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Sound Bites

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

This page includes SoundBites from October 2001-December 2004. For the most recent SoundBites: [GO THERE]

Listening in on Keystrokes - When it comes to computer security, do you have faith in firewalls? Think passwords will protect you? Not so fast: it is now possible to eavesdrop on a typist's keystrokes and, by exploiting minute variations in the sounds made by different keys, distinguish and decipher what is being typed. The principle is a simple one. Keyboards are a bit like drums: the keys rest atop a plastic plate; different areas of the plate yield different sounds when struck. The human ear can't tell the difference, but if the sounds are recorded and processed by a highly sophisticated computer program, the computer can, with a little bit of practice, learn to translate the sounds of keystrokes into the appropriate letters and symbols. Source: New York Times Magazine, 12/12/04 [READ ARTICLE]

European Birds in Decline - BirdLife International's new study Birds in Europe, shows that 43% of all birds occurring regularly in Europe (226 species in total) are declining in numbers, rare or localised, while populations of others remain heavily depleted. The EU has promised to halt the loss of wildlife in Europe by 2010 and has set a date for another bird population assessment to be completed in ten years time. Clairie Papazoglou, head of BirdLife's European Community Office in Brussels, said "Birds are excellent environmental indicators and the continued decline of many species send a clear signal about the health of Europe's wildlife and the poor state of our environment." Source:, 11/12/04 [READ ARTICLE]
Related: US Birds in Decline - The National Audubon Society, which sponsors annual bird counts, has released a long-term study that indicates dramatic declines in grassland birds, and dangerous declines in shrubland and forest birds. Seventy percent of grassland species are showing "significant" declines, along with a quarter to a third of shrub and forest species. Wetland and urban species are also in more modest declines. "Like the canary in the coal mine warning the miner of danger ahead, birds are an indicator of environmental and human health," said aptly-named Audubon President John Flicker. "Birds signal that we are at risk next. People created these problems and people can solve them if we act now." Source: ENS, 10/21/04 [READ ARTICLE(sub)] BBC, 10/22/04 [READ ARTICLE]

Long Range Acoustic Devices Project Voice, Tones for Security, Crowd Control - A new kind of high-powered bullhorn can project clear vocal instructions up to 500 meters. These LRADs project a voice in a controlled acoustic beam, maintaining audibility and clarity at exceptional distances; they are being employed by Naval vessels patrolling the Persian Gulf in support of security for the Iraqi oil industry, and are touted as effective measures to reduce risk from small-boat terrorist attacks. They were also used in New York during the Republican convention, after complaints from protesters at earlier marches that it was difficult to understand police instructions. In addition to the vocal projection, the units can be used to emit "warning tones" intended disorient the listener based upon range, exposure time, power output, frequency and tonal patterns controlled by the operator. These tones have source levels of 151dB; at 300 meters is about 105dB, or the level of a police siren at close range. Source: Business Wire, 8/26/04 [READ ARTICLE]

Live Music Soothes Premature Babies - Israeli researchers have discovered that live vocal and harp music soothes babies being housed in incubators better than recorded music. "It could be that the live music is different to recorded music in its timbre, its echo, and other variables that could influence the baby," lead researcher Dr Shmuel Arnon was quoted as saying. "I think music should be played in neonatal intensive care units. Dr Arnon also suggested that mothers could be encouraged to sing lullabies to their babies, if they were being cared for in such units, which tend to be dominated by the noise of the machines monitoring the infants. Source: India Times, 9/4/04 [READ ARTICLE]

Loud Music Can Cause Lung Collapse - Blasting music can be hard on the ears and the neighbors, and now researchers say it can also pack enough punch to collapse a lung. Reporting in the medical journal Thorax, they describe the cases of four young men who suffered a lung collapse that appeared to be triggered by loud music. Three of the men were at a concert or club when the collapse occurred, while the fourth was in his car, which was outfitted with a 1,000-watt bass box because he "liked to listen to loud music." In two of the cases his team describes, the men were standing close to large loudspeakers when they suddenly felt chest pain. A third case involved a 23-year-old smoker who had suffered several lung collapses. During a follow-up medical visit, the doctors mentioned having seen two music-related cases, and the patient suddenly remembered that two of his attacks happened at heavy metal concerts. It is suspected that low frequency bass tones match the lung's resonant frequency, causing the problems. Source: Wired News/Reuters, 9/2/04 [READ ARTICLE]
Related: Noise Can Increase Heart Attack Risk
- A study of German heart attack patients has revealed that chronic exposure to excessive noise levels appears to be a significant influence on heart attack rates. Women seemed more affected by environmental noise, and men by workplace noise. Noise has long been linked to stress levels, which may increase the risk of heart attacks. Source: CBS News, 9/3/04 [READ ARTICLE]

Earth's Hum May Be Triggered by Stormy Seas - An enigmatic low-frequeency hum that was identified in 1998 may be caused by stormy seas, according to a new analysis. The hum, or deep rumble, was noticed even when no earthquake waves were active (about 60 days per year); first guesses of its source centered on variations in atmospheric pressure. The new research found that the main directional source of the vibrations shifted with hemispheric winter, thus pointing to stormy seas as the source. Further analysis is underway. Source: New Scientist, 9/29/04 [READ ARTICLE] Science News, 10/2/04 [READ ARTICLE]

Songbirds Originated in Australia - Genetic evidence has shown that songbirds originated in Australia and New Guinea, rather than Eurasia, as previously believed. Around 45 million years ago, the ancestors of songbirds somehow crossed what we believe to have been 600 miles of open ocean, and began dispersing across the larger Eurasian landmass. Source: ENS, 6/21/04 [READ ARTICLE]

Blindness Encourages Finer Pitch Discrimination - New research has shown that blind people can more easily distinguish small differences between the pitches of musical notes. Those who were born blind or became blind at a young age are significantly better at tone-identification than those who became blind later in life. Source: Nature, 7/12/04 [READ ARTICLE]

Jacket is Wired for Mobile Telephony and MP3s- A jacket manufactured by a German company contains bluetooth connectivity for phones and an MP3 player. Electrically conductive fabric is sewn into the mp3blue jacket. It's connected to a compact electronics module and a textile keyboard on the left sleeve. The headphones and the microphone are integrated into the collar. The module contains an MP3 player with 128 Mbytes of memory, a Bluetooth gateway to control a mobile telephone, and a rechargeable battery that can supply power for up to eight hours. When the wearer of the jacket places a telephone call, the stereo system becomes a headset and the music is automatically interrupted when calls come in. To wash the jacket, it's necessary to remove the electronics module from its holder. Source: Information Week, 7/26/04 [READ ARTICLE]

Burping Lake Keeping Quiet - Seneca Lake, in upstate New York, has become more polite. Gas bubbles which rise and burst create the "drums," described by some as the sound of artillery shells bursting on a far-off battlefield. It appears that the sound is becoming less common in recent years. Some people contend the "drums" are a thing of the past, and others feel we might miss them because we have become such a noisy society with our motor vehicles, boats, lawnmowers, television sets and boom boxes. And others argue that the withdrawal of so much natural gas in the area has sapped the gas supply that for years was lying beneath the lake bottom. Seneca is home to a Navy Underseas Warfare Center at Dresden, where sonar
and other equipment is tested by the military, private industry, colleges, universities and foreign nations. The depth of the lake and its quietness are among the reasons the center is here. As for the "drums," the Dresden facility has never reported hearing them. Reports in the past have come from homeowners and cottagers in the north and central parts of Seneca Lake. Source: The Ithcaca Journal, 7/19/04 [READ ARTICLE]

European Coalition Aims to Build Quieter Airplanes - European research projects to reduce aircraft noise and fuel consumption are zooming along at full speed. A consortium of 51 companies is testing new technologies to reduce aircraft noise by up to six decibels by 2008. Noise is now considered a serious health hazard, not just a nuisance, with a third of Europeans experiencing noise levels that disturb sleep. The European Commission says current research programs expect a reduction in noise to halve jet noise within the next decade. European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin said, “Through EU funding and cooperation within the Advisory Council for Aeronautics Research in Europe technology platform, Europe’s key aircraft manufacturers, research institutes, universities and small-to-medium-sized enterprises are working together to create cheaper, cleaner and quieter aircraft." Source: ENS, 6/23/04 [READ ARTICLE(sub)]

Korean Border Falls Into Silence - After fifty years of propaganda warfare conducted around the clock, huge banks of high-powered speakers have been shut off along the border between North and South Korea. Dozens of speaker banks and electronic billboards have lined the 150 mile border since the early 1950s, in mutual attempts to lure the enemy to switch sides. "One concern about ending the propaganda war is the night-time quiet that can make our soldiers on night duty weary and feel sleepy," First Lieutenant Kim Kyong-Chun, a front-line army platoon leader, told Yonhap news agency. Source: AFP/YahooNews, 6/15/04 [READ ARTICLE]

Dog Understands 200 Words - Studies of Rico, a border collie, have confirmed his owners' claims that he can understand 200 individual words. Working with Rico, researchers also saw convincing evidence that Rico can learn new words indirectly. Trained to retrieve specific objects, when asked for one he had not yet learned, Rico could pick it out from familiar objects by a process of elimination, then remember the object later. Source: AP/Globe and Mail, 6/15/04 [READ ARTICLE]

Designers Propose Noise-Cancelling System to Protect Whales from Sonar- One of the winning proposals in a competition sponsored by the magazine Popular Science describes an innovative (and un-tested) idea to protect whales from Navy sonar noise: the deployment of a "school" of Autonomous Underwater Vehicles designed to issue sound waves that will cancel out the noise of sonar, creating a "cone of silence" effect for nearby whales. Source: Popular Science, 6/04 [READ ARTICLE]

Power Plant Shut Down to Tune Piano - One of Norway's largest power plants was shut down to allow a piano to be tuned for a concent being held in a concert hall inside an underground cavern below the plant. The hall, built in a rock cavern inside a mountain in the scenic Hardanger fjord in western Norway, is renowned for its acoustics. A spokesman said a concert was held at the plant about once a year, but it was the first time they had shut down production to tune a piano. Source: Reuters, 5/28/04 [READ ARTICLE]

Vegetable Orchestra Tunes Up - A nine-member musical group called the Viennese Vegetable Orchestra entertained a German audience by playing instruments made of raw vegetables during last month’s "Eat It" exhibition at the Kampnagel Art Center in Hamburg. An hour before each performance, the Austrian group slices, reshapes and assembles fresh vegetables, including cucumbers, carrots, leeks, potatoes, radishes, peppers, eggplant and marrow, for playing. Imagine a flute made out of carrot or a saxophone that somewhat resembles the color and shape of a cucumber. The texture, size and water content are key to creating the right sound of each instrument. Time is also a factor during the concert. Orchestra members apply damp towels on each instrument during the show when they’re not being used. That’s a good thing: Some concertgoers noticed the aroma of raw vegetables during the show. One orchestra member, who played a violin made of leeks, said instruments made of non-organic vegetables "sound" a lot better than organics. Source: Independent/Mercola, 5/24/04 [READ ARTICLE]

Balloon Orchestra Soothes Birmingham - As a fleet of hot-air balloons rose silently over Birmingham England on a recent morning, residents were treated to a unique concert. The massed balloons of the Sky Orchestra took off at 6.30am, broadcasting a piece written by Dan Jones. The flutes and oboes, bird song and whale calls, were based on scientific research to promote deeper and sweeter dreams. "You could call it a benign version of Close Encounters," Mr Jones said. Director and musician Luke Jerram got the idea on holiday in Tunisia when he woke to the call of muezzins from minarets. "I thought of a musical landscape, which would fill the skies - and then I met a balloonist and the whole idea came together." Source: The Guardian, 5/14/04 [READ ARTICLE]

Cells May Make Distinct Sounds - New research using nanotechnology to measure minute movements of individual cells has revealed the intriguing possibility that cells vibrate at distinct frequencies. While the initial research has simply found that yeast and bone cells "sound" different from each other, and that yeast cells with genetic mutations have slightly different sounds than their normal counterparts, the results have spurred speculation that these micro-vibrations may someday yield information that can be used to monitor health. Source: Smithsonian Magazine, March 2004 [READ ARTICLE]

New Acoustic Weapon Headed for Iraq - A new generation acoustic weapon is being deployed in Iraq. The "non-lethal" device is designed for use in crowd control and as an alternative to using lethal weaponry. "[For] most people, even if they plug their ears, [the device] will produce the equivalent of an instant migraine," says Woody Norris, chairman of American Technology Corp., the San Diego firm that produces the weapon. "It will knock [some people] on their knees." The new megaphone being deployed to Iraq can operate at 145 decibels at 300 yards, according to American Technology, well above the normal threshold for pain. Source: LA Times Op-ed, 3/7/04 [READ ARTICLE]

Cicada Hatch Expected to be Huge - This spring and early summer, Brood X will emerge from 16 years of root-sucking and fill the air of midwestern and mid-Atlantic states with the loudest cicada din heard in years. This is Year 17 (or year 0) for the 17-year Cicada hatch, and researchers are gearing up to watch its effects. While some cicadas hatch every year (depositing eggs that will lead to a repeat emergence 17 years later), and each year's population varies around the country, some annual cycles are larger than others, and Brood X is the largest of them all. Adult cicadas do not eat foliage (they've stored all the energy they need for their big 3-week mating bash), but females can cause damage to trees as they lay their eggs in branches and twigs; homeowners concerned about damage are encouraged to net their trees. Don't worry about getting sleep during the cicada fest: they are inactive at night, so the din subsides after dark. Source: AP, 5/17/04 [READ ARTICLE] ENS, 3/30/03 [READ ARTICLE]

Noise and Bubble Curtain Planned to Stop Carp Invasion - Asian carp, large and voracious, have worked their way up the Mississippi over the past thirty years after being introduced by fish farmers to keep vegetation down. Fishermen and wildlife managers in the upper Mississippi basin are scrambling to find ways to keep them from invading lakes and streams in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Illinois. A curtain of bubbles, making noise and turbulence, along with some underwater speakers, are designed to divert the carp, which can grow to a hundred pounds, into holding areas where they can be scooped out of the river. Phil Moy, fisheries researcher at the University of Wisconsin, said a sound barrier can be fine-tuned to repel unwanted species, such as carp, but not native species that need to migrate. "Different species of fish hear different pitches of sound better than others," Moy said. Source: AP, 3/17/04 [READ ARTICLE]

Radio Jove Brings Sounds of Jupiter to Earth - Waves crashing on a beach. Woodpeckers peck-peck pecking. Whales calling plaintively across the sea. These are the sounds of Jupiter. There are no whales or woodpeckers on Jupiter. There are no beaches. But Jupiter beams these sounds to Earth anyway. They emerge from the loudspeakers of short-wave radios during Jupiter's occasional, intense radio storms, caused by natural radio lasers near the planet's magnetic poles. A NASA education project is opening ears to these sounds via the internet. Source: Science at NASA, 2/20/04 [READ STORY] [VISIT RADIO JOVE WEBSITE]

Missile Maintenance System Looks into Whale Head - An Air Force unit that is designed to scan Minuteman missiles for structural flaws got quite a different view this winter when a San Diego State University marine mammal researcher arrived at Hill Air Force Base with a fin whale on ice. Fin whales are second only to blue whales in size, and Dr. Ted Cranford was trying to learn more about its auditory system. "Currently, I am working on a project to investigate the impact of high-intensity sound in large whales with a group of colleagues from Scripps Institution of Oceanography," Dr. Cranford said. The scan would be impossible to perform in a medical CT scan machine because of the animal's massive size - a full grown fin whale is the length of two school buses end to end. Source: Hilltop Times, 2/5/04 [READ ARTICLE]

Whistled Language Endures on Canary Islands - Silbo, a whistled language that sounds much like birdsong, is being revived on the Canary Islands. Though only a few people are still fluent at using the four vowel/four consonant language, which contains about 4000 "words", schoolchildren are being trained once again, fueling hopes that it may remain a living heritage. Silbo was once used throughout the hilly terrain of La Gomera as an ingenious way of communicating over long distances. A strong whistle saved residents from trekking over hill and dale to send messages or news to neighbors. A recent International Congress of Whistled Languages, held in the Canaries and planned to be reprised in 2005, has revived interest in language similar to Silbo that are used in Greece, Turkey, China, and Mexico. Source: CNN, 11/17/03 [READ ARTICLE]

Whispering Windows - An Iowa company is developing a new technology that promises to turn any solid surface into a directed speaker. The technique (using an alloy of rare-earth elements that changes shape in a magnetic field as it converts electrical energy into mechanical power) is first being applied to creating "talking" picture windows for stores. Other applications include turning church pews into "speakers" audible to deaf congregation members, portable devices that could turn any tabletop or wall into a "speaker", and lower-powered sonar that may have less impact on sea creatures. Source: Wall Street Journal, 8/13/03 [READ ARTICLE]

Pill May Reduce Hearing Damage - A new pill aimed at reducing auditory damage in people exposed to loud sounds is being tested by the US Marines. Much hearing damage is caused not by the physical shock of intense sound waves, but by the creation of free radicals,which in turn can kill the tiny hair cells that are the first step in translating sound waves into perceived sound. The pill would augment the body's supply of anti-oxidants, which nutralize free radicals, but are often overwhelmed in the face of excessive free radical production. The treatment addresses a common failing of current earplug-centered protection regimes: many at-risk people, including musicians and industrial workers, do not wear the needed protection. Source: AP, 10/12/03 [READ ARTICLE]

Recording Excites Lake Champlain Monster Fans - A recording made in Lake Champlain has renewed interest in "Champ," the supposed sea monster living in the lake. On a chilly morning in June, a team of scientists using underwater microphones picked up a series of strangely high-pitched ticking and chirping noises, similar to what a dolphin or Beluga whale would make. ''It took us totally by surprise,'' said Elizabeth von Muggenthaler, who led the Discovery Channel research team. ''For an instant we just stood there looking at each other with our mouths open.'' Von Muggenthaler, of Fauna Communications Research, cautions that the results of the analysis may not solve the mystery. ''What we can say is that there is a creature in the lake that produces bio-sonar,'' she said. ''We have no idea what it is.'' Source:, 8/27/03 [READ ARTICLE]

Black Hole Sings Deep Note - Astronomers have found that a super-massive black hole is emitting sound waves, ringing on an almost impossibly low B-flat tone 57 octaves below middle C. The existance of sound waves around black holes, and in space, has been a subject of some interest for several years; these waves, and the energy they hold and dissipate, may be key to understanding the formation of galaxy clusters, the largest structures so far observed in the universe. The frequency of the sound waves is far beyond the range of human experience: there are ten million years between one wave and the next. Source: Science at NASA, 9/9/03 [READ STORY] AP, 9/10/03 [READ STORY]
Related: Black Hole Makes Music - X-rays around black holes can be envisioned as musical patterns. Source:, 4/9/02 [READ STORY]
Related: Earth's Hum Tied to Atmospheric Sound Waves - Source:, 3/26/2000 [READ STORY]

Deaf Sea Lion Attracts Crowds - A young sea lion who stranded last summer and turned out to be deaf has become a star attraction at an Illinois zoo where he is living. The cause of the disability are unknown, though CAT scans show defects in his ears that could have come from birth or from trauma caused by swimming too close to a loud sound. He seems to be virtually totally deaf, which we can only hope means it's more likely to have been a birth defect. Harley's lack of hearing brought him closer to J.R., his 17-year-old sea lion zoomate. When he first met J.R., the youngster constantly wanted to play and J.R. quickly learned that threatening barks didn't work, said Greg Dye, manager of the zoo's marine mammal program. In the end, Dye said, J.R. gave in; Harley often imitates and even lays on
his surrogate big brother. Source: Times Online, 8/19/03 [READ ARTICLE]

Sound Focusing Device Finds Applications - A new sound projection system, HyperSonic Sound, is finding commercial footing in several distinct applications. The system projects a targeted beam of sound, which seems to emerge from within the hearer's head, and is of similar intensity along its entire path, since it is not actually creating sound waves at its source, but using ultrasound to stimulate sound waves only upon reception. Soda machines in Japan will soon speak to passers-by and the military is developing extreme versions as "non-lethal weapons", while versions designed for museums and emergency vehicles are on the drawing board. Source: New York Times Magazine, 3/23/03 [READ ARTICLE]

Neighbors Blamed for Rolling Stones Concert Noise - As the Rolling Stones played a stadium concert near Essen, Germany, local officials were flooded with noise complaints; however, most callers thought the ruckus was their noisy neighbors. "My neighbor has been blasting out music since six o'clock," said one resident, unaware that the sound was from the concert, six miles away. Another irate citizen, when told the source of his distress, replied, "if that's the case, I'll sit on my balcony and listen." Source: BBC, 6/16/03 [READ ARTICLE]

Ringtones Go Wild - UK cellphone users can now be jolted into communication with their fellow humans by hearing the sounds of penguins, pig grunts, lions, or parrots. The British Library has licensed forty animal calls from its Natural Sounds collection to several UK cellphone companies. Source: British Library Press Release, 7/8/03 [READ PRESS RELEASE]

Titmice Sing Higher to be Heard in City - New research suggests that titmice adjust their songs when living in urban environments. City titmice sing in higher registers than country titmice, likely so that their song is not lost in the predominently low-frequency roar of urban life. Great tits expand their repertoires throughout life;species that can't modify their songs to compete with man-made noise could suffer as a result. The tit study builds on an earlier finding that little greenbuls (Andropadus virens) in the rainforest of central Africa sing lower songs than those elsewhere. In this setting, he explains, the birds compete against high-pitched racket from insects such as cicadas and grasshoppers. Researcher Hans Slabbekoorn hopes to establish that different habitats have predictable influences on birdsong. He has recorded songs in all of Europe's capital cities, and compared them with those recorded in nearby countryside spots. He believes that a bird singing under the Eiffel Tower in Paris will have more in common with its metropolitan counterparts than with a bird from the nearby French countryside. "I want to see if there's an overall pattern of 'city' and 'country' birds," he says. Followup studies are needed to confirm that the higher pitched songs elicit a better response in the city than the standard, lower pitched vocalizations. Source: Nature Science Update, 7/17/03 [READ ARTICLE]

Over-amplified Concerts Drive Away Fans - Why did someone who has visited Brazil and always been fascinated by its dynamic traditional culture walk out midway through a performance last weekend by the Viver Brasil Dance Company at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre? Because the amplification of the company's live music proved so extreme and ruinous that it created an impenetrable screen, nullifying the dancing. Yes, virtually the entire entertainment spectrum - pop music, movies, Broadway musicals and even opera - has become increasingly enslaved to manipulative and sometimes apocalyptic sound engineering, and we've all learned to cope. But in Hollywood on Saturday, the hills were alive with the sound of reverb, and this listener reached his limit. Source:, 7/11/03 [READ ARTICLE]

Disney Parks Gain Overflight Protection - While National Parks nationwide are plagued by commercial flightseeing noise, visitors to Disney World and Disneyland can now enjoy airplane-free experiences, thanks to a 65-word order to the FAA tacked onto a spending bill. The provision includes Disney properties in new anti-terrorism flight restrictions that also apply to some sports stadiums during games. Disney has tried for years to rid its skies of banner advertising and sight seeing planes, but only with the advent of national security mania did they succeed in slipping the ban through. "The sole and exclusive motivation for seeking these restrictions is for the safety and enjoyment of our guests," said Disney spokeswoman Leslie Goodman, explaining that "enjoyment" meant everything from keeping out "banner ads from trial lawyers" to pilots "buzzing the parks." Source: Orlando Sentinal 5/11/03

Bus Station Broadcasts Drive Away Pigeons, Teens - A bus station in Charlotte, North Carolina is playing smooth jazz over loudspeakers in an effort to discourage loitering by local teens. The station already plays the sounds of hawks and owls, to frighten pigeons that roost in the rafters. Source: Annova News, 2/15/03 [READ STORY]
This is but one of many locations using music to discourage loitering. Here are a few press accounts of classical music being deployed similarly. [COUNTERPUNCH] [ABC AU] [SANTA CRUZ] [SIUE]

Noisy Surroundings Impedes Brain Development, Study Finds - The high noise of modern life may affect speech and language development in the very young, according to researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, who reared a group of rats in an environment of continuous background noise and found that their brain circuits that receive and interpret sound did not develop at the same rate as animals that were raised in a quieter environment. The researchers said it took three or four times longer for the rats raised in a noisy environment to reach the basic benchmarks of auditory development seen in the rat pups not exposed to noises. The study appears in the current issue of the journal Science. Source: AP, 4/17/03 [READ ARTICLE]

Navy Looks to Bats, Dolphins for Better Sonar - The Navy is studying bats and dolphins in an effort to improve its sonar technologies. Source: National Geographic News, 12/12/02 [READ ARTICLE]

Loud Parade Loosens up Zoo Animals - Vets at Berlin Zoo have blamed noise from the city's Love Parade for giving more than half of its animals diarrhoea. Chairman Heiner Kloes says vets told him the heavy bass was to blame for disturbing the animals. Around 800,000 people danced through the city on Saturday. Mr Kloes said: "The music was just too loud for the sensitive inhabitants of this zoo." He says the worst hit by the problem were the bears, closely followed by the elephants. Source: Innova, 7/24/02 [READ ARTICLE]

Military Exercises Move "Sound of Freedom" to Florida Panhandle - The closing of a US training ground on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques will increase the number and frequency of training exercises on the coast of Florida. At a recent meeting between military officials and local citizens, most locals expresses support for the increased live bomb drops and nighttime amphibious landings being planned. Those who raised concerns about the noise and its effects on their health and that of ocean life were rebuked by Maj. General Tom Jones, head of the Marine Corps Training and Education Command, who said, "The noise is called the sound of freedom," drawing applause. Source: AP 2/2/03 [READ ARTICLE]

Military Developing Fabric that Listens - New research is underway to develop fabric interwoven with sensitive electronics that will detect approaching vehicles. The technology is expected to be cheaper and much smaller than current, vehicle-mounted sensors. Source: Wired News, 10/22/02 [READ ARTICLE]

Infrasound: Haunted Houses, Elephant Communication, and Weapons - The study of infrasound (sound waves that are longer, or lower, than those heard by the human ear) is being applied in a wide variety of areas. Some haunted houses have been found to have infrasound resonances; elephants and whales are known to communicate over long distances using infrasound; and the military is developing new, powerful weapons harnessing the destructive power of these soundwaves. Source: BBC, 10/9/02 [READ STORY]

Ballplayer Finds Quiet Improves His Game - Bernie Williams of the New York Yankees has been charting his own, quieter course since May. While most batters are serenaded by a theme song or random crowd-stirring PA soundtrack, Williams has asked for quiet during his at-bats. "It just got a little distracting," he says. And you can't argue with the results: the first game in which he got the silent treatment included two Williams homers. Before he stopped the music, Williams hit .243; after that, he hit .352. And the Yankee's sole post-season victory this year came on an 8th inning 3-run Williams homer (though the crowd was hardly silent with two out, two on and the game tied!). Source: New York Times, 10/2/02. [READ ARTICLE]

Mayan Pyramid May Be Built to Sound Like Quetzal Bird - New research suggests that the steps of a Mayan pyramid in Chitzen Itza may have been designed so that the echo of a hand-clap takes on the characteristic swooping sound of the sacred quetzal bird. Source: National Geographic News 12/6/02 [READ ARTICLE]

Acoustic Beam Weapons Become Reality - After years of development, practical versions of acoustic-beam weapons are now being demonstrated for police and military applications. The San Diego-based American Technology Corporation, which earlier developed ultrasound technology, has created a "sonic bullet" weapon that aims a highly-directed sound wave at high intensity, causing debilitating pain. The system is being promoted for use in crowd control or subduing individual suspects without lethal danger. The army has ordered two prototypes for testing in the field; a possible application would be directing the sound into caves, in order to root out terrorists. Source: ABCNews, July 20, 2002. [READ FULL ARTICLE]
Related: Acoustic Spotlight Speakers - Joseph Pompei, a Ph.D. student at the MIT MediaLab, who at 16 was the youngest engineer ever hired by Bose, has developed a new speaker technology that allows sound to be narrowly focused. Possible benefits include individualizing auto music listening, limiting noise disturbance in household settings, and adding a new element to concert sound mixing and listening. Meanwhile, the military is interested in ways the new systems may be adapted as a sonic weapon. Source: Wired News 2/25/02,1282,50483,00.html [ARTICLE]

Loud Stadiums drown out Sound of Sports - This is a commentary, not a news story, addressing the recent surge of loud music in sports stadiums. The author bemoans the loss of the true sound of sport: the ball hitting the mitt, the sneaker squeaks on the floor, the beauty of a tense silence, and the arena-stirring cries of single fans. Source: Toronto Globe and Mail, 9/27/02 [READ COLUMN]

Car Stereos Damage Hearing - A study undertaken by a University of Akron professor, after she noticed a slight hearing loss and wondered if her commuting music was partially to blame, found that 17 percent of participants listen at volumes that can cause damage to the ear. Source: Advance for Audiology, 7/1/02 [READ ARTICLE]

Tooth Phone Brings Bond to Everyman - Two British engineers have developed a miniaturized dental implant that could allow users to hear phone conversations through their teeth. This James Bond technology is rather simple: a tiny vibrator and radio wave receiver that could be implanted during routine dental surgery. Sound, which comes into the tooth as a digital radio signal, is transferred to the inner ear by bone resonance, meaning information can be received anywhere and at any time -- and nobody else can listen in. Source: Reuters, June 18, 2002. [READ ARTICLE]

Bounties offered on Noisy Frogs - A Puerto Rican frog has invaded Hawaii, and locals are none too happy about it. The coqui's mating call rings out at 90 decibels, and has been compared to a car alarm ringing or a lifeguard's whistle. Hotel guests are being driven away, and a local dentist complained that a single frog's night song was making him "nuts." Besides the sonic impacts, the frogs are taking advantage of Hawaii's lack of native amphibians, and decimating insect populations needed for pollination and as food for rare native birds. Source: Washington Post, May 5, 2002. [READ FULL ARTICLE]

Disneyland Fireworks under attack - The signature fireworks explosions above Disneyland are under attack from Anaheim residents who are upset at the nightly noise and smoke they spread across the neighborhood. The removal of sound-muffling urban "softscape" (trees, lawns, bushes) and the increase in "hardscape" (buildings, roads, parking lots) has magnified the "sound bounce" of the exploding rockets throughout the Central Orange County region. Disneyland has planted new palm trees and decorative plants, but these additions have failed to match the sound-softening effect of the original uprooted foliage. While airports such as Los Angeles International recognize their responsibility to compensate neighborhoods impacted by aircraft noise, for-profit entertainment parks are not held to the same level of accountability. Since the fireworks explosions each last only a moment, Anaheim officials consider them outside the scope of local noise ordinances, which regulate "continuous sound." Source: Earth Island Journal, May, 2002. [READ FULL ARTICLE]

Noise of PCs Bothering More Users - "PCs seem to be getting louder as they get more powerful," says Jonathan Bird whose 4-month-old business, Silicon Acoustics, is growing steadily. And while it's not as big a priority as, say, adding memory and processing power, computer designers are realizing that noise is an issue for an increasing number of PC buyers. Intel, Apple, and Microsoft have all addressed the problem in recent product development efforts, and a new NEC computer available only in Japan will be 84 percent quieter than the previous model. Source: Wired News, May 13, 2002. [READ FULL ARTICLE]

England to Create Country-wide Sound Map - The government of England is initiating the largest-scale sound survey in history. The two-year project, set to begin this summer, aims to develop a sound map of the entire country, from the Scottish border to Land's End. Thirty teams of acoustic specialists will combine data on sound sources from motor vehicles to factories and airplanes, using computer models and mapping to identify both valuable areas of sonic tranquility and sources of extreme noise intrusion. Source: The Independent March 4, 2002

Bird Deterrent Raises a Ruckus - The City of Ventura, California, in an attempt to lessen problems from bird droppings, recently installed a BirdXPeller Pro on the roof of a local hotel. While bird numbers are down somewhat, so are visitor and resident complaints about the round-the-clock noise coming from the device. "It sounds like a tortured bird," said one resident, who was out feeding the local birds; indeed, the sounds used include those of birds in distress and preditor birds, designed to make pigeons, gulls, and other local birds avoid the area. Sounds are triggered every few minutes, 24 hours a day; it seems that many local birds have acclimated to the sound. Source: Ventura County news, 11/3/02 [READ ARTICLE]

Hear the sounds of London - US National Public Radio feature on Peter Cusaks' recent sound survey of London, highlighting the favorite sounds of Londoners. This four minute feature is available for listening via RealAudio. Source: NPR All Things Considered, 1/28/02 [LISTEN] [WEBSITE]

Hells Bells: Cowtown Revenge Plagues NBA Playoffs - When the Lakers' Zenster coach Phil Jackson mocked Sacramento, whose Kings surprisingly topped the defending champs in the Western Division standings this year, as a "cowtown", little did he know what he was unleashing on an unsuspecting NBA. While of course 15,000 fans and hotly contested playoff games are not known as sanctuaries of calm, Kings fans have taken bedlam to a new level by banging on thousands of cowbells, especially targeting areas behind opponents' benches. Coaches and audiologists agree that perhaps things have gone too far. Dallas Mavericks coach Don Nelson admitted to being "cowbelled out" by noise reaching 126 decibels behind the bench, and ranging from 114-120 elsewhere, or 2-3 times the level that OSHA regards as potentially damaging. "I don't want to freak out fans," says Robert Sweetow, director of Audiology at the University of California, San Francisco, "but that is unbelievable. Definitely, it is enough to cause damage." That didn't stop Dallas fans from retaliating in kind when the Kings came to town; there, fans snapped up cowbells from local shops, preferring the largest models available. Kings owner Gavin Maloof took it all in stride, saying "I hope it gets out of hand. This kind of excitement is good for the NBA. If you don't like this, you don't like sports." A Sacramento Bee editorial took a more sober view: "Now with Dallas fans retaliating, the cowbell thing threatens to escalate into a kind of bell-ringing NBA Armageddon -- ear-drum-killing fusillades launched in arenas across the league. In this day of untrammeled liability lawsuits, it's probably only a matter of time until the NBA's lawyers call a halt to this escalating war of the bells" Source: Sacramento Bee, May 9 and 11, 2002. [READ STORY, MAY 9] [READ EDITORIAL, MAY 11] [MAY 10 STORY, INCLUDING MALOOF QUOTE] [STORY FROM DALLAS NEWS, MAY 11]

Rivals' Songs Lure Chickadees from Mates - Territorial singing displays by male chickadees may not be just the sport that some males imagine. New research suggests that females listening in on these song jousts may be sneaking off to meet the new guy on the block when he can match her mate's vocal prowness. Up to a third of the eggs in chickadee nests are fathered by males other than the male mate. Source: New Scientist, 3/23/02 [READ STORY]

Silence Machine - An inventor in the UK has developed a new approach to noise-cancelation that promises to remove unwanted noise from a specific source, while allowing other sounds to be heard. This is an intriguing new development in what has been a growing field. Like other similar systems, the Silence Machine generates sound waves that are exactly out of phase with the "problem" sound, neutralizing the incoming sound waves. What is different is its ability, based on directional microphones, to pick a particular sound source, such as factory machines or a roadway, and cancel its sound with a personal "sound shadow" that allows other "wanted" sound, such as birdsong or conversation, to be heard. Source: New Scientist, March 28, 2002 [READ ARTICLE]

Fuel Cell autos begin production - Two recent news items signal the emergence of fuel cell technology into the automotive market. In Manchester, England, the Commonwealth Games has contracted for 30 small "microcab" vehicles to be used for transporting athletes on site. Designer John Jostins said: "I have a vision that within the next five to ten years every urban centre in the world will have vehicles like the Microcab doing the work of normal city vehicles. "The energy use is so low it is the equivalent to 1,000 miles to the gallon, with no emissions and no noise pollution." Source: Annova News 2/20/02 [ARTICLE] And, from Japan comes word that Toyota, leaders in hybrid electric vehicle development, will bring the first commercial fuel cell vehicle to the Japanese market in 2003. The FCHV4, modeled after their Kluger4 (Highlander) SUV, will carry a price tag of about 10 million yen (US$75,000). Source: AP/Bankok Post, 2/25/02 [ARTICLE]

Mystery "hums" linked to industrial plant vibrations - The low frequency "hums" reported in various regions are sometimes tracable to incidental vibrations at industrial plants, according to a recent article on the issue. In one case in Portage, Indiana, a ventilator fan at a plastics factory was found to be the source of the noise. In other locations, the source cannot be found. Low frequency sound can travel long distances without weakening, making location of the source difficult. In addition, it is difficult to measure very low frequencies. Typically, only some residents are affected; they are either more sensitive to low frequencies, or, according to some researchers, are experiencing a form of tininitus. Health effects reported include headaches, dizziness, nausea, and nerve damage. Source: Indianapolis Star News 2/25/02 [ARTICLE]

Research Aims to Dampen Noise in Autos - Recent research has begun applying noise-dampening technology to the noise levels inside automobiles. The speaker-based systems, designed to be placed behind the passenger's heads, work much like noise-dampening headphones: the units respond to ambient sound and near-instantly produce sound waves that mix with the ambient sound, countering the sound waves and resulting in an experience of "no sound". Source: Nature Science Update, Nature Magazine Online, January 28, 2002 [FULL STORY]
Related story:
NPR feature on trend toward making noise in luxury cars (such as powered windows and turn signals) more pleasing to the ear. Source: All Things considered, 2/16/02 [HEAR STORY]

Acoustic Spotlight Speakers: Individual music, weapon? - Joseph Pompei, a Ph.D. student at the MIT MediaLab, who at 16 was the youngest engineer ever hired by Bose, has developed a new speaker technology that allows sound to be narrowly focused. Possible benefits include individualizing auto music listening, limiting noise disturbance in household settings, and adding a new element to concert sound mixing and listening. Meanwhile, the military is interested in ways the new systems may be adapted as a sonic weapon. Source: Wired News 2/25/02 [ARTICLE]

The annual Great Backyard Bird Count - Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the Audubon Society and Wild Birds Unlimited announce the 2002 Great Backyard Bird Count, which helps scientists define the status of winter birds. All ages and skill levels are welcome to participate. This year's count took place on the weekend of February 15-18, 2002. The web site contains information on the results of the count. Source: Cornell Lab of Ornithology, January 2002. [MORE INFO]

Dolphin "signature whistles" called into question - Recent research by a University of California scientist seems to cast doubt on the long-held idea that, unlike other species, dolphins produce uniquely personal calls. The new study holds that dolphin greeting calls are generally similar, with a small amount of individual variability. Source: Bioacoustics listserv, February 12, 2002: McCowan, B. and Reiss, D. (2001). The fallacy of 'signature whistles' in bottlenose dolphins: a comparative perspective of signature information in animal vocalizations. Animal Behaviour 62 (6): 1151-1162.

Hearing Meteors - Since at least 1719 when Edmund Halley first gathered accounts after a fireball passed over England, people have reported hearing sounds associated with shooting stars. Since virtually all meteors burn up many miles high in the atmosphere, the reports of simultaneous sounds have been largely discounted. But recent research suggests that skywatchers surprised by a hissing noise during passage of shooting stars may not have been hallucinating after all. Indications are that frizzy hair, nearby plants, or even eyeglasses can act as transducers, turning radio waves stimulated by the passing meteor into audible sound waves. Source: Science at NASA, 11/26/01 [ARTICLE]

Snapping Shrimp make a racket in the ocean - Snapping shrimp are the loudest soundmakers in the shallow ocean, sometimes drowning out submarine sonar and providing acoustic shadows for enemy subs to hide in. Scientists have long assumed that the din was caused by the closing of thousands of tiny claws. Recent research shows that the sound is actually caused by collapse of "cavitation bubbles" created as the claws open, and popped before the claws snap shut. The shrimps use cavitation to stun their prey (small crabs, fish and worms) or to communicate with other shrimps. Similar cavitation bubbles are also the loudest source of sound from ship propellors. Source: BBC, 9/21/00 [READ ARTICLE]

Fetus Hears, responds to ultrasound - New research seems to confirm that ultrasound, a common fetal diagnostic and monitoring procedure, is audible to the fetus, often stimulating fetal activity. As the researchers explain: Ultrasound, by definition, is sound that lies beyond the range of human hearing. However, we have found that ultrasound machines can make a lot of noise that a fetus can hear. Ultrasound imaging systems produce ultrasound as sequences of short-time, high-energy bursts, which we call "pulse trains." . . . Such vibrations are normally too weak for the patient to feel. However, when the ultrasound is pointed to the head of the fetus, it directly vibrates the fetus's sensitive hearing structure. The fetus senses these vibrations as a loud noise. This effect is similar to listening to rain by placing your ears in contact with the roof, which sounds a lot louder than listening to the sound of rain from a distance. This explains why the sound in the womb can sound loud to the fetus but not to the mother. Source: Acoustical Society of America Conference Proceedings 12/01 [ARTICLE]

Whales Switch Tune - Humpback whales off the coast of Australia responded to the arrival of Indian Ocean humpbacks by dropping their mating song and taking up that of the "new guys on the block." Researchers who had been studying the Aussie whales were amazed to hear the entire population change their mating song; they speculate that it was done in response to a preference by Aussie females for the newcomers' songs. Source: BBC, 11/29/00 [READ ARTICLE]

Non-Lethal Acoustic Weapon Released - The American Technology Company has patented the Directed Stick Radiator, a portable, battery-operated non-lethal weapon technology that uses a high intensity acoustic pressure wave to disorient and disable targeted individuals up to 100 yards away. The DSR discharge causes no lasting effects on the targeted individuals and could be safely used in aircraft without fear of puncturing the fuselage. The Company has been requested by the U.S. Army and a major defense contractor to submit the DSR technology to the Pentagon for funding consideration. Source: ATC Press Release, 10/30/01 [READ PRESS RELEASE]

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