Treble Versus Bass in the Earbud Decade

And four other intriguing things: the aesthetics of mobile music, the spreadsheets of murder, resurrection biology, and the evil sound of mor.
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1. Treble strikes back against the forces of bass in the age of the drop.

"At the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century, with the possibilities for high-fidelity recording at a democratized high and 'bass culture' more globally present than ever, we face the irony that people are listening to music, with increasing frequency if not ubiquity, primarily through small plastic speakers—most often via cellphones but also, commonly, laptop computers and leaky earbuds. This return to 'treble culture,' recalling the days of transistor radios or even gramophones and scratchy 78s, rep- resents a techno-historical outcome of varying significance for different practitioners and observers, the everyday inevitability of 'tinny' transmissions appearing to affirm a preference for convenience, portability, and publicity, even as a variety of critical listen- ers express anxiety about what might be lost along with frequencies that go unheard (and, in the case of bass, unfelt). From cognitive and psychological studies seeking to determine listeners’ abilities to distinguish between different MP3 bitrates to audiophiles and 'bass boosters' of all sorts lamenting not only missing frequencies but also the ontological implications thereof to commuters complaining about noisy broadcasts on public transport, there has already been a great deal of ink spilled over today’s trebly soundscapes."

 

2. That essay lives in The Oxford Handbook of Mobile Music Studies, Vol. 2.

"Volume 2 investigates the ramifications of mobile music technologies on musical/sonic performance and aesthetics. Two core arguments are that 'mobility' is not the same thing as actual 'movement' and that artistic production cannot be absolutely sundered from the performances of quotidian life. The volume’s chapters investigate the mobilization of frequency range by sirens and miniature speakers; sound vehicles such as boom cars, ice cream trucks, and trains; the gestural choreographies of soundwalk pieces and mundane interactions with digital media; dance music practices in laptop and iPod DJing; the imagery of iPod commercials; production practices in Turkish political music and black popular music; the aesthetics of handheld video games and chiptune music; and the mobile device as a new musical instrument and resource for musical ensembles."

 

3. The woman who blogs every murder in Los Angeles.

"Nicole relies on weekly spreadsheets from the coroner’s office to fill in any gaps law enforcement didn’t report over the phone. What appears on the coroner’s spreadsheet varies from boiler plate details—name, age, race, birthdate (this allows Nicole and her researcher to call the DMV and request a photo of the victim)—to a full narrative. It all depends on what the on-site police officer feels like writing down. 'Most of the reports come back bare bones description, with just a GSW,' Nicole said. The acronym stands for gunshot wound; the most common cause of homicide in Los Angeles. 'And sometimes it's as detailed as 'a man was sleeping near a door and another man wanted him to leave and there was an argument so the man was stabbed to death and the suspect is in custody.'' Nicole fills out the details of a victim’s life by knocking on doors of victim’s families. They often invite her in and show her photographs and tell as much of the story as they can."

+ Homicide Watch is a similar indie effort for DC.

 

4. Resurrection biology.

"Reviving an organism is a lot easier if it never quite died in the first place. In 2012, Russian researchers reported that they found seeds preserved in 32,000-year-old permafrost. Teasing out some tissue from the seeds, the researchers coaxed it to develop into a flower. Earlier this month, French virologists discovered viruses in 30,000-year-old Siberian permafrost that could still infect amoebae. In January, Dr. Weider and his colleagues reported reviving eggs from a Minnesota lake that had been buried for about 700 years. They hatched and grew to be adults."

 

5. Explaining Valdemort, Mordor, Moreau, etc.

"In fact, 'mor' may be what is sometimes called a phonestheme: a part of a word that tends to carry a certain connotation not because of etymology or formal definition but just by association. Words that start with 'gl' often have to do with light (glow, gleam, glimmer, glitter, glisten, etc.) even though they are not all related historically; similarly, words that start with 'sn' often relate to the nose (snoot, sniffle, snot, snore, sneeze, etc.). It doesn't mean that all words with those letters have the meaning in common, but there is a common thread among a notable set of them."

 

That big story I promised you is now up: "A 26-Story History of San Francisco." You could say it is my oblique entry in the SF tech culture wars. But specifically, it is about 140 New Montgomery, and all the networks of resources, people, and time that make that place what it is.

 

Today's 1957 American English Usage Tip

avocation, originally a calling away, an interruption, a distraction, was for some time commonly used as a synonym for vocation or calling, with which it is properly in antithesis. In current usage it is used for an amateur or leisure-time interest as opposed to practical or professional work—colloquially, a 'hobby.' Many scientists turn to music as an avocation.

 

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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