Thursday, February 28, 2013

Sound in Space

Over the past 20 years there have been some compelling experiments and discoveries made in the field of audio research in outer space by Dr. Neal London, professor at the Audio Research Institute at the University of Texas. Dr. London’s theory of sound in space, which he developed while an undergraduate at Texas A & M in the early 1990's, revealed that there is sound in space because space is not a true vacuum; it is actually a gaseous environment at extremely low pressure (on average about one hydrogen atom per cubic meter vs. trillions per cubic meter in the earth’s atmosphere). His theory held that because of the scarcity of hydrogen atoms in space that usually distort and impede sound movement in the earth’s atmosphere, sound would be hyper-activated; its volume intensified, its resolution greater than anything on earth. Sound would move, he suggested, in the medium of outer space in a hyper-activated slipstream that would exponentially heighten the experience of sound and add to its speed, purity, and clarity.

Dr. London surmised that the fidelity of sound in space would be as close as one can get to Alexander Graham Bell’s illusive “perfect sound” (a spectrally pure resonating hum that was created in the early Bell Labs in a contained hydrogen chamber). Bell’s experiments are the basis for the theory that the movement of sound depends on gas density. In other words, more gas, less sound density; less gas, more sound density. The conditions close to the Earth's surface allow sound waves to generate a strong pressure gradient that enables percussive shocks, but at the same time it ultimately impedes its forward flow, muting the sound over time. Dr. London believed that the lack of dense gases in outer space would allow sound to move in a slippery, more transmittable way that would reveal astounding results.

In 2003, Dr. London was invited by NASA to test his theories aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis. The most interesting experiment Dr. London performed was recording the sound of his infant son crying and playing the recording from a speaker attached to the shuttle’s wing. He then placed a ribbon microphone (a highly sensitive microphone that is able to pick up sound vibrations from over a mile away) on the nose of the shuttle (a distance of approximately 30-feet). The sounds of his son crying were then broadcasted and recorded aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis. The result astounded Dr. London. It sounded like “a stadium full of crying infants,” he said in an interview the following day. This was due to the "Doubler Effect" where sound waves are magnified and multiplied in space due to the lack of oxygen and a central cavity for sound to nestle in without a constrained receiving zone. Disproving the old movie tagline that "no one hears you scream in space." In fact, if you scream in space it would sound like a symphony of metallic screams in a hollow convention hall.

Dr. London’s shuttle experiment also addressed the effects of extreme cold on sound in space, where temperatures average around 350 degrees below zero. This extreme cold creates what is commonly referred to as “Void of Sound Effect,” or V.O.S. In extreme cold, sound doesn’t travel in crisp binary waves, but tends to be unstable, forming random sound clusters that bounce off matter unpredictably. In 1979, Dr. Louis Mitchell, a professor of audio research at Cambridge University, conducted a now famous experiment. He injected -200 degree Fahrenheit air into a metal container about the size of a popcorn bowl with a small electric bell inside. When he activated the bell, the sounds that emanated ricocheted around the room, until he deactivated the bell and released the cold air inside the container. This is precisely why it is difficult for children hear their parents shouting for them on a cold winter’s day, or why crowds at a ballgame sound muted in winter in comparison to a hot humid summer day when the crowd sounds can be deafening. Sound in extremely cold environments has a tendency to form in pools or clusters, confined by negative ions like a webbing or net. It moves as a mass that resembles more of a gelatinous sound mass, rather than a linear sound source. When sounds are projected through tinted smoke scientists can see the linearity of sound as it travels through warm air vs. the meandering blobs of sound we find in extremely cold air.

The best historical example of the instability of sound in extremely cold environments is to go back in time 113 years ago to Ernest Shackleton’s experiences during his explorations of Antarctica where he had firsthand experiences with sound “clusters.” The instability of sound sources bewildered Shackleton who frequently complained of being unable to hear one of his men shouting at that top of his lungs a mere 10 feet away. Sled dogs near their camp seemed to bark in silence but men more than a mile away could hear someone shouting or dogs barking as though they were a few feet away. This is because sound clusters are carried randomly to unsuspecting ears, regardless of where the sound was aimed or the distance from its source. In one account, Shackleton describes sound in extremely cold conditions:

“One of my men shouted to me from a glacial hill about a quarter mile in front of me but the sound of his voice came to me from behind. I turned to my rear to see who was there, but no one was there.” –E.S. April 15, 1901

Dr. London decided that the best way to reign in sound clusters was to give them direction with a propellant. Through the use of propulsion, sound in space would not only travel in a plasma blob in the cold, but could be pushed in such a way that it could arrive at its destination unimpeded by cold negative ions which hold sound back from delivering its full sound spectrum. The problem for Dr. London was how to direct sound in the extremely cold and airless environment of space. How could he make sound travel like a cannonball directly at the receiving mechanism in such a way that it would arrive at its intended target? His solution was a simple one: build a sound cannon fueled by Co2 cartridges. He used four feet of white PVC tube with a six-inch diameter and placed five C02 cartridges around its outer lip at the firing end. In the middle of the cartridges, he placed the speaker that broadcasted the sound of his son crying. At the instant the sound was played, the cartridges fired and propelled the sound to the intended target on the nose of the shuttle. The velocity of the sound cannon eliminated the sloppy randomness of blob diffusion and successfully propelled the sound of his son crying through outer space to its intended target.

What Dr. London discovered with his shuttle experiment was that sound in extremely cold conditions travels in plasma clusters, its spectrum divided into high and low sections that disperse the sound in uneven cycles. Dr. London unveiled a new sound template, revealing a level of clarity that even highly sophisticated microphones could barely register. The analogue sound meters that he used were overloaded immediately, their gauges not nearly sensitive enough to measure the new dimension of sound. Upon further investigation of the sounds through an aural spectrometer, Dr. London was amazed to discover that sounds projected to the microphones in space arrived in bunches that were perfect prisms. Each core sound held the stamp of what could only be described as perfect geometric scales. When he translated the sound data visually, the pattern it made looked much like the outline of a daisy drawn with a Spirograph. Architects have found parallels to these radical patterns in the work of Buckminster Fuller who anticipated the geometry of sound in his Geodesic Dome designs. In the 1940’s his work with the French composer Pierre Boulez anticipated the idea of sounds as physical structures when Boulez made tone cluster recordings that Fuller then translated (painstakingly and note for note) into architectural sound structures that became the basis for his geodesic domes.

In ideal conditions, the space between objects in outer space are essentially empty of all matter, meaning that sound in its pure plasma form corrupts the void in such a manner that it is accelerated by the lack of resistance. An apt analogy is to imagine sound being the size of your hand and space being a glove that is the size of Vermont: you'd never be able to touch all the ends of the finger holes simultaneously because the dimensions are simply incompatible. With no matter to dissipate the flow of sound, all that is left are the literally lighter parts of sound that are then hyper-activated. Therefore, sounds are not only louder in outer space; they are clearer and more robust than our ears can hear.

During his time on the shuttle, Dr. London made an interesting discovery regarding smells and sound. He did a preliminary study with astronauts who had done space walks outside of the shuttle where they were bombarded with high-energy vibrations of particles in outer space. These particles can both accelerate and impede the flow of sound and in many instances create a distinct odor on the astronauts coming back in the shuttle after a spacewalks. Dr. London, and many of the astronauts who have walked in space, have reported smelling cooked meat, and their suits smelling of freshly welded metal when arriving back in the shuttle. This is the result of the high-energy particles and the considerable amount of debris outside the earth’s atmosphere (old satellite parts no bigger than a peanut tend to cluster together in zero gravity called by astronauts "nut clusters") that create enormous heat and friction on anything they come in contact with (in this instance, the astronaut’s suits). These clusters, when sound passes through them, distort the flow of sound and present enormous obstacles--literally and figuratively--in sound projection in outer space.

Dr. London’s later studies of dust, (dust is quite prevalent in space) revealed interesting swirl patterns in zero gravity. Dr. London referred to this phenomenon as “The Swirl Effect.” It is equivalent to a multi-track recording. In outer space this phenomena is compounded by the lack of oxygen where sound is not only directionless, but it replicates itself and intertwines repeatedly like a tightly wound rope, thus adding not only to its density, but also its clarity and volume. When sounds from outer space are played through a computer program called “PRISM” (developed at MIT during the cold war to analyze sound for Dolby Labs, the same audio lab currently used for mastering sound by virtually all contemporary films) Dolby Labs found that the spectral analysis captured was perfect. In other words, the geometric conversion of sound into geometrically quantifiable information yielded the most perfectly precise representation of sound ever captured by spectral analysis. Every angle in the geometric representation of sound was as close to perfection as had ever been captured. Remarkably, we have no modern utensils that allow us to see any imperfections in the geometry of this sound from outer space.

What does all this mean for the future of sound on earth? For one, it allows developers of headphones, recording engineers and the like to explore spectrums of sound previously only theorized about. Already there are practical applications in live concert hall settings where musicians use outdoor spectral perfection amplifiers as a way to multiply sound and add a richness and depth to brittle, one-dimensional sound sources. On an even more radical level, sound in outer space is being experimented with as a mode of transport, sending spaceships deep into space by propelling them with their own sound. Dr. London has even suggested that here on earth, in only a few decades, vehicles will no longer use fuel, but will be propelled by the very sounds they make. The future looks very noisy indeed.

Thursday Top 10

1) Thursdays are my Fridays.

2) Atoms for Peace.

3) Iron Heart Denim.

4) Vast expanses of nothingness.

5) Six hours of sleep.

6) James Schuyler.

7) Thomas Bernhard.

8) George Bataille.

9) Vehicles of my knowing.

10) Sound in Space.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Husker Du - Hardly Getting Over It


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

4:45 AM Poem

Nothing skitters
across the floor.
Silence lilts the room
then the radiator hisses
and startles me. Light blooms
on the horizon, no,
it's just a car. Water runs
through the pipes,
perhaps a neighbor
is awake downstairs.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Daybreak Express

Pink sky over Brooklyn.
In the middle of the night
a child's voice on my i-phone.
Creamy dawn, the motion of Monday
thundering across the courtyard.
We can shower, go worthless, while
faint exchanges rustle the words.
Look out there: people are nowhere
at all. Slow machines hum in a sort
of cordial mush, then a whirling
of humans on a mission, like milk
will carry your elbows into a good
looking thing. Out amid the cars
and the nice little things like corner
bodegas and perfectly designed mints.
Spray the radiator with a a scented oil mixture.
Outside: dry and stinky. In here: fragrant, damp,
and warm. The old world is waking up
just fine without me.

Sunday, February 24, 2013


Saturday, February 23, 2013

Saturday Poem

The details of this morning
are working well together.
Look how modern and awake
this room is with its wide
array of distinct visual pleasures.
How good the bananas look in the red bowl
or how marvelously the blue chair hovers on silver
legs above the brown floor.
Even outside the mist settles
on the street darkening its hue
adding a richness to the pile
of cardboard waiting to be hauled away.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Friday Top 10

1) Adam Phillips.

2) George Saunders.

3) Phil Schaap.

4) Harmony Korine.

5) Leslie Scalapino.

6) Diane Williams.

7) Bob Mould.

8) Robert Musil.

9) Thomas Bernhard.

10) Ingeborg Bachmann.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Well Red

Morning Poem #13

I'm binging on light,
as a platter of sky
spills down Baltic.
Limbs skitter across the room.
And then a feeling
of being dull while dancing a bit
as I wash the dishes.
The people know the caffeine
and disperse in a tight try.
Incredible things will start happening
in here. What would you do if I sang
in the form of a wolf?
My little masky show is huge
and approved by everyone. See: Thurs.
The morning shifts a bit
as a belligerent oil truck
bumps the air
making my skin quiver.
There are great things that pass
on the way now.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013



Maximum Todd

In this week's episode of "Maximum Todd," Todd begins his walk to work but is soon greeted by a mysterious neighbor who has a plan for Todd that involves a trip somewhere "warm and delicious." Little does Todd know that the "trip" is actually a walk down to the boiler room of his building where some hilarious (and frightening) antics ensue. Several surprise guest stars appear in this week's episode, so be sure to tune in to channel 129, Brooklyn's comedy and adventure channel.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Sound in Space (Excerpt)

Sound in extremely cold environments has a tendency to form in pools or clusters, confined by negative ions like a webbing or net. It moves as a mass that resembles more of a gelatinous sound mass, rather than a linear sound source. When sounds are projected through tinted smoke scientists can see the linearity of sound as it travels through warm air vs. the meandering blobs of sound we find in extremely cold air.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Wind Sheer Poem

Sting of cheeks
blasted by harsh wind sheer,
while all the bits of Brooklyn
swirl into space.
Hash tag "hurt" hash tag "ugh."
Then a wobbly block,
then a big baby feeling
of cold and ache and all that.
Curl up somewhere with a view
of a lucid ice map calculated
by degrees. A hissing radiator
tuned to f sharp. A planet
of harsh stuff. Just a spoon
full of sugar helps the winter go down.
Winter go down.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Weekend Top 5

Friday, February 15, 2013

Friday Top 10

1) Spring air.

2) Radio.

3) Kombucha.

4) Spinach and eggs with ketchup.

5) Blue coffee mug.

6) Yellow tulips.

7) Tomas Transtromer.

8) Fridays are my Saturdays.

9) Elegant movements in my living room.

10) Breathing.

Thursday, February 14, 2013


Morning looks very tender from here.
A pale city in soft focus. Let the sun
burn the fog off the sides of things; lift
the silt off the surface so it shines
in a remarkable "I'm floating" way.
That's all. Carry on.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

New City York

Lights on the green canal water
illuminate a boat, half sunk
and listless with mold, arched
like a shitting dog. As a grapefruit
is pealed blood pours out on the desk.
Now we can settle in for winter.
Spinning on airborne gestures,
flapping our arms in such a way
that the imprint of a hand is
visible on the curtains. Chocolate
and olive oil stains. I put on
my shoes in order to breathe.
Little things start to jiggle
as my building quivers from traffic.
Stop light, stop music, stop.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


Morning plunks down
on the balcony
tilting the building
to one side.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Sunday Top 10

1) Visible breath.

2) Snow angels.

3) Single lane sidewalk.

4) Snow glare.

5) Listening to My Bloody Valentine: MBV while walking in the snow.

6) Derek, the BBC show.

7) Organic Raw Kombucha, Multi-Green.

8) Nigerian pop music from the 1970's.

9) Nice people.

10) My new oven mitt!

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Winter Poem

The near silence after a storm,
punctuated by children shouting
on the street out front. People
shoveling snow into white mounds;
gray breath balloons in a winter cartoon strip.
Great instances of living according to a plan.
Achieving something like moving snow
to the bottom of the stairs. Look at the sky,
we are thrusting through space as a bus rattles by
with chains on its rear wheels.

Friday, February 08, 2013

The Feelies - Slipping Into Something, 1990

Wednesday, February 06, 2013


Love Poem

If we clock a lemon falling
from the balcony six floors down,
it will be June by the time it hits
the sidewalk. People will look up
and shout, "it's your birthday!"
What seemed so dark and wintery
has been sprayed with the yellow
light of early June. What rumbles
in our stomachs are not the sausages
of our youth, but the pangs of some
distant love, all vibrant and dangling,
ready to be thrust asunder,
lifted heartily, and mine.

Roll with Me

I want this day to embody
the highest quality and conception
that time passing by rapidly can provide.
Perhaps something like an airtight plot
in a really good movie about someone
getting on the subway and just doing
some pleasant things like reading some James
Schuyler poems under the East River.
I want to feel good about it being February.
The world is a mess but I'm in it,
so I'll make the best of it.
Also: I want to try doing the daily
things that don't require much dramatic
energy other than just paying attention
to the details as they swirl around.
Then I'll have some soup and salad
for lunch and just generally
sit around on my ass.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Sound Fact

Sound has the ability to liquify and pool into blobs in extremely cold air.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

My Bloody Valentine - Who Sees You

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Saturday Sardines

Sufjan Stevens - Sister Winter

Red Helicopters

In the sky blue sky
there are red helicopters
flying over Manhattan.