Good evening, ladies and otherwise. Happy apocalypse, and welcome to the Twenties! Enough with the doom and gloom, let’s get some martinis and go dancing. What’s that you say, the world is on fire? Great, because I’ll be wearing this flapper dress for the next ten years and I hate when my thighs get cold.

This is the decade that’s going to make or break our planet, true – but don’t be disheartened. It’s important to remember that the apocalypse goes both ways. We have more power than we’ve ever had, for good and bad. We could wreck the entire world (and it certainly looks like we’re trying). But we could also build utopia. If we’re to overthrow centuries of oppression and extraction and injustice, there’s no better time than right now. We have the technology.

I often write to you about the negative sides of technology, the scary and stupid things that mundane people do when granted godlike powers. But tech is neither good nor bad nor neutral . The rulers have their world surveillance and behavior control machines. But the street finds its own uses.

Was my last letter too dark for you? Here comes the optimism: the only way to survive on this planet is to overhaul the way we think about property, and production, and power. We have the models for this. We just have to implement them.

The idea of property, that one person can be responsible and in control of some aspect of reality, is hubris. All things are connected, in an ecological web. DNA itself is copied and remixed everywhere, all the time. Our patents and plats and painted lines are a parody of the complex processes that produce the natural world.

The future peers through in hip-hop, internet memes, podcasts, open source software. Sampling and forking and screenshotting are all 21C modes of interaction. The scum on top of the pond is where the new life grows.

In time we will accept that the rational individual was a myth. We are all part of a flow of nutrients and genetic goop. We need to grow up and act like it.

I’ve been thinking about this in the context of podcasting. Yes, I’m on a podcast. I hate to self-promote, but you should listen to it: INTERGALACTIC RAILROAD . We apply dialectical materialism in the context of biotechnology, artificial intelligence and space travel. Plus dick jokes! It’s fun.

To make the podcast I use a lot of open-source tools and pirated sounds. The ultimate product may not be legal, to be honest, but this is how indie podcasters do it. Legal precedent around sampling is pretty discouraging. I guess we’re all counting on copyright law getting less restrictive over time; or maybe by the time the Sounds Tribunal pays attention we’ll be too big to fail.

After all, it’s easier to remix content than it is to invent it. And it’s easier to publish content than to remove it. So the arbiters of intellectual property will always be playing catch-up.

In that spirit, here are some of the tools I’ve found to automate audio memery. They vary in complexity and processing power, but all of them can be run either on a cheap laptop or on a free Google Colab online notebook. If you can search “how to do [thing I want to learn],” you can learn to use anything.

Youtube-dl scrapes video and audio files from Youtube. Any song or sound you can think of, somebody has uploaded a sample to Youtube. This command-line tool allows you to download them in any format, and even scrapes playlists or search results.

Audiogrep transcribes speech recordings into text captions and lets you search through them. Warning: it’s not very good! Under the hood it uses pocketsphinx, which is a speech-recognition library that doesn’t need a ton of compute power. But it’s not very good at speech recognition, for the same reason. So audiogrep allows me to search through all the episodes of the podcast for the word “building”. It will extract those clips and paste them together into one audio file. But it might accidentally capture “billion”, or “Bill thinks”, or “spill things”. Less predictable than you’d hope, but still very fun.

Rubber Band stretches time and pitch separately. So you can slow things down without them getting all cough-syrup bass sounding, or change the pitch of a track to match into a mashup. Audacity has GUI functions for this, but Rubber Band lets me do it from a script. So I can automate the process.

Beatmachine will swap and chop a song with automatic beat detection. So I can make “ popular song but beats 2 and 4 are swapped “ with this one weird command:

python -m beatmachine --effects '[{"type": "swap", "x\_period": 2, "y\_period": 4}]' --input INPUT.mp3 --output OUTPUT.mp3

Beatmachine can swap, cut, repeat, silence and reverse beats in a song. It also has a web GUI , if you like pointing and clicking and whatnot.

Spleeter is a recently-released library for stemming songs: splitting them into individual instrumental tracks. This lets me remove the vocals from a Kanye track, thus instantly making it a better song. You can use a web service to play around with it easily. I’ve found some edge cases, but for the most part the neural net is really good at recognizing what’s a voice and what’s a drumbeat or synth track.

Tacotron is the name of a voice-synthesis library from Google. I use the version called Real-Time Voice Cloning , which can build a decent synthetic version of people’s voices using small samples of audio. This is deepfakes for voice, and it is scary cool. Again, it has limits, based on how it’s trained: it forms American male voices pretty well, but female or non-American voices are harder to capture. The author is working on an advanced implementation at Resemble AI , though it’s not open source and there’s no telling when they’ll start to charge for it. What would you deepfake, if you could make anyone say anything? That power is available to us all, now.

Honorable mentions to Audacity and FFmpeg , both cross-platform full-stack audio kits. Audacity is a great GUI for quick-and-dirty audio manipulation and comes with tons of effects, and FFmpeg is a completely customizable command-line audio tool that’s perfect for automation. And many of the libraries above use FFmpeg behind the scenes.

With this toolkit, you can craft any soundscape you want. Don’t get overwhelmed with options: think of the sounds you like to hear, and how you could capture or produce more of them. Let the pod-slime flow through you. Ideas ooze into your head all the time. Record them, let them pour out again into your listeners. This is the nutrient cycle, and it’s now or never. We all pod together.

Thanks for reading,

– Max


###### SCIOPS is a weekly letter about dark optimism and nerd shit. Feel free to forward it, or share it, or synthesize my voice into your podcast. You can find a web version of the latest letter here , or view the archive here .

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