Posts published during October, 2009

Fair warning: unlike the majority of Halloween content, this post is quite genuinely frightening.

Okkulte Stimmen

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Greater quiet has long been a major focus of consumer product engineering. Cars, computers, air conditioners, and almost any other gadget imaginable has been analyzed and refined in the name of drawing less attention to its operation.

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Sounding New Media: Immersion and Embodiment in the Arts and Culture
by Frances Dyson
University of California Press, 2009
262 pps., $24.95

There are, today, somewhere on the order of 1.67 billion internet users in the world. Staggeringly, about 1.65 billion of these are new since the mid-90s. Today nearly a quarter of the world’s population has a degree of internet access. Just over a decade ago, that figure was a fraction of a percent.

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The double-wide storefront across the street had been shuttered for two months. Once I saw some guys getting arrested in front of it on my way to work in the morning, but that was the most action to be observed there, and it seemed unrelated to whatever business was hiding inside. Then, just last weekend, the metal gates finally flung open, like God parting the waters at Yam Suph. But what was revealed was far more miraculous than anything in the bible.

The building is home to Buzz-a-Rama “500,” the last remaining slot-car establishment in the city of New York. The owner, Frank Perri, 74, claims that there used to be 30 or 40 such venues throughout the boroughs, back in the late 60s and 70s when he first opened. Children worked on their personal cars over the weekend, and then brought them in to race on lovely and elaborate courses. This article suggests that the name Buzz-a-Rama “captured the energy of the hundreds of teenagers and kids who used to crowd into the room on race days, and also the sound of the cars themselves, a high-pitched, insectlike whine — the sound of constant speed.”

A short documentary has Mr. Perri yelling at a child who claims his fingers are numb, among other amazing old slot-car guy moments.


Gay and Loud

The city of Pattaya, Thailand, closish to Bangkok, hosts an annual laughing contest.

The winner of the 2008 contest, who laughed for more than 12 minutes and reached 110 decibels

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This is a montage of crushing sadness and fleeting joy (the essence and the promise, respectively, of fandom.) Mostly joy, though, last night, because the Phillies won. I cheered silently for the concept of Manny Ramirez, and for Chan Ho Park’s fabulous new beard.

This spring, the music department borrowed a professional sound level meter from a company that sells them. I spent a day walking around and talking to people about noise in the city, using the reader to show them how loud their environments were. This brief interview was with two teenage girls on the Manhattan-bound Q train.

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In the 1950s, music enthusiasts in the Soviet Union made copies of banned Western records using sheets of x-ray film purchased from clinics and hospitals. Photographic film, like wax, acetate, or vinyl, is thick and firm enough to be used with commercially available music engraving machines. X-rays weren’t the ideal medium, being prone to warping, but they worked well enough, and were cheap to boot.

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I recorded something last week. I don’t know what. First order of business: do you?

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The physiology of the avian vocal apparatus is a lot more complex than the human’s. Birds have an organ called a syrinx (named for the Greek nymph – this is a human name, not a bird one – ed.) that sits at the bottom of the trachea. The human larynx, by contrast, is at the top.

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