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Sound Bites

This section features news items of general interest, from new research to unusual observations about sound.

This page features Sound Bites from January 2005-February 2007
Older items: October 2001-December 2004 [GO THERE]

For current Sound Bites: [GO THERE]

Motorcycle Helmets, Air Bags Blamed for Hearing Loss - Protection against accident injuries can have unintended side effects, two new stories report. Permanent hearing loss will occur in 17 percent of people exposed to airbag deployment in cars sold in the United States, new research suggests; hearing damage is most likely when car windows are down. In the UK, efforts are underway to protect motorcyclist's hearing. Air flow in and around motorcycle helmets is often loud enough to cause hearing damage, but a new design aims to reduce the noise to safe levels. Research has shown that up to 40 per cent of professional motorcyclists such as police and paramedics suffer significant hearing loss. "About time," said one rider, "I'm fed up with having to wear earplugs; if you forget a pair it can be agony riding." Source: Consumer Affairs, 2/14/07 [READ ARTICLE] The Sun, 2/24/07 [READ ARTICLE]

Sonic Fingerprints May Protect Artwork From Forgery - A new "sonic fingerprinting" technique could be used to identify forgeries of valuable works of art. Working on the principle that every object emits a distinct vibration, each piece of art or cultural artifact is fitted with a network of sensors, then tapped with a small rubber hammer. Recorded vibrations form a unique sonic fingerprint capable of distinguishing even works made in pairs or series. The process is noninvasive, takes just a few hours and can be used on stone, wood and ceramics. In addition to providing vital information about the "insides" of a work -- including structural flaws or fractures that could make restoration necessary or keep the work from traveling -- the fingerprint provides a valuable weapon against forgeries and theft, since the unique identifiers could be recorded and stored for future reference. Source: Wired News, 1/9/07 [READ ARTICLE]

New Airplane Design Aims for Near-silent Jets - A research consortium from Cambridge and MIT charged with reducing the noise of jet aircraft has designed a wedge-shaped plane that they claim would be quiet enough to be barely perceptible to neighbors during take-off. By mounting the engines above the plane, providing some sonic shadowing, and reducing flaps and other noise-producing elements, the plane will also be much quieter for passengers. Because of the need to expand airports in ever-more-populous suburban areas, noise reduction is becoming a key element in airplane design. This prototype has yet to pass through a phalynx of commercial, passenger comfort, and other design challenges and is not expected to be built for 25 years; until then, more efficient and quieter jet engines promise to make incremental reductions in airliner noise. Source: Wired News, 11/15/06 [READ ARTICLE] BBC News, 11/6/06 [READ ARTICLE]
Cambridge/MIT project website [WEBSITE]

Animals and Music: Stress Reduction in Fish, Monkey Lullabies, Drumming Primates - A nice feature from the Discovery Channel website runs down some recent research into ways animals respond to and use music. Monkeys seem to gravitate toward gentle lullabies but avoid electronic dance music; fish kept in the dark (which depresses growth rates) grew at near-normal rates when classical music was playing, and had lower stress-related neurotransmitter levels (unfortunately, this could be used to make life more tolerable for stressed, farmed fish); and gorillas, chimps, and bonobo apes both engage in drumming in ways that appear to be both individually and culturally distinct. Source:, 11/12/06 [READ ARTICLE]

Recordist Hempton Installs One Square Inch of Silence in Olympic National Park - Gordon Hempton, a natural sound recordist and master listener who gained a measure of fame during the 1990's boomlet in natural sound production, has created a physical expression of his long-time drive to encourage national parks to establish sonic refuges. In Olympic National Park, which is one of the places which the least intrusion of human sound in America, Hempton has established his first "One Square Inch of Silence," at a location that is generally free of human noise. Visitors, led by directions found on his website, are invited to visit the spot and leave their impressions in a jar. "Quiet is going extinct," Hempton said. "I wanted to find a quiet place and hang on to it and protect it." National park officials like the concept. "We're certainly aware of the need to take whatever measures we can to maintain the natural quiet," said park Superintendent Bill Laitner, who hiked to the spot with Hempton earlier this year. "We are so strapped for resources that there's just no way we can . . . do this kind of research on our own." Hempton has also released a CD recorded at the Olympic One Square Inch. Source: CNews/Canoe, 10/28/06 [READ ARTICLE] Hempton website [GO THERE]

Listening for Cancer Cells - Researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia can now detect the spread of skin cancer cells through the blood by literally listening to their sound. The unprecedented, minimally invasive technique causes melanoma cells to emit noise, and could let oncologists spot early signs of metastases -- as few as 10 cancer cells in a blood sample -- before they even settle in other organs. The results of the successful experimental tests appear in the Oct. 15 issue of the journal Optics Letters, published by the Optical Society of America.
The team's method, called photoacoustic detection, combines laser techniques from optics and ultrasound techniques from acoustics, using a laser to make cells vibrate and then picking up the characteristic sound of melanoma cells. The microscopic granules of melanin contained in the cancer cells absorb the energy bursts from the blue-laser light, going through rapid cycles of expanding as they heat up and shrinking as they cool down. These sudden changes generate ultrasonic sounds which propagate in the solution like tiny tsunamis. Source: EurekAlert, 10/16/06 [READ PRESS RELEASE]

Mosquito Wins Ig Nobel Prize - The "Mosquito," a device that emits a high-frequency tone audible only to the relatively fresh ears of those under 25, is one of ten recipients of this year's Ig Nobel award, which recognizes the quirkier side of serious scientific endeavour, according to Marc Abrahams, the Harvard professor behind them, honouring "achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think". The Mosquito was developed by a security company in Wales as a way of dispersing loitering teens. A second Ig Nobel went to US scientists for their work on the mystery of why fingernails being dragged down a blackboard produces an excruciating sound. The study, entitled Psychoacoustics of Chilling Sound, by a tean led by D. Lynn Halpern at Northwestern University in Chicago, found the noise topped a list of annoying sounds and revealed that it remains "deeply unpleasant" even if the high-pitched squeals are digitally silenced. Source: The Guardian, 10/6/06 [READ ARTICLE]

Elephant Mimics Human Speech - An elephant in a Seoul zoo has learned to mimic human speech by putting its trunk into its mouth and blowing against its molars, inner tusks and gums. The acoustic properties of the sounds are very similar to those of sounds made by his trainer, Jong Gap Kim; elephants often copy the actions of those closest to them. Last year, another captive elephant was observed mimicing the rumble of passing trucks. Source: Science, 10/6/06 [READ ARTICLE]

Cows Have Regional Accents - After farmers began commenting among themselves about the slightly different tones of their cows' moos, researchers decided to take a closer listen. John Wells, Professor of Phonetics at the University of London, said regional twangs had been seen before in birds. The farmers in Somerset who noticed the phenomenon said it may have been the result of the close bond between them and their animals. Farmer Lloyd Green, from Glastonbury, said: "I spend a lot of time with my ones and they definitely moo with a Somerset drawl. I've spoken to the other farmers in the West Country group and they have noticed a similar development in their own herds. It works the same as with dogs - the closer a farmer's bond is with his animals, the easier it is for them to pick up his accent." Source: BBC, 8/23/06 [READ ARTICLE]

Harp Music Eases Post-Surgical Stress, Stablizes Heartbeat of Anesthesized Patients - The science blog Collision Detection recently compiled several fascinating articles on research into the use of music to calm medical patients. A study in a cardiac recovery unit at the Chester NJ hospital is confirming long-held suspicions that music can help calm patients. "When I was coming out of it, I was filled with tubes - a throat tube, an oxygen tube - and it was very hard to breathe," one patient said. "You feel you're going to gag. The music calmed my body and allowed me to stop thinking about what was going on. It allowed me to feel more relaxed and rested." A related study by cardiac researcher Abraham Kocheril found that harp music appeared to regularize heartbeats of patients under anesthesia, making an unhealthy heart function more like a healthy one and, presumably, improving the patients' chances on the operating table. Another researcher, Harvard's Ary Goldberg, suggests that there are fractal features common to both music and the human heartbeat, and that music can help tune the heart by rebooting with healthy fractal noise, allowing it to respond with more dynamism to a bigger array of physical challenges. Source: Collision Detection, 8/06 [READ POST]

Acoustician/Artist Turns Whale Songs into Mandala Images - Mark Fisher, California artist, trained as an acoustics engineer, is using "wavelets," a mathematical technique that can capture intricate detail without losing the larger context, to generate circular images of the pattrns revealed inside whale songs. Among whales, certain sounds and patterns are unique to different species, and even individuals in a group - something like an auditory fingerprint, Mr. Fischer said. ''To anyone who doesn't listen to it on a regular basis it sounds like a bunch of clicks,'' he said. ''But if you're a whale -- or someone who studies whales -- it becomes clear that they have their own dialects.'' Wavelets are capable of picking up those distinctions, Mr. Fischer said, nuances that may be missed by the human ear or less detailed visualization methods. ''You can pick out any one of those movies and I'll tell you what it is without hearing a thing,'' he said. ''The differences are that dramatic.'' He envisions a day when researchers may be able to use images generated using wavelets to identify and track individual whales. Sources: NY Times, 8/1/06 [READ ARTICLE] AquaSonics Website (Fisher site) [WEBSITE]

Volcanic Activity Turned into Sound - Geologists have developed a new sonification technique that translates seismic activity data into sound. Listening to the sound files, as well as creating "scores" that can be analyzed, may allow scientists to detect subtle changes that precede increased activity. Source: ScienceDaily, 8/10/06 [READ ARTICLE] LISTEN TO SOUNDS: [MOUNT ETNA(aif)] [TUNGURAHUAS(aif)] SEE SCORE: [TUNGURAHUASA(pdf)]

Ultrasound Affects Embryonic Brain Development in Mice - Prolonged exposure to ultrasound caused small but significant changes in neural development in mice during late stages of embryonic development. The degree of the effect, in which neurons remained scattered rather than migrating to their proper locations, varied widely but increased as the duration of ultrasound exposure went up. Effects were seen with 30 minutes of exposure; researchers stressed that the use of ultrasound for medical diagnostics is not questioned by these results, but that the study should warn against non-medical use of ultrasound. Source: ScienceDaily, 8/9/06 [READ ARTICLE]

Mosquitoes Tune Their Buzzes to Find Mates - An ingenious new study has shown that male and female mosquitoes respond to each other's presence by shifting the pitches of their buzzes (changing the speed of their wingbeats) until they match. Females gradually increase the pitch of their buzz, while males more dramatically lower the pitch of theirs, until they are at the same frequency. Within a second, the buzzes of the two insects are in perfect harmony. "They synchronize beautifully," says co-author Ian Russell, a neurobiologist at Sussex University in Brighton, U.K. When a similar test was run with two males or two females, their tones deviated and did not converge. Auditory communication between male and female mosquitoes is a "totally new" finding, says entomologist Peter Belton of Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, Canada. Source: ScienceNow, 7/10/06 [READ ARTICLE] Galveston Daily News, 7/11/06 [READ ARTICLE] HEAR SOUNDS: [MALE AND FEMALE(mp3] [TWO MALES(mp3)] [TWO FEMALES(mp3)]

Ultrasound May Help Treat War Wounds in Field -The US military plans a portable device that uses focused sound waves to treat troops bleeding internally from wounds sustained on the battlefield. Ultrasound can seal ruptured blood vessels deep within the body without the need for risky surgery. The lightweight device has to be designed so that soldiers can operate it with minimal training. Blood loss from wounds to the extremities is regarded as a major, preventable cause of battlefield death. "It's a grand challenge but we're keen to have a go at it," said researcher Lawrence Crum of the University of Washington. Competing teams - one headed by the multinational Philips, the other by Seattle-based AcousTx Corporation - have both been awarded contracts by Darpa to develop the technology. Source: BBC, 6/28/06 [READ ARTICLE]

Vampire Bats May Remember Sound of Victims' Breath - A new study suggests that vampire bats may remember the sound of the breath of cows they recently fed on, allowing them to feed again on ankles still healing from earlier visits, which would be easier than piercing healthy cowhide. The thumb-sized bats feed mostly on the ankles of cattle; the laboratory study showed that vampire bats can be trained to respond with near 100% accuracy to the sound of an individual's breathing. Source: Nature, 6/15/06 [READ ARTICLE]

Sound Dissipates Rapidly on Mars - A new computer model examines the transmission of sound in the diffuse atmosphere of Mars. Since air molecules are farther apart on Mars, sound must travel farther to pass its energy from one to the next, so that a noise that might travel kilomters on Earth will dissipate with in tens of meters on Mars. Any attempts to communicate through the air on Mars will need to use lower frequencies, which travel farther both in air and through the ground. Source: ScienceNow, 6/12/06 [READ ARTICLE]

High-Pitched Ringtone Lets Kids Use Cellphones Without Adults Hearing - A high-pitched device called The Mosquito, developed last year to annoy kids and keep them away from stores [SEE AEI NEWS ITEM], has been adapted for use as a ringtone, this time benefiting the young ears that can hear it. The 17kHz tone, too high for most ears over 20 years old or so to hear, allows kids to engage in text messaging in places--such as in classrooms--where cellphone use is prohibited. "When I heard about it I didn't believe it at first," said Donna Lewis, a technology teacher at the Trinity School in Manhattan. "But one of the kids gave me a copy, and I sent it to a colleague. She played it for her first graders. All of them could hear it, and neither she nor I could." However, not all teachers are left out: at Roslyn High School outside New York City this spring, a high-pitched ring tone went off that set teeth on edge for anyone who could hear it. To the students' surprise, that group included their teacher. "Whose cellphone is that?" Miss Musorofiti demanded, demonstrating that at 28, her ears had not lost their sensitivity to strangely annoying, high-pitched, though virtually inaudible tones. "You can hear that?" one of them asked. "Adults are not supposed to be able to hear that," said another, according to the teacher's account. She had indeed heard that, Miss Musorofiti said, adding, "Now turn it off." Source: New York Times, 6/12/06 [READ ARTICLE(sub)]

Stress Impacts of Noise Linger - A long article in Men's Health offers an unusually cogent overview of the pervasive impacts of noise in our lives, including a visit with Gordon Hempton to an increasingly rare place of true quiet, the author's exploration of his daily urban routine with decibel-meter in hand, and a good overview of research into noise-induced stress. Among the key studies summarized are ones suggesting that even modest (50-70dB) road noise increases stress among commuters, which lingers even after they park and enter the workplace, and a related finding that people working in noisy settings retain high levels of stress during the night, and sleep less deeply. Source: Men's Health, May 2006 [READ ARTICLE]

More Cellphone Towers Being Considered in Yellowstone - Officials at Yellowstone National Park are developing an environmental assessment for expansion of cell phone service in the park; five towers currently provide only partial coverage. Discussions with telephone industry representatives early last year centered on finding locations for towers that will have minimal impact on park visitors. Yellowstone spokesman Al Nash said there has been no decision yet to expand existing wireless services and that current planning is designed simply to set the stage for such decisions in the future. The planning was leaked by PEER, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which blames cell phones for a "death of solitude," with tourists gabbing on the phone in some of the nation's most revered nature spots. It alleges the park's meeting with industry on March 31, 2005, was illegal because there was no public notification. "Yellowstone belongs to the American people who ought to have some say before it is transformed into a giant cybercafe," PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch said. The public will get a chance to weigh in next month during a comment period before officials draft the plan and again when the draft circulates in late summer, with a final decision expected by year's end. (ed. note: Thus, it appears that offical "scoping" for the EA will take place in June, with a draft EA and final EA coming in a matter of months; unusual efficiency, and laudable, though the fact that they've been doing behind-the-scenes planning for over a year suggests that the public comments may not influence the planning as substantially as would be hoped) Source: AP/Yahoo, 5/2/06 [READ ARTICLE]

Vanishing Songs Collected on British Library CD - Some of Britain's most celebrated songs, they have inspired poets, musicians and writers as diverse as Robert Burns, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Arthur Conan Doyle and even Shane McGowan - yet few people have ever heard them. These influential tunes are rarely heard today because they are sung by some of Britain's rarest birds and animals. But you can now listen to them on a new CD put together from the sound archives of the British Library. The track list of Vanishing Wildlife is made up of many sounds that were once common in the countryside but which have are now all but gone. It includes the song of the woodlark, which is celebrated in poems by both Burns and Hopkins as well as in music by Messiaen. In his 1795 poem Address to the Woodlark, Burns describes the bird's song as "soothing, fond complaining." The creatures at that time were abundant enough for Burns's audience to have known what he was writing about. But since his day, the numbers of the birds have fallen dramatically, with the disappearance of heath land. Richard Ranft, who helped put the CD together, said there was a danger that without urgent conservation measures, more calls on the disk would be lost forever in the wild. "We don't want the British Library to be sole preserve of these sounds. These animals are indicators of the health of the environment," he said. "We are becoming increasingly urbanised people, and more out of touch with the sounds of the countryside. Our sound-space is filled with manmade noise and we have lost, or can't hear, some natural sounds that have been around for hundreds of thousands of years," Ranft added. "I am a little sad when I see so many people listening to manmade sounds on their iPods. Sometimes they should unplug their earphones and listen to some of the sounds around them." Source: Guardian, 4/19/06 [READ ARTICLE] British Library Website [PURCHASE CD]

Japanese Ear Cleaning - I was always taught not to put anything in my ear smaller than my little finger. Twizzling cotton buds around the inside of my ear canal could cause damage. So I just did not bother to use them or in fact to pay much attention to what kind of condition my ears were in. That might be the reason why, when I found myself sitting in a comfortable chair staring at a screen onto which the contents of my ear were being broadcast in glorious technicolour, I felt so nauseous. I had come to try one of Tokyo's newest hi-tech treatments for Japanese businessmen with time on their hands. In a tiny salon called Mimi Kurin (which means ear clean) on the third floor of a building near one of the city's biggest stations, they will scrape the gunk out of your ear with a scoop attached to a miniature camera. You sit down in a lime green chair and try to relax. (read more, in glorious detail, at the link) Source: BBC, 4/15/06 [READ ARTICLE]

Loons Change Song to Impress New Neighbors - Male loons change their calls only slightly from year to year when living on the same pond for years. But when males relocated from one lake to another, as 10% to 15% do each year, researchers heard something different. Comparing calls from 13 males recorded before and after a territory switch, researchers found that 12 males changed their songs significantly. "It came as a shock," says Cornell'ls Charles Walcott. "At first I didn't believe a word of it." That begged the question of why the birds were changing their tunes. It turned out that new loons accentuated differences between their calls and that of their predecessors'. This may help ensure that potential rivals know that a new master of the lake has arrived, Walcott says. Ornithologist Donald Kroodsma of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst says that this study suggests that loons have richer social lives than once thought. "It requires the birds all really know each other," says Kroodsma. "We never give them enough credit for the knowledge they have of their fellow beings." Source: ScienceNow, 2/23/06 [READ ARTICLE] Cornell Press Release, 3/7/06 [READ PRESS RELEASE]

New Anti-Scuba-Terrorist System Triggers Nausea - A new acoustic weapon developed by Raytheon sends out sound waves that are tuned to cause severe nausea. It is designed to be used against scuba-diving terrorist threats; Al Qaida is known to have been exploring such options. Once a would-be attacker, well, loses it in their masks, "further underwater operations (are) difficult, if not impossible." Source:, 2/1/06 [READ ARTICLE]

Suit Claims iPod is "Defective" Because it Can be Played at Dangerous Volume - A lawsuit filed in California court claims that Apple is marketing a defective product that can cause hearing damage. The suit notes that the popular iPod digital music player is capable of output up to 120dB, a level that can cause hearing damage in as little as 28 seconds a day. The plaintiff does not allege that he has suffered hearing loss, but his lawyer explains that "He's bought a product which is not safe to use as currently sold on the market." Interestingly, iPods sold in France have been modified to meet EU noise standards, and have maximum output levels of 100dB. While iPods are sold with a warning that "permanent hearing loss may occur if earphones or headphones are used at high volume", the notice is not printed on the unit itself. Roland Eavey, director of Pediatric Otolaryngology at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, told The Hatchet that teenagers are not worried enough about hearing loss. "Only 8 percent of the people polled were worried about their hearing," Eavey said. "Yet two-thirds of the respondents had experienced hearing loss and ringing in the ears after coming out of clubs. There is obviously a disconnect here." Sources: MacNewsWorld, 2/27/06 [READ ARTICLE] ArsTechnica, 2/2/06 [READ ARTICLE] BBC News, 2/2/06 [READ ARTICLE]
Related: In-depth UK article on hearing loss from headphone listening - Two weeks ago Pete Townshend, The Who’s guitarist, described the irreparable hearing loss that he had suffered as a result of noise damage. This was caused not by excessive volume at the band’s concerts, he says, but by years spent listening to loud music through headphones in recording studios. He argued that those with the iPod habit could be damaging their hearing: “My intuition tells me there is terrible trouble ahead.” The experts are inclined to agree. Source: TimesOnline. 1/23/06 [READ ARTICLE]
Related: Headphone Hearing Safety Info - A detailed summary, with dB info and links to other resources. Source: [WEBPAGE]
Related: Apple releases iPod Volume Limiter - A new software update for all iPods allows the use to set a maximum volume for his or her particular unit. Source: Apple Computer, 3/29/06 [WEBPAGE]

Canadian Geographic Features Music of Place - A stunning collection of online resources put together to accompany a print article in the Canadian Geographic magazine explores the ways that people across Canada have translated their sense of place into music. Features include Glenn Gould's famous "The Idea of North" (excerpts of which the CBC has archived online!), Barry Truax listening to Canadian soundmarks from each province, native musics, Audio and video files exploring sonification of satellite data of cities, modern singer-songwriter Sarah Harmer, and a goofy but fun Flash window in which you can create your own mix of a wildlands soundscape. Source: Canadian Geographic, 1/9/06 [PRESS RELEASE] [WEBSITE] [CBC GOULD PROGRAM]

Rap Signs Spur Skateboarders to Quiet Down - Skateboarders passing through Parkgate Community Center in North Vancouver, a condo development with quaint brick pathways, were created a racket. So, the local park department created signs, painted on old skateboards, that let them know that their noise was a problem:
Yo.....skater, Seriously speakin’, We like your kick flips, But your trucks are squeakin’
The noise is loud, And the old folks are freakin’, They can’t take a nap, The blood pressure’s peakin’
Laughin’ and talkin’, While you’re WALKIN’, When you do that, Then nobody’s squawkin’
Though the signs were soon stolen, boarders have continued to walk since their posting. Source: District of North Vancouver website [WEBSITE]

Dutch Researcher Studies "Sound Hunters" - Karin Bijsterveld was pondering a new direction of study, but was continually distracted by noise from outside her window; nine years later, her work investigating "auditory culture" continues to deepen. Two lines of research predominate: in one, she listens to the work of "sound hunters", or early pioneers of tape recorders, who went out into the world in search of new and interesting sounds, often industrial. The second, related project, which will become a book, focuses on the history of noise as introduced by new technologies. One example she notes is the mill: "These days it symbolizes calm and a rural atmosphere," she says. "But in the sixteenth and seventeenth century it was considered an enormous noise maker that was only allowed to turn at certain times.” Source: Research Magazine 12/21/05 [READ ARTICLE]

If It's Too Loud, You're Too Young - When he was 12, a Welsh man was annoyed by a high-pitched whine in a factory that none of the adults around him could hear. Now 39, he has taken the lesson he learned that day - that children can hear sounds at higher frequencies than adults can - to fashion a novel device that he hopes will provide a solution to the eternal problem of obstreperous teenagers who hang around outside stores and cause trouble. The device, called the Mosquito ("It's small and annoying," the inventor said), emits a high-frequency pulsing sound that, he says, can be heard by most people younger than 20 and almost no one older than 30. The sound is designed to so irritate young people that after several minutes, they cannot stand it and go away. Source: Collision Detection, 11/29/05 [READ POST] NYTimes, 11/29/05 [READ ARTICLE]

Israeli Sonic Booms Target Civilian Populations - In response to a challenge from Physicians for Human Rights-Israel and the Gaza Community Mental Health Program, the Israeli military is justifying its practice of triggering sonic booms over the Gaza strip. The booms, which can resemble the sounds of rocket attacks, are meant to "engender fear among terrorists planning to attempt to fire rockets, deceive, create disinformation and a sense of threat and confusion," according to the government. IAF warplanes set off sonic booms over Gaza at all hours of the day and night, though they refrain from supersonic flights over Israel. The head of the Gaza group, Dr. Eyad Sarraj, a psychiatrist, wrote in a medical opinion that the sonic booms have serious effects on Gaza children, including anxiety, panic, fear, poor concentration and low academic success, according to a statement. He also said that the number of miscarriages increases during periods of frequent sonic booms. Israel has long used sonic booms to rattle Palestinians in times of tension and violence, maintaining the practice since its pullout from Gaza in September. Source: Haaretz, 11/14/05 [READ ARTICLE]

Cruise Ship Targets Pirates with Acoustic Weapon - The crew of a luxury cruise ship used a sonic weapon that blasts earsplitting noise in a directed beam while being attacked by a gang of pirates off the eastern coast of Africa, the cruise line says. The Seabourn Spirit had a Long Range Acoustic Device, or LRAD, installed as a part of its defense systems, said Bruce Good, a spokesman for Miami-based Seabourn Cruise Line. The Spirit was about 100 miles off the coast of Somalia when pirates fired rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns as they tried to get onboard. The LRAD is a so-called "non-lethal weapon" developed for the U.S. military after the deadly 2000 attack on the USS Cole off Yemen as a way to keep operators of small boats from approaching U.S. warships. The devices have been deployed on commercial and naval vessels worldwide since summer 2003. Source: Houston Chronicle, 11/8/05 [READ ARTICLE]

Personal Music Devices Linked to Premature Hearing Loss - "We're starting to see hearing loss in young adults that we expect to diagnose in middle-age adults," says Robert Novak, director of clinical education in audiology at Purdue University. Novak notes that many people, especially college students, have objects stuck to the side of their heads at all times. "Their ears have very little quiet time to recover from noise exposure," he says. "Often, listeners play music too loudly to drown out the background noise." One study of portable compact disc players found that volume ranged from 91 to 121 decibels. Earphones that fit inside the ear increase the volume by 7 decibels to 9 decibels. In general, the louder the noise, the less time it takes to lose your hearing. Stereo headphones set at 100 decibels can harm ears in two hours (at 90 decibels it takes 8 hours), while a rock concert (120 decibels) wreaks havoc in just 7.5 minutes, according to the Sight and Hearing Association. Source: Chicago Tribune, 10/12/05 [READ ARTICLE]

Aural Historian Receives MacArthur Grant - Emily Thompson, author of the book Soundscape of Modernity, has received a MacArthur "genius" grant. In her book, The Soundscape of Modernity, she integrates the histories of the United States, technology, science, sound production, and acoustics to examine the transformation of the American soundscape from the turn of the century to the opening of Radio City Music Hall in 1933. Thompson organizes her work around developments in twentieth-century architecture, such as new concert halls and new building materials, and explores innovations in the science of acoustics, the emergence of excessive noise, and the efforts of scientists and designers to create new spaces and a new, “modern” sound. Source: MacArthur press release, 10/3/05 [READ PRESS RELEASE] [HEAR NPR STORY]

"Most Complex" Animal Songster is Plain-tailed Wren - The typical songbird is a solo artist, content to warble alone in a tree or on a wire. Some species, however, do the George Jones-Tammy Wynette duet thing, and there are even a few that sing in groups. But nothing quite matches the performance of the plain-tailed wren of Ecuador and Peru, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir of the avian world. Biologists at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland report that groups of the birds sing four-part songs, the males and females trading phrases with split-second timing for up to two minutes. "I think this is the most complex song in a nonhuman animal," said Peter J. Slater, a professor of natural history and, along with Nigel I. Mann and Kimberly A. Dingess, author of a paper about the bird published in the journal Biology Letters. Source: NY Times, 9/20/05 [READ ARTICLE]
Related: Interview with David Rothenberg on playing music with birds. Source: NY Times, 9/20/05 [READ ARTICLE]

"Laser" Loudspeakers Head to Flood Zones - An acoustic beam loudspeaker system that has been deployed by police and military forces is being sent to the Gulf coast to aid in communicating with survivors. The system produces a focused sound beam that is audible and understandable at distances of up to thousands of feet. Source: Wired News, 9/2/05 [READ ARTICLE]
RELATED: LA Police Test Sonic Crowd Control Device
- Since the early part of last year, U.S. soldiers and marines have been experimenting with a series of sonic blasters in Iraq. The Long Range Acoustic Devices, or "LRADs," can broadcast messages hundreds of yards away -- or be ear-splittingly loud at close range. The New York Police Department also had the devices at the ready during the Republican National Convention, although it's unclear whether the LRADs were actually used or not. Last week, the L.A. Sheriff's Department tested out an acoustic transmitter that makes earlier models look like "childrens' toys" in comparison, LASD Commander Sid Heal, a world-renowned expert in non-lethal weaponry, tells Defense Tech. Source: DefenseTech, 8/11/05 [READ ARTICLE] Related: Wikipedia LRAD page [READ ARTICLE] RNC Stories, with pictures of LRAD, 9/2/05 [READ ARTICLE] Iraq story, 3/3/04 [READ ARTICLE]

Bird Sings Like a Cricket - A bird that lives in the Ecuadorian rain forest attracts mates by striking its wing feathers together behind its back, researchers say. Birds and other vertebrates usually court partners by expelling air to produce sound. But the male club-winged manakin (Machaeropterus deliciosus) is the first found to use purely mechanical means to produce its 'songs'. "This is completely unprecedented in the vertebrate world," says Kimberly Bostwick of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, the lead author of the study, which appears in this week's Science1. The technique is more common in insects such as crickets. Source:, 7/28/05 [READ ARTICLE]

Listen to the Tsunami Earthquake - Researchers have posted recordings online which capture the sound of the massive earthquake that triggered tsunamis in December. Maya Tolstoy, a Doherty Research Scientist and lead author of the study, reports, "We found the earthquake happened in two distinct phases, with faster rupture to the south and slower to the north, almost as if there were two back-to-back events." Source: Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory Press Release, 7/20/05 [READ ARTICLE]

Injured Man Has iPod in the Brain - Seven years ago Reginald King was lying in a hospital bed recovering from bypass surgery when he first heard the music. It began with a pop tune, and others followed. Mr. King heard everything from cabaret songs to Christmas carols. "I asked the nurses if they could hear the music, and they said no," said Mr. King, a retired sales manager in Cardiff, Wales. "I got so frustrated," he said. "They didn't know what I was talking about and said it must be something wrong with my head. And it's been like that ever since." Each day, the music returns. "They're all songs I've heard during my lifetime," said Mr. King, 83. "One would come on, and then it would run into another one, and that's how it goes on in my head. It's driving me bonkers, to be quite honest." . . . Dr. Griffiths discovered a network of regions in the brain that became more active as the hallucinations became more intense. "What strikes me is that you see a very similar pattern in normal people who are listening to music," he said. The main difference is that musical hallucinations don't activate the primary auditory cortex, the first stop for sound in the brain. When Dr. Griffith's subjects hallucinated, they used only the parts of the brain that are responsible for turning simple sounds into complex music. These music-processing regions may be continually looking for signals in the brain that they can interpret, Dr. Griffiths suggested. When no sound is coming from the ears, the brain may still generate occasional, random impulses that the music-processing regions interpret as sound. They then try to match these impulses to memories of music, turning a few notes into a familiar melody. (much more, detailed feature) Source: NYTimes, 7/12/05 [READ ARTICLE]

Cone of Silence Arrives in Offices - Maxwell Smart's "cone of silence" is finally a reality. Two people in an office here were having a tête-à-tête, but it was impossible for a listener standing nearby to understand what they were saying. The conversation sounded like a waterfall of voices, both tantalizingly familiar and yet incomprehensible. The cone of silence, called Babble, is actually a device composed of a sound processor and several speakers that multiply and scramble voices that come within its range. About the size of a clock radio, the first model is designed for a person using a phone, but other models will work in open office space. Source: NYTimes/BoingBoing, 5/31/05 [READ ARTICLE]

Israel Unleashes Sound Weapon to Disperse Crowd - For the first time, the Israli army has used a new form of "non-lethal" sonic weapon; it was activated to control an unruly crowd of Palestinians in the West Bank of Benin. The demonstration had lasted several hours and was becoming increasingly violent when a military vehicle arrived and emitted several bursts of sounds, each burst lasting for about 60 seconds. Witnesses say that though the sound itself was not loud, it caused some sort of reaction in the assembled people who covered their ears and grabbed their heads in discomfort. Army officials said that the weapon uses special "voice frequencies" to disperse crowds. The technology was developed over the past four years, but was never used in a live situation before yesterday. Source: Earthtimes, 6/4/05 [READ ARTICLE] Aljazeera, 6/5/05 [READ ARTICLE]
Related, from the Archives: New Acoustic Weapon Headed for Iraq
- A new generation acoustic weapon is being deployed in Iraq. The "non-lethal" device is designed for use in crowd control and as an alternative to using lethal weaponry. "[For] most people, even if they plug their ears, [the device] will produce the equivalent of an instant migraine," says Woody Norris, chairman of American Technology Corp., the San Diego firm that produces the weapon. "It will knock [some people] on their knees." The new megaphone being deployed to Iraq can operate at 145 decibels at 300 yards, according to American Technology, well above the normal threshold for pain. Source: LA Times Op-ed, 3/7/04 [READ ARTICLE]
Related: Weapons of Mass Distraction: How the military uses music and sound - Rather detailed and sympathetic article on several "sound weapon" systems and the use of music to "break" the enemy. Source: Seattle Weekly [READ ARTICLE]

New Species of "Honking" Monkey Discovered - To the ears of Trevor Jones, the calls made by geese and dogs will never sound the same again. Combining the two noises produces something similar to the unique 'honk-bark' of a monkey species discovered last year in Tanzania by two groups of wildlife biologists. Jones, who leads a team at the Udzungwa Mountains National Park in Tanzania, and Tim Davenport, a biologist at the Wildlife Conservation Society in Mbeya, discovered the species almost simultaneously on mountain ranges some 370 kilometres apart. Source:, 5/17/05 [READ ARTICLE]

Navy Studies Dolphins to Protect and Learn Sonar Tricks - Captive dolphins at a University of Hawaii research program are demonstrating just how valuable their sonar is. BJ is able to find a piece of metal through two feet of mud, and she’s able to tell researchers whether it’s brass or stainless steel. “[The dolphin’s] bio sonar is just superb,” researcher Paul Nachtigall said. “We’re interested in the fact that [BJ] can do that, but we’re much more interested in how she does that. So, we do experiments that look at the acoustics that tell us how she’s able to do that. We build algorithms and pass that information on to the people who build sonar.” Source: Navy Newstand, 5/5/05 [READ ARTICLE]

Hypersound System Gives Private Sound - Elwood "Woody" Norris pointed a metal frequency emitter — an aluminum square — and switched on the CD player. "There's no speaker, but when I point this pad at you, you will hearthe waterfall," said the 63-year-old Californian. And one by one, each person in the audience did, and smiled widely. Norris' HyperSonic Sound system has won him an award coveted by inventors — the $500,000 annual Lemelson-MIT Prize. It works by sending a focused beam of sound above the range of human hearing. When it lands on you, it seems like sound is coming from inside your head. The device also won Popular Science's Grand Award for General Technology advances. Source: AP/Tech News World, 5/1/05 [READ ARTICLE] Popular Science [READ ARTICLE]

International Noise Awareness Day Spurs Home Noise Reduction Guide - A Hollywood sound designer has published a booklet of "noise control tricks" that shares movie-set techniques for reducing noise. The booklet, inspired by the 10th Annual Noise Awareness Day, scheduled for April 20, includes such ideas as moving stereo equipment away from walls, and hanging fabric curtains to absorb noise from neighboring units. Source: Mix, 3/28/05 [READ ARTICLE] [ORDER FREE BOOKLET] [NOISE AWARENESS DAY INFO]

Mini Size, Maxi Sound - A high-tech material originally developed for Naval sonar applications is finding a wide range of consumer uses. Terfenol-D is a combination of rare metals that produces exceptionally loud sound for its size; a piece the size of a matchstick can produce 95dB. Among the new applications for Terfenol-D are earphone-free music systems that pump music into the skull and keep ears open to hear workplace sounds, tiny modules that can turn a window or a wall into a loudspeaker, and a variation that shakes excess starch off corn kernels. Source: Ames Tribune, 4/4/05 [READ ARTICLE]
Related: Speech Without Sound - A new line of research aims to pick up the nerve and muscle activity created by speech, and to translate these stimuli into speech. The technique could allow cell-phone users to speak very quietly, potentially even sub-audibly, in and have their words audible to those on the other end. This could be used to allow conversations in loud environments, or to keep quiet areas free of phone conversation noise. Source: New Scientist, 4/9/05 [READ ARTICLE]
Related: Personalized Suround Sound - Tony Tew, lead researcher at York explains, “We envisage booths in the high street, like those used for passport photos, where customers can have the shape of their head and ears measured easily. The shape information will be used to quickly compute an individual’s spatial filters.” Spatial filters encapsulate how an individual’s features alter sounds before they reach the eardrum. The changes vary with direction and so supply the brain with the information it needs to work out where a sound is coming from. Tew’s booth would record the spatial filter measurements on to a smart card, readable by next-generation sound systems. The result – sounds heard through headphones should be indistinguishable from hearing the same sounds live. Source: Science Daily, 4/20/04 [READ ARTICLE]

Stem Cells May Help Deaf to Hear - Indiana University researchers have developed a technique that can allow stem bone marrow cells to perform some of the functions of ear neurones, fueling a hope that the therapy could allow even those with profound hearing loss to hear their world. The research team is beginning new experiments to test the feasibility of marrow stromal cell transplantation to stimulate the growth of the nerve cells that are often missing from the inner ears of patients with profound hearing loss. Source: Science Daily, 4/4/05 [READ ARTICLE]

Whoops, Nice Try - China imported a U.S.-made scream machine to scare away birds at Beijing airport. It didn't work because the birds didn't recognise the noises which were those of American predator birds. Bejing teams are recording local birds, and testing the updated system. Source: Reuters/Alternet, 3/30/05 [NO LINK]

Elephants Show Vocal Mimicry by Sounding Like Trucks - Elephants in Kenya and an English zoo have provided new evidence that they are capable of learned vocal mimicry. A semi-wild elephant in Kenya makes sounds that imitate nearby trucks, while an African elephant in a European zoo makes the sounds common to Asian elephants she shares a home with. Source: Chinaview, 3/26/05 [READ ARTICLE] NatureNews, 3/23/05 [READ ARTICLE]

Delhi Drivers Investigate Propulsive Power of Horns - From Jug Suraiya, our man on the street in India. . . People who drive in India-whether they drive buses, trucks, cars, tempos, two-wheelers, whatever - have collectively disinvented the internal combustion engine as the cause of motorised propulsion. To a man, or woman, they are unshakable in their conviction that what imparts forward motion to their vehicle is not its engine, but its horn. And the louder, shriller, shrieker, more eardrum-piercing, the better. I'm not sure on what scientific principle this deep-rooted belief is based. Perhaps it's on the supposition that the more noise you make, the greater the sonic waves preceding you, the larger is the volume of air that gets displaced ahead of you, creating an atmospheric slipstream which you ride the way a jetliner rides a wind current... But why do Delhi drivers persist in driving on their horns even when they are not in fact driving but are immobile, caught at a red light or stuck in a traffic jam? There you are. Bumper to bumper. Gridlocked. Welded together seamlessly, with not enough space in between for a flea to fart in. No one is going anywhere. No one can go anywhere. PWAAAH!! Where does he expect me to go? What does he expect me to do? Vaporise? Atomise? (more in article!) Source: India Times, 2/27/05 [READ ARTICLE]

Airline Industry Confab Calls for Working Harder to Reduce Noise - At the first-ever meeting of Airports Council International, with included about 300 representatives of the industry, including airlines and manufacturers, Air transport industry leaders agreed that they need to do more to reduce noise and pollution. The group's Director General, Robert Aaronson, said, "We urgently need to work on 'greening' our aviation business." The council, whose members operate 1,450 airports in 175 countries, agreed to co-sponsor the two-day gathering "because of our deep concern that the tide of public opinion against us is running faster than the industry can sustain." Source: ENN/AP, 3/18/05 [READ ARTICLE]

Cellphone SHHH-ing Advances - A couple of innovative new solutions have emerged addressing the growing issue of loud and oblivious cell-phone conversations in public places. One is low-tech: a series of free, "reasonably polite" downloadable SHHH (Society for HandHeld Hushing) cards, with messages like, "Just so you know: Everyone around you is being forced to listen to yer conversation" and "The world is a noisy place. You aren't helping things." The other involves more investment: the installation of cell-phone booths. The Chelsea's Biltmore Room boasts the New York's first such booth, which is soundproof and leather-lined. Currently, about 30 to 40 people use it per night, General Manager Kris Furniss said. Often, they'll pick up a ringing phone and then move into the booth. It reminds people not to talk around others, he said. Just outside Atlanta, the Brooklyn Cafe took a more dramatic approach, installing a red, 1,700-pound English antique, which manager Chad League said several people use each day. "People talk about it all the time. They think it's a great idea," he said. Source: Wired News, 3/14/05 [READ ARTICLE] [GET SOME SHHH CARDS]

Gangs Targeted by Camera/Microphone Combo That Zeroes in on Gunshots - The gangsters who for years have brought violence and fear to Chicago’s west side are being defeated by a network of “listening” cameras that home in on gunfire. Gang members and drug dealers once fired their weapons indiscriminately with little fear of reprisal. Emma Mitts, the alderman in charge of the borough, said: “Before they had the gun detection, let me tell you, it was rough. They were shooting at each other in broad daylight, round schools — gangs getting into gang wars." The cameras can detect a gunshot within a 350m radius and instantly zoom in on the source and the culprit. The image and co-ordinates are sent to a command centre and police move in. Ron Huberman, executive director of Chicago’s emergency management and communications office, says that surveillance helped to reduce murders in Chicago to 447 last year — the lowest since 1965. Cameras alone were not enough, he said. “What this technology does is it makes it incredibly difficult to fire a gun because if you do, we’re on top of you in a second. We are seeing the tangible results of that. There’s a dramatic decrease in firearms-related crimes.” Chicago is the first city to install Sentri (Smart Sensor Enabled Neural Threat Recognition and Identification); it has mounted five Sentris and will add 80 by the end of this year. Los Angeles has begun trials and police in San Francisco, Phoenix, Oklahoma City, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Atlanta have inquired about the system. Source: London Times, 2/12/05 [READ ARTICLE]

Genetic Therapy to Regrow Ear Hairs and Reverse Hearing Loss - Researchers have discovered that deletion of a specific gene permits the proliferation of new hair cells in the cochlea of the inner ear — a finding that offers promise for treatment of age-related hearing loss. This type of hearing loss is caused by aging, disease, certain drugs, and the cacophony of modern life. It is the most common cause of hearing loss in older people. Source: Science Daily, 1/27/05 [READ ARTICLE]

Smithsonian Preserves Lost Sounds - Back in the prehistoric 1970s, one of life’s little pleasures was the ability to slam down a telephone on annoying callers. Now, thanks to the rise of cordless phones, the best you can do is fiercely poke the off button. The slamming phone, like dozens of once-familiar sounds, is headed for extinction. As technology advances, more noises – the pop of flashbulbs, the gurgle of coffee percolators, the clatter of home-movie projectors – are fading into oblivion. Inside a bombproof vault a few blocks from the White House, Dan Sheehy is surrounded by audio ghosts: the clickety-clack of typewriters, the tumble of glass bottles inside a soda machine, a 1960s-era telephone ring. Here, sonic blasts from the past are entombed in a hodgepodge of vinyl records, compact discs and reel-to-reel tapes. “We are a museum of sound,” said Sheehy, whose job is to preserve America’s acoustic heritage for an obscure branch of the Smithsonian Institution. Smithsonian Folkways has digitized most of their historic LPs, including ones that focus on such obscure sounds as medical procedures, the daily life of a 1960s office, the first generation of earth-orbiting satellites, and the Watkins Glen racetrack. Source: LA Times/Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, 1/2/05 [READ ARTICLE] Visit Folkways Sound Archive [WEBSITE] (see "Sound", "Science and Nature", "Miscellany")

Whistled Language Processed Like Spoken Ones - No one knows how long the shepherds on the island of La Gomera have used the rare whistled language called the Silbo Gomero, but American and Spanish researchers said on Wednesday that the brain processes it like a spoken language. When the whistlers listened to Silbo sentences, regions in the left side of their brain were activated, including areas linked to language production and comprehension, along with a region in the right hemisphere thought to be associated with linguistic processing. "The non-Silbo speakers were not recognizing Silbo as a language. They had nothing to grab on to so multiple areas of their brains were activated. But the Silbadores (whistlers) were analyzing differently, as a language, and engaging those areas associated with language," said researcher Manuel Carreiras. The Silbo, which is thought to have been brought to the island by Berbers from North Africa, condenses Spanish into two vowels and four consonants. Whistled languages are also used in Greece, Turkey, China and Mexico, according to Corina. Source: Reuters, 1/5/05 [READ ARTICLE]

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