The American Song Contest in Soundwefts

It’s been three years since I introduced the soundweft as an alternative form of “sound wave art,” and in this post I’d like to show what a new version of it makes of each entry in the American Song Contest of 2022, which is still underway as of this writing.  The ASC entries present a…

Encrypted Letters to a Hoosier Fiancée (1895)

A century and a quarter ago, a young man whose business drew him from place to place around the Midwest mailed some painstakingly enciphered letters to his fiancée (and later wife) back home in Nappanee, Indiana.  Maybe his goal really was to keep the correspondence safe from prying eyes, or maybe he just thought of…

Absolution by Telephone: A Catholic Debate (1882-86)

Can modern sound media really transmit the human voice across long distances?  The answer to this question is less straightforward than you might think, and I’ve rarely seen it addressed more earnestly and thoroughly than in a sequence of twelve essays from the 1880s debating the question of whether Catholic priests could use the telephone…

Rightward and Downward in the Voynich Manuscript

Some words, glyphs, and glyph combinations in the Voynich Manuscript prefer earlier or later positions in lines or paragraphs than others.  A few of these patterns are conspicuous and frequently commented upon, such as the tendency of the glyphs m and g to appear at the ends of lines and the tendency of the glyphs p and f…

Della Porta’s Drunken Cipher

Among ciphertexts of the early modern period, this one stands alone for sheer visual weirdness.  It may be found in the 1602 edition—and only that one specific edition—of a book about ciphers written in Latin by the illustrious “professor of secrets,” Giambattista della Porta.  And it looks so utterly wacky that the typical reaction of…

On Glitch Patterns in DAT Transfers

Among audio preservationists, Digital Audio Tape (DAT) is a notoriously glitchy format, routinely plagued by intrusive digital dropouts.  But its glitches are patterned in ways that reflect the technical details of its structure—the interplay between the organization of the digital data and the physical design of the tapes and machines.  I believe these patterns could…