Posts published during January, 2010

From 1955 through 1963, the Acoustical Society of America published NOISE Control, a bimonthly journal dedicated to noise abatement. Focused mostly on technical solutions, NOISE Control was scientifically serious, though vexed by the subjective nature of listening for its entire life. It also ran amazing ads. (Interspersed here.)

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A couple summers ago, we went to a water park in Saigon, Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh City). The bus ride home featured: honking, talking, air brakes, and a cover of Patsy Cline’s biggest single.

This is an installation called “Sonolevitation” by the artists Dmitry Gelfand and Evelina Domnitch. Objects – here, little triangles of gold leaf – are trapped in negative pressure zones created by standing waves of sound. The symmetry of the leaves as they rotate is lovely.

Gelfand and Domnitch are neo-Mr. Wizards, exploiting simple-strange physical phenomena in artwork that is, essentially, about how weird and vast the universe is. (Be sure to check out some of their other stuff as well.)

G+D describe Sonolevitation as a research project about the behavior of objects in microgravity, where motion is frictionless. But what Sonolevitation most effectively exploits (and demonstrates) are our biases about matter here on Earth. If the piece used the airflow from two fans to hold the objects in place, it would be much less striking. We’re used to the idea that streams of ventilated air exert physical pressure. Not so with sound. Sonolevitation “wows” us because we imagine sound as propagating in an autonomous and indescribable channel – a channel that isn’t quite physical. There is, then, a cognitive dissonance in watching it exert a visible force.

Sonolevitation will be at festivals in Great Britain and France this March.

Above: “Soundshape Frame,” from the blog of the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia

Above: Thomas Ashcraft’s recording of the invasion of Baghdad, 2003. From

This is a follow-up to the previous post, which was a general typology of sound maps. Many readers wrote in with more maps that, in one way or another, extend the format. Ten of them are listed here.

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Sound maps are graphic catalogs of music, noise, local ambient color, or anything else audible. Most often based on city boundaries, they typically plot sound on a Google Map (or something similar) – as art projects, policy evidence, historical archives, or consumer tools.

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A spectrogram is a three-dimensional picture of sound – any sound. The three dimensions are time, frequency, and amplitude. Spectrograms usually look abstract, like successions of clumsy paint strokes or stills from Tron. They’re useful for sound engineers, but not all that good to look at. However, some software can also conduct spectral analysis in reverse, translating images into sound. In this case, the images are clear and the audio typically abstract.

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