Tag Archives: Technology

19th-century acoustical research

manometric capsule

The 19th century was a golden age for the invention of acoustical research instruments—tools for measuring audible frequencies or the speed of sound, or for making sound visible.

Advancements in instrument making and voice physiology paralleled advancements in sound recording, reproduction, and transmission. Apparatuses developed during that time included tuning forks, sirens, sonorous pipes, singing and sensitive flames, manometric capsules, and resonators.

This according to “1800–1900: Un secolo di strumenti per lo studio dell’acustica/1800–1900: A century of instruments for the study of acoustics” by Paolo Brenni, an essay included in L’acustica e suoi strumenti: La collezione dell’Istituto Tecnico Toscano/Acoustics and its instruments: The collection of the Istituto Tecnico Toscano (Firenze: Giunti, 2001, pp. 57–72).

Above, a manometric capsule; below, Professor Henry Higgins demonstrates a sensitive flame, using a rotating mirror for isolating the flame’s oscillations.

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Circuit bending

Until now, the assumed hurdles of electronic design have kept laypersons at bay. Circuit bending—the chance-directed rewiring of preexisting electronic devices—transforms the circuit into a friendly and immediate canvas, like that of a painter: Just walk up and paint.

Indeed, the modern-day painter’s canvas is more immediate than ever, since there is no longer a need to study the science of pigment making. Similarly, circuit bending’s chance approach—an act of clear illogic—obviates any need to understand the science of electronics.

Just as traditional cultures can transform a coconut into myriad different instruments, circuit bending can transform a Speak & Spell, for example, into an untold number of homemade synthesizers.

This according to “The folk music of chance electronics: Circuit bending the modern coconut” by Qubais Reed Ghazala (Leonardo music journal XIV [2004], pp. 96–104).

Many thanks to the Improbable Research blog for reminding us about Ghazala’s writings! Below, the author discusses his work; above, he admires an amanita muscaria.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Curiosities, Instruments, Science

LEGO™ music

Sonic constructs is an interactive sound installation that uses LEGO Mindstorms™ semi-automata musical robots; it was created by Pedro Rebelo, Franziska Schroeder, and Graham McAllistair.

In Sonic constructs, two robotic devices move and interact while performing trajectories that produce sound as a by-product of the movement itself. Direction, speed, acceleration, position, scratching, and collision characterize an environment for kinetic and acoustic participation.

This according to “Sonic constructs: Robotics and the residue of sound” by Rebelo and McAllistair, an essay included in Systems research in the arts. VI: Music, environmental design, and the choreography of space (Windsor: International Institute for Advanced Studies in Systems Research and Cybernetics, pp. 58–62).

Images, sound clips, and a video are here.

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Ringtones redux

Cell phone ringtones have been the subject of scholarly investigation for at least a decade; approaches to them have ranged from the practical to the postmodern.

The earliest academic study that we know of is “On the ringtones of cell phones (携帯電話着信メロディーについて)” in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of Japan (社団法人日本音響学会) LVII/11 (2001), pp. 725–728. Legal aspects were explored the following year in “Die Lizenzierungspraxis der GEMA bei Ruftonmelodien: Rechteeinräumung und Rechtefluß” by Jürgen Becker in Recht im Wandel seines sozialen und technologischen Umfeldes: Festschrift für Manfred Rehbinder (München: C.H. Beck, 2002, pp. 187–198).

Then the cultural theorists began to take note. The stage was set by discussions of aspects of postmodernism and colonialism in “The semiotics of cell-phone ring tones” by Erkki Pekkilä in Musical semiotics revisited (Helsinki: International Semiotics Institute, 2003, pp. 110–120). Recent cultural analyses have included “The musical madeleine: Communication, performance, and identity in musical ringtones” by Imar de Vries (Popular music and society XXXIII/1 [February 2010], pp. 61–74) and “What does answering the phone mean? A sociology of the phone ring and musical ringtones” by Christian Licoppe (scheduled for future publication in Cultural Sociology).

Above, heeding the summons of a ringtone in Bangladesh.

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Filed under Curiosities, Popular music, Reception, Science