Researchers at Newcastle University wanted to learn more about why our brains make us recoil from unpleasant sounds like nails on a chalkboard or screaming. So they looked at the brains of a group of volunteers (who no doubt regretted their decision after this test) and played them a series of sounds to find where the recoil response was coming from. They also asked people to rate the sounds they heard from most to least pleasant, leaving them with a (slightly less than definitive because of its small sample size) list of the very worst sounds on the planet. At the top? The sound of a knife scraping a bottle. You can get a look at the rest of the list after the jump.
The dentist's drill has to be one of the most dreaded sounds in the history of time, a shrill and instantly identifiable shriek with a reputation as a precursor to nightmarish pain is perhaps only matched by the sound of a televangelist talking. A dental surgeon in India has developed a dental drill that plays its own music while drilling, drowning out the distinctive noise of the drill. Now if only he could do something about the fact that the thing is a drill inside of your head, which, really, has always been our primary complaint, rather than the noise.
As everyone on the planet prepares for Apple to announce the iPhone 5 at their mysterious press event on September 12th, rumors about the new phone have reached critical mass. A new iPhone sounds great and all, but now it seems that Apple may plan on doing something else that will totally overshadow any and all of the next-gen phone's rumored new features... Apple may be redesigning their earbuds. BUM BUM, BUM.
Of the variety of things one might find to complain about in regards to the Nintendo 3DS, the sound doesn't immediately come to mind. It's not great sound, mind, but there are a litany of things that are more obvious. Thanks to one intrepid inventor, however, you are now just a series of tubes, clips and metal funnels away from awesome sound.
Most people take for granted that the sound of nails on a chalkboard is unpleasant, but most have probably never wondered why. That was not the case for Michael Oehler of the Macromedia University for Media and Communication and University of Vienna's Christoph Reuter, whose new research into the unpleasant sound may have found the root of our dislike.
In their research, the two musicologists looked at both physical and psychological reactions to unpleasant sounds. In their experiments, they played the much-maligned sound of nails on a chalkboard to participants as well as other hated sounds such as squeaky styrofoam, forks scrapping against dinner plates, and chalk against slate. Sometimes they told respondents the true source of the sound and in others told them that the sounds were from a musical composition. On the physical end of the experiment, the researchers monitored various vital signs of the participants while the tones were played.
The results were fairly dramatic.
There is a new device that allows people with visual impairments to hear what the world around them looks like. The device, called vOICe, is one part spy glasses, one part webcam, and one part smart phone. It converts visual signals into auditory ones so that people can see with their ears.
Developed by Dutch software engineer Peter Meijer, vOICe works by mapping visual images to sound, and then giving users who cannot see a sense of what an object is and where it is located. A pair of glasses with a tiny webcam in the bridge provides the visual input and a small pocket-sized computer that runs the software that converts the visual input into an auditory output through headphones the user wears.
The popularity of earbudheadphones has exploded in recent years, in part because of the better sound they are said to deliver, their easy compatibility with hats and hairstyles, and in no small part from their association with a certain iconic portable music player. But while functional, and some claim comfortable, earbuds don't really play nice with the structure of our ears. In fact, they may be hurting us.
The issue comes from the stapedius reflex, where the middle ear undergoes an involuntary muscle contraction in the presence of loud noises to protect the delicate inner ear. This responses happens all the time, particularly while talking or humming, which is why you have may have been told to hum right before a loud noise to protect your ears. Because in-ear headphones create a closed space, transferring the sound into a concussive force against the ear drum and middle ear, the stpedius reflex kicks in making the music sound quieter, and often results in users turning up the volume even higher to compensate. The middle ear attempts to compensate further, leading to fatigue on the muscles, leathery calluses on the ear drum, and eventually actual hearing damage from the high volume.
Until recently, the only way to prevent this was switching back to over-the-head headphones or listening at low volumes.
Italian scientists Giulio Casati and Stefano Lepri think they've found the mathematical principles required for a sonic one-way mirror. Though purely theoretical, the pair's work predicts that it is possible to construct a material that would prevent sound from passing through on one side, but allow it from the other. The practical upshot is that were you to sit in a room with walls made of this material, you could hear everything outside the room but no one could hear you.
Lepri and Casait uses "nonlinear properties" to achieve this feat. Looking at previous research done with diodes that distribute heat asymmetrically, the pair found that it is possible to apply similar principles to sound. Discovery News writes:
To direct sound waves, the researchers propose alternating layers of linear and strongly nonlinear materials asymmetrically. With the right formation, when a sound wave enters from one side, it will essentially get caught in the material and then be redirected. This is because the frequency is shifting in two different directions, Casati explained.
Though they believe that such material is physically possible, that does not mean that constructing such a material is feasible. But even if their work is never functionally realized, Casati and Lepri have shown that the math, at least, can make sound do amazing things.
(Discovery News via Slashdot, image via Mikael Altemark)
Spanish artist Ivan Puig created this sculpture, which he calls Mandala II, from bottles, water, and two robotic arms that sweep the circle's interior. The result is haunting and perplexing, with the tones bouncing off each other as the shadows interlock along the walls. A perplexing work, to be sure, and perhaps a little harsh on the years, but truly mesmerizing.
(Ivan Puig via The Next Web)
Japan continues to work its way out of the destruction caused by yesterday's massive earthquake. Today, there were reports of aftershocks, a rising death toll, and evacuations around a troubled nuclear power plant. In the aftermath of such a disaster, many are trying to convey the magnitude of the event and the damage in a meaningful way to those outside the country. Pictures and videos have been steadily filtering out of the country since the beginning moments of the disaster, but musician Micah Frank had another approach.
Frank has created Tectonic, a program that takes seismic data and processes it into sound in realtime. He released the "sonification" of the Japanese earthquake yesterday.
Keep in mind, this eery and often grating track is not exactly what the quake sounded like, but rather an interpretation of the seismic data.
Frank's work with sonification focuses primarily on sounds that do not actually exist, with his other works including synthesization of sound from solar and traffic data. The tectonic sonifications are no different; we can see the destruction caused by the earth moving, and the strife that follows, but the actual cause of the quake is hidden beneath the ground. Perhaps it's that sense of outlining an invisible and deadly force that makes it so strange to listen to.
(Frank Micah via GawkerTV)