Journalism Under Siege: A Free Online Course from Stanford Explores the Imperiled Freedom of the Press

This past fall, Stan­ford Con­tin­u­ing Stud­ies and the John S. Knight Jour­nal­ism Fel­low­ships teamed up to offer an impor­tant course on the chal­lenges fac­ing jour­nal­ism and the free­dom of the press. Called Jour­nal­ism Under Siege? Truth and Trust in a Time of Tur­moil, the five-week course fea­tured 28 jour­nal­ists and media experts, all offer­ing insights on the emerg­ing chal­lenges fac­ing the media across the Unit­ed States and the wider world. The lectures/presentations are now all online. Find them below, along with the list of guest speak­ers, which includes Alex Sta­mos who blew the whis­tle on Rus­si­a’s manip­u­la­tion of the Face­book plat­form dur­ing the 2016 elec­tion. Jour­nal­ism Under Siege will be added to our col­lec­tion, Jour­nal­ism Under Siege: A Free Online Course from Stan­ford Explores the Imper­iled Free­dom of the Press.

Week­ly Ses­sions:

  • Week 1 –  First Draft of His­to­ry: How a Free Press Pro­tects Free­dom; Part OnePart Two
  • Week 2 –  Pow­er to the Peo­ple: Hold­ing the Pow­er­ful Account­able; Part OnePart Two
  • Week 3 – Pick­ing Sides? How Jour­nal­ists Cov­er Bias, Intol­er­ance and Injus­tice; Part OnePart Two
  • Week 4 – The Last Stand of Local News; Part OnePart Two
  • Week 5 – The Mis­in­for­ma­tion Soci­ety; Part OnePart Two

Guest Speak­ers:

  • Han­nah Allam, nation­al reporter, Buz­zFeed News
  • Roman Anin, inves­ti­ga­tions edi­tor, Novaya Gaze­ta, Moscow
  • Hugo Bal­ta, pres­i­dent, Nation­al Asso­ci­a­tion of His­pan­ic Jour­nal­ists
  • Sal­ly Buzbee, exec­u­tive edi­tor, Asso­ci­at­ed Press (AP)
  • Neil Chase, exec­u­tive edi­tor, San Jose Mer­cury News
  • Audrey Coop­er, edi­tor-in-chief, San Fran­cis­co Chron­i­cle
  • Jenée Desmond-Har­ris, staff edi­tor, NYT Opin­ion, New York Times
  • Jiquan­da John­son, founder and pub­lish­er, Flint Beat
  • Joel Konopo, man­ag­ing part­ner, INK Cen­tre for Inves­tiga­tive Jour­nal­ism, Gaborone, Botswana
  • Richard Lui, anchor, MSNBC and NBC News
  • Geral­dine Mori­ba, for­mer vice pres­i­dent for diver­si­ty and inclu­sion, CNN
  • Bryan Pol­lard, pres­i­dent, Native Amer­i­can Jour­nal­ists Asso­ci­a­tion
  • Cecile Prieur, deputy edi­tor, Le Monde, Paris
  • Joel Simon, exec­u­tive direc­tor, Com­mit­tee to Pro­tect Jour­nal­ists
  • Alex Sta­mos, for­mer Face­book chief secu­ri­ty offi­cer
  • Mari­na Walk­er Gue­vara, win­ner of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Explana­to­ry Report­ing for coor­di­nat­ing the Pana­ma Papers inves­ti­ga­tion

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Watch 110 Lectures by Donald Knuth, “the Yoda of Silicon Valley,” on Programming, Mathematical Writing, and More

Many see the realms of lit­er­a­ture and com­put­ers as not just com­plete­ly sep­a­rate, but grow­ing more dis­tant from one anoth­er all the time. Don­ald Knuth, one of the most respect­ed fig­ures of all the most deeply com­put­er-savvy in Sil­i­con Val­ley, sees it dif­fer­ent­ly. His claims to fame include The Art of Com­put­er Pro­gram­ming, an ongo­ing mul­ti-vol­ume series of books whose pub­li­ca­tion began more than fifty years ago, and the dig­i­tal type­set­ting sys­tem TeX, which, in a recent pro­file of Knuth, the New York Times’ Siob­han Roberts describes as “the gold stan­dard for all forms of sci­en­tif­ic com­mu­ni­ca­tion and pub­li­ca­tion.”

Some, Roberts writes, con­sid­er TeX “Dr. Knuth’s great­est con­tri­bu­tion to the world, and the great­est con­tri­bu­tion to typog­ra­phy since Guten­berg.” At the core of his life­long work is an idea called “lit­er­ate pro­gram­ming,” which empha­sizes “the impor­tance of writ­ing code that is read­able by humans as well as com­put­ers — a notion that nowa­days seems almost twee.

Dr. Knuth has gone so far as to argue that some com­put­er pro­grams are, like Eliz­a­beth Bishop’s poems and Philip Roth’s Amer­i­can Pas­toral, works of lit­er­a­ture wor­thy of a Pulitzer.” Knuth’s mind, tech­ni­cal achieve­ments, and style of com­mu­ni­ca­tion have earned him the infor­mal title of “the Yoda of Sil­i­con Val­ley.”

That appel­la­tion also reflects a depth of tech­ni­cal wis­dom only attain­able by get­ting to the very bot­tom of things, which in Knuth’s case means ful­ly under­stand­ing how com­put­er pro­gram­ming works all the way down to the most basic lev­el. (This in con­trast to the aver­age pro­gram­mer, writes Roberts, who “no longer has time to manip­u­late the bina­ry muck, and works instead with hier­ar­chies of abstrac­tion, lay­ers upon lay­ers of code — and often with chains of code bor­rowed from code libraries.) Now every­one can get more than a taste of Knuth’s per­spec­tive and thoughts on com­put­ers, pro­gram­ming, and a host of relat­ed sub­jects on the Youtube chan­nel of Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty, where Knuth is now pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus (and where he still gives infor­mal lec­tures under the ban­ner “Com­put­er Mus­ings”).

Stan­ford’s online archive of Don­ald Knuth Lec­tures now num­bers 110, rang­ing across the decades and cov­er­ing such sub­jects as the usage and mechan­ics of TeX, the analy­sis of algo­rithms, and the nature of math­e­mat­i­cal writ­ing. “I am wor­ried that algo­rithms are get­ting too promi­nent in the world,” he tells Roberts in the New York Times pro­file. “It start­ed out that com­put­er sci­en­tists were wor­ried nobody was lis­ten­ing to us. Now I’m wor­ried that too many peo­ple are lis­ten­ing.” But hav­ing become a com­put­er sci­en­tist before the field of com­put­er sci­ence even had a name, the now-octo­ge­nar­i­an Knuth pos­sess­es a rare per­spec­tive to which any­one in 21st-cen­tu­ry tech­nol­o­gy could cer­tain­ly ben­e­fit from expo­sure.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Free Online Com­put­er Sci­ence Cours­es

50 Famous Aca­d­e­mics & Sci­en­tists Talk About God

The Secret His­to­ry of Sil­i­con Val­ley

When J.M. Coet­zee Secret­ly Pro­grammed Com­put­ers to Write Poet­ry in the 1960s

Intro­duc­tion to Com­put­er Sci­ence and Pro­gram­ming: A Free Course from MIT

Peter Thiel’s Stan­ford Course on Star­tups: Read the Lec­ture Notes Free Online

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

150 Courses Starting at Stanford Continuing Studies Next Week: Explore the Catalogue of Campus and Online Courses

Quick fyi: I spend my days at Stan­ford Con­tin­u­ing Stud­ies, where we’ve devel­oped a rich line­up of online cours­es for life­long learn­ers, many of which will get start­ed next week. The cours­es aren’t free. But they’re first rate, giv­ing adult students–no mat­ter where they live–the chance to work with ded­i­cat­ed teach­ers and stu­dents.

The cat­a­logue includes a large num­ber of online Cre­ative Writ­ing cours­es, cov­er­ing the Nov­el, the Mem­oir, Cre­ative Non­fic­tion, Trav­el Writ­ing, Poet­ry and more. For the pro­fes­sion­al, the pro­gram offers online busi­ness cours­es in sub­jects like Fun­da­men­tals of Project Man­age­mentVal­ue Invest­ing: An Intro­duc­tionHow to Build Suc­cess­ful Star­tups: Learn Lessons Straight from Sil­i­con Val­ley Entre­pre­neurs and Lead­er­ship by Design: Using Design Think­ing to Trans­form Com­pa­nies and CareersAnd there’s a grow­ing num­ber of online Lib­er­al Arts cours­es too. Take for exam­ple The Geol­o­gy and Wines of Cal­i­for­nia and FranceDraw­ing Inspi­ra­tion: Devel­op­ing a Cre­ative Prac­tice, and The Dai­ly Pho­to­graph: Devel­op­ing Your Cre­ative Intu­ition.

If you live in the San Fran­cis­co Bay Area, check out the larg­er cat­a­logue. Stan­ford Con­tin­u­ing Stud­ies has 150 cours­es get­ting start­ed this Win­ter quar­ter (next week), many tak­ing place in Stan­ford’s class­rooms. The two flag­ship cours­es of the quar­ter include: Piv­otal Moments That Shaped the Mod­ern World and The Ethics of Tech­no­log­i­cal Dis­rup­tion: A Con­ver­sa­tion with Sil­i­con Val­ley Lead­ers and Beyond.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Free: A Crash Course in Design Think­ing from Stanford’s Design School

Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty Launch­es Free Course on Devel­op­ing Apps with iOS 10

How Walk­ing Fos­ters Cre­ativ­i­ty: Stan­ford Researchers Con­firm What Philoso­phers and Writ­ers Have Always Known

Take a Free Course on Dig­i­tal Pho­tog­ra­phy from Stan­ford Prof Marc Lev­oy

How to Start a Start-Up: A Free Course from Y Com­bi­na­tor Taught at Stan­ford

130,000 Pho­tographs by Andy Warhol Are Now Avail­able Online, Cour­tesy of Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty

Hidden Ancient Greek Medical Text Read for the First Time in a Thousand Years — with a Particle Accelerator

Image by Far­rin Abbott/SLAC, via Flickr Com­mons

Long before human­i­ty had paper to write on, we had papyrus. Made of the pith of the wet­land plant Cype­r­us papyrus and first used in ancient Egypt, it made for quite a step up in terms of con­ve­nience from, say, the stone tablet. And not only could you write on it, you could rewrite on it. In that sense it was less the paper of its day than the first-gen­er­a­tion video tape: giv­en the expense of the stuff, it often made sense to erase the con­tent already writ­ten on a piece of papyrus in order to record some­thing more time­ly. But you could­n’t com­plete­ly oblit­er­ate the pre­vi­ous lay­ers of text, a fact that has long held out promise to schol­ars of ancient his­to­ry look­ing to expand their field of pri­ma­ry sources.

The decid­ed­ly non-ancient solu­tion: par­ti­cle accel­er­a­tors. Researchers at the Stan­ford Syn­chro­tron Radi­a­tion Light­source (SSRL) recent­ly used one to find the hid­den text in what’s now called the Syr­i­ac Galen Palimpsest. It con­tains, some­where deep in its pages, “On the Mix­tures and Pow­ers of Sim­ple Drugs,” an “impor­tant phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal text that would help edu­cate fel­low Greek-Roman doc­tors,” writes Aman­da Sol­l­i­day at the SLAC Nation­al Accel­er­a­tor Lab­o­ra­to­ry.

Orig­i­nal­ly com­posed by Galen of Perg­a­mon, “an influ­en­tial physi­cian and a philoso­pher of ear­ly West­ern med­i­cine,” the work made its way into the 6th-cen­tu­ry Islam­ic world through a trans­la­tion into a lan­guage between Greek and Ara­bic called Syr­i­ac.

Image by Far­rin Abbott/SLAC, via Flickr Com­mons

Alas, “despite the physician’s fame, the most com­plete sur­viv­ing ver­sion of the trans­lat­ed man­u­script was erased and writ­ten over with hymns in the 11th cen­tu­ry – a com­mon prac­tice at the time.” Palimpsest, the word coined to describe such texts writ­ten, erased, and writ­ten over on pre-paper mate­ri­als like papyrus and parch­ment, has long since had a place in the lex­i­con as a metaphor for any­thing long-his­to­ried, mul­ti-lay­ered, and ful­ly under­stand­able only with effort. The Stan­ford team’s effort involved a tech­nique called X‑ray flu­o­res­cence (XRF), whose rays “knock out elec­trons close to the nuclei of met­al atoms, and these holes are filled with out­er elec­trons result­ing in char­ac­ter­is­tic X‑ray flu­o­res­cence that can be picked up by a sen­si­tive detec­tor.”

Those rays “pen­e­trate through lay­ers of text and cal­ci­um, and the hid­den Galen text and the new­er reli­gious text flu­o­resce in slight­ly dif­fer­ent ways because their inks con­tain dif­fer­ent com­bi­na­tions of met­als such as iron, zinc, mer­cury and cop­per.” Each of the leather-bound book’s 26 pages takes ten hours to scan, and the enor­mous amounts of new data col­lect­ed will pre­sum­ably occu­py a vari­ety of experts on the ancient world — on the Greek and Islam­ic civ­i­liza­tions, on their lan­guages, on their med­i­cine — for much longer there­after. But you do have to won­der: what kind of unimag­in­ably advanced tech­nol­o­gy will our descen­dants a mil­len­ni­um and a half years from now be using to read all of the stuff we thought we’d erased?

via SLAC

Relat­ed Con­tent:

2,000-Year-Old Man­u­script of the Ten Com­mand­ments Gets Dig­i­tized: See/Download “Nash Papyrus” in High Res­o­lu­tion

The Turin Erot­ic Papyrus: The Old­est Known Depic­tion of Human Sex­u­al­i­ty (Cir­ca 1150 B.C.E.)

Try the Old­est Known Recipe For Tooth­paste: From Ancient Egypt, Cir­ca the 4th Cen­tu­ry BC

Learn Ancient Greek in 64 Free Lessons: A Free Course from Bran­deis & Har­vard

Intro­duc­tion to Ancient Greek His­to­ry: A Free Online Course from Yale

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

150 Courses Starting at Stanford Continuing Studies Next Week: Explore the Catalogue of Campus and Online Courses

Quick fyi: I spend my days at Stan­ford Con­tin­u­ing Stud­ies, where we’ve devel­oped a rich line­up of online cours­es, many of which will get start­ed next week. The cours­es aren’t free. But they’re first rate, giv­ing adult students–no mat­ter where they live–the chance to work with ded­i­cat­ed teach­ers and stu­dents.

The cat­a­logue includes a large num­ber of online Cre­ative Writ­ing cours­es, cov­er­ing the Nov­el, the Mem­oir, Cre­ative Non­fic­tion, Trav­el Writ­ing, Poet­ry and more. For the pro­fes­sion­al, the pro­gram offers online busi­ness cours­es in sub­jects like Prod­uct Man­age­ment for the Inter­net of ThingsThe Busi­ness of Self-Dri­ving CarsVal­ue Invest­ing: An Intro­duc­tion, Visu­al Think­ing: Work­ing with Pic­tures, and Merg­ers and Acqui­si­tionsAnd there’s a grow­ing num­ber of online Lib­er­al Arts cours­es too. Take for exam­ple The His­to­ry and Geog­ra­phy of Cur­rent Glob­al EventsRev­o­lu­tion: The Bea­t­les’ Inno­v­a­tive Stu­dio Years (1965–1967)Ethics for Arti­fi­cial­ly Intel­li­gent Robots, Byzan­tine Art, and The Great Dis­cov­er­ies That Changed Mod­ern Med­i­cine.

If you live in the San Fran­cis­co Bay Area, check out the larg­er cat­a­logue. Stan­ford Con­tin­u­ing Stud­ies has 150+ cours­es get­ting start­ed this Spring quar­ter (next week), many tak­ing place in Stan­ford’s class­rooms. For any­one liv­ing out­side of Cal­i­for­nia, check out the pro­gram’s list of online cours­es here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Free: A Crash Course in Design Think­ing from Stanford’s Design School

Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty Launch­es Free Course on Devel­op­ing Apps with iOS 10

How Walk­ing Fos­ters Cre­ativ­i­ty: Stan­ford Researchers Con­firm What Philoso­phers and Writ­ers Have Always Known

Take a Free Course on Dig­i­tal Pho­tog­ra­phy from Stan­ford Prof Marc Lev­oy

How to Start a Start-Up: A Free Course from Y Com­bi­na­tor Taught at Stan­ford

How to Get Over the Anxiety of Public Speaking?: Watch the Stanford Video, “Think Fast, Talk Smart,” Viewed Already 15 Million Times

How many of us fear pub­lic speak­ing more than death: four out of five, nine out of ten, 99 out of 100? We’ve all heard a vari­ety of sta­tis­tics, all of them sug­gest­ing the for­mi­da­bil­i­ty — per­ceived or real — of the task of get­ting up and talk­ing in front of oth­er peo­ple. But per­haps you’ll get an even clear­er sense of that from the num­ber 15,021,560: the total view count, as of this writ­ing, racked up by “Think Fast, Talk Smart,” an hour-long talk on pub­lic speak­ing tech­niques by com­mu­ni­ca­tion coach and Stan­ford Grad­u­ate School of Busi­ness lec­tur­er Matt Abra­hams.

The pedants among us, myself includ­ed, will have already tak­en note of that lin­guis­tic infe­lic­i­ty in the very title of the talk, but Abra­hams him­self wastes lit­tle time point­ing it out him­self. He also points out its val­ue: you’ve got to catch the atten­tion of your audi­ence, and a delib­er­ate­ly made mis­take (or even a non-delib­er­ate­ly made one) catch­es it as well as any­thing.

He goes on to elab­o­rate on var­i­ous oth­er tech­niques we can use not just to get oth­er peo­ple lis­ten­ing well, but to get our­selves talk­ing well, the first pri­or­i­ty being to get our­selves to stop trip­ping over our innate desire to talk per­fect­ly.

Abra­hams leads his audi­ence through sev­er­al short “games,” instruct­ing them to do things like explain­ing their week­ends to one anoth­er by spelling out loud and sell­ing one anoth­er Slinkys, with the under­ly­ing goal of break­ing the habits that have so often imped­ed our abil­i­ty to sim­ply get up and speak. He also pro­vides phys­i­cal tech­niques, like doing push-ups or tak­ing a walk around the block before giv­ing a talk in order to get your mind more “present,” and intel­lec­tu­al ones, like always adher­ing to a struc­ture, no mat­ter how sim­ple and no mat­ter how ordi­nary the sit­u­a­tion. (“I prac­tice these struc­tures on my kids,” he notes.)

Tak­ing the wider view, we should­n’t look at speak­ing as a chal­lenge, accord­ing to Abra­hams, but as a chance to explain and influ­ence. “A Q&A ses­sion is an oppor­tu­ni­ty for you,” he says, and prac­tic­ing what he preach­es, he opens one up at the end of the talk, under­scor­ing that we can improve our pub­lic speak­ing skills by doing as he says, but even more so by doing as he does. Some of those more than eleven mil­lion views sure­ly come from peo­ple who have watched more than once, study­ing Abra­hams’ own use of lan­guage, both ver­bal and body. He also demon­strates a good deal of humor, though brevi­ty, as Shake­speare wrote, being the soul of wit, you might con­sid­er chas­ing his talk with the four-minute Big Think video on the same sub­ject just above.

Abra­hams reg­u­lar­ly teach­es cours­es on Pub­lic Speak­ing at Stan­ford Con­tin­u­ing Stud­ies. If you live in the San Fran­cis­co Bay Area, give his class­es a look. Also see his books, Speak­ing Up with­out Freak­ing Out: 50 Tech­niques for Con­fi­dent and Com­pelling Pre­sent­ing.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Teacher Helps His Stu­dent Over­come Stut­ter­ing and Read Poet­ry, Using the Sound of Music

NPR Launch­es Data­base of Best Com­mence­ment Speech­es Ever

How to Sound Smart in a TED Talk: A Fun­ny Primer by Sat­ur­day Night Live‘s Will Stephen

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

170+ Courses Starting at Stanford Continuing Studies This Week: Explore the Catalogue of Campus and Online Courses

Quick fyi: I spend my days at Stan­ford Con­tin­u­ing Stud­ies, where we’ve devel­oped a rich line­up of online cours­es, many of which will get start­ed this week. The cours­es aren’t free. But they’re first rate, giv­ing adult students–no mat­ter where they live–the chance to work with ded­i­cat­ed teach­ers and stu­dents.

The cat­a­logue includes a large num­ber of online Cre­ative Writ­ing cours­es, cov­er­ing the Nov­el, the Mem­oir, Cre­ative Non­fic­tion, Food Writ­ing, Poet­ry and more. For the pro­fes­sion­al, the pro­gram offers online busi­ness cours­es in sub­jects like Project Man­age­ment, Busi­ness Com­mu­ni­ca­tion, Design Think­ing, Cre­at­ing Star­tups and Val­ue Invest­ing. And there’s a grow­ing num­ber of online Lib­er­al Arts Cours­es too. Take for exam­ple Draw­ing Inspi­ra­tion: Devel­op­ing a Cre­ative Prac­tice; The Geol­o­gy and Wines of Cal­i­for­nia and France; and Cyber Tech­nolo­gies and Their World-Chang­ing Dis­rup­tions: Elec­tion Hack­ing, Fake News, and Beyond.

If you live in the San Fran­cis­co Bay Area, check out the larg­er cat­a­logue. Stan­ford Con­tin­u­ing Stud­ies has 170+ cours­es get­ting start­ed this Win­ter quar­ter, many tak­ing place in Stan­ford’s class­rooms. Here are a few on-cam­pus cours­es I might rec­om­mend: Lead­ers Who Made the 20th Cen­tu­ryJames Joyce’s Ulysses, and Stan­ford Sat­ur­day Uni­ver­si­ty: 2018.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Free: A Crash Course in Design Think­ing from Stanford’s Design School

Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty Launch­es Free Course on Devel­op­ing Apps with iOS 10

How Walk­ing Fos­ters Cre­ativ­i­ty: Stan­ford Researchers Con­firm What Philoso­phers and Writ­ers Have Always Known

Take a Free Course on Dig­i­tal Pho­tog­ra­phy from Stan­ford Prof Marc Lev­oy

How to Start a Start-Up: A Free Course from Y Com­bi­na­tor Taught at Stan­ford

Hear the Hagia Sophia’s Awe-Inspiring Acoustics Get Recreated with Computer Simulations, and Let Yourself Get Transported Back to the Middle Ages

The tech­nol­o­gy used to pro­duce, record, and process music has become ever more sophis­ti­cat­ed and awe-inspir­ing, espe­cial­ly in the capa­bil­i­ty of soft­ware to emu­late real instru­ments and acoustic envi­ron­ments. Dig­i­tal emu­la­tion, or “mod­el­ing,” as it’s called, doesn’t sim­ply mim­ic the sounds of gui­tar ampli­fiers, pianos, or syn­the­siz­ers. At its best, it repro­duces the feel of an aur­al expe­ri­ence, its tex­tures and son­ic dimen­sions, while also adding a seem­ing­ly infi­nite degree of flex­i­bil­i­ty.

When it comes to a tech­nol­o­gy called “con­vo­lu­tion reverb,” we can vir­tu­al­ly feel the air pres­sure of sound in a phys­i­cal space, such that “lis­ten­ing in may be viewed as much as a spa­tial expe­ri­ence as it is a tem­po­ral one.” So notes Stanford’s Icons of Sound, a col­lab­o­ra­tion between the University’s Cen­ter for Com­put­er Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA) and the Depart­ment of Art & Art His­to­ry. The researchers in this joint project have com­bined resources to cre­ate a per­for­mance of Byzan­tine chant from the 6th cen­tu­ry CE, sim­u­lat­ed to sound like it takes place inside a prime acoustic envi­ron­ment designed for this very music, the Hagia Sophia in Istan­bul.

Built by the emper­or Jus­tin­ian between 532 and 537, when the city was Con­stan­tino­ple, the mas­sive church (lat­er mosque and now state-run muse­um) “has an extra­or­di­nar­i­ly large nave spread­ing over 70 meters in length; it is sur­round­ed by colon­nad­ed aisles and gal­leries. Mar­ble cov­ers the floor and walls.” Its cen­ter is “crowned by a dome glit­ter­ing in gold mosaics and ris­ing 56 meters above the ground.” The effect of the build­ing’s heavy, reflec­tive sur­faces and its archi­tec­tur­al enor­mi­ty “chal­lenges our con­tem­po­rary expec­ta­tion of the intel­li­gi­bil­i­ty of lan­guage.”

We are accus­tomed to hear the spo­ken or sung word clear­ly in dry, non-rever­ber­ant spaces in order to decode the encod­ed mes­sage. By con­trast, the wet acoustics of Hagia Sophia blur the intel­li­gi­bil­i­ty of the mes­sage, mak­ing words sound like ema­na­tion, emerg­ing from the depth of the sea. 

The Icons of Sound team has recon­struct­ed the under­wa­ter acoustics of the Hagia Sophia using con­vo­lu­tion reverb tech­niques and what are called “impulse responses”—recordings of the rever­ber­a­tions in par­tic­u­lar spaces, which are then loaded into soft­ware to dig­i­tal­ly sim­u­late the same psy­choa­coustics, a process known as “aural­iza­tion.” CCRMA describes an impulse response as an “imprint of the space,” which is then applied to sounds record­ed in oth­er envi­ron­ments. Typ­i­cal­ly, the process is used in stu­dio music pro­duc­tion, but Icons of Sound brought it to live per­for­mance at Stanford’s Bing Con­cert Hall last year, and made the group Cap­pel­la Romana sound like their voic­es had trans­port­ed from the Holy Roman Empire.

“To recre­ate the unique sound,” writes Kat Eschn­er at Smith­son­ian, “per­form­ers sang while lis­ten­ing to the sim­u­lat­ed acoustics of Hagia Sophia through ear­phones. Their singing was then put through the same acoustic sim­u­la­tor and played dur­ing the live per­for­mance through speak­ers in the con­cert hall.” As you can hear in these clips, the result is immer­sive and pro­found. One can only imag­ine what it must have been like live. To com­plete the effect, the pro­duc­tion used “atmos­pher­ic rein­force­ment,” notes Stan­ford Live, “via pro­ject­ed images and light­ing.” The audi­ence was “immersed in an envi­ron­ment where the unique inter­play of music, light, art, and sacred text has the poten­tial to induce a qua­si-mys­ti­cal state of rev­e­la­tion and won­der.”

The only sounds the researchers were able to record in the actu­al space of the ancient church were four pop­ping bal­loons. By lay­er­ing the rever­ber­a­tions cap­tured in these record­ings, and com­pen­sat­ing for the dif­fer­ent decay times inside the Bing, they were able to approx­i­mate the acoustic prop­er­ties of the build­ing. You can hear sev­er­al more audio sam­ples record­ed in dif­fer­ent places at this site. In the video above, asso­ciate pro­fes­sor of medieval art Bis­sera Pentche­va explains how and why the Hagia Sophia shapes sound and light the way it does. While purists might pre­fer to see a per­for­mance in the actu­al space, one must admit, the abil­i­ty to vir­tu­al­ly deliv­er a ver­sion of it to poten­tial­ly any con­cert hall in the world is pret­ty cool.

via The Smith­son­ian

Relat­ed Con­tent:

David Byrne: How Archi­tec­ture Helped Music Evolve

The Same Song Sung in 15 Places: A Won­der­ful Case Study of How Land­scape & Archi­tec­ture Shape the Sounds of Music

What Did Ancient Greek Music Sound Like?: Lis­ten to a Recon­struc­tion That’s ‘100% Accu­rate’

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness.

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