S is for Sidechain

If you've ever played the board game Mouse Trap, you can easily understand one of the most interesting digital audio techniques: sidechaining. You might remember that Mouse Trap involves a scheme for capturing mice that's far more complex than your standard cheese/spring/snap design available at the dollar store; Mouse Trap was a child's introduction to the incredible world of Rube Goldberg machines. 

The fact that there was even a board game connected to this incredible scheme was a surprise to me as I went back to do a bit of research, because all I remember was turning a crank which makes a red hexagon hit a boot that kicks a bucket that sends a marble down a ramp...until finally a small cage descends on whatever poor mouse happens to be waiting below it. I don't ever remember rolling a die or moving my pieces around the board – I'm pretty sure we'd just set up the machine and run it again and again until we got bored.

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K is for KBPS

Walking down the aisles of your local supermarket, you may be amazed how difficult it is to find pure grapefruit juice. Oh, don't get me wrong. There are plenty of grapefruit-inspired liquids: cocktails, blends, elixirs, and other forms of snake oil that the taste chemists at Ocean Spray concoct to keep folks happy, well-hydrated, and protected from the bitter reality that accompanies citric acid.

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J is for Jack

I remember a family trip to Florida, having just bought a new Jerky Boys CD and suffering through the car ride home because I had my Discman but forgot my headphones. This was a time before white earbuds could be found with reasonable probability just by opening a glove compartment or checking one's pocket. At some point during this car ride I remember turning up the Discman's volume to its maximum and holding the empty headphone jack to my ear, straining to hear my beloved prank phone calls squeaking through.

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CYMATICS: Science Vs. Music

One of the coolest music videos ever.

Seen a bunch of these experiments in nifty videos that get passed around online, but this guy puts it all together into a wickedly slick production. Probably need to go back and pay attention to the music now, since I was so transfixed on the amazing things sound can do.

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H is for Headphones (A Guide for the Perplexed Buyer)

You may not like Dr. Dre's music, but you have to thank him for one thing: putting headphones back on the map. Or at least, slapping his name on a product on which people will pay far more for the letter "b" than they would on Wheel of Fortune.

In the last few years, headphone sales have exploded, with Dre's famous Beats headphones leading the charge and soaring past $1 billion in sales. The celebrity endorsements and prominent placement in Apple stores surely don't hurt, but if you step back and consider how radically the headphone market has changed over the past few years amongst non-audiophiles, it's pretty astonishing.

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G is for Glitch

It's broken - don't fix it.

This is the unspoken motto in the world of glitch music. To anyone who has used a computer, the word 'glitch' shouldn't be terribly foreign: glitches are errors. Things that are broken, not the way they're supposed to be, like potholes in a road or cracks in a window. Usually we work to avoid these broken-nesses but some cr/azy folks among us actually use these as the palette they paint with.

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F is for Frequency

Aboard this planet, it takes 365.25 days to complete a lap around the sun. Saturn takes 10,755 days to do the same. On Mercury, the trip only takes 88 days. In 1619 the German astronomer Johannes Kepler published The Harmony of the World, in which he famously observed the orbits of each planet in our solar system and transformed them into musical terms.

When it comes to planetary orbits, we really are taking these facts on faith. Maybe Kepler understood this, and so he strove with his solar symphony to transform the planets' frequencies into a medium where we experience frequency directly, every day of our lives. That is, sound.

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B is for Bit Depth

Cassiopeia. Ursa Major. Orion's Belt. The Big Dipper.

These constellations light our skies at night, have got sailors home safely, and have been the subject of many a great tale. But when we look north on a summer's night and see seven pinpricks of light that make a giant spoon (I never could quite figure out why it was called a dipper...), there's a flair of imagination at work to fill in the blanks.

Being less literate in the language of the sky, average folks might be able to identify only one or two constellations. It seems like a wonder that hundreds of years ago our ancestors could look at the sky and see a drama unfolding with queens and spoons and dragons. Oh my. 

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D is for Decibel

If you've ever seen Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, you'll remember long scenes like this one, in complete and utter silence. Of course, that's because they happen in the vacuum of outer space, and sound is a dance that air molecules do. Air and outer space don't mix.

But life on earth is a constant barrage of molecules dancing this way and that, and the way that we detect these air disturbances is through our ears. And since we human-folk seem to get the greatest joy from naming and measuring the world around us, we shouldn't be surprised there's a whole field of study concerning the intensity of these air movements. 

When we hear of the decibel – a unit of measurement named after none other than Alexander Graham Bell – we tend to think of sound levels...

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