In a cavernous facility at Birmingham City University in the U.K., the Internet is not so much a grand idea as it is a great machine. And as a machine—as a beast that hulks and hums and whines and whirs—the Internet is loud. It emits a noise that manages to be low-pitched and high at the same time.
As Slate’s Lily Hay Newman points out, that noise can be extremely grating to the workers who are forced to endure it every day. The Internet’s data centers are both ”LOUD and COLD,” one of those workers put it on a messaging board. As another wrote on a Quora thread, ”Think of the sound from the fan on your computer. Multiply that by 20 times or more. Think what thousands of those all going at once would sound like.”
But what does that actually sound like? How do you hear the cloud? The sound artist Matt Parker has been, on behalf of the rest of us, finding out. Parker has been touring data centers—the physical grounds of the ephemeral cloud—and recording the results, painstakingly compiling a collection of the audible Internet. He has also been converting the raw recordings of those data centers into sound compositions that are equal parts haunting an ethereal—musical renderings of the great churn of an Internet whose workings are otherwise silent to us.
Read more. [Image: Shutterstock/Tigger11th]
How digital technology is transforming our relationship with sound.
In late January, a group of musicians, led by the trombone player Glen David Andrews, paraded through the narrow hallways of New Orleans’ City Hall and into the chamber of the City Council. They played trumpets and horns, cymbals and saxophones, snare drums and tubas. They danced. They sang a song called “Music Ain’t a Crime.” They held signs reading “we will be heard.”
Andrews and his fellow musicians were protesting a proposed new noise-control ordinance that would re-imagine the sound regulations of the city’s storied Bourbon Street. Noise in the area has been a matter of law since 1831, when the young city adopted an ordinance—one “concerning Inns, Boarding-houses, Coffee-houses, Billiards-houses, Taverns, Grog-shops, and other houses with the city of New-Orleans”—that forbade “cries, songs, noise or … disturbing … the peace and tranquility of the neighborhood.”
Since approximately 1831, such noise regulation has been a matter of controversy. There are, when it comes to controlling the sounds of the city, competing constituencies: tourists, residents, bar owners, professional musicians, less-professional musicians. There are First Amendment considerations at play (noise-making and personal expression being intimately acquainted). There’s money at stake. There are cultural sensitivities to be respected and navigated.
“You have to do it very carefully,” says David Woolworth, a principal at the firm Oxford Acoustics, “because people take it really personally when you go after their music.”
Discovered by the same people who brought you the modern computer.
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Spend any time performing classical music and you are told that appearance matters. A choir can enter a hall and, through their demeanor alone, receive applause. A band strolling on to a darkened stage gets cheers. We live with YouTube music videos as much as we live with invisible MP3s, and what we see prepares us, excites us, primes us, for what we’re about to hear.
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This recording appears to be a beluga whale named NOC trying to imitate human speech. NOC was captured in 1977 and became a part of the Navy’s Marine Mammal Program in San Diego. After seven years, NOC started to make noises that humans in the water mistook for human speech. Shortly thereafter, NOC was identified as the source of the sounds and the researchers began to run experiments to figure out how he was doing it. Four years later, NOC stopped “talking,” and almost 25 years later, Sam Ridgeway and colleagues published a paper on his vocalizations in the journal Current Biology.
As you can hear yourself, the white whale was not very good at talking. Then again, the whales, like dolphins, don’t have a larynx. That meant that the whale had to come up with a way to use his existing mechanism to imitate the rhythms of human speech. In fact, the researchers found that these vocalizations were not much like his normal whaletalk. For starters, they were several octaves lower, and they displayed a cadence that matches human speech.
[Image: Spatial Agency]
Red Bull’s Stratos mission set multiple records on October 14, 2012, when Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner rode a balloon up to 128,100 feet and jumped. He set records for highest manned balloon flight and fastest free fall, and became the first human to break the sound barrier outside a vehicle. He also set a YouTube record for most-watched live stream; more than 8 million people tuned in. Here, the instantly iconic event is reenacted with LEGO figures in a short video promoting Vienna’s Model Maker Fair. With a tiny balloon and a GoPro camera, the recreation is spot-on.
A lifetime of Disney movies has trained me to have certain expectations about animal sounds, most especially with regard to the King of the Jungle, the lion. The best lion has the best roar. Them’s just the rules.
But now, courtesy of Ed Yong’s eagle eye, we have scientific evidence that a lion’s roar says very little about an animal’s role in the jungle’s hierarchy. A team analyzed the roars of 24 lions collected over decades in an effort to discern whether there were meaningful correlations between the features of the roar and the animal’s sexual fitness.
Read more. [Image: Reuters]