The Sound Design of Typing

"The Qwerkwriter has a very unique sound signature, due to its chrome accent as well as the mechanical switch, and the way the key caps are constructed." That’s the pitch at the start of this video of a three-pound, tablet-friendly keyboard that combines Bluetooth connectivity with an old-school mechanism. It is unlikely anyone who worked in or near a corporate typing pool in the pre-computer, post-war era misses the cacophony, but for personal use the gadget no doubt has its charms. From the tech spec: "Cherry MX Blue switches (a modern switch that emulates the typewriter clicky feel)."

Hosted at vimeo.com and the kickstarter.com campaign, which passed its goal of $90,000 by almost 50 percent. More at qwerkytoys.com. Found via Richard Kadrey.

Sub Pop and Other Micro Streams

One of my long-standing discontents with iTunes is the absence of a metadata field for record label. Small labels in particular are now looking at private membership and specialized streaming systems to emphasize their curatorial role, [the New York Times reports]( http://mobile.nytimes.com/2014/07/07/technology/independent-music-labels-and-young-artists-embrace-streaming-on-their-own-terms.html ):

> Last month, Sub Pop Records, an independent label that introduced artists including Nirvana and the Shins, announced a partnership with Drip.fm, a subscription streaming and download service. Fans who sign up for the Sub Pop feed on Drip.fm will pay $10 a month in exchange for albums, singles and special exclusives from the label.

> [O]ther younger, digitally savvy musicians are starting their own services to appeal directly to their fans, like Nicolas Jaar’s Other People and Ryan Hemsworth’s Secret Songs.

Always On: Rainforests, Sleep Disorders, More

Nick Shchetko at blogs.wsj.com/digits surveys recent app developments related to “always on” microphones.

There’s Rainforest, a chainsaw-detection tool halfway through its Kickstarter campaign.

He also lists examples that “assess the quality of sleep, explain why a baby is crying, tell you when you’re stressed, identify mental disorder, track gunshots and even help to crowd-monitor endangered cicada species.”

And then there’s BodyBeat, prototype pictured above:

A crude prototype of BodyBeat, revealed in mid-June, uses an external custom-made microphone to track body sounds, such as breath or cough, with the ambitious aim to detect illnesses or record food consumption.

The microphone is placed on the neck with a 3D-printed neckpiece, which is plugged into a small audio processing device that is wirelessly connected to a smartphone. BodyBeat authors plan to redesign the system for better usability in commercial applications.

It may sound far-fetched. But there could be plenty of market opportunities for systems like BodyBeat. Breathing sounds are indicative of lung conditions, and data on what users consume – say, how often do they drink or eat certain products – can provide important data for diet tracking apps.

There are certainly limitations to sound-detection technology. The quality of embedded microphones remains a concern, for one. “The problem is you can’t create a robust app because everyone is using different microphones,” said Alexander Adams, who helped develop BodyBeat.

Found thanks to Alexis Madrigal’s tinyletter.com/intriguingthings.

Sound Design: That Sounds Hot

A lot of the class that I teach about the role of sound in the media landscape focuses on exploring the sonic aspects of organizations, enterprises, and products. This following bit is a good example of a company doing just that:

How does hot water differ from cold water, sonically. NPR listened in as the British firm Condiment Junkie set out to answer the question, in the service of a Twinings Tea advertisement.

Here is a set of examples of their research:

NPR’s summary:

The marketers wanted to know: Would it be possible to make that noise itself more appealing? Can people hear the difference between a hot cup of tea being poured and, say, a cold beer? And is it possible to make a hot drink sound hotter or a cold drink sound more refreshing?

So they did an experiment. They played sounds of hot and cold water being poured into glasses and asked people to guess: hot or cold? The results were kind of insane. Ninety-six percent of people can tell the difference between hot and cold, just by the sound.

Scott King of Condiment Junkie on the takeaway:

"There tends to be more bubbling in a liquid that’s hot," he explains. "As you have more bubbling, you tend to get higher frequency sounds from it."

The firm has also developed "interactive music boxes" for Selfridges and sound design for an Adidas spot. More at condimentjunkie.co.uk.

What Will Be the Hamburger of Voice Search?

Even though it’s over two and a half years since Apple introduced Siri and almost 50 years since Douglas Rain provided the voice for Hal in 2001: A Space Odyssey, we’re very much at the beginning of voice control. There are few if any norms or standards for voice commands activated by users, especially in contrast with the increasing uniformity of web design, where common elements are pervasive, such as endless scroll, small-print footers, and the three-lined “hamburger” button that signifies the presence of a menu. The norms in voice search will be accumulated in the coming years, not just thanks to decisions made by the big players, but by small initiatives, like the Tabs Board controller, a Chrome extension covered yesterday by addictivetips.com:

Voice search integration arrived in Chrome quite a while ago and it is an excellent watered down basic version of Google Now. One of the many differences between Google Now and Voice Search on Chrome is that Google Now can launch apps installed on your device while Voice Search is simply what its name implies it is with no support for any other browser function. Tabs Board is a Chrome extension that helps you switch between tabs open in a window. It also lets you search for tabs by a voice command which is what sets it apart from other tab management extensions. Both the voice search and the tab switching overlay can be opened with a keyboard shortcut that a user can customize. You can search for tabs with either a voice command or you can search and select them using the mouse. The extension lists open tabs in an overlay at the bottom of Chrome.

As with most voice commands, the product assumes that your microphone is always one. Get Tab Boards at the chrome.google.com.

Pharmaceuticals Are Technologies Are Pharmaceuticals

Kind of fascinating that the manufacturer of an over-the-counter sleep aid might create brand extensions that include white noise machines:

Procter & Gamble Co. Chief Financial Officer Jon Moeller piqued curiosity when he told an investor conference last month that the company was preparing to enter a new category in the next six months and “introduce a new and far superior method of addressing a chronic consumer issue.”

Based on the company’s trademark filings, a strong candidate, at least for the latter, appears to be a line of products that make it easier to sleep. Several of its recent trademark filings relate to an expansion of the ZzzQuil brand the company launched in 2012 into what would be a range of new sleep-aid products. Among the categories P&G filed to cover with the ZzzQuil and ZzzPads name in February are “electronic sound generators for producing ambient sounds for promoting sleep,” light-therapy units and aromatherapy pads specially adapted for creating scents for electric vaporizers, electric fans, air purifiers and humidifiers.

Via Zack Neff at adage.com.

Smartwatches Are Always Listening, LG G

The above image is from the initial promotional material for the Android-powered LG G Watch. It is showing support for “Ok Google,” which listens for that phrase as a prompt. Of course, in order to do that, the watch has to be always listening. As useful as the concierge-ish search is, of all gadgets a watch needn’t have to listen — you could just, you know, hit a button. Also from the promotional language: “It doesn’t just listen well, it communicates with you well: straight answers to spoken questions.” The initial specs don’t seem to note the inclusion of a microphone.

Noise Pollution, the Hum Edition

At mic.com, Jared Keller dives deep into “the hum” — the Hum:

"The Hum" refers to a mysterious sound heard in places around the world by a small fraction of a local population. It’s characterized by a persistent and invasive low-frequency rumbling or droning noise often accompanied by vibrations. While reports of "unidentified humming sounds" pop up in scientific literature dating back to the 1830s, modern manifestations of the contemporary hum have been widely reported by national media in the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia since the early 1970s.

Here’s an “alleged recording of the Auckland Hum”:

The above map is from the World Hum Map and Database. More on the database at thehum.info.

Architecture of Sound (Italian Dance Floor Edition)

"Balere" is the Italian term for a popular public dance floor. These spaces are the subject of a photo essay by Gian Luca Perrone, just published at domusweb.it. His interiors, devoid of people, have a Gursky-esque breadth, and Kubrick-quality ornate blankness.

From a brief essay accompanying the Domus photos:

They are part of the lives, past and present, of a certain number of Italians who have driven local decisions and growth. This work prompts critical reflection on social change in Italy, where leisure-time preferences and habits also have life cycles. These are places where the ephemeral has dialogued with all ranks of society – from blue-collar workers to entrepreneurs and the middle classes – with no ghettos; on the contrary, they have encouraged entire regions and provinces (from Emilia Romagna to the northern Marche, Tuscany, Liguria and Veneto) to socialise. This has made them the glitzy shrines of an aesthetic and a social growth where the dance ritual broke the weekly work routine.

The photos are currently on display, through September 10, at Galleria Gallerati galleriagallerati.it in Rome; curator: Camilla Boemio camillaboemio.com.