Saturday, 14 February 2009

Migration to Wordpress

Hello folks!

From now on we'll post stuff on the much nicer Wordpress system.
Please bookmark this link: http://firstcask.com/blog

Slaters then!

Psychogeographical attempt



In today's post you'll learn how to rediscover your own neighbourhood for free!

Ingredients needed:

- a piece of paper
- a pen (a pencil will work as well)
- a car, or a motorbike, or a bicycle
- your best mate
- beer

Facultative:

- dice (if you're uninspired)

Now try the following:

Sit down with your mate, open a tin and decide of your directions by choosing lefts and rights in advance (at least 30 or so). Write it down on the sheet of paper. Invent yourself a couple of rules in case you end up in a dead end or something. Now go an follow strictly your planned journey. A surprise awaits you at the end! Satisfied or money back! Reports will be listed here and best rewarded by a Firstcask testpressing of your choice!

Nota: keep at least a couple of beers until the all process is done in case you need to give it to a farmer who gonna get you out of the mud with his tractor. No joke, this is experience speaking.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Magnetic paint stronger than expected

Our first and probably last attempt to acheive a "loudspeaker wall" ended up in an implosion process described by Nikola Tesla at the time.

Implosion is a suctional process that causes matter to move inwards, not outwards as in the case of explosion. This inward (centripetal) motion, however, does not follow a straight (radial) path to the centre, it follows a spiralling whirling path. This is called a vortex and is the secret of nature. Though, in our test we didn't get either a working speaker or a regular vortex. It makes us as dubitative as the guy who lent us his house for the experiment! Any implanation welcome!



Thursday, 12 February 2009

LINGVA PRAVORVM PERIBIT - Tong of depraved people will perish!



A behind the scene reported story about cat number FSK007. We cannot guarantee that the following information is either relevant or accurate.

"A friend came to my house and we talked on my roof for ever enjoying wine and sunset, he told me he knew an old geezer living in the mountains of France he was making a film about. The geezer was a leader in the situationist movement (also prominent memeber of post-dadaïsm, surrealism, Cobra, Oulipo, Satrape, Collège de Pataphysique, OU-X-Po, Psychogeography), and has loads of unreleased material about French lettrists. We said lets get some recordings of this if we can, six months of difficult but pleasurable bartering and bargaining later, here is the result, co-produced by agent FSK007 and Videoconference". This is the only info we could collect from the internet...

It has been said and heard around that the two original cassettes have been collected in Brussels, shipped to Berlin, cut by a fantome engineer on an unattended session, shipped again to France? for duplication before being spread around mostly undercover. It is remarkable that all the reference numbers have been scratched out of the vinyl, the cover bringing no additional info. Though some Ubuweb people received a virgin untouched copy... Here is what they say:

Notes

Tracks 1-6:

SITUATIONISTEN
DOUBLE-7"

BOOTLEG

NO LABELS, NO ARTWORK

PERSONELL: GUY DEBORD + ?

DATE: ???

SCRATCHINGS:

A) FSK 007 A.45
B) FSK 007 B.45
C) FSK 007 + VIDEOCONFERENCE C.45
D) FSK 007 D.33

A DISCLAIMER ABOUT SITUATIONISTEN

One of UbuWeb's viewers, an astute Debord scholar who would rather remain anonymous disputes the authenticity of SITUATIONISTEN. We are enclosing his comments. We'll leave the MP3s up and leave it to you to decide for yourself:

"As for the Situationisten double LP, I have to say, I'm pretty sceptical that Debord had anything to do with any of this. It sounds more like the Lettrists, or possibly the Danish/German breakaway faction of the Situationists, but more likely the lettrists because the accents seem to be French. I don't recognize any voice which sounds like Debord's voice, which is pretty distinctive. All of this is to say, it's not impossible, because the world is full of wierd surprises, but my gut reaction is that this is either a bad gag or some repackaged Lettrists recordings and someone has called them "Situationist" for their own purposes, or because they lump the two together and don't know any better. By the time the Situs had formed, I think Debord had totally abandoned working in this mode and I have never seen any evidence that he worked in this mode even when he was part of the Lettrists or the Lettrist International. It's more characteristic of the early work of Gil Wollman and others.

I don't get any links from the FSK things so I'm not sure what they are. I can't hear them and don't know about them. I thought they were some kind of notations for the "Situationisten" lp. If so, then my comments above would apply.

I don't have the Greil Marcus cd, but he seems to have known Debord or at least had some access, so I don't think he'd put stuff out that was too questionable. However, the Hurlements track reads like a bad joke: since actually a 35mm print with optical sound would have lots of clicks and pops however silent. At best, it is a conceptual recreation of Part of the Track of Hurlements. Hurlements, as you probably know, did have plenty of voices as well as a preponderance of silence. Or perhaps the clicks and pops were cut out by whoever mastered the cd, or by whoever created the mp3s.

Critique of separation is possibly authentic, though its source is questionable. For the most part Debord worked with voice over and music separated. Having the music in the background and the short length of the sample suggests to me it may have come from a French Radio show about Debord and the situationists that was produced several years ago. It has copious extracts from the sound tracks of Debord's films and it's sometimes hard to tell where their transitions are superimposed on the original material. The voice however is unmistakeably Debord's, whereever it comes from.

A second follow-up: A friend who saw a screening of Hurlements last year in France reports to me that during the "silent" parts of the film, there were "creaking sounds" and "strange glitches." So, my guess would be that the bit of track on the cd is a hypothetical reconstruction of the "silent" part of the track rather than an actual "quotation" of the track. Silent passages in analog sound films are never effectively "silent" the way a digital track can be and Hurlements almost certainly had a 35mm optical sound track. Other possibilities are extremely remote."

Listen to the stuff on Ubuweb.

Multiple Sidosis 1970 by Sid Laverents

Splitscreens, overdubbing, yukulele, whisteling, ... A great classic amongst us!





Since its release in 1970 (originally screened for the San Diego Amateur Moviemakers Club, but eventually distributed to amateur film societies internationally) the nine minute “technical comedy” has won a wallfull of awards and honors, climaxing in 2000 when the Library of Congress selected it as the only amateur film to be entered into the National Film Registry, ensuring it’s preservation and place in history for as long as America exists.


More on Sid's filmography and discography on this page.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Ordinateur XYZ on Ondes Martenot

One of the best library music up to this date has been made by Steve Laurent & Pierre Duclos from France. It seems it was used as a film score for the "La Fayette" film from Jean Dréville in 1961. More info welcome! Anyway, please drop an ear on this fantastic piece of music!

Related info here and go there to download the Sonorop album.

Hang drum

Created in 2000, the Hang (pronounced "hung") is one of the youngest musical instruments. It comes from Bern, Switzerland, and was created by Felix Rohner and Sabina Schärer OF THE PANArt Company. It was the result of many years of research on the steel pan and many other resonating percussion instruments from around the world: Gong, Gamelan, Ghatam, drums, cowbells, MUSICAL Saw...



More info at PANArt webby.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Spoon masterclass #1

For today's lesson, you'll need a guitar and a spoon. Then tune in and copy. The best videos will be posted on this blog and the winner will receive a set of 10 aluminum first grade spoons!

Friday, 6 February 2009

Luanda 2009 Kuduro rave style!




Worldwide known, thanks to Buraka Som Sistema, Kuduro gets it right when it's about dancing. Actually there is some stories around that this dance style has been originally inspired by Jean-Claude Vandamme... Just browse Youtube for some gems! They appear as fast as they disappear. So be quick. Some cute ones below...

Burakas here!






CALL OUT!!!

"To challenge someone in some way. Or to put someone on blast:
I don't think you've really lost 300 pounds - you just say you have. Produce some Before & After photos. I'm calling you out!"

Hey guys, you're now reading us from all around the globe (yeah, the line is circular and slides along the equator, globally), as well as listening to our music, apart from Antarctica, or really deep into Sahara, or North Korea and China (though we know you're out there m8z!).

So why not submit some stuff you want us to post, so that the other parts of the planet can share the knowledge?

Send us emails guys, or post your intentions in the comments, we're all up to learn some new things!!!

p.s.: we're not suffering of a lack of things to post, at all, there's shitloads more to come, but we're expecting, and would really really, really, love some global participation and common sharing....

Come on the crew!!!! Let's rave!!! And scroll down the page!!!

THE MORE, THE MERRIER!





Thursday, 5 February 2009

Original Mellotron demo

Oh my g... You gotta watch this till the end!

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Welcome to:

Our new readers from Dominica, Slovakia, and Denmark.

And oops, we forgot to mention Spain in the previous post...

Amazing restoration project...

Between 1938 and 1942, the Hammond Organ Company was selling the Novachord, considered by some as the first real polyphonic synthesizer available on the market.




It's 72 notes polyphonic, amazingly ALL TUBES!!!
It has oscillators, filters, VCAs, envelope generators, and
a frequency divider...





A bit more than a thousand units were build, it was huge, heavy, and very fragile. Imagine yourself getting your hands on one these beast, and having to restore it: 72 notes, all tubes, really old components with toxic stuff in them...

Phil Cirocco at CMS got one, but as he says: "the sheer number of components and it's complexity, make properly restoring a Novachord, a Herculean task..."

Well, he managed to do it!!!

This guy is completely crazy, or a Genius, or probably both...

You'll find some sound samples at the bottom of the page, recorded right after restoration, and they are properly amazing, mind boggling, unbelievable, incredible, whatever you call them.
Scroll down a bit more and you'll find his conclusion about this job, it's truly freaky.

Oh, and Phil Cirocco is considered to be the foremost ARP guy in the world...


Tuesday, 3 February 2009

A pretty rare cutting lathe

When he was young, Les Paul (the legendary Gibson guy), was cutting acetates in his bedroom on portable devices such as Presto lathes.
There's many different Presto models and cutterheads, but a very interesting one is the portable system designed by the BBC during WWII.

But Les Paul didn't only design guitars and cut records, he also designed a cutting lathe...

It's the Arcturus:



Just click on the pictures for a much better resolution.



Very little is known about this machine, but what we know so far is that the turntable platter is a Cadillac flywheel!!! And that it also has wood bearings... Mounted on this lathe is a very very rare Van Epps cutterhead, extremely little is known on that one too.

Apparently Arcturus Company was (or is?) based in Los Angeles, hard to find info about it...
Could anybody help?

Sunday, 1 February 2009

A space beacon called Oscar


Oscar-1

Since the very first OSCAR satellites (OSCAR stands for Orbiting Satellite Carrying Amateur Radio) were launched in the early 1960s, AMSAT's international volunteers, often working quite literally in their basements and garages, have pioneered a wide variety of new communications technologies that are now taken for granted in the world's satellite marketplace. These breakthroughs have included some of the very first satellite voice transponders as well as highly advanced digital "store-and-forward" messaging transponder techniques.



Beacons. Early amateur satellites carried only one-way radio beacons which sent down telemetry information about conditions of satellite equipment and the space environment to anybody interested in receiving the data. Hamsats of the 21st century still have such beacon transmitters, alongside their high-tech two-way communications transponders.



However, the thought of a "repeater in space" developed and launched by a group of "know-nothing Hams" working in their basements and garages wasn't always looked upon with favor. While details of the incident are sketchy, it's reported that the builders of TELSTAR I, the first commercial telecommunications satellite, were quite upset to learn that a "rag-tag" group of Hams were also working on a telecommunications satellite called OSCAR III as TELSTAR was nearing completion. For a while, it appeared that OSCAR III might possibly upstage their multi-million dollar TELSTAR effort by beating them to orbit! In fact, it's also reported that TELSTAR's builders did eventually change their public relations approach to include the word "commercial" in subsequent references to TELSTAR I as the "world's first telecommunications satellite".



History of amateur satellite site.
List of amateur satellites.
More at project Oscar page.

Selected references taken from the Amsat website:

Davidoff,  Martin,  The Satellite Experimenter's
Handbook Newington, CT: The American
Radio Relay League, 1984.

Jansson, Richard, Spacecraft Technology Trends
in the Amateur Satellite Service, Ogden, UT:
Proceedings of the 1st Annual USU Conference
on Small Satellites, 1987.

Saturday, 31 January 2009

You are reading us:

From 30 different countries so far, and that’s well cool…
Here’s the list, arranged by decreasing amount of readers by country:

Belgium, United Kingdom, United States, Germany, Finland, Canada, Lithuania, Sweden, Japan, Netherlands, France, Austria, Portugal, Australia, Greece, Hungary, India, Argentina, Ireland, Switzerland, Italy, Chile, Poland, Bangladesh, South Korea, Indonesia, Brazil, Turkey, Norway, and last but not least: Romania.

U.S. gained the third place about a week ago, did anything happen over there recently? And we’re still missing some readers from Gaza, Baghdad, Cuba and Pyongyang. Come on guys, spread the word !!!

Friday, 30 January 2009

Ceephax "Exidy Tours" first artwork

Back in 2003 we released Andy's "Exidy Tours". Well this drawings he made before he finally choosed the cover you know. Actually, "Exidy Tours" was first called "The Last Ferry" as a tribute to the numerous fast drives on the E40 motorway in order to get the last ferry to England from Ostend. There is also some artwork for the "Last Ferry" album but can't get hold on it right now. It was some typewriting a bit like on the released album but black and white made on a mechanical machine. A typewriting wallet sort of thing. I remember Andy typing a huge amount of characters almost everywhere possible. Wayfaring writer...





Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Superheterodyne principles

The superheterodyne method found applications in early electronic musical instruments, in radio or even in the brand new Hypersonic (HSS) speakers. So we think some basics here may be appropriate!

The principles of beat frequency or heterodyning oscillators were discovered by chance during the first decades of the twentieth century by radio engineers experimenting with radio vacuum tubes. Heterodyning effect is created by two high radio frequency sound waves of similar but varying frequency combining and creating a lower audible frequency, equal to the difference between the two radio frequencies (approximately 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz). the musical potential of the effect was noted by several engineers and designers including Maurice Martenot, Nikolay Obukhov, Armand Givelet and Leon (or Lev) Sergeivitch Termen the Russian Cellist and electronic engineer.



What Superheterodyning is

When you use the lower side-band (the difference between the two frequencies), you are superheterodyning. Strictly speaking, the term superheterodyne refers to creating a beat frequency that is lower than the original signal. Although we have used the example of amplitude modulation side-bands as an example, we are not talking about encoding information for transmission. What superheterodying does is to purposely mix in another frequency in the receiver, so as to reduce the signal frequency prior to processing. Why and how this is done will be discussed below.

We have discussed that superheterodyning is simply reducing the incoming signal is frequency by mixing. In a radio application we are reducing the AM or FM signal which is centered on the carrier frequency to some intermediate value, called the IF (intermediate frequency). For practical purposes, the superheterodyne receiver always reduces to the same value of IF. To accomplish this requires that we be able to continuously vary the frequency being mixed into the signal so as to keep the difference the same. Here's what the superheterodyne receiver looks like:


This is essentially the conventional receiver with the addition of a mixer and local oscillator. The local oscillator is linked to the tuner because they both must vary with the carrier frequency. For example, suppose you want to tune in a TV station at 235 MHz. The band-pass filter (which only permits signals in a small range about the center frequency to pass) must be centered at 235 MHz (or slightly higher in SSB). The local oscillator must be set to a frequency that will heterodyne the 235 MHz to the desired IF of 452 kHz (typical). This means the local oscillator must be set to 234.448 MHz (or alternatively to 235.452 MHz) so that the difference frequency will be exactly 452 kHz. The local oscillator must be capable of varying the frequency over the same range as the tuner; in fact, they vary the same amount. Therefore, the tuner and the local oscillator are linked so they operate together.

Advantages of Using Superheterodyning

Now, we easily see that this type of receiver can be constructed, but for what purpose? All we have accomplished is to reduce the frequency to the IF value. We still must process the signal as before. So why are so many receivers using the superheterodyne method? There are three main advantages, depending on the application used for:

  • It reduces the signal from very high frequency sources where ordinary components wouldn't work (like in a radar receiver).
  • It allows many components to operate at a fixed frequency (IF section) and therefore they can be optimized or made more inexpensively.
  • It can be used to improve signal isolation by arithmetic selectivity

Reduction in frequency

AT very extremely high frequencies, many ordinary components cease to function. Although we see many computer systems that work at previously unattainable frequencies like 166 MHz, you certainly never see any system that works at radar frequencies like 10 GHz (try that Intel!). There are many physical reasons for this, but suffice it to say, it can't be done (yet). So the designer of a radar interceptor (fuzz-buster, et al.) is faced with a daunting circumstance unless he/she can use a superheterodyne receiver to knock down the frequency to an IF value. It is in fact, the local oscillator (a operating at radar frequencies) of the superheterodyne radar receiver that makes your radar detector detectable by the police (in VA for example, where the use of radar detectors are illegal).

Optimization of Components

It is a typical engineering dilemma: how to make components that have outstanding performance, but can also cover a wide range of frequencies. Again, the details aren't important, but the problem is very real. A possible solution to this, is to make as much of the receiver as possible always work at the same frequency (the IF). This is accomplished by using the superheterodyne method. The majority of components can be optimized to work at the IF without any requirements to cover a wide range of frequencies.

Arithmetic Selectivity

The ability to isolate signals, or reject unwanted ones, is a function of the receiver bandwidth. For example, the band-pass filter in the tuner is what isolates the desired signal from the adjacent ones. In real life, there are frequently sources that can interfere with your signal. The FCC makes frequency assignments that generally prevent this. Depending on the application, you might have a need for very narrow signal isolation. If the performance of your band-pass filter isn't sufficient to accomplish this, the performance can be improve by superheterodyning.

Frequently, the receiver bandwidth is some fraction of the carrier frequency. If your receiver has a bandwidth of 2 % and you are tuned to 850 kHz, then only signals within the range from 2 % above and below are passed. In this case, that would be from 833 to 867 kHz.

Arithmetic selectivity takes that fraction and applies it to the reduced frequency (the IF). For the fixed IF of 452 kHz, that means signals which are superheterodyned to the range of 443 to 461 kHz will pass. Taking this range back up into the carrier band, only carrier frequencies in the range of 841 to 859 kHz will pass. If this is confusing, recall that the local oscillator is set to reduce the 850 kHz to 452 kHz (i.e. must be set at 398 kHz). Thus, the 850 kHz is superheterodyned to 452 kHz. Any adjacent signals are also superheterodyned but remain the same above or below the original signal. An example might clear this up:

Suppose there is an interfering signal at 863 kHz while you are tuned to 850 kHz. A conventional 2 % receiver will pass 833 to 867 kHz and so the interfering signal also passes. The superheterodyne receiver mixes both signals with 398 kHz to produce the desired signal at 452 kHz and the interference at 465 kHz. At 2 %, the IF section only passes 443 to 461 kHz, and therefore the interference is now suppressed. We say that the superheterodyne receiver is more selective. With a little thought, the reason is simple: it operates at a smaller frequency, so the 2 % actually involves a smaller range. That is why it is called arithmetic selectivity. Bandwidths that are expressed as a percentage are smaller when the center frequency is smaller (the same way that 2 % of $10 is less than 2 % of $10,000,000 ).

Whether or not, you need to take advantage of arithmetic selectivity depends on the application. If you have no problems with interference at your current bandwidth and/or it is not difficult or expensive to reduce the bandwidth of your receiver, then you don't need it. However, in cases where selectivity is important or the frequency is very high (like radar) then superheterodyning can greatly improve performance.

Summary

  • Superheterodyne receivers reduce the signal frequency be mixing in a signal from a local oscillator to produce the intermediate frequency (IF).
  • Superheterodyne receivers have better performance because the components can be optimized to work a single intermediate frequency, and can take advantage of arithmetic selectivity.
For an introduction on Amplitude Modulation please visit this link.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

THE geezer, the utimate. (yeah, next one's for Bob).

Oooow man, we all owe him soooo much...







Cheerz Ikutaro.

A very nice, and essential story here.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

CTRL+ALT+DELETE

This short line of code was written by David Bradley when he was working for IBM, it was "just a five minutes job". He got tired of restarting his machine all the time, when he was working on the development of the PC, testing new softwares and pieces of hardware that would "hang up all the time". So he just invented a shortcut that would involve both hands, so you wouldn't type it by mistake just with one hand...

He made this famous quote: "I may be invented it, but i think Bill made it famous!"

Just watch Bill's face when Dave drops it...



Sunday, 18 January 2009

FTIR multi-touch display how-to guide by Harry van der Veen

This is what Harry says about his guide:

My name is Harry van der Veen, callsign Gravano. I’m writing this FTIR multi-touch display how-to guide, because I want to make it easier for other people to build their own multi-touch display. My intensions are to make this guide understandable for people, in the age of approximately twelve to about seventy years. I would like to point out, that in this guide, I describe “a way” to build a multi-touch display. I’m not saying it’s THE way. There are numerous of ways to build screens, this is just one of them.



There’s nothing you should know about any difficult technologies. I’ll try to explain everything as simple and thorough as possible. Only thing you must be able to is, actually buy or own the materials and have some basic handyman’s work skills like drilling, sanding, sawing, polish. If have two left hands myself and even I succeeded, so you should be fine.



Full PDF to be downloaded here.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Schumann resonances



This global electromagnetic resonance phenomenon is named after physicist Winfried Otto Schumann who predicted it mathematically in 1952. Schumann resonance occurs because the space between the surface of the Earth and the conductive ionosphere acts as a waveguide. The limited dimensions of the Earth cause this waveguide to act as a resonant cavity for electromagnetic waves in the ELF band. The cavity is naturally excited by energy from lightning strikes. Schumann resonance modes are observed in the power spectra of the natural electromagnetic background noise, as separate peaks at extremely low frequencies (ELF) around 7.8, 14.3, 20.8, 27.3 and 33.8 Hz.

The fundamental mode of the Schumann resonance is a standing wave in the Earth-ionosphere cavity with a wavelength equal to the circumference of the Earth. This lowest-frequency (and highest-intensity) mode of the Schumann resonance occurs at a frequency of approximately 7.8 Hz. Further resonance modes appear at approximately 6.5 Hz intervals, a characteristic attributed to the atmosphere's spherical geometry. The peaks exhibit a spectral width of approximately 20% on account of the damping of the respective modes in the dissipative cavity. The eighth overtone lies at approximately 59.9 Hz.

More from Wikipedia.

And here how to capture “exotic” signals in the range of ELF – SLF – ULF – VLF frequencies. Connecting an antenna to a PC with a Sound Card and Software like CiaoRadio, it is possible to receive, analyze, and demodulate any ELF – SLF – ULF – VLF signal up to 24 kHz.

Or intercept submarines communications! USA and Russia transmit in the ELF band generating a slow binary code. Frequencies are 76 Hz for the U.S. system and 82 Hz in the Russian system; the E.R.P. (Effective Radiated Power) is small, probably a few Watts, but signals are receivable around the world. This special kind of reception requires low-pass filters to avoid overloading the input with spherics. All spectrograms in this section are received with the Marconi T antenna and horizontal loop (2100 sq.m).

Friday, 16 January 2009

The Electromagnetic Telegraph

A technical history of the 19th-century electromagnetic telegraph, with special reference to the origin and variey of the alphabets, or codes, that were used.

In an Atlantic Magazine article in 1858, Reverend Hale explains how "dots and lines" are used for communication, describing many ways of sending and receiving them. James Swain of Philadelphia had described what he called a Mural Diagraph in 1829, using knocks and scratches to communicate through walls (obviously not brick walls), that were like dots and dashes. The reverend says his friend Langenzunge (a joke?) cut the wires beside the Baltimore and Ohio during a delay in a trip on a freight train, put them in his mouth, and tasted the sad message that his friend Old Rough and Ready (President Taylor) had died. A blind girl had smelled a message received on the Bain electrochemical telegraph, and another blind person had read the message recorded by a Morse embossing register (a predecessor of the Braille code?). He says the dots and line have been seen, heard, smelled, tasted, and felt (using all five senses). You can believe as much of this as you want.

Full article here.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Huge list of service manuals in PDF.


For ARP, AKAI, BOSS, CASIO, CRUMAR, EML, FAIRLIGHT, KORG, MOOG, ROLAND, YAMAHA synths. To be downloaded here.

Some more here including BUCHLA, OBERHEIM and SEQUENTIAL.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Back in the days... UK rave in 1989.

Pine trees as loudspeakers or how to listen to Electrophonic Meteors


Leonid meteor breakup.

NINETY MINUTES before sunrise on 7 April 1978, an extraterrestrial guest arrived over Eastern Australia. For about 20 seconds it streaked across the sky leaving a bright trail that turned night into day, before finally exploding into glowing fragments that vanished into the sea. This meteor was just one of thousands that enter our atmosphere every year, yet dozens of witnesses in Newcastle and Sydney reported something particularly strange about this visitor. Just before it blew apart, it produced an unearthly soundtrack of hisses, crackles and pops.

Reports of noisy meteors appear in the Bible, yet the cause of their bizarre sounds has always been a mystery. One person might hear the popping and whooshing clearly while another, standing just a few metres away, hears nothing. Explaining this oddity is especially tricky since there is almost no hard scientific data to go on: even if you spent two hours every night looking for them, you might have to wait fifty years to hear one.

Yet researchers believe they are finally closing in on the origins of these strange sounds. All they need now are some meteors on which to test their theories. But rather than waiting around for one to show up, they're hoping that artificial meteors--redundant satellites brought down from orbit to burn up in the atmosphere--will give them the vital data they need to settle it once and for all. At the same time, there's a good chance that they will solve another age-old mystery--the ghostly, rustling songs sometimes heard by observers of the northern and southern lights.

One of the pioneers of these studies is Colin Keay, a physicist at the University of Newcastle in Australia. The day after the New South Wales fireball fell to Earth, Keay was phoned by a colleague at the Australia Museum in Sydney who asked him if he would search for any fragments of the meteorite that might have landed on dry ground. During this hunt, he discovered something about the fireball that would change the course of his work forever.

The meteorite, Keay calculated, had streaked across the sky at almost 20 kilometres per second, 30 kilometres up, yet he met dozens of reliable witnesses who claimed to have heard it produce strange noises as it flew overhead--anything from "a low moaning" to "an express train travelling at high speed". If these sounds had come directly from the meteorite, people on the ground below shouldn't have heard them until almost a minute after it exploded. It would be like seeing a distant flash of lightning and hearing the thunderclap at the same instant.

What finally clinched it for Keay was meeting two witnesses who claimed the sounds first alerted them to the meteorite trail. "When two people reported hearing the sounds before seeing the light of the fireball, I knew it couldn't be psychological," says Keay. "There had to be something to it." Intrigued, he set to work to uncover the mechanism behind these noises. He spent months creating and discarding one physical model after another. Finally, he settled on one that he suspected was the only way to explain how an observer could hear a meteor's fiery entry at the same time as seeing it. It all comes down to electromagnetic radiation.

Keay suspected that the light given off by a meteor's trail must be accompanied by invisible electromagnetic radiation in the form of very low frequency (VLF) radio waves at frequencies from 10 hertz to 30 kilohertz. Travelling at exactly the same speed as visible light, these waves would reach the observer as soon as the meteorite itself came into view. The problem is that you can't hear radio waves. The only way you might hear them is with the help of a suitable "transducer"- an object that acts rather like a loudspeaker, converting electromagnetic signals into audible vibrations.

After some experiments in a soundproof chamber, Keay found that all kinds of things can act as transducers. Aluminium foil, thin wires, pine needles or dry, frizzy hair all respond to a VLF field. The radio waves induce small charges in such objects, and these charges force the object to vibrate in time with the oscillating waves, effectively making them act like the diaphragm in a loudspeaker. Even a pair of glasses, he discovered, will vibrate slightly. And since they rest against the bones of the skull, glasses could increase an observer's chances of hearing VLF waves.

Pine speakers

The transducer effect would explain why some people heard noises from the Australian meteor while others close by heard nothing. Those who heard sounds were simply nearer to the "speakers"--transducers such as pine trees, for example. It would even explain why attempts to record these sounds have always failed. Scientists go out of their way to place their microphones well away from any possible sources of interference such as trees or electric cables. But without any transducers nearby, the meteors would appear silent.

So the transducer effect seems a plausible source of the strange noises, but how do meteors generate VLF waves? "I was getting nowhere until I got the idea to look at turbulence," Keay says. He remembered a theory put forward by physicist Fred Hoyle which used turbulent plasmas to explain sunspots. Perhaps, thought Keay, interactions between the Earth's magnetic field and the plasma in a meteor's trail could somehow create VLF waves.

When a meteor crashes into the Earth's dense atmosphere, it ionises the air around it, leaving a blazing trail of plasma. For a few metres behind the meteor, this trail flows smoothly, but a little further back it becomes turbulent. Since a plasma is a mixture of ions and electrons, it can trap and hold the Earth's magnetic field. "The plasma is swirling so fast that the magnetic field is trapped and scrambled up like magnetic spaghetti," explains Keay. But as the meteor races across the sky, the plasma left behind cools, and the electrons and ions in it recombine almost immediately. Without the electrical charges to keep the magnetic field lines tangled, they suddenly pop free and vibrate like a plucked violin string. It is these vibrations, Keay believes, that broadcast VLF electromagnetic waves over a range of several hundred kilometres.

Full article here at Meteorobs.
Originally from New Scientist magazine, 06 January 2001.

And here for a Leonid Meteor Sounds Witness Accounts.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Laser microphones DIY



A laser microphone is a surveillance device that uses a laser beam to detect sound vibrations in a distant object. The object is typically inside a room where a conversation is taking place, and can be anything that can vibrate (for example, a picture on a wall) in response to the pressure waves created by noises present in the room. The object preferably has a smooth surface. The laser beam is directed into the room through a window, reflects off the object and returns to a receiver that converts the beam to an audio signal. The beam may also be bounced off the window itself. The minute differences in the distance traveled by the light as it reflects from the vibrating object are detected interferometrically. The interferometer converts the variations to intensity variations, and electronics are used to convert these variations to signals that can be converted back to sound.

More here and here.

Monday, 12 January 2009

Hypersonic sound speaker (HSS speakers)


The principle underlying HSS technology was first described by 18th century Italian composer, Tartini, who found that if one plays two different tones loudly at the same time, a third tone is produced which has a frequency that is the exact difference of the frequencies of the other two.

HSS systems apply the 'Tartini principle' electronically and use ultrasonic sounds that are beyond the range of human or animal hearing. HSS sounds are actually a combination of two sound waves: a 'carrier' wave with a frequency of 200,000-hz, and a second wave in the 200,020 to 220,000 hz range. Subtract the latter from the former and you get sound in the 20 to 20,000 hz range - which is the actual audal range of human beings: deep bass notes (20-hz) to shrill, 'high notes' at 20,000-hz.

The sound waves emitted by HSS systems are tightly focused. Since they are at a range that is not audible to humans, they are not heard until the waves encounter an obstacle - a wall, vase, door, or person. At this point, the carrier wave 'drops out' and only the audal sound is heard.

The technology is winning believers from Wal-Mart to McDonald's, Fox television, the Los Angeles Police Department, Procter & Gamble, the U.S. Navy and Cirque de Soleil. It is looking into whether HSS could be used to communicate instructions, midact, from the ground to a trapeze artist without the audience hearing. Companies are experimenting with HSS in TVs, rock concerts, museums, war and airport gates. Imagine hearing only your flight's announcements. In 2002, Popular Science magazine awarded HSS the grand prize for inventions. The Segway personal transporter took second.

"It offers huge benefits over your standard speaker systems," says Sony executive Simon Beesley, who is working on HSS in commercial settings, such as stores or restaurants. "The technology is in its infancy, but I am sure it will very quickly expand."

As it does, HSS will probably rattle the speaker industry, which has been selling a variation of the same technology for nearly 80 years. The impact could be like that of the jet engine on propeller planes or the PC on the mainframe — a major shift that ushers in an era.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

- Is it fairly easy to set up a portable fm pirate radio station? Contest results


Chelmsford radar

Here are the finalists of the "Drive Time Contest", cheers for your cool answers, unfortunately we would have love to send out some more copies, but the Drive Time Vinyl is already almost deleted...

And the winners are:

Chris, from Dronfield, UK
Warren, from South Bend, USA
Eddie, from Mexico City.

Guys, you've been randomly chosen from the answers below.

Items will be sent shortly, thanks to WEME records who helps taking care of our catalogue. Hope you'll enjoy the music!
Massive thanks to all people who participated, we'll remember you.
Here are some other cool answers we received:

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Chris, from Dronfield, UK

A: Yes if you don't mind being arrested.

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Jack Tullip, from X, X

A: yes my friends it's very easy to start a pirate station.
the hard part is to keep it goin'.

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Alessio, from Helsinki, Finland

A: Actually, nowadays it's quite easy.
What you need is:
- an antenna
- a laptop
- vinyls
- a vinyl player
x- a cat
The antenna, the laptop, the vinyls and the vinyl player can be stored in the same bag. The cat need its own when carried around. When you arrive on the next place, be the train station, the train, your room or an internet cafe' downtown, just switch on your Linux laptop, and power the antenna and the vinyl player. The antenna will permit you a short range coverage for your pirate radio station, internet connection and Linunx programs will broadcast to the rest of the world. Once those few step are done, start playing the first vinyl, and let the cat scratch it around, clockwise or anticlockwise, as it feels like. Then move to the next vinyl. And then to the next, until you have to move to the next place.
Last but not least, remember to feed the cat.
********
Hope you enjoy it,

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Warren, from South Bend, USA

A: It's really not that easy to set up a FM Portable Pirate station. First off you'd have to have a wheelbarrow full of Jean Michel Jarre live concert bootlegs. Because the only real Pirate station worth having, is one dealing strictly in JMJ concert recordings. If you were so lucky to have 500 audience recorded bootlegs of JMJ, you'd have to spend the time transferring the cassette audio to vinyl. One knows that the only way to listen to JMJ is on vinyl transfered from shoddy cassette bootlegs. Can you imagine the instant satisfaction of tuning into an FM station and hearing the beaming transmissions of the JMJ light synthesizer melting your face off?!
If only it were so easy....

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Dieter, from Brakel, Belgium

A: I think it is fairly easy to set up a portable fm pirate radio station, if you build this simple transmitter which can be found here: http://www.aaroncake.net/circuits/phonebug.asp.
Of course it also depends on how handy you are with building electronic circuits, I know I'm not that handy :-) The frequency can be tuned from 88 to about 94Mhz so not the whole FM band is covered. I really enjoyed reading this blog, very interesting stuff! It's really interesting to see how inventive those pioneers usually were. I visited the Marconi Villa in Bologna this summer where some of Marconi's experiments are demonstrated.
Thanks for the interesting blog,

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Ed, from Worthing, UK

A: Yes (ish)
1) get rum
2) parrot nb. NOT dead (just sleeping)
2)a)i) get hook
3) get radio
or
if you have the right equipment, you can relay the signal to a remote/unexpected location and have you station untraceable or at least harder to find ie the sussex downs or a towerblock
then just publicise.
as for DAB - im clueless

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Joe, from Kidderminster, UK

A: Of course but only with the help of Scatman John & Uncle John from Jamaica!

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Chris, from Falmouth, UK

A: How easy it is depends on how badly you want/need to spread horrible acid music up & down the country.

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Michael, from Cumbria, UK

A: hey caskers
i'd say it is easy to set up a pirate radio station, if you could shrink down like Rick Moronis (Anis? Anus?) and make the whole studio out of tin cans and copper wire from the disembowled stomachs of forgotten ancient talking barbie dolls. A macabre thought I know but once Barbie is dead, should we not harvest her organs?

-------------------------------------------

Leo, from Stuttgart, Germany

A: Hi there!
> - Is it fairly easy to set up a portable fm pirate radio station?
technically it's really easy - i think the biggest problem is to fill all the broadcasting time.
a while ago we had the plan to build dozens of cheap little fm transmitters, all on different frequencies, and hide them all over the city. but we didn't realise this cuz all the cassette players needed would have been too expensive. at the current 2nd hand walkman prices it's probably worth doing though.
on the other hand we're already running the _hyperground radio shows on our local noncommercial radio station (http://www.freies-radio.de). the station doesn't really have rules regarding content or musical choices, so setting up a pirate radio station here in stuttgart is a bit redundant (except for the street credibility)
all the best,
leo (and the _hyperground team)
ps:
i only got a pair of socks for christmas and would be super-happy to play andy's drive time tape on the show ;)
--
http://www.roglok.net
-------------------------------------------

Eddie, from Mexico City, Mexico

A: Of course it is, with the right set of tools (a correct tape player, preamp, transmitter, band pass filter,a powerful antena and of course some fairy dust everythings possible. And well if youre looking for portable just take your mind with you and sing them tunes in your head, with luck someone capable of telepathy will cath your signal!!!
Cheers

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X, from X, X

A: Yes, it's a piece of piss. There's an episode of the Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles where Krang does it to control everyone so that might help if you're interested in getting involved. An actual easy way of doing it is with one of those Itrip things or something similar, but then you'll only be able to play your show to people in your car or those in range of your speakers.

-------------------------------------------

Wayne, from Parkville, USA

A: My answer to the pirate radio station question follows?
It is not too difficult. First you get an eye patch, peg leg, parrot, ship and crew. Find the buried treasure chest filled with a preamplifier, transmitter, bandpass filter, power supply, mast, antenna and cables. Then set up the broadcasting site in international waters. Lastly, in order to keep rocking have your crew use the ship's canons to protect the broadcasting site.

-------------------------------------------

And a late answer from New York City which didn't count for the contest but a nice one though:

A: It is indeed fairly easy to set up a portable FM Pirate radio station. If by easy you mean fashionable, FM you mean Fairly Mature, Pirate you mean 40-something single mother, radio station you mean Pina Colada, then yes its incredibly easy. The soundtrack to this email is Lovers Acid for your information in case you would like to better understand my reasoning.

1. Go to Flash Dancers at 57th and Broadway in central mid town Manhattan.
2. Ask for Elizabeth. She is russian, 5'10" blonde and ridiculously fake looking.
i. Drop my name if you wish, It may bring you to the front of the queue.
3. Once seated, ask her to demonstrate, rather indulge you in a lap-dance.
i. Keep your hands to yourself. Try sitting on them to keep yourself from getting escorted out of the venue. It helps.
4. At 4 am the show stops. Men stumble to the street covered in glitter from the breasts of the dancers. This is always really weird and awkward.
5. Go home, think about your life, make a tune.
6. Wake up invigorated. Look outside, the sun is shinning. Its 2 pm for Christ sake.
7. Make a pirate radio station.

-------------------------------------------

ACID VARSITY LET ME HEAR YOU!

That's for sure!



“Computer games dont affect us as kids, i mean if pacman did, we’d all be running around darkend rooms, munching on magic pills and listening to repetetive electronic music” Kristina Wilson, Nintendo, 1989

"I am electrical by nature", Ludwig von Beethoven

Recording Angels
The Electromagnetic Imaginary

Originally appeared in The Wire, January 1999; reprinted in Undercurrents (Continuum)

Though sound and music are essentially incorporeal aspects of human experience, they are dependent on the latent potentials of matter: bamboo tubes, stretched animal skin, throat-flesh. Even more fundamentally, sound rests upon vibration, the analog fluctuations of that vaporous fluid we call air. But in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, that ocean of vibration became electrified. Just as traditional instruments can be seen as alchemical transformations of earth and air, woods and metals, so can the revolutionary sonic media that followed in the wake of the telegraph -- telephone, phonograph, and radio, not to mention theremins, moogs, and Roland 303s -- be seen as creative transmutations of the new "elements" that would come to undergird the twentieth century's cultural consciousness: electricity and electromagnetism.

"I am electrical by nature," wrote Ludwig von Beethoven. "Music is the electric soil in which the spirit lives, thinks, and invents." The old man's curious quip introduces us to what I like to call "the electromagnetic imaginary:" the mythic, animistic, and just plain weird cultural dimensions of electricity and electromagnetism, those cosmic forces which carry an imaginative load as powerful for us as air, earth, water and fire were for the ancients. The word electricity first entered the English tongue in a 1650 translation of a treatise on the healing properties of magnets by Jan Baptist van Helmont, a Flemish physician and Rosicrucian who worked, significantly, on the borderline between natural magic and modern chemistry. Indeed, many of the earliest books on electricity described the force in distinctly alchemical terms, dubbing it the "ethereal fire," the "quintessential fire," or the "desideratum," the long-sought universal panacea. Emerging from the gap between biology and physics, matter and the unseen ether, electricity is a liminal force that inevitably carries a powerful imaginative load.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, electricity also catalyzed the kind of heady enthusiasm that data devices do today. One of these electrogeeks, a failed painter named Samuel Morse, was blessed with a formidable insight in the 1830s: if electric current could be squeezed through a wire, then "intelligence might...be instantaneously transmitted by electricity to any distance." After convincing Congress to plow $30,000 into his project, Morse strung up a wire between Baltimore and Washington D.C. The first official message to careen along the line, in 1844, was a strangely oracular pronouncement: "What hath God wrought!" This message reads as much like an anxious question as a cry of glee, and today we know the answer: what God wrought, or rather, what men wrought in their god-aping mode, was the information age.

Morse's system was not just electrical (and hence, effectively instantaneous); it was digital. The electric current that ran along telegraph wires was an analog medium, flowing in the undulating waves that everywhere weave the world. But by regularly breaking and reestablishing this flow with a simple switch, and by establishing a code to interpret the resulting patterns of pulses, Morse chopped the analog dance into discrete digital signs. But these signs were also electro-metallic beats, a rat-a-tat that foreshadowed the frenetic rhythms of the coming machine age. With Morse code in hand, railroads improved their ability to move goods over America's vast distances, newspapermen sped up the perceived pace of historical events, businessmen upped their managerial control (and their stress), and stock markets started pulsing in synch. In Nathaniel Hawthorne's The House of Seven Gables, the character Clifford asks a question at once ironic and prophetic of all the electromania to come: "Is it a fact--or have I dreamt it--that, by means of electricity, the world of matter has become a great nerve, vibrating thousands of miles in a breathless point of time?"

Writing about the telegraph in Understanding Media, Marshall McLuhan also argued that "whereas all previous technology (save speech, itself) had, in effect, extended some part of our bodies, electricity may be said to have outered the central nervous system itself." For McLuhan, Morse's electric ganglion was only the first in a series of media that served to dissolve the logical and individualistic mindframe hammered out by alphanumeric characters, the printing press, and Renaissance perspective drawing. The telegraph sparked the "electric retribalization of the West," a long slide into an immersive electronic sea of mythic participation and collective resonance. But McLuhan also saw this "outering" as the technological roots of the age of anxiety. "To put one's nerves outside," he wrote, "is to initiate a situation -- if not a concept -- of dread."

Because the self is partly a product of its communications, new media technologies remold the boundaries of being. As they do so, the shadows, doppelgangers, and dark intuitions that haunt human identity begin to leak outside the self as well -- and some of them take up residence in the emerging virtual spaces suggested by the new technologies. Spiritualism, for example, was bound up from the get-go with the telegraph: the knocks and rappings that passed back and forth between the Fox sisters and the dead peddler in their Hydesdale cottage in 1848 were spectral echoes of the dots and dashes then hurtling through wires across the land. During the 1850s, the movement's most popular newspaper was called The Spiritual Telegraph, and Spiritualists like Allan Kardec and scientists like Michael Faraday both looked to electricity to explain the raps, creaks, and table-hops that occurred during seances. By the 1860s and 70s, mediums had become the professional pop stars of the Victorian era, and attendees were treated to occult sideshows, as tables rapped and danced across the room, and gooey ectoplasm materialized out of thin air, and musical instruments played creepy jigs in the dark -- apparently all by themselves.

Sound clearly plays a privileged role in both manifesting and mystifying electricity. According to one contemporary account, the "Finale" of a Boston lecture given by representatives of the Edison Company in 1887 was nothing less than a seance: "Bells rung, drums beat, noises natural and unnatural were heard, a cabinet revolved and flashed fire, and a row of departed skulls came into view." And when Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Watson gave demonstration lectures for the telephone, the two men also conjured up tricks that delivered all the thrills and chills of a magic show.

The telephone always possessed a kind of shadow side. Though Bell came up with the notion of translating the vibrating pressures of the human voice into an electrical signal that could pass along a wire, Watson actually built most of the man's early devices. Like a lot of the electrical hackers of the time, Watson combined loads of practical know-how with weak and frequently wacky theories about the mysterious fluid itself -- electricity is an experience before it is a fact, a dream before it is a science. In Watson's case, electrical theories were mixed up with Spiritualist notions. Watson treated Spiritualism as a non-mystical science, and he initially concluded that, just as "a telegraph instrument transforms pulsations of electricity into the taps of the Morse code," so too did mediums transform energetic radiation into raps and knockings. He also believed spirits from the other side were helping the telephone along. And why not? We associate sentient life with what communicates, and here was an inert thing full of voices. As the emperor of Brazil exclaimed when he first heard the gadget: "My God, it talks!"

A similar shock, impossible for us to reconstruct, awaited folks first confronted with the phonograph. The telephone had already transformed sound waves into the fluctuations of an electric current, but Thomas Edison discovered that changing an electric current in a stylus changed the amount of friction the stylus exerted on a rotating cylinder -- which could therefore become a medium of sonic inscription. Though Edison himself was a most practical man, he was also something of a techno-spiritualist, and later attempted to build a radio device capable of capturing the voices of the dead. Such desires would persist, sublimated and not, throughout the twentieth century. The Swedish researcher Konstantin Raudive claimed that magnetic tape recordings of silence often turn out, on repeated listening, to contain distinct voices, and contemporary devotees of Electronic Voice Phenomenon have tuned into similar murmurs on non-broadcast radio frequencies, some of which are interpreted as messages from beyond the veil.

These dreams and sonic phantasms are not just kookery; they are what Kodwo Eshun would call "sonic fictions," arising in the virtual spaces carved out by electrical media. By siphoning a bit of the soul into an externalized device, such technologies triggered the ancient dread of the doppelgänger, that psychic simulacrum of the self that moves through the world of its own eerie accord. Freud dubbed the dread produced by the doppelgänger "the uncanny," which he connected to the queer feelings one gets from dolls and automata. It seems important to note that when Edison was imagining possible applications for his new device, one of his first notions, alongside producing platters of music, was to make dolls "speak sing cry & make various sounds."

Electricity had still other tricks up its sleeve. In the 183Os, the great British experimental scientist Michael Faraday discovered that changing the electrical current in a wire coil somehow induced an energetic fluctuation in a nearby coil. This decidedly bizarre action-at-a-distance, which came to be called electromagnetic induction, is the driving force behind electrical power plants to this day. For his part, Faraday explained the rather mysterious force connecting the two coils as a "wave of electricity." Pointing to the strange patterns that iron filings create around the end of a magnet, Faraday also suggested that electromagnetic "fields" consisted of "lines of force," vibrating patterns that spread throughout space. Though Faraday initially considered these undulating images of fields and lines of force as nothing more than useful fictions, he gradually accepted them as a basic description of reality.

In the 1860s, James Clerk Maxwell translated Faraday's experimental findings into the language of mathematics, synthesizing optical, magnetic, and electrical phenomena into four magnificent equations that governed the whole of electromagnetic reality. In doing so, Maxwell predicted the existence of the electromagnetic spectrum whose waves we now exploit for everything from broadcasting Puff Daddy to reheating meat loaf to analyzing the chemical composition of Alpha Centauri. Einstein later called Faraday and Maxwell's work the "greatest alteration in the axiomatic basis of physics -- in our conception of the structure of reality." Their electromagnetic universe set the stage for the final deconstruction of atomic materialism: the dissolution of the ether, the emergence of Einsteinian space-time, and ultimately the arrival of quantum mechanics and its colossal oddities. The corporeal cosmos melted into an immense sea of vibrations and insubstantial forces.

Metaphorically speaking, Faraday and Maxwell's model was also intensely musical, though its music was very different from the tonal structures of Western music -- structures which, perhaps not coincidentally, began to dissolve just as the new model of the universe entered popular consciousness. Towards the end of the century, wireless hackers like Marconi and Tesla make direct technological contact with the invisible radio waves theoretically limned by Maxwell. In 1899, after five years of fiddling around with induction coils, batteries and primitive aerials (some of which he hung from balloons), Guglielmo Marconi equipped two ships with radio gear that issued speedily telegraphed reports on the yacht race for the America's Cup. This little sports thrill captured the world's imagination, and the twentieth century can be said to have started on a wireless note. As Simon Reynolds notes, wireless telegraphy also served as a kind of sonic prophecy: those monotone Morse beep-beep-beeps that once signified news now sound like dance music.

Marconi's wireless flowered into radio, which in its first few decades reproduced a pattern of intense technical development and prophecies about world peace and democratic communication that sound eerily familiar in the Internet 90s. Moreover, early radio attracted legions of hackers, teenage and otherwise, who endowed their homebrewed crystal sets with an undeniable charge of experiment and anarchic play. For the first few decades of radio's life, hobbyist weenies across the globe chatted up a storm while making important discoveries about the spectrum, especially on the short-wave side of things. By the 1920s, federal and commercial interests began stringing barbed wire across the many-to-many spectrum, professionalizing and segmenting the formerly free-range medium.

Even as the airwaves were filling up with ads for laundry soap, radio freaks continued to hear some seriously otherworldly stuff in their primitive headphones. Thomas Watson got an early taste of these unearthly transmissions late at night in Bell's lab, when he would listen to the snaps, bird chirps, and ghostly grinding noises that popped up on a telephone circuit: "My theory at this time was that the currents causing these sounds came from explosions on the sun or that they were signals from another planet. They were mystic enough to suggest the latter explanation but I never detected any regularity in them that might indicate they were intelligent signals." As Avital Ronell points out that, Watson may have been the first person to listen to noise. Though the sounds he heard may well have had terrestrial origins, Watson made the crucial recognition that human ears could now directly register cosmic vibrations.

Watson was by no means the only electrohead to believe he was picking up play-by-plays from other planets. During the summer of 1899, when Nikola Tesla manufactured lightning and dreamed of broadcasting wireless power across the globe, the inventor also started picking up regular signals on his 200 foot radio tower in Colorado, and tentatively concluded that he was "the first to hear the greeting of one planet to another." For decades, many early radio operators continued to pick up powerful, persistent and seemingly unexplainable signals, some of which were reported to be rather Pynchonesque repetitions of the Morse code for v. Marconi himself claimed to have received such signals on the low end of the longwave spectrum, and in 1921 flatly declared that he believed they originated from other civilizations in space. On August 24, 1924, when Mars passed unusually close to the earth, civilian and military transmitters voluntarily shut down in order to leave the airwaves open for the Martians; radio hackers were treated to a symphony of freak signals.

These popular passions may seem corny in retrospect, but that is because the sublime and visionary edge of technology is always changing, opening up new virtualities that then become integrated into business as usual. For eons, the hardwired side of human perception has been limited to our own unique sensory apparatus, an apparatus that partly determines the apparent nature of the world. New technologies of perception unfold new worlds of sublimity and threat, worlds which challenge us to reconfigure the limits of ourselves and to shape the meaning of the new spaces we find ourselves in. When ocular instruments extended human sight into Galileo's heavens and Robert Hooke's microscopic cellular regimes, they installed new explanatory spaces for the universe, spaces which reorganized the meaning of the cosmos and the actors in it.

But what kind of "space" does our expanded encounter with electricity and the electromagnetic spectrum lead us into? Though the spectrum includes the wavelengths of visible light, and X-rays, ultrasound, and radio astronomy can all be used to illuminate new dimensions of the universe, the essence of electromagnetism is invisible. In one of his more suggestive intuitions, Marshall McLuhan argued that electronic technologies were installing an "acoustic space" in the place of an earlier "visual space" -- the linear, logical and sequential conception of the world that had dominated Western consciousness for many centuries. McLuhan believed that electronic media eroded this crisp and objective grid of facts, dissolving it into a psychic, social and perceptual environment that resembles the kind of space we hear: multi-dimensional, resonant, invisibly tactile, "a total and simultaneous field of relations." Though McLuhan used "acoustic space" as an analogy for a psycho-social process that did not necessarily tickle the bones of the inner ear, his oceanic vision of acoustics does foreground the central role that music -- and its electromagnification -- would play in mapping and constructing pleasure and perception in the first fully technological century.

This secret sympathy between music and the electromagnetic imaginary was first intuited in the 1600s by the Jesuit alchemist Athanasius Kircher, who identified certain vibrating musical tones as "magnetic." Kircher also invented the glass harmonica, an instrument that exploited the resonant tones produced by rubbing glass tumblers filled with water. Kircher's researches were carried on by the animal magnetist Franz Anton Mesmer, known today either as the king of charlatans or the man whose healing journeys into the netherworlds of the mind inadvertently spawned psychoanalysis. Mesmer believed that animal magnetism was "communicated, propagated and intensified by sound," and, as the liner notes to Ash's 1995 compilation Mesmer Variations point out, used to improvise on a version of Kircher's glass harmonica in order to set the mood in his healing salons. One visiting Viennese doctor described the "shiver through my nerves caused by the instrument," and suggested that "many of the phenomena of magnetism must have been brought out by the extremely penetrating tones of this music."

For us, Mesmer might serve as a utopian figure -- half comic, half cosmic, experimental and underground -- for the continued promise of electroacoustic phenomena in a world ravaged by technologies with far more violent and banal issue. Along with cinema, twentieth-century music has become one of the principle esthetic zones where humans have used innovative gadgetry to make sense -- and nonsense -- of their own increasingly technologized souls. Musicians and composers both highbrow and pop have twiddled and tweaked electronic and electrical instruments, as well as electromagnetic recording and broadcasting technologies, in order to tune into new sonic, compositional, and expressive possibilities. In so doing, they have also gone a long way toward reimagining the scrambled boundaries of subjectivity as it makes its way through the invisible landscapes -- both dreadful and sublime -- that make up the acoustic space of electronic media.

From techgnosis.com

Saturday, 10 January 2009

The Death of Dynamic Range A Chronology of the Compact Disc Loudness Wars

From www.261.gr

Here is the most simplified and revealing article with proofing images
for nowadays nasty “trendy” techniques? :( For mastering CD’s which they call it “Hyper Compressed” or "Radio Like" or whatever else, U may call it "rubbish".

Master minds of music industry think to apply that way of “hyper compressed” processing for all of they CD’s releases with their “new talents?” making it more louder or “radio like” just to impress the music customers especially young peoples with only one traget, just to“sell” as much as possible copies, or maybe they think “Bring back on life” an already “dead” music market. They have wrong, the only they do is to “kill the music” if there is any remains :)

Of course the trick of "louder is better" is not new on music media, all radio stations apply “hyper compressed & clipping” techniques on his broadcasting sound with dedicated expensive processing units, but on analogue radio which is an medium with limited and narrow dynamics max of 40db that “hyper compressed & clipping” way is a must to keep radio stations under the legally of 75khz max, the CD don’t have such limitations, so why they continuous to apply that damn “hyper compressed & clipping” ?

Personally only one reasonable answer I can find “they try to adapt younger peoples to a feckless “deaf and blind” customers” :( Isn’t a sad ascertainment? Yes it is, so do something. Stop now that awfully situation.

Before years they pass on youth people mp3 as the most High Quality source of today make in it a trendy a must to have, I pod etc, now they strikes again with the domination of that loud & distorted sound as a status of High Quality abuses the well known unique benefits of Compact Disc medium :(

That horribly distorted processing method is not applying it only on current CD releases but and older CD’s as well, u must be very suspicious on every old CD which notice it as “Remastered”, an bad example is the “Rumors” by Fleetwood Mac, Is full hyper compressed plus severe clipped, the voice of Steve Nicks on “Dreams” sounds like “donkey's bray :(”.

Fortunately there are some honest audio engineers which refuse on that trend and apply processing with much respect on classic albums without any clipping. Two excellent examples which is real “remastered” and is a reference for audiophile passionate best for sound check of home Hi End sets and for fine tune of any Radio processing unit. That two excellent “remastered” CD’s are “Aja” released at 1999 and “Gaucho” released at 2000 by Steely Dan both are produced by MCA.

People must be aware/inform for that major catastrophic situation, from artists to CD customers or music lovers, to radio program directors, people must learn how music company’s abuses the product just to “sell” more, customers must stop buying any of today CD releases all are mastered with “hyper compressed” way is no matter the format from Jazz to rNb all sounds “distorted” NOT loud, Radio Stations must refuse to play at his on air any “hyper compressed” CD, valuable expensive high tech radio sound processing units sounds “scrap” when play that damn horribly “hyper compressed” CD’s.

The original article has presented at "http://rvcc2.raritanval.edu/ktek9053/cdpage" but is no longer available there (really I wonder why? Guess what! :) is re-presented intact from www.mindspring.com/~mrichter

1983
Bryan Adams - Cuts Like a Knife (A&M CD-3288)
This represents the earliest stage of CD audio mastering techniques. One of the big attractions of the CD format was its very wide dynamic range and absence of surface noise, so the first generation of CDs that were released made full use of this.
The CD's digital audio format is inherently limited to a peak audio amplitude that is referenced as "0 dB" or "100%". Unlike the variability of analog recording techniques, this limit cannot be exceeded. If you try to, you end up with a waveform that is horribly distorted, due to the top and/or bottom of the wave being harshly limited to the maximum level -- or "clipped." Early CDs were mastered with full respect to this loudness limit and did not use any clipping.
In this case, Bryan Adams' breakthrough album -- although full of stereotypically "loud" rock & roll music -- was mastered with a great amount of "headroom"; the highest peak level on the entire disc is only 74.8%, or -2.52 dB. This peak level only occurs a single time on the disc, in Track 9, whose waveform graph is shown here (with the stereo Left channel on top, and Right channel on bottom):



Obviously this peak (which occurs at around 2:16 in the song) is not even close to being clipped, and in fact the loudness of the whole CD could be increased by 2.5 dB without sacrificing any quality or harming the content of the recordings in any way. That single peak would simply be raised up to just below the 100% limit. You can think of this as a short person raising up the height-adjustable driver's seat in their car. They would sit at a higher level, with their head just below the ceiling, but not touching it -- in this case, literal "headroom".

1988
Willie Nelson - What a Wonderful World (Columbia CK 44331)
This is an example of what I was just talking about. With this CD, there is a single peak on the entire disc which does reach the 100% limit, but yet is still not "clipped", and every other track on the album has a lower peak level. Here is the waveform of Track 6, showing the single 100% (0 dB) peak near the beginning:



And here is a highly "zoomed in" view of this peak, to prove that it is not clipped:



This represents the extreme of the most conservative form of CD mastering; where only a single peak, occuring only in a single track, reaches the maximum level, and everything else on the disc is below it. However, as we shall see, as the years went by and CDs became more and more popular, this pristine form of CD audio production became more and more rare!

1987
George Michael - Faith (Columbia CK 40867)
Yes, we are stepping back a year, in this case to show a more contemporary pop music CD. On this particular CD, most of the tracks contain multiple peaks which reach the 100% limit, but are still not clipped. Here is the waveform of the title track "Faith":



So, there are multiple instances in the song where the 100% / 0 dB peak level is reached. But are these peaks clipped? I looked at all of them to check, and none of them were. Here is an example of a few of these 100% peaks in the song, and as you can see, the shape of the waveform is still fully preserved:







By zooming in on one of these peaks, I can illustrate just what I have been talking about:



In this instance, seven samples (or "digital snapshots" of the sound) in a row are shoved up against the limit, and they have nowhere to go, so they just form a flat line -- hence, our old friend known as "clipping". A perfectly flat line like this never occurs in audio recording unless the audio is purposely clipped. What it is doing is generating a very unnatural "square wave", and when you play back this square wave, you get a burst of distorted sound. CD digital audio runs at 44,100 samples per second. In this case, seven of these samples formed a square wave. That's 7/44100th of a second -- far too quick to be directly heard. But when you add many of these clipped samples in each second of the song, the effect becomes more and more noticeable as "clipping distortion" -- a harsh, crackly sound that is very unpleasant to the ear -- as we shall see below.

1995
The Rembrandts - L.P. (EastWest/Atlantic 61752-2)
Everybody loves "I'll Be There For You", the theme song from the TV show "Friends", right? Well, have you ever looked at its waveform graph? Yikes!



Although this particular track only reaches a peak level of 96.2% -- which is below the 100% limit and theoretically should be free from "clipping" -- when you zoom in, you'll see that many of the MANY peaks that are strictly limited to this level (causing the "solid block of sound" effect) are clipped, like this one:



The sad part is that when these peaks are clipped, or "hacked off" as I like to call it, the original content and quality of the sound is lost forever. Although there are techniques to "guess" at the missing part of the waveform and "re-draw" a curved wave out of the part that was formerly a flat line, this is not accurate to the original sound; it is merely an "artist's reconstruction", so to speak. Thus, when aggressive peak clipping is used, the record company is DESTROYINGpart of the music. And if you thought this song was bad enough, hold on and be prepared for a very sickening sight below...

1999
Ricky Martin (C2/Columbia CK 69891)
By now I don't think I have to explain what you see below. And in this case, it probably will help explain why your ears start to hurt after listening to "Livin' La Vida Loca" even for just a short time!



And as we zoom in, the audio carnage is apparent:



The Radio Loudness Fallacy
Okay, so the end result of all this stuff shown above is that CDs have gotten louder and louder over the years. But that also makes them sound louder when played on the radio, right?
WRONG! Every radio station uses "audio processing" to accomodate a wide variety of audio programming and deliver a consistent volume level, so that you're not always reaching for the volume control to turn up quiet songs and turn down loud songs. The goal of this is to make every song come out of your radio at a fairly equal volume level. The station's audio processing does this by carefully compressing, limiting, and yes, even clipping the audio. It also equalizes the bass and treble levels so one song doesn't sound bassy and muffled and the next doesn't sound tinny and shrill.
When properly adjusted, this audio processing can work wonders, and gives radio stations just the type of sound they're looking to provide their listeners with, be it a soft and relaxing Classical music station, or a loud and brash Heavy Metal rock station. But... this audio processing relies on the peaks and valleys of the incoming audio; it raises up the quiet spots and limits down the loud spots.
BUT WHEN EVERYTHING IS CONSISTENTLY LOUD ALL THE TIME, LIKE THIS SENTENCE, the radio station's audio processor has nothing to do but to limit down the volume level, and since the incoming music contains virtually no variations in loudness, then it stays consistently quiet when played on the air. It's like walking along a street and passing a construction zone where they have a jack-hammer going. Due to the consistently loud noise, you have no choice but to cover your ears until it stops.
Compare that example to a fireworks display. You may cover you ears during the explosions, but otherwise, things are much quieter and you could actually amplify the sounds around you and not damage your hearing. This is like the CDs of the 1980s shown above. The high peaks get limited down so that the radio station doesn't exceed the signal level which it can transmit, but otherwise the rest of the audio actually gets raised in level, so that it comes out louder on the air.
And you can get this same effect at home by simply TURNING UP YOUR STEREO'S VOLUME CONTROL. You want your music to be loud? You can make it loud yourself -- and the full quality and dynamic range of the music is preserved. Yes, even the Bryan Adams CD from 1983 can be played louder than Ricky Martin's horribly produced CD -- the choice is up to you. But when all of your CDs are recoreded to be loud right on the discs themselves, you don't have this choice anymore; you no longer have a variety of "loud" music and "quiet" music to choose from and to play at a volume level that suits your musical taste. The record companies are not only filling your CDs with distorted, corrupted audio, they are forcing you to listen to your music in a certain manner -- do you really want that?

Meanwhile, in Europe...
At least for some record companies "across the pond", it took a lot longer for the "loudness wars" to catch up with them than it did in the USA. Take, for example, the original April 1999 CD single release "Swear It Again" by Westlife (RCA/BMG 74321 66206 2) -- which was the first of a record-breaking string of #1 U.K. hits for this Irish pop group:



This is just like the 1988 Willie Nelson CD shown far above on this page. Only a single peak during the entire song reaches maximum level -- in this case, 97.1%, and it is not clipped:



But a funny thing happened to this very same song when it ended up on Westlife's first full album (RCA/BMG 74321 713212) later in the year:



That may look like a drastic increase in loudness, and it is, but notice that as compared to American pop music of the 1990s, it still has a decent amount of "wiggle room" for the peaks and valleys of the sound to occur. And if we zoom in, only five peaks during the entire song occur at the maximum level, and NONE OF THEM ARE CLIPPED, as you can see from these two:



This is pretty much what I would consider to be the limit of RESPONSIBLE CD PRODUCTION. It allows the music to sound "loud" without DESTROYING the audio through the use of peak clipping.
But, alas, the influence of American pop music became too great, and the U.K. record companies felt they had to respond by also resorting to the same tricks for their music. Here is an example from 2000, the first track from Westlife's second album "Coast To Coast" (RCA/BMG 74321 824302):



What I don't get is that this song has its peak level set unnaturally low, to only 88.1% out of the 100% possible -- and yet, even with over 1 dB of "headroom" to work with, the audio is still clipped in numerous places during the song:



You might just write this off as somebody setting the recording level a bit low, but it is interesting to compare it to the same song on the Asian release of this album (RCA/BMG 74321 803772):



The peak level is now much closer to the CD's maximum limit -- in this case 99.3% -- and at least some of the peaks and valleys can still be seen amongst the highly compressed audio. But, unfortunately, when zoomed in, even this dynamically superior Asian release also used clipping on some of the peaks:



Note that in each case above, when clipping is present, I have picked the most clipped example out of the entire song; that is, the instance which has the highest number of "flat-topped" samples. So, while this Asian version still contains clipping, it is less drastically clipped than the U.K. release, while it actually has a higher peak level. Are Asian ears more sensitive to clipping distortion than British ears? Maybe the record company knows something we don't....