The Cocktail Party Problem

You’re at a crowded cocktail party (or a bar or anywhere else crowded, for that matter) and you somehow hear someone talking to you. How does that happen? Your ears are taking in so much sound and somehow you are able to make sense out of that one voice. This is a central question within the neuroscience of sound perception.  In this episode, we trace an outline for how we hear in this crowded cocktail party. Listen to University of Maryland Professor, Shihab Shamma, explain.

This is the eleventh (and final) piece in a series about the information found in sound. Contributors to this piece can be found here.

Social Guide to Babbling

It’s sort of amazing how babies can figure out language without being told any explicit rules. In this episode, we learn about how babies are actually a lot like songbirds in the Australian Outback: they’re guided to babble in certain ways that slowly build toward the language in their environment. Strangely, there is no imitation taking place!  Hear all about these new ideas from Cornell University research Michael Goldstein.

This is the tenth piece in a series about the information found in sound. Contributors to this piece can be found here.

Experience Shapes Perception

Your experiences shape who you are as a person. But how do they shape our perceptual abilities? Listen to how our brains process auditory information differently due to our experiences.

This is the eighth piece in a series about the information found in sound. Contributors to this piece can be found here.

Speech IS cHaNGe

It is easy to pick out human speech from background noise. But how can we do this given that all the parts of speech sound like all the other sounds? Listen to how we understand speech (our friends and accents) simply from our habits of modulating sounds.

This is the seventh piece in a series about the information found in sound. Contributors to this piece can be found here.

Engineering Gotham From Below

The New York Subway is an incredibly complex system that keeps New York running. Since it was such an enormous initial undertaking, why was it first constructed? What techniques were used to make it? How is it being built now along the new Second Avenue Line. Hear answers to these questions from engineers, historians, and Sandhogs.

This program is part of the STEM Story Project — distributed by PRX and made possible with funds from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. It is a small departure from our current series on sound. Contributors to this piece can be found here.

For more on the history of the New York City Subway, see this longer documentary:

For more on the Sandhogs, see this documentary (it really gets to the heart of who these guys are):

Here are some videos I shot during my tour of the 2nd Ave subway construction (the guy leading the tour was Michael Horodniceanu):


 

Plasticity

You might have heard about people surviving horrific brain trauma and regaining a normal life. Why is the brain able to change itself in order to process different information? Hear about an interesting experiment that uses baby ferrets and more.

This is the sixth piece in a series about the information found in sound. Contributors to this piece can be found here.

For more on plasticity, check out this really good TED talk from Michael Merzenich:

Translate Sound to the Brain

Sound gets funneled down your ear canal and… then what happens? You’ve heard about drums, tiny bones, and a spiraling hearing sensor but not like this. Hear how sound is translated to the brain from people who study our hearing (and speaking) systems for a living.
This is the fifth piece in a series about the information found in sound. Contributors to this piece can be found here.

In this episode Prof. Shamma talks about “beams” in the inner ear that vibrate in response to their specific frequency. Here is another scientist, Prof. Christopher Shera, explaining the same interesting mechanism:

SHAZAM!

Avery Wang helped found the app, Shazam. This app is now part of our cultural consciousness as a flagship app of all smartphones because it is so simple – hold up your phone to a song you hear and identify it with this app. It’s almost magical. This is the story of how Shazam began (with the many hurdles Wang overcame) and how it works.


This is the fourth piece in a series about the information found in sound. Contributors to this piece can be found here.

For those of you who want to more details about Wang’s audio search algorithm, check out his paper here.

A Musical Brain Tease

Don Hodges studies music psychology. Here, he discusses one of his latests studies that gives us some insight into what our favorite song (and music in general) means to us on a neuronal level. He then paints a beautiful encompassing view of how humans appreciate music. Listen below.

This is the third piece in a series about the information found in sound. Contributors to this piece can be found here.