier: Listening to a machine made entirely from windows)

Acoustic Forestry

[Image: From Acoustic Botany by David Benqué].

We saw David Benqué’s Fabulous Fabbers project here on BLDGBLOG a few months ago, but his more recent work, Acoustic Botany, deserves similar attention.

Acoustic Botany uses genetically modified plants to produce a “fantastical acoustic garden,” where sounds literally grow on trees. “Desired traits such as volume, timbre and harmony are acquired through selective breeding techniques,” the artist explains.

[Image: From Acoustic Botany by David Benqué].

As Benqué writes:

The debate around Genetic Engineering is currently centered around vital issues such as food, healthcare and the environment. However, we have been shaping nature for thousands of years, not only to suit our needs, but our most irrational desires. Beautiful flowers, mind altering weeds and crabs shaped like human faces all thrive on these desires, giving them an evolutionary advantage. By presenting a fantastical acoustic garden, a controlled ecosystem of entertainment, I aim to explore our cultural and aesthetic relationship to nature, and to question its future in the age of Synthetic Biology.

There are thus “singing flowers,” “modified agrobacteria” that ingeniously take “sugars and nutrients from the host plant to encourage the growth of parasitic galls and fill them with gas to produce sound,” and “string-nut bugs” that have been “engineered to chew in rhythm” inside hollow gourds.

[Image: From Acoustic Botany by David Benqué].

The symphonic range of sounds is then fine-tuned and modulated inside an acoustic lab using specialized equipment; out in the field, this takes the form of pruning trees into living chords, so that “harmonic note combinations” can bloom on a single branch.

Upscaling this to the level of all-out acoustic forestry would be an extraordinary thing to hear.

[Image: From Acoustic Botany by David Benqué].

I’m reminded of at least two quick things here:

1) Several years ago in the excellent British music magazine The Wire, there was an article about Brian Eno and “generative music,” in which the acoustic nature of backyard gardens was described quite beautifully based on the seasonal popping of seedpods, the rustle of leaf-covered fronds in evening breezes, and even, if I remember correctly, the specific insects that such plants might attract and support. Does anyone reading this have experience with planting a backyard garden based on its future acoustics?

2) Alex Metcalf’s Tree Listening project (which I have also covered elsewhere). “The installation,” Metcalf writes, “allows you to listen to the water moving up inside the tree through the Xylem tubes from the roots to the leaves.” Headphones hang down from the tree’s canopy like botanical iPods, and you put them on to lose yourself in arboreal surroundsound. Imagine a shortwave radio that allows you to tune not into distant stations sparkling with disembodied sounds and buzzing voices from the other side of the world, but into the syrupy tides of trees spiked with microphones in forests and sacred groves on every continent.

More images of Benqué’s project can be seen on the artist’s website.

(Spotted on Core77, thanks to a tweet from @soundscrapers).

Sonic Warfare

The opening scene of The Forever War by Dexter Filkins presents us with the sight of U.S. soldiers preparing for their invasion of Falluja. Filkins is there to witness the attack; amidst the growl of tanks and Humvees, and “by the light of airstrikes and rockets,” he writes, there is suddenly something sonically unexpected.


[Image: “An Advanced Individual Training Soldier in the Psychological Operations Specialist Course attaches a loud speaker on top of a High Mobility Multi-Wheeled Vehicle, or HUMVEE, at Forward Operating Base Freedom, Camp MacKall, N.C.” Courtesy of the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School].

“And then, as if from the depths,” Filkins writes, “came a new sound: violent, menacing and dire.”

I looked back over my shoulder to where we had come from, into the vacant field at Falluja’s northern edge. A group of marines were standing at the foot of a gigantic loudspeaker, the kind used at rock concerts.

It was AC/DC, the Australian heavy metal band, pouring out its unbridled sounds. I recognized the song immediately: “Hells Bells,” the band’s celebration of satanic power, had come to us on the battlefield.

While by no means advocating the use of sonic warfare as a tool in U.S. military adventures or police operations, I nonetheless instantly thought of this scene—of armed soldiers holding aloft rock-blaring boom boxes, like some John Milius-directed remake of Say Anything—when I read, in a very different context, that bark beetles can be driven out of the pine forests they currently infest if you play digitally-altered sounds of their own chewing back at them through loud speakers. The high-volume sound of themselves drives them away.

A research assistant suggested using sounds to aggravate the beetles, much as police sometimes blare music in hostage situations. The researchers tried Queen and Guns N’ Roses and played snippets of radio talker Rush Limbaugh backward. None produced the desired results.

Then, the beetles were exposed to digitally altered recordings of their own calls, the sounds they make to attract or repel other beetles. The response was immediate. The beetles stopped mating or burrowing. Some fled, helter-skelter. Some violently attacked each other.

Most important, they stopped chewing away at the pine tree, suggesting that the scientists may have discovered a sort of sonic bullet that could help slow the beetles’ destructive march.

Again, I do not mean to imply that infestation metaphors are the most appropriate to use when discussing Operation Phantom Fury, or that military action in that city was analogous to clearing a forest of bark beetles; but the audio possibilities here, and the specifics of the set-up, seem amazing.


[Image: A ponderosa pine forest; within those trunks might be beetles].

More about the actual experiment, run at Northern Arizona University’s Forestry Lab:

They collected tree trunks infested with bark beetles… Working in the lab, [research assistant Reagan McGuire] piped in the music through tiny speakers, the sort you might find in a singing greeting card. He watched the reaction of the beetles using a microscope. The rock music didn’t seem to annoy the bugs, nor did Rush in reverse.

McGuire and [Northern Arizona University forest entomologist Richard Hofstetter] decided to try something different. They recorded the sounds of the beetles and played them back, manipulating them to test the response.

Suddenly, every little thing they did seemed to provoke the beetles.

“We could use a particular aggression call that would make the beetles move away from the sound as if they were avoiding another beetle,” Hofstetter said.

When they made the beetle sounds louder and stronger than a typical male mating call, he said, the female beetle rejected the male and moved toward the electronic sound.

These audio simulations, in other words, had demonstrable physical effects on another species; their own warped sonic portrait drove them crazy.

So could you reprogram your Marsona 1288A (“create a personalized sound environment“) with the digitally-altered ambient sounds of termites and thus clear your house of insectile pests? The USDA, after all, has published a paper—download the PDF—explaining how a “portable, low-frequency acoustic system was used to detect termite infestations in urban trees.” Indeed, “termite sounds could be detected easily underneath infested trees, despite the presence of high urban background noise.” So why not reverse this—drive them out of the city using weird MP3s specially produced for boom cars?

Perhaps we should petition Clear Channel or Sirius XM to premiere a new, insect-only broadcast hour, killing ants and roaches in every city where it’s played (or perhaps just driving them all out, streaming from the floorboards, in a moment of utter horror).

I’m reminded here of the famous example of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles, with its “dog whistle—which humans can’t hear—buried on the album’s second side.” Only, in our case, it would be a different kind of beetle-whistle, and one with anti-infestational effects.

(Bark beetle story found via @treestrategist).

The exact acoustic shape of
the skies above Los Angeles

[Image: Photo by John Gay: an F/A-18 creates a condensation cone as it breaks the speed of sound].

An email was sent out last week from the Regional Public & Private Infrastructure Collaboration Systems (RPPICS) – an organization with no apparent web presence – warning many businesses in and around Los Angeles that city residents “could hear up to a dozen sonic booms this morning [June 11] as some NASA F/A-18 aircraft fly at supersonic speeds around Edwards Air Force Base.”

While the “loudness of the booms will vary,” we read, these are only “preliminary calibration flights for an upcoming NASA study” that will research how “to reduce the intensity of sonic booms.” Part of this will be studying “local atmospheric conditions,” including air pressure, wind speed, and humidity, as these all entail acoustic side-effects.

It’s a sonic cartography of the lower atmosphere: an echo-location exercise. The geometry of noise.

Sound-bombing L.A. from above in order to know the exact acoustic shape and structure of the sky.