Hum and Sing - Ethan Rose

This morning while doing some packing I had a chance to catch up with Radius, a fantastic podcast and radio show featuring live-recorded compositions, experimental music and sound art. They are currently in the middle of GRIDS, a series of four commissioned broadcasts at Chicago-area electrical stations. Series episode 51 features a work by Ethan Rose called “Hum,” a droning interplay between the human voice and the electrical apparatus. You can listen to the entire 60-minute piece below, and read a write-up over at Vice.

I first came across Rose’s work back in 2010, when he did a collaboration with songwriter Laura Gibson called Bridge Carols, which is absolutely stunning. Here is the video for “Younger”:


Sound Systems and Animal Death

A heartbroken Wirth later said the horse was startled by what Wirth thinks was the sound of a starting gate bell coming from a commercial on Churchills massive new video board. The system includes 750 speakers. “We teach horses to break from that,” he said. “And you’ve got it on a loud speaker that everybody in a two-city block can hear. Well, what’s she going to do? She thinks shes supposed to take off. And thats what she did. And when she did, she lunged and she lost her balance and went down.”

That’s from a devastating story from ESPN this morning on how a loud sound may have been responsible for the death of a horse. Theres a lot to consider hereincluding the ethics of horse racing itselfbut it reaffirms for me how much there is to be done at the intersection of sound studies and animal studies from both the sciences and the humanities.


Earth/Sound/Apps

From Help Scientists Record One Day of Sound on Earth:

Bryan Pijanowski wants to capture the sounds of the world on a single day, and he needs your help. Beginning on Earth Day of this year, Pijanowski hopes to enlist thousands of people in recording a few minutes of their everyday surroundings with his Soundscape Recorder smartphone app.

Though I have yet to meet Bryan, I’ve been lucky enough to recently meet some of the people working directly with him (some at the recent workshop that I co-organized). I actually used the Soundscape Recorder app this morning with my students, and it was a really successful and interesting exercise. Luckily, most of my students have smart phones—though not all of them had the up-to-date operating systems required for the app—so we paired up and walked around Penn State’s campus capturing some local sounds, from the Creamery to the Arboretum.

After the recording process, the app asks you a bunch of questions, ranging from the factual (what did you hear?) to the loaded (how did it make you feel?). This gave the class a chance to discuss both what we recorded and the assumptions inherent in the act of recording and built-in to the app itself.


Hearing Cornell's First Birds

In honor of (early) Earth Day, here are some early recordings—in fact, they may be the first recordings officially done at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Tomorrow in class, I assigned some primary documents about the history of wildlife recording in the U.S., specifically the work of the Ornithology Lab in the 1920s. In digging up some almost-forgotten dissertation research and connecting some new dots, I’m pretty sure I can now can place the first recordings of wild birds that the ornithologists there recorded: a Rose-breasted Grosbeak and a Song Sparrow, both captured just outside of Ithaca on May 18, 1929.

(As an aside, it is almost impossible to prove that these kinds of “firsts” are actually “the first,” and in fact that isn’t super important to my work [or the narrative of the class], which tries to put these recordings into a much larger social and cultural context. But still, this kind of archival stuff is fun.)

In a 1938 article for The Journal of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers, Cornell Professor Peter Paul Kellogg discusses the outset of the recording projects at Cornell:

In May 1929, the Fox-Case Company sent out two men with equipment to Auburn, NY, to record sound pictures of wild birds for a springtime release. After spending considerable time about Auburn, with no success, they came to Cornell to enlist the help of Professor A.A. Allen, to make the birds hold still. From his long experience with bird photography Dr. Allen was able to help them out, and that morning songs of three common birds were recorded synchronously with motion pictures. 1

Now, if you search the archive of the Macaulay Library for recordings done in May 1929, you get two results: the Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and the Song Sparrow. Whatever the third bird was that morning, it sadly did not make it into the online archive, and is probably lost to time.

If you poke around a little bit on those pages, you can also find the links to directly download the files: Grosbeak and Sparrow.

Happy listening, everyone!

  1. P.P. Kellogg, “Hunting the Songs of Vanishing Birds with a Microphone,” Journal of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers 30.2 (February 1, 1938): 203.


What's Left Behind

Humanity is what is left behind when all media have been stripped out of our bodies and souls.

—John Durham Peters, “Helmholtz, Edison, and Sound History,” in Memory Bytes: History, Technology, and Digital Culture, ed. Lauren Rabinovitz and Abraham Geil (Durham: Duke University Press, 2003), 198.