Talking Glaciers

Klem@s, Flickr

Klem@s, Flickr

Climate change is studied and measured in a variety of ways. We see ocean levels rising, we feel temperatures getting warmer around the world, but what do we hear?

Scientists around the world have been studying glacier melting by listening to them, and it seems that the glaciers have a lot more to tell us than show us. It’s not an easy task to listen to a glacier, it’s actually an incredibly dangerous line of work. It’s easy to imagine how being close to a giant, melting, wall of ice puts you at risk for massive chunks to break off and crush you or rock your boat quite violently. Once close enough, a hydrophone -underwater microphone - is put in position to start gathering data.

To know what the hydrophone is listening for, small scale tests can be done in a lab with a tiny glacial ice cube. As the cube melts, ancient air bubbles trapped inside get released, pinching off into the water with cute pops and fizzes.

But when we’re talking about glacier fjords we’re certainly not talking about little ice cubes, and when those bubble pops are multiplied by the millions on a larger scale, the oceans sing with pops, cracks, hissing, and crashing that has become one of the loudest ambient noise in the ocean. As these sounds are studied more and more, useful data becomes apparent. More melting means more bubbles, and that means more noise.

Along with the bubbles, microphones will pick up the much more thunderous sounds of sheets of ice crashing into the water. Those glacier walls extend almost all the way to the bottom of the fjord though, and ice breaking off below the water as opposed to above the water can be almost impossible to see. Hydrophones reveal these events, however.

Listening to all these sounds that glaciers make help researchers to understand the speed at which they are melting much more accurately, ultimately giving us more insight into how ice and sea will affect the climate in years to come.

Further Reading & Listening

Thumbnail Photo by: J.casey.oneill, Flickr


Posted on July 8, 2015 and filed under Article.

The Ear's Worst Enemy

Sharon Drummond, Flickr

Sharon Drummond, Flickr

First thing that comes to mind? Nails on a chalkboard. This sound has always made the hair stand up on the back of witnesses necks. 

Turns out that this sound, along with others in similar pitch, all affect parts of the brain responsible for making us feel displeasure. A study done at Newcastle University in England found that the top 10 worst sounds for the human ear are:


1. A knife on a bottle

2. A fork on a glass

3. Chalk on a blackboard

4. A ruler on a bottle

5. Nails on a blackboard

6. A female scream

7. An angle-grinder (Power tool)

8. Squealing brakes on a bicycle

9. A baby crying

10. An electric drill

Anatomography, Wikipedia

Anatomography, Wikipedia

Hopefully you turned down your computer volume while listening to those. What exactly is going on here? Well, the unpleasant sound waves enter your ear, shoot through your cochlea (inner ear) to the cells responsible for registering frequencies from 2000hz - 5000hz, your auditory nerve brings this signal to your brain, and your brain's amygdala (responsible for negative emotions) freaks out a little. 



Most sounds DON'T activate the amygdala, it just so happens that these unpleasant 2000hz - 5000hz sounds do. There is a possible primitive link here. Take a look at the top 10 list again you'll notice that the only two naturally occurring sounds are a female scream and a baby crying. These are distress calls, and it makes sense that our brains would be most sensitive to these sounds. If distress calls were in a more pleasant range of pitch, then we'd be less likely pay so much attention to them and act on them. 100,000 years ago, for example, a scream could have signaled a predator or other danger. It just so happens that modern humans have invented all sorts of things that make sounds in that same unpleasant range.

For now, stay away from chalkboards and bad brakes, tend to your screaming children, and find a babbling brook nearby if your ears need break. Or check out our article on the "Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response" for some feel good sounds.

Thumbnail Photo by: Ben Husmann, Flickr 

Posted on June 22, 2015 and filed under Article.

Sound as a Weapon

A Sound Isn’t Good or Bad, Depends on the Person Who Uses It

Steampunk guns, Etsy

Steampunk guns, Etsy

Humans mainly use sound as a form of communication, but we've also established another use for it throughout history…Weapons. Think war drums, and chants, and blood curdling screams. All were used to cause your enemy to pause and perhaps reconsider the intelligence of their actions.

Sound as a deterrent is hardly a new development but the technology has definitely grown in the last couple of years, it won’t be long before that hand held sonic ray-gun replaces mace and tasers as the self defense weapon of choice.

Nazi Sound Cannon, Hubpages

Vladimir Gavreau, Wordpress

Vladimir Gavreau, Wordpress

Check out the first part of this Article by Simon Crab for a little insight into what happens to your body at different frequencies. Sound can affect your brainwaves, which leads to horrible experiences.

With that in mind Long Range Acoustic Devices (LRAD) are popping up all over the world as a “safer” means of controlling  and dispersing crowds. Even airports use them to keep animals clear of the runways.

Here is an in-depth look at what one such LRAD company has to offer:

It's a growing business with long range application possibilities. For good or ill,'s the new frontier.

Thumbnail Photo by: U.S Department of Defense, Flickr

Posted on June 21, 2015 and filed under Article.

Speech Reproduction

How unique is your voice?  

Poems and screenplays aside, it turns out not very.  For all of the hundreds of thousands of words in the english language, there are only about 40 unique sounds contained within them.  With those sounds, it is possible to create pretty faithful speech reproductions.

Stephen Hawking, Tech

Stephen Hawking, Tech

This technology is used for everything from giving people their lost voice back, to parodying people into saying whatever you want.  The more straight forward version of this is to simply have the computer speak in its own voice.  Probably the most famous example of this is Steven Hawkings' speech computer.  He types what he wants to say, and the artificial voice says it.

But a newer technology allows audio and software engineers to plug in the critical 40-or-so sounds from a person's voice, called phenoms.  From this array of sound snippets, almost any word can be re-created with a surprising degree of realism.

Roger Ebert, when he lost his jaw and voice to cancer, initially used his laptop with a generic computer voice to speak.  A couple of years later, a Swedish company worked with him to recreate his actual voice.  Because Roger no longer had his voice when the project started, he couldn't simply speak the sounds into a microphone at a studio.  They instead culled hours of commentary tracks he had previously recored from various films and pulled the sounds they needed.  The results are pretty great.  See links below.

A similar project was done with George Bush's voice.  you can try it here, and it's a lot of fun:

W Bush voice synthesis


Thumbnail Photo by: Ibmphoto24, Flickr


Posted on May 5, 2015 and filed under Article.

Don't Burst My Bubble

Don’t Burst my Sound Bubble!

Euritme, Pinterest

Euritme, Pinterest

Cymatics is the study of visible sound and vibration. Great, now being a visual person I went in search of an explanation of cymatics that I could See:

Onward to YouTube, my generation’s encyclopedia of knowledge!

Video: Photographer Alexander Lauterwasser.

Video: Frequencies Sound + Vibration

John Stuart Reid, Cymatica

John Stuart Reid, Cymatica


Cymatics has also been used to propose that sound isn't actually a wave, but a bubble that expands outwards from the point of origin. If my eight grade science teacher was right when he said that sound is like throwing a pebble into a pond and watching the ripples. If those ripples form in a circle around the pebble, does that mean sound ripples outward in a circles as well?




Two of my favorite Visual representations of sound:

The Big Bang Theory

Sherlock Holmes

Another great use of visual sound that is virtually always at your fingertips is your iTunes Visualizer. Try it with different types of music and observe the differences in how the images react to the beat.


Cymatics is a science that is well within the reach of any household, or scholastic institution.

What you might need:

* A sound machine: computer, phone, cd player, record player, even an old tape player will do.

* A decent speaker system (you might have to do a little research here, you want something that when you touch it will vibrate a little under your hand, and something you can lay flat. 

* A sturdy piece of relatively thin cardboard or card stock to lay over your speaker.

* Sand, or salt, or sugar, a powder that doesn’t stick to itself, to place on your cardboard. (Consider placing plastic wrap over your speaker so gritty goodness doesn't infiltrate the speaker shell.)

* You can also try putting a bowl of water over your speaker. Try adding  food coloring once you’ve got the water vibrating, to see how the coloring moves within the water.

Now where is Smell-o-vision, and when will that technology catch up with the rest?

Dimitri Detchev, Pinterest

Dimitri Detchev, Pinterest

Thumbnail photo by: Courtney Greene, Flickr

Posted on May 4, 2015 and filed under Article.


SURDS is either an irrational number (think… square root of 2) or a voiceless sound in speech (think B, C/S, F, H, K, P, S, T). It’s the sounds you make that don’t require the vibration of your larynx and are almost always produced by the forced exhalation of air.

Consequently they are the sounds that usually give your Sound Department the biggest headaches, and are your Dialogue Editor’s best friends (and sometimes their worst enemies….think….frenemies).

Allow me to explain:

Ribbon Mics, Emusician

Ribbon Mics, Emusician

For this demonstration we’re going old school: Ribbon Microphones. Click on the picture for a brief and easy introduction to ribbon microphones:

Ribbon microphones specifically and microphones in general are delicate instruments that use the velocity or pressure of air particles to capture sound.

When that forced exhalation of air that produces the majority of these surd sounds hits your oh-so-delicate microphone it causes something of an overload to the delicate filaments inside giving you that overly loud sound that presses on your eardrums and can be none to pretty.

Beat-boxers are the KINGS of Surds. They use them in combination with other sounds created by their voice box simultaneously to make phenomenal “music.” 

Notice how he is holding the microphone at an angle from his mouth? That is to prevent the air exiting his mouth from hitting the microphone dead on. 

Another studio fix that can be found in other videos is a POP FILTER. It usually consists of a material like nylon stretched over a hoop that diffuses the speed and pressure of the air exiting your mouth before it hits the microphone (it also has a secondary use as a saliva catcher).

Easy Homemade Pop Filter:

Embroidery Hoop: Purchasable at any sewing/craft store. They don’t need to be big, five inch diameter or even smaller should work just fine. For this plastic is better, less likely to have a piece that will snag on the nylon, but wood works as well.

Nylon Panyhose: Purchasable just about anywhere
Some way of holding it in front of your microphone

Step 1: Take one leg of the pantyhose and stretch them out by hand to loosen up the fiber.

Step 2: Depending on the size of the pantyhose you got, this goes one of two ways.

  • BIG SIZE: Slide the inner ring of the embroidery hoop INTO one of the legs, down to the foot, you want the material nice and stretched but not ripping. Once it is in the foot and nice and tight, put the outer embroidery hoop over the inner embroidery hoop, tighten, and then cut off your extra material. VOILA double pop screen.
  • SMALLER SIZE: Cut open one of the legs of the pantyhose so you have one single sheet of material. Lay it over the inner embroidery hoop. Again, you want it tight. Place the outer hoop over the inner hoop, make sure your fabric is nice and tight all around. Then tighten the out hoop to keep the fabric in place. Cut off the excess fabric. VOILA pop screen.

Step 3: Place in front of you microphone, I’ve seen this done with clamps, with a glued on dowel rod. Hung from the ceiling. Whatever works for you.

Pop Filters are great for preventing a microphone overload and a peaked audio file (ENEMY), resulting in a good, clean, sound. Dialogue editors who might be replacing a line of dialogue for a better version from a previous take, very often use those strong P's, B’s and T’s that have nice peaks on their wave form files to give them a reference to help line up the replacement words within the dialogue. (FRIEND) 

Thumbnail Photo by: Brian Stalter, Flickr

Posted on May 3, 2015 and filed under Article.

The Shepard Tone

Penrose Stairs, Wikipedia

Penrose Stairs, Wikipedia

We all know of M.C Esher's Penrose stairs. Everyone at some point in life has traced the steps with their eyes in a way that could never happen in the physical world.

What happens when this visual illusion becomes an aural illusion? Meet the Shepard Tone .

No matter how long you listen, this tone will always be ascending. So what's the secret? Well, it's a number of different notes separated by octaves, creating an eerie chord. Each note rises in pitch as it its volume fades in, and then it will gradually fade out. However, it's impossible to hear these fade ins and fade outs as new notes replace the ones that disappear, making it hard for your ears to focus on one note and creating the illusion of the never ending aural staircase.

The Shepard tone has been used in a number of forms of media, including Super Mario 64, songs from The Beatles, and movies. After learning about the tone, you'll never look at the Batman trilogy from Christopher Nolan the same way again. The Shepard tone is constantly used in the score and also in the Batpod to make it sound like it's accelerating infinitely. Take a listen to this montage of Batpod sequences and listen for the strategically placed tone.

Any Shepard Tone references you know of or have discovered after learning about it? Let us know by leaving a comment!

Thumbnail photo by: Tatton Partington, Flickr

Posted on May 2, 2015 and filed under Article.


Goose bumps, Wikipedia

Goose bumps, Wikipedia

Have you ever closed your eyes and just let soft sounds take over? Maybe a distant thunderstorm, a whisper, or that math teacher's voice that used to put you to sleep? If you ever get tingles down your neck, spine, or sometimes even your limbs, you are experiencing Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR). 

This is a phenomenon that has not yet undergone any scientific research, but hundreds of thousands of views and comments on YouTube provide evidence to support it. YouTube hosts the majority of ASMR sounds, which tends to include vloggers whispering into their microphone. These videos take a number of different forms. Some include a vlogger whispering a story, others include role-play haircuts and facials with complimentary scissor or bubble sounds, and some are just simply recordings of certain objects being tapped or touched.

It does take some experimenting to find what sounds personally give you goosebumps. Maybe it's the sound of hair being brushed, or the sound of Bob Ross' voice as he paints. There is an entire community of "Whisperers" out there just waiting to give you chills. Aside from a pleasurable experience, ASMR seems to help relieve insomnia, anxiety, and panic attacks according to YouTube comments. 

Maybe eventually there will be some scientific way of measuring the response to prove its existence, but for now just put on some headphones and become a part of this new trend.

Thunder & Rain

Hair Brush

Someone sound like Bob Ross

Thumbnail photo by: Valentina Calosci, Flickr

Beer Suds

Posted on May 1, 2015 and filed under Article.

First *Intentional* Recordings

The First Intentional Recordings

The first sound recordings were not done intentionally, and is the topic of another **link to post on pottery recordings**.  However the first intentional recordings were done in the mid 19th century. 

David Giovannoni, NY Times

David Giovannoni, NY Times

Contrary to popular assumption, these recordings, done with a device called the phonautogram, pre-date Edison's phonograph by twenty years.  Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville is the inventor, and his vision revolved completely around the recordings.  Today we take for granted that if you record something, you will be able  to listen back to it.  But with these initial recordings were designed to provide a visualization for various sounds in order to track loudness and/or pitch. 



They were used for scientific study of sound, not for listening back to the original sounds.  In fact, there was no way to play them back.  The subtle etchings on a black sooted background remained a silent historical object until 2008 when modern technology was used to decode and play back these early recordings.  The initial attempts at this decoding revealed that Scott's equipment was (not surprisingly) was not perfectly calibrated, and the voice and guitar that were captured played back at the wrong speed and pitch. "squawky".  The sounds were slowed down to what reasonably resembles human voice.  Here's one of the recordings and the attempt at decoding it!

Scott set out to record and visualize speech and sound;  he never wanted to play it back, while Edison's goal, by contrast, was specifically to recreate sound.

Scott felt that it was an inappropriate use of the technology to "reproduce" the sounds.  He wanted to transcribe speech as a typewriter or note-taker might.  Phonograph means "writing speech".

see **post on sound recovery*** on how to get theses sounds off the sooted paper and into your ears.

Posted on April 30, 2015 and filed under Article.