Now, if shoes could tell where they’ve been
When you say you’ve been visiting a friend
Ain’t you glad?
Hey hey hey, ain’t you glad?
But ain’t you glad, glad that shoes don’t talk?
Ry Cooder, “If Things Could Talk”
Trouble is, it turns out that things can talk — in a manner of speaking. Seems that when a sound is emitted the vibrations of the air don’t rest when they’ve hit our eardrums but continue radiating out, causing, well, most everything to oscillate in sympathy. This isn’t — or shouldn’t be — exactly news to anyone, certainly anyone who’s danced too close to the speakers at concert and felt various internal organs rocking out, as it were. And the glass shattering soprano isn’t entirely a myth.
What might be news, however, is that recordings of these tattling things abound. Some folks at MIT have discovered that plain old videos of otherwise innocent objects can be mined for the sound vibrations in the things filmed. Recognizable tunes can be recovered fairly easily from high speed videos and can also be recovered at a lesser quality from ordinary garden-variety vids. Unlike Ry Cooder’s feared shoes, however, the filmed vibrations only occur simultaneously with the sound being emitted from the source. That is, the vibrations aren’t persistent or latent — which will be something of a relief, perhaps. Even so, it’s remarkable to see a video of a garden plant or an empty potato chips bag “decoded” to reveal a tune — or human speech.
(Those who would like to pursue this, can read the paper behind the video here.)
Having opened with a snippet from a Ry Cooder song, I can’t let you go without offering you a video of him performing that song in the studio back in 1974. It’s a good performance and a particular treat to see the great back up singers, Bobby King, Gene Mumford, and Cliff Givens doing their fabulous thing. (The lyrics are available at MetroLyrics.)