Time Lapse Audio

Legendary New York recordist Tony Schwartz came up in conversation at work today, and one of my colleagues mentioned “Nancy Grows Up,” a time-lapse audio essay documenting the development of his niece. While I consider myself a pretty big Schwartz fan (and a proud owner of a vinyl copy of New York 19), I had never heard this piece. Once I did, I was blown away, and haven’t stopped listening since:

Unlike time-lapse video, the sound segments themselves are not sped up, they simply cover a long range of historical time—in essence making this the female and sonic counterpart to Richard Linklater’s Boyhood. [Is there a mini essay in that idea?] Anyway, it turns out the piece has been featured on an episode of Radiolab (of course!), and has been the subject of a think piece on media and history. For more info on Schwartz, check out David Suisman’s story in Smithsonian Folkways Magazine.

Making Knowledge

My first week on the job at To the Best of Our Knowledge has been a crash course is seeing how radio gets made—and it still hasn’t lost any of the magic. This morning I sat in as next weekend’s show on “dual identities” was mixed. Pictured, left to right: producer Rehman Tungekar, host Anne Strainchamps in the recording booth, and engineer Caryl Owen. You can just make me out as a reflection above Anne’s head.

50 Stars

The American history nerd in me is happy to recognize that today marks the 55th anniversary of Hawaii’s statehood—and with it the 55th birthday of the 50-star American flag design. This image, taken from the Eisenhower Presendential Library, shows the official flag schematic that accompanied Executive Order 10834:

Despite what the Internet Archive might have you believe, then-President Eisenhower did not deliver a speech by William Jennings Bryant on the occasion.1 Instead, he just said a few words wishing Hawaii happiness and prosperity. Have a listen:

  1. For unknown reasons, the speech identified at that link as Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Hawaii Statehood Proclamation Speech is actually William Jennings Bryant’s “Against Imperialism” speech, recorded at the Democratic National Convention in Kansas City on August 8, 1900.

The Visual Microphone

In the 1858 edition of Wild Scenes and Songbirds, Charles Wilkins Webber speculated that sound waves might live on forever:

That a sweet sound should ever cease to be seems to me unnatural—at least unpoetical—for, let its vibrations once begin, though they may soon die to our gross sense, must they not go widening, circling on, stinging the sense of myriad other lives with a mysterious pleasantness (such as will overcome us in a wood upon an April day), until the uttermost bound of our poor space be past, and yet the large circumference go spread and spreading tremulous among the girdling stars? It may be so for all we can tell!

Webber’s notion of the perpetual sound wave has been shared by many writers, recordists, and sound engineers over time, who have dreamed that sound is always out there, and it is just a matter of learning how to capture it. Though sound is often generalized as being “temporal,” there is actually a nice line of thinking that has always imagined sound as infinite, stretching out through time and space, impacting everything around it until it girdles the stars.

Last week, a group of researchers at MIT made this previously speculative fantasy something close to a reality, with a process they are calling “the visual microphone.” The device is actually a high speed camera which can detect minute vibrations of objects in a room, and then translate these vibrations back into sound using an algorithm, even when the recording happened through soundproof glass. The results are not the highest in fidelity, but they are quite real, and quite good. Watch for yourself here:

This video (and many subsequent articles) inundated my Twitter feed last week, but perhaps no one said it better than my friend Nate Brown, who wrote to me, “The world has its own language.”

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”: