White Noise Wackiness

If system engineers use white and pink noise to tune a concert PA, and audiophiles vehemently insist that everything sounds better on vinyl, how about using vinyl records of white noise to prep a speaker system? I’m joking, of course, but here’s the thing: Between September 9-18, 2015, if you happen to be in Brighton, England, you can visit the White Noise Boutique, custom-design your own random white noise, and have it lathe-cut to vinyl by hand, while you wait. Seriously.
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Blanks awaiting to be lathe-cut with white noise.

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If system engineers use white and pink noise to tune a concert PA, and audiophiles vehemently insist that everything sounds better on vinyl, how about using vinyl records of white noise to prep a speaker system?

I’m joking, of course, but here’s the thing: Between September 9-18, 2015, if you happen to be in Brighton, England, you can visit the White Noise Boutique, custom-design your own random white noise, and have it lathe-cut to vinyl by hand, while you wait. Seriously.

A rendering of the White Noise Boutique.

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The brainchild of Jeff Thompson, assistant professor and program director of Visual Art & Technology at the Stevens Institute of Technology, White Noise Boutique is an art installation that is part of the Brighton Digital Festival, taking over an entire storefront in order to simply sell custom-designed commotion.

While it brings up all kinds of interesting questions about consumerism and the rise of Artisanal Everything, the project also has fun with the concept of randomness. Folks who design their own white noise can select from a variety of hardware and algorithmic generators, with options including a Type 1390-B tube-powered noise generator, hard-drive entropy, random atmospheric noise from an un-tuned FM radio, and more.

After the noise is generated, Thompson’s shop uses a battery of statistical tests to ensure optimal randomness, and can also advise customers on how best to ensure their noise is cryptographically secure. Finally, it gets cut to vinyl on an old-school Rek-O-Kut machine.

White noise will be cut to vinyl on this Rek-O-Kut lathe.

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As my neighbor's lawnmower proves every Saturday morning at 8AM, noise is free and plentiful, but it turns out customized noise actually costs money—a digital download of your customized racket is £1. A lathe-cut record is £4, but it comes with a free digital download, so you get more for your money.

The boutique’s website offers a few uses for white noise, such as listening to it as music or enjoying the lathe-cut record as "a poetic object," but there’s no mention of regular consumers’ most common use for white noise: a sleep aide. Since the noise is cut to 7-inch records, one would presumably have to get up and move the needle back to the beginning again—an effort that would by necessity negate any drowsiness—but perhaps someone will convince Thompson to cut one with a single concentric circle. While that would create an endless loop of noise, of course, it would also cut down on the randomness; more pragmatically, letting a 7-inch spin all night would probably wear out your phonograph needle, too.

Still, it makes for an interesting project. No word if the White Noise Boutique will do mail order.

A mock-up of the final packaging for the records.

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