Ear to the Sky: NASA’s New Soundcloud

NASA has a Soundcloud, and it’s every bit as awesome as you’d imagine.

Part historical archive and part sound effects library, there’s an entire set dedicated to JFK’s quotes about Apollo 11:

As well as snippets of sound from space. My top three favorites are:

This is one of a series of star light curve waves captured by the Kepler mission and converted to sound. Note its rhythmic, periodic components.

Radio waves or wind in the tundra?

And finally, Voyager captures a sine wave sweep along with Jupiter’s lightning.

There’s many more sounds to be explored at the full Soundcloud page, including mission talk, rocket launches, and the strangely adorable sound of Juno saying hi in morse code. Not only is this further proof that NASA knows what it’s doing when it comes to social media (who else follows the Curiosity on Twitter?) this is also a fantastic new resource for composers and sound designers. But even going beyond that: NASA has provided a new way to experience our forays into the unknown. At a time when everyone could use a little inspiration, this is a wellspring. I hope it captures the public’s imagination.

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NAMM, Loudness Wars, and Grammys (but not in the way you think): Weekly Roundup for January 19-26th

We’re trying something new here at Science of Music: from now on we’ll give the low-down on all things that are at once science-y, tech-y, and music-y in the news once a week. Watch this space for more.

NAMM 2014

We’re keeping our eye on the “best of” lists and products coming out of NAMM since we can’t actually be there…which we’re still getting over for more reason than one. (I mean, just for the weather alone, right?) xlr8r has a take that covers the good, bad, and weird while Line 6 has created an unholy guitar-amp-bluetooth-speaker-iOS-integration combo.

But what we really, really want is this right here. Korg has announced a build-it-yourself kit that will let you build your own MS-20 synth. This analog, monophonic synth comes pre-disassembled (which is a little sad, because some of the fun is tearing something apart) giving you the chance to put it together. For the ultimate consumer-tinkering-friendly experience, no soldering or knowledge of schematics are required. The MS-20 kit is expected to be out in March for around 1,400 USD.

Breaking Genre

British Singer Katherine Jenkins says her record sales game is too strong to ignore. She claims her “crossover” pop-classical style of singing has become so popular it’s “becoming its own thing.” In fact, the Telegraph is referring to it as the “crossover” genre. To this, we say: what defines a musical genre, anyway?

A 1981 study by Franco Fabbri defines genre as “a set of musical events (real or possible) whose course is governed by a definite set of socially accepted rules.”

More recently, companies like Echo Nest (which supplies Spotify with data) are mining for these rules with—according to their website—over 35,000 songs and over 1 trillion data points. With user data refining such an enormous machine will the algorithm become the ultimate genre codifier?

A quick borrowing of my sister’s Spotify account showed a biography that called Jenkins “classical” but that her related artists contained singers like Sarah Brightman, Andrea Bocelli, and Charlotte Church, all of whom are known for their pop take on classical singing. Then again, it also had serious classical musician Howard Blake and non-classical songwriter Emmy Rossum.

Crossover as a genre? Maybe.

Peace in Our Time

Hugh Robjohns of Sound on Sound covers the protracted end of the “Loudness Wars” in the magazine’s February issue. Mastering engineer Bob Katz declared an end to the wars at AES in October, but how will we keep the peace?

In the noise of modern society, everyone is clamoring to get heard. In particular, recorded audio has been trying to “out-loud” itself for some time now, which has led to the loss of dynamic range, over-compression, and just bad sound in general. But with new technology that will put a smarter limit on audio, either broadcasted or streamed, the war may be over. The rub? Overly loud mixes will probably end up sounding “feebler” over the new system. So shut up or sound bad.

Dead Musicians’ Society

The Providence Journal ran a commentary piece about the importance of music education in schools while an upstate New York music teacher receives the first-ever Grammy in Music Education.

Of note in the PJ commentary is the idea that musicianship is not a 21st century skill. Of course not: it’s a 23rd century skill. Who else is going to teach our cyborg overlords how to play the violin? They’re going to want to be proper gentlemen, after all.

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A Speaker From a Starbucks Cup?

Part of what we at the Science of Music love about DIY electronics is the tinkering aspect of it. It’s the idea that you can take an everyday object and just…flip the script a little bit to create something new entirely. That’s the spirit with which we present this video project.

We looked at a Starbucks cup and, with just some magnets, a coil of wire, some tape we saw how you could “flip the script” to create a working speaker. Plus, it’s a good excuse to get yourself a frappuccino*.

(*Note: not an action we recommend in January. Unless you’re close to or within the Southern Hemisphere. In which case: Hi, can we come visit?)

Introduction to Resistors

Video

In a continuation of our Introduction to Electronic Components series we present (drum roll please) resistors!

Resistors…resist. It’s what they do. Well, they don’t resist everything. They won’t help you resist the temptations of the dark side, for example. But these little guys are useful components when it comes to regulating the amount of electricity with which you want to work.

Interested in more? Check out our full playlist here.