Odd sounds from the internet: software-defined radio receivers


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Thanks to this video I came across a collection of websites where you can listen in to audio ‘webcam’ versions of sounds coming in from various radio antenna. On some it’s conversations, on others weird and wonderful sounds. I don’t really understand what I’ve been looking at or listening to but heres a recording I made of one – it’s quite a pleasingly unearthly sound.

1.  http://www.160m.net/ – it says my browser doesn’t support downloads… but it did.

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2.  http://remoteradio.changeip.org:8073/

This one let me hear the Chiltern aviation beacon which signals the letters C, H and T (forever) in Morse code. Heard it one night on a detuned radio at home at my parents’ house a few years ago and have been a bit obsessed with tracking it ever since.

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The above recording is pretty much as it sounded at my parents. In the one below I pressed the button saying ‘CW-narrow’ and that cleaned it up quite a bit, but also I think it changed the pitch..(!)



Adding “Hello, I’m…” audio snippets from people who have a Wikipedia page, to their page


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One of the loveliest things I’ve heard was a talk by Ian Rawes (London Sound Survey) in which he let us hear examples of his vast collection of audio recordings, stretching back over a century (some originally recorded on wax cylinders) while he told us their story. It was absolutely magical to hear street callers hawking their wares, and young children from fifty or sixty years ago singing playground songs. We also heard, from 1888, a very wobbly recording of a massive 4,000-strong choir singing Handel’s Messiah in London.

Most of the people in the recordings are dead but their voices live on. I don’t have any recording of my parents speaking (beyond the ridiculous clip below of my dad sounding like a chipmunk thanks to a buffering error on Skype) and, obviously, I wish I did…



More cheerfully, my friend Andy Mabbett (pigsonthewing on Twitter) has been encouraging people who have a Wikipedia page to record a short open-licensed* clip saying who they are and what they do – this is the Wikipedia Voice Intro Project or #WikiVIP. This clip can easily be uploaded to Wikipedia and then added to their page – so anyone visiting it can click on the audio track to hear them say, in their very own voice, their name and a tiny bit about them. I think it’s a great idea.

(*”In the spirit of Wikipedia, all such recordings would be open-licensed, to allow others to use them, freely.”)

Here are a couple of examples –

Emma Freud’s Wikipedia page with a screenshot showing the audio clip.

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Similarly, Stephen Fry’s Wikipedia page has audio and a copy of his signature.

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There is now a database on Wikimedia Commons of notable people (people sufficiently well-known to have a Wikipedia page) who have made recordings themselves, or got someone else to record it. Here’s page one of English-speaking people. You can also hear from people speaking in their native language, here are people from the Netherlands.

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Example screenshot of some of the English speaking people’s recordings

Recording a short voice clip is very easy, on a computer or smartphone or any recording device that lets you export a file. If Andy asks you to make a recording, please consider it 🙂

He’s written more about the project, including extensive information about how to make and share a recording with Wikipedia.

I’m not remotely notable so no Wikipedia page for me but I had a go at making a recording using the free online Vocaroo tool.

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Bat chirrups recorded at Wilderness Festival 2017


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This year I went to the marvellous Wilderness Festival for the first time, hopefully not the last. I absolutely loved it and when my 400 plus photos have finished uploading I’ll link to them below.

One thing I did was pinch my friend Helen’s bat detector and listen intently after dusk near my campsite, which was very near a river and definitely had at least one bat flitting to and fro. In the recording below I was pointing the detector up, set at 55.7MHz, and could clearly see the small bat flying overhead. I’ve had the detector for a few months at home in London and completely failed to get a confirmed sighting and hearing (seen plenty of bats and not heard them but also heard plenty of bats and not seen them) but this worked perfectly.

Given the frequency it’s likely that this is a Soprano Pipistrelle.

Nailed it :) Perfect tinkling shingle beach sounds near Greenwich Pier at high tide


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Happy new year! 🙂 I took the ferry to Greenwich today and walked along the pavement above the foreshore to the very convenient (and still open at ~4pm!) Waitrose. The tide was very high at that point, so much so that the walk off the ferry and up the pier was on a flat surface and it’s usually a bit of an incline. The tide was also hitting the walled walkway area en route to Waitrose with sufficient force to spray the pavement, which I’d not seen before.

There’s a strange little fenced off shingle beach area from which I’ve taken a few sound recordings in the past but I think today’s is the best one. The tide flushed up along the shingle and stones and in receding dragged back across the top all the tiny little fragments, which make the most lovely shimmering tinkly sound – one of my favourite sounds. It’s quite similar to the sound of someone playing with or turning over broken crockery. My previous recordings have never quite got the full effect and you can hear an earlier one below – the sound is there but it’s not as easy to hear against the other sounds.

Previously, in beach sound recordings…





The sound of {Music} Computing – free schools event @QMUL Wed 14 Dec 5.30pm


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Save the date – Wednesday 14 December 2016 – because Andrew McPherson will be giving a talk on music and computing and demonstrating his Magnetic Resonance Piano at this free festive talk at Queen Mary University of London. It’s aimed at secondary school pupils but all are welcome, it’s family-friendly and free 🙂

The sound of {Music} Computing
Wednesday 14 December – 5.30-6.30pm FREE
The People’s Palace, Queen Mary University of London
Hosted by the IET and QMUL
(doors at 5pm, talk at 5.30pm, mince pies at 6.30pm, carriages at 7.30pm)
Download an event flyer (PDF)



The design of the acoustic piano has scarcely changed in more than a century. Now, computers are being used to transform the sounds and techniques of this
familiar instrument. 

The magnetic resonator piano (MRP) is an augmented instrument which places electromagnets inside an acoustic grand piano. The electromagnets cause the strings to vibrate without being struck with the hammers, creating notes that can sustain indefinitely, grow out of silence, or change in pitch or timbre. All sound is completely acoustic, with no speakers.

The MRP is played from the piano keyboard using a combination of familiar and new techniques. The instrument uses a computer to translate key motion into signals for the electromagnets, but playing it, you wouldn’t know that a computer is involved: pressing the keys causes the strings to sound, just like on a normal piano. But unlike a normal piano, you can continuously shape the sound of each note, adding vibrato, pitch bends, harmonics and other novel effects. The result sounds like a combination of a piano, an organ and a glass harmonica.

There will be a live demo of the MRP during the presentation, and it will be available after the talk for attendees to try for themselves.

Your host

Andrew McPherson is a Reader in Digital Media at Queen Mary University of London. He is a member of the Centre for Digital Music (C4DM), a research group in the School of Electronic Engineering and Computer Science which explores the overlap between music and computing. Andrew completed a Master’s degree in electrical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a PhD in music composition from the University of Pennsylvania. Before joining QMUL in 2011, he was a postdoc in the Music Entertainment Technology Laboratory at Drexel University. His research covers digital and augmented instruments, embedded computing systems, and the study of performer instrument interaction.

Within C4DM, he leads the Augmented Instruments Laboratory, a team whose projects have been featured in two successful Kickstarter campaigns, concerts in high-profile venues including the Barbican Centre and Cadogan Hall, and over two dozen media articles. More information on Andrew’s work can be found at:


Text above is taken from this event flyer (PDF)

Skype on Helium – amusing buffering error on conversation with my dad


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This recording was made a few years ago while I was in a hotel using iffy wifi to ‘phone’ my dad via Skype. I’d never heard Skype turn someone’s voice like this before and didn’t really know what to do, and couldn’t stop giggling (as is clear from the recording). Subsequent googling indicated that it had been due to some buffering error, but it always makes me laugh to hear it. My dad died yesterday so I suppose this is a bit ‘in memoriam’-y but let’s not be down in the dumps -he found it quite funny too. In the call he’s saying ‘hang up, hang up’, encouraging me to restart the conversation which we eventually did successfully.

I once tried to recover my dad’s normal speaking voice from this by running the audio through Audacity and slowing it down but it sounded just as hilarious then. Haha  🙂


Exploring the secrets of soothing spaceship sound | Atlas Obscura h/t @bowbrick


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Via Steve Bowbrick…

Headphones on for the low spaceship rumbling sounds…

It was, as he put it, his favorite part of the show. The “ambient engine noise sound.”

via Exploring the Secrets of Soothing Spaceship Sound | Atlas Obscura

Ditto. In fact one of my favourite pieces of music from Star Trek The Next Generation is definitely missing the lovely engine sounds (and the sounds of Wesley Crusher snoozing as his nanites escape) in S301 – Evolution (below) that were present in the broadcast version (which keeps being taken down!).

Music by Ron Jones (who’s also done a lot of work on Family Guy / American Dad).

Chinook helicopter rotor sounds [m4a] in Greenwich


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Chinook - RNAS Yeovilton 2006

I live in Blackheath in London which is in the borough of Greenwich and Woolwich, and Woolwich has an army barracks. I assume that’s where most of the Chinook helicopters come from (or visit and then leave) that make lots of lovely noise overhead in the early evening. With two rotors (spinning in opposite [contra-rotating tandem rotors] directions) the Boeing Chinook RAF helicopter has an unmistakeable sound which you can hear well before you’ll see any sign of a helicopter. They also look totally cool when they do show up.

Here is a low quality (sorry!) iPhone 5s sound recording, taken without wind guard, of a Chinook making its lovely noise in Greenwich.


What a shame @EmiratesAirLDN now blasts music at you


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I had an unintentionally free trip on the Emirates Air-line (cable car / dangleway) this morning. For future reference it’s cheaper if you have a travelcard (mine’s annual 1-3 so I got the return trip for £7 instead of £9) although I think they’ve stopped the discount for local residents who had a Greenwich or Newham card.

It’s a lovely relaxing trip – I don’t really think of it as a journey, more a fairground ride with the option to get off at the other side and have some noodles or a mooch around the eco centre. I highly recommend it as a fun thing to do in London.

Sadly they’ve started blasting out music in the passenger-loading area (the bit where you get onto or alight from the cable car pods). Nothing particularly wrong with the music (I heard Tiny Dancer and something from Stevie Wonder) but it’s really quite loud and unnecessary. I know some underground stations have music (often classical) playing in the background but it’s usually not deafening, though I could do without it. Apparently on the underground it’s to deter teenagers (!) but I’ve no idea what it’s deterring at the Emirates Air-Line. Commuters probably.

About a year ago the cable cars introduced an in-car/pod/cabin audio commentary but at least they advertised the fact that you could ask for your pod to be quiet. Incidentally, this turned out to be a fairly good way to get an emptier cabin during busy periods as most people seemed to want the audio, or at least didn’t care, but I was shunted into a nice silent empty one after letting a couple of people go ahead of me.

Today I asked for the same – no audio – but I was really annoyed once the doors shut to realise that I was going to suffer bloody awful piped library music for the duration of the short journey. On repeat loop. Dear god. While I appreciate that there are worse things in the world to worry about I’m afraid I lost my temper and demanded a refund and a guarantee of silence on the return journey. The staff were extremely efficient, understanding and helpful, promptly refunding me, providing me with a free return ticket, apologising for the annoyance and checking mid-dangle on my return journey that the cabin was indeed quiet (it was, lovely).

Why is there loud music at the start and end of the journey? Why is there quieter music during the journey. Neither improved my experience, the silence was appreciated. It’s a real shame that it’s currently quite hard to hear the lovely hypnotic sound of the cablecar’s bullwheel (the massive rotating wheels at either end that push the cables around and around, and across the river). I remember the first time I heard it, shortly after the cable cars opened, when I walked towards the North Greenwich terminal and heard this amazing whum-whum-whum sound emanating. Also as the cable cars leave the terminal they make a nice little trundling noise as they ‘go over the points’ or whatever it’s called when they ‘take off’ and pass over some small wheels.

Dear Emirates – please shush the music, it’s unnecessary – thanks.

Things I’d like to hear instead while waiting for or crossing the river by cable-car

  • Press Option 1 for silence 😉
  • Press Option 2 for a talk by an engineer explaining how the cable-car system was constructed and works
  • Option 3 for tourist information and pointing out landmarks
  • Option 4 for radio transmissions to and from Air Traffic Control at London City Airport

Also they’ve a massive Rolls Royce engine at the North Greenwich cable-car station. It would be paired with three others and hung from a very, very large aircraft. I don’t know which type of Rolls Royce engine it was but a quick google tells me that the Rolls Royce Trent 800 series (used on a Boeing 777 for example) has a diameter of about 9 feet. The fuselage of a Boeing 737 is just a little larger than that at 11+ feet.


Walter Murch film editing masterclass at the @ICALondon, 23 April 2016


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Oh my goodness Walter Murch is fab. I’ve just been to the ICA to hear him talk about ‘Return to OZ‘ which I hadn’t seen (it’s fantastic, and really quite dark) and I could hear him talk all day. He directed RtOZ but I know of him more as both a sound and film editor. He’s doing a masterclass for young film makers in April, in London at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) and if I was a film maker I’d be clambering over people to go to this. I’m not sure I can justify it but I’ll see if they’ll let me in, as an enthusiastic viewer (more truthfully, listener) of films. Here he is talking about film editing, for BAFTA Guru.

I’ve read his ‘In the Blink of an Eye‘ book about film editing and film in general – I recommend it.

Frames of Representation: The Art of the Edit: A Masterclass with Walter Murch

23 Apr 2016, 4:15 pm | Cinema 1 | £8.00 to £12.00

Frames of Representation is delighted to welcome Walter Murch, triple Oscar- and triple BAFTA-winning sound designer and editor of iconic films such as Apocalypse Now, The Godfather and The Conversation to host a masterclass on film editing.

Universally acknowledged as a master in his field, Walter Murch coined the term ‘Sound Designer’ and helped to elevate the art and impact of film sound to a new level.

In this unique masterclass, Walter Murch focuses on editing documentaries, exploring the methodology of merging fiction and documentary to explore perceived reality and human stories.

Walter Murch and his connection with the documentary film Lost and Beautiful is also explored. Murch mentored Sara Fgaier, film editor on Lost and Beautiful, for one year as part of the Rolex Arts initiative. Walter worked with Sara as he made the final edits of a new documentary, Particle Fever. This masterclass offers young filmmakers a chance to ask questions and examine the assumptions of established thinking on documentary cinema and cinema in general.”