Category Archives: Ringtone Research

Posts about ringtone research.

Inmate Correspondence Continues with Drawing of Western Pen Whistle

If you’ve been following the blog posts related to the Western Pen Whistle Tone, you may be interested to see this drawing from inside the institution.

This past winter, the State Correctional Institute (SCI) Pittsburgh declined my request for a visit to see, photograph, and learn more about the whistle. Since I’m interested in telling the stories about the sounds that become ringtones within this project, I’m also interested in showing the sources from which the sounds come. Over in the Manchester/North Side neighborhood of Pittsburgh, the whistle is easy to hear–every day at 8:40pm, when it goes off. It’s just not easy to see. Since I wasn’t able to take or use any actual image of the whistle, I used this scan of a vintage postcard of Western Penitentiary as the icon for the tone.

The drawing at the top of this post was sent by the male inmate who wrote to me in August after seeing my appearance on WQED’s Filmmakers Corner. In his initial letter, he asked about my choice to publish the sound of the whistle as a ringtone and expressed his reaction (as someone who hears the sound on a daily basis).

You can read our initial letter exchange here. The gentleman who drew this picture also suggested some ringtone-ideas. Since I told him I take requests for tones, I will record and publish one of his suggestions.

I appreciate that this man took the time to write back to me and to share his drawing of the whistle.

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Waffle Shop Sign Featuring Locally Toned Quote

I’ve been meaning to post this sign above the Waffle Shop–it’s a quote from project research. I didn’t know that the airspace was public property for the purposes of sonic transmission until I read this thorough article by Sumanth Gopinath called “Ringtones, or the auditory logic of globalization.”

Much and belated thanks to the Waffle Shop for putting this quote “up in lights” the week I produced Locally Toned TV at the Waffle Shop. That billboard’s changing every week–you can check what’s (literally) up by clicking here.

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Conversation with Architect Michael Schoner (of Boom Bench Fame)

Architect Michael Schoner

Meet the artist/designer Michael Schoner of NL Architects in the Netherlands (Amsterdam). He’s the creator of this amazing piece of outdoor furniture–the Boom Bench.


Michael re-worked the idea of a street bench into a work of public art capable of reflecting and amplifying the tastes, interests and personalities of those who have access to it. The Boom Bench has been described as “a regular piece of street furniture [turned] into a sound system.” Michael’s described it as a super-sized Docking Station. I’ll let him speak for himself:

“The Boom Bench features eight 60-watt co-axial speakers and two subwoofers that can be accessed through Bluetooth. Connect your player to the amplifier and take control. Now you can play your music with 95 dB high quality sound. A Bass Shaker in the seat transforms the deep sounds into vibrations that enhance the physical sensation of your tunes. Playing loud music in public will either attract or repel people. The music extends you personality onto the streets. As such it will shape the place. It is a showing off and putting yourself on the stage. Either you start an instant party or mark your territory. The music acts as an acoustic sign.”


Michael told me that the idea for the bench came out of putting a couple of observations together–that teenagers would congregate around benches near their homes and play music from their cell phones. They didn’t have boom boxes to take outside (like in the old days–if you’re old enough to remember) and they didn’t have the space to play their music loud or share it with each other in their families’ homes. Go here to read more about his democratic bench (especially the hilarious Celine Dion story he recounts there).

How’d I find out about Michael’s work? Through project research about how sound shapes space. That notion came up in conversations related to a grant proposal I was preparing for Locally Toned. The first glimmer of that idea came from a comment that smart home researcher and designer Scott Davidoff shared with me: “Someone like my mother wouldn’t completely understand your project unless there was video documentation to show her what happens when the tones go off in public.” He was so right. How do I capture that experience/arrange for that sort of video documentation?

I mentioned Scott’s comment to another mentor/project adviser, Marge Myers, she said, “Yes, what happens when the tones go off in public? How do the ringtones shape or affect the space or sphere in which they’re played? Notions of unexpected place and timing are interesting to think about in relation to your work…”

After talking with Marge, I went straight home and googled “how does sound shape public space.” Presto! I found this .pdf called Can Sound Shape the Public Space? uploaded by NL Architects. The document includes writing about (and links to) other projects and products that embodied this concept. So I wrote to the firm to thank them for posting that research and asked if anyone at the firm would allow me to talk with them about the idea of how sound shapes space.

The firm wrote back (!), said they were delighted to hear I found their essay, and suggested I speak with Michael Schoner, who designed the Boom Bench. Then Michael sent me a note (!). He mentioned that the sonic cannon ringtone made him feel extremely nervous and that he’d be happy to talk. Here follows our Q&A:

Teresa Foley (TF): You’re sensitive to audio in particular?

Michael Schoner (MS): Yes, but I think it does take a while to realize how much audio has to do with space. For example, in churches and museum–the general expectation is that you have to be quiet.

TF: Can you describe a formative experience from your childhood in relation to sound?

MS: Yes–sitting on a washing machine and singing, or the experience of parents telling you to shut up.

TF: The first thing you mention is an embodied experience of sound and of manipulating it! As soon as you say that, I remember lying on my stomach on the floor, and another kid giving me a karate chop/pretend massage–I start humming and love how the impact of their hands on my back affects my vocalizing.

MS: Well at least your experience was social, Teresa–mine was with a machine…

TF: Yes, but I bet somebody put you up on that washing machine the first time you discovered those vibes, though.

MS: Sure.

TF: Until you said what you did about your washing machine experience, I never thought about how children learn about sound/vibrations physically. It reminds me of that thing I’ve seen musicians and scientists do–where they put sand or rice on top of an amplifier to make sound vibrations visible .

Okay, another question–where’s the Boom Bench been so far?

MS: Amsterdam, Milan and New York.

TF: Where’s it going to next?

MS: Possibly Shanghai.

TF: Have any cities asked about installing it somewhere permanently?

MS: We received an inquiry from Bulgaria, but right now it’s been designed for temporary placement or exhibition. If you wanted to make it a permanent piece, it would have to be fabricated out of steel. The original is made out of wood.

TF: What would be an ideal location for it?

MS: The obvious placement is urban, but some people have asked to place it out in the suburbs–one location that’s been pitched is an area in between the sea and a lake. The idea of an urban artifact installed in the countryside is interesting, I think. But I’ve never really thought too much about this idea. I think it’s up to other people to figure out what to do with it. The thing leads a life of its own, anyhow.

TF: Are you working on any other audio related projects?

MS: I’m working on designing a concert hall.

TF: Would you kindly share the names of any other artists whose audio work you find interesting?

MS: Yes, a friend of mine told me about a project called The International Dance Party–a kind of disco machine. You start dancing by it and music comes out, the machine starts to open up–there’s even a smoke machine. My bench is for hanging out, a machine like this is for dancing–something like that machine would be great to have for openings.


In 1999, I saw an installation of an artist named Céleste Boursier-Mougenot at PS1. It was a wonderful work with live birds and sound produced, I think, by the birds landing on feeders.


Image from a more recent work by Boursier-Mougenot

Another sound project which I found really interesting is the Optofonica–a collaboration between two artists–TeZ and Janis Poenish.

Optofonica: capsule-cube

Oh, yes, and the artist Roman Signer–he has a very nice movie in which he went to Iceland, put a tent up, went to sleep and amplified his snoring through these giant speakers.

Roman Signer (image from his website)

Roman Signer (image from his website)

TF: What kinds of things would you think about if you were designing a ringtone to be shared/downloaded for free/played in public?

MS: Well, I don’t really like ringtones. They’re usually so terrible. I had a friend who made an interesting tone–he had one of the first phones that you could record sounds with. He made a ringtone out of the sound you get when you slowly let air out of a balloon. Snoring might be an interesting ringtone…

TF: There is a snore tone in the project… Okay, one last question–may I make a ringtone for the project based your specifications, or would you like to submit an audio file to the project?

MS: I’ll think about it. Maybe that is the sort of thing I could mention at the lunch table to the firm.

TF: Wow–that’d be great! Thanks for your time, Michael. I’ve enjoyed learning about your work, and this exchange we’ve had is helpful in expanding my thinking around the performative aspect of Locally Toned.

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Instructions for Getting Local Tones on iPhones (Thanks to Kim Walter)

Kim Walter and His 1959 Citroën DS

Kim and His 1959 Citroën DS

Thanks to Locally Toned contributor Kim Walter for sending in these instructions so that our readers can try and get our tones on their iPhones.  Kim is one of Larry Rippel’s friends from back in the day.  Kim teaches in the Industrial Design department at Pratt Institute in NY.  He’s also an avid collector of Citroën cars–he helps to organize the largest gathering of Citroêns in North America.  Kim said that anybody’s who’s interested can read more about this Citroën Rendezvous at

Thanks for sending us this info, Kim!

Gettin’ Local Tones on iPhones

01–In iTunes 8, click on the song/mp3 file, and select “Get Info.”
02–Hit the “Options” tab.
03–Check both the “Start Time” and “End Time” boxes.  Set the start and end time that you would like to have.
04–Click “OK” and make sure the song you want is still highlighted.
05–Click on “Advanced” in your menu bar.
06–Select “Create AAC Version” or “Create Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) Lossless Version” (Make sure your iTunes “Import Settings” are set to “AAC” or “Apple Lossless” and not “MP3″).
07–A duplicate copy of your song will appear in iTunes – this new song will have the same filename but shorter “Time” and go back to the original song and uncheck those “Start Time” and “End Time” boxes.
08–Drag the duplicate song to your desktop.
09–Once the duplicate song is copied to your desktop, delete the duplicate file in iTunes.
10–On your Desktop, rename the file with the “.m4r” file extension – Use the new extension. This turns your song file into an iPhone ringtone file.
Your “songname.m4a” file should now be named “songname.m4r.”
11–Drag the newly renamed .m4r (songname.m4r) file back into iTunes.
12–Drag the file over the “Library” column and release when “Library” becomes highlighted.
You have to delete the duplicate song file (Step 12) otherwise iTunes won’t import your new .m4r file
13–You should see your new ringtone under “Ringtones” in iTunes
14–Sync your iPhone and you are all set!!


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Local Tones on iPhones?! Alakazam!

Chris Ivey (a.k.a. Locally Toned’s St. Christopher) sent me this link to IntoMobile yesterday.  Looks like he found a way to make/get these and other tones on the iPhone (with iTunes8), cause he tried testing it out while we talked on Gmail Voice and Video Chat yesterday.  He asked me to say, “Alakazam!”  Then he turned me into a ringtone.

Anybody else want to try and write into Locally Toned and tell us what happened?  Someone named Kim responded to the Rippel’s General Custer Tone yesterday–he seems to know how to do this, too!  Please tell us more if you find out, Kim.

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Two Months Into the Project…

Locally Toned Undies

Locally Toned Undies

Two months into the project, and it’s time to pretend that I’m giving a press conference, and I’ve been asked the following questions (which I’ll gladly answer for you down below [well, really and truly, I need to do this for myself to assess what’s happened thus far, and to keep on top of the project]).

Ms. Foley, how does what you proposed to do during the residency, through your public art project Locally Toned, compare to the experience you’ve had actually working on the project these past two months?

When I wrote the proposal, my goal was to work with 25 individuals and capture 25 ringtones in each of the “production” months (May and June).  I had absolutely no idea that I would encounter people who had numerous tones or ideas for ringtones.  Nor did I realize that I’d encounter environments (such as Patusan Farm) so rich with audio possibilities, that I’d be drawn to capture much more than I’d set out to.

This month I posted 21 new ringtones (though I received many more).  I worked with 10 people whom I ended up profiling on the site (12 if you count the first “Missed Oppor-TONE-ity“).  Other ringtone contributors are waiting in the wings.  What I didn’t account for in the proposal was a good estimate of the time it would take to talk with people about the project, to encourage ringtone “idea” submissions from the public, to blog, to negotiate exhibition opportunities, and to work on the website and project design with my residency hosts deeplocal and Encyclopedia Destructica.  I imagined that April was the month to get the word out (do pre-production) and that May and June would be all field recording/production.  There was so much more I needed to do to garner public interest and participation in the project.  A major thing I’ve learned is that I’m spending 50% of my time on promotional/outreach and project “build out” tasks.

Anything else you didn’t forsee?

Yes–two things.  Firstly,”out of the blue” people who’ve heard about the project don’t seem to feel interested in or comfortable with approaching me (a stranger) to make ringtones.  That has surprised me.  Secondly, in my proposal, I didn’t even mentioned the idea of blogging.

So what do you think is up with the participation issue?

Could be that I’m not doing a good job of getting out the call for participation out to the public.  I’ll work on that in June.  It could be that folks have to see what I’m up to before they decide they want to work with me.  As far as I know, I’ve had three or four “out of the blue” people contact me about making ringtones.  One came through a posting for an Encyclopedia Destructica event, one came from a Town Talk/Radio Information Service listener, and the other two folks–I need to ask them how they heard about the project.  As a media literacy consultant and as a person with an interest in developmental psychology, I suspicion that “mirroring” the ringtone making process is important.  That’s one of the reasons I knew I had to blog.  The blog gives me a means to show and talk about the process, the people I’m meeting, the way the project gets the tones.

And the blog?  You didn’t conceptualize that component in your proposal?

No.  That came about, I’m sure, because of the work I did with artist Ines Salpico within the artist residency program at the Atlantic Center for the Arts (ACA) in February and March of this year.  I submitted my proposal to deeplocal‘s corporate residency program on Feb. 15th, and I left for ACA on the 16th.  Ines and I needed to find a way to document the manner in which we “performed text” and messages through our work at the residency, and we realized pretty quickly that a blog was the way to do it.  The day after I got back from ACA, I found out I was selected as an artist for the Old and New Media Residency program.  I knew that I had to have a means to thank those who collaborated with me and to keep them and other interested parties “posted” on what I was finding and doing and thinking about as the web infrastructure and tone distribution methods were being conceptualized in concert with deeplocal.  The blog was a no-brainer.  People can listen to the tones–and some savvy folks I know have downloaded them.  Others will have to wait (til the site and MMS system is ready, a bit later this summer, to get the tones).

How about project research?  Aside from reading America Calling, what else have you been looking into?

I wish I had more time for research–right now I’m reading Lawrence Lessig‘s fabulously enlightening (and I think important) book Remix:  Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy.  Funny cause I’m pals with Mark Hosler of Negativland, and this morning I was thinking I should ask Mark if he’ll contribute a tone to Locally Toned.  Lessig interviewed Hosler for the Remix (not surprising if you know about Negativland’s book Fair Use:  The Story of the Letter U and the Numeral 2).  Anyhow, I did what Lessig has to say and share about Read Only (RO) and Read Write (RW) cultures.  This is important in relation to my project and important to me as a media literacy specialist.  I’m a firm believer in encouraging more public and active participation in the making of media.  Lessig notes (as others do) that up until now, motion pictures have been for most people, RO culture.  Now that folks have access to the means and tools to make and share media content, it’s turning into RW culture.  Very interesting…  I have a good deal more to read–just started it this morning.

I also read and got a good deal out of The Huffington Post Complete Guide to Blogging.  If you go to google and type in “locally toned,” my blog comes up first.  I learned how to make that happen there!

Okay–this is going on and on–we’d better wrap things up now.  Any last words?

Yes.  I’m excited about some of the tones that will be coming into the project in June–Emmai Alaquiva of Ya Momz House in East Liberty says he has some tones coming my way, and Kennywood has granted permission for me to go out and record audio with another project participant.  I’m beginning to work on a plan to get out and get interest in the project while riding public transport in Pittsburgh, and I’m part of a show at the Pittsburgh Technology Council‘s 15 Minutes Gallery on June 18th, and the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust‘s Gallery Crawl on the weekend of July 17th.  In other news, I also had some ladies’ undies and t-shirts for men and women screen printed.  Get yer ladies’ undies!  Get yer t-shirts!

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Project Inquiry and America Calling

America Calling by Claude S. Fischer

America Calling by Claude S. Fischer

One of my project advisor’s Lareese Hall, recommended a book that I’d also spotted in my preliminary research–America Calling:  A Social History of the Telephone to 1940 by Claude S. Fischer. So what the heck does a scholarly, statistical book like that have to do with ringtones? It is important to me to understand the context for the ringtones–specifically the invention and dissemination of the device that they are nested in–a telephone. Here’s what stayed with me from the book:

1. Sometimes the creators of the new technology are dead wrong about the applied uses of the technology. Telephone companies may have marketed certain uses of the telephone to people, but the users end up designing uses appropriate, interesting and/or necessary to them.

2. Etiquette was an issue. Manufacturers and distributors of new technologies do seek to educate and instruct the public, not just through manuals or help pages, but also through advertising on how the public should use their tools. I quote Claude (from a chapter called Educating the Public): “Many industry people complained of profanity, yelling and abuse on the telephone. Through notices, direct chastisement of customers by employees, and occasional legal action, the companies sought to improve telephone  courtesy.” It might be interesting/run for me to think of potential ringtone/cell phone etiquette projects to promote the project.

3. Telephones were often marketed to people as useful when emergencies arose. Interesting–many first time cell phone users (especially women I know) spoke of how they got their first cell phone “in case of emergencies” and for times when they  might be driving alone in their cars, in case of  break-downs and such. But cell phones also allow us to be mobile (rather than stationery) when reinforcing our personal circles of social interaction. Phone companies, at first, weren’t so keen on selling phones for socializing–they were primarily touted as tools for business and emergencies. But the public adopted phones for social purposes, and telephone marketing departments responded with media campaigns highlighting this usage.  “A 1937 AT&T ad reminded readers that ‘the telephone is vital in emergencies, but that is not the whole of its service…Friendship’s path often follows the trail of the telephone wire.’” Ever heard of Friendster?

4. There is a notion that technologies like telephones and automobiles help to distance personal communities from localities, yet statistical analysis hints that telephone development spurs local activity (whereas autos spur extralocal activity). What will video telephony do for us? Extend and reinforce the network further out? I think so. I tend to use phone calls and text messages largely for purposes of local communication, and a video call via Google Chat to connect with people farther away. Is Google Chat with Video like the automobile?! To a certain extent… Facebook and Twitter certainly reinforce local experiences.

5. Quoting Claude again, “…both the telephone and automobile before WWII were, in their domestic use, “technologies of sociability” (and thus perhaps especially “feminine”). “The net result of their use was to expand the volume of social activity and, in that way, add to the pace of social life” (p. 254). Will scholars continue to think of technologies of sociability as “feminine” now that so many males heartily participate in online localized media and participatory social cultures (texting, MMS-ing, emailing, vide0-chatting, and through online participatory cultures)? Does an attempt to involve the community in the creation of original ringtones and ringtone sharing have a chance to become another social activity as part of telephony?

6. As another friend and project advisor, Hyla Willis pointed out, a phone’s ring is an alert signal. From America Calling, (p. 244), “The telephone, some observers assert, sped up the pace of life, forced people to be alert, and thus created a lasting feeling of tension.  …In his 1976 history of AT&T, John Brooks claimed that the early telephone ‘was creating and expecting immediate results, whether in business, love or other forms of social intercourse.'” When I was growing up, telephones had one ring that sounded the same. I remember when some of my friends got Snoopy (or other character phones) and the alert signals were different. Do people feel less interrupted or disturbed now that voicemail is standard and that “rings” can be selected and programmed by individuals? Will we just feel more empowered to let unidentified calls go into voicemail, and more readily availble to be connected to those we want or need to hear from because we can identify their calls with the sweetest, most personal, audio forms of notificaiton?

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