PhonoPaper Makes GIFs for Amateur Cryptologists

Sending a secret message is as easy as mapping sound to shape.

Okkult Motion Pictures

PhonoPaper, a smartphone app developed by artist Alexander Zolotov that turns sound into a 2D barcode, has been around for about a year now, but people are just now beginning to find interesting ways to use it. One of the latest developments: Italian artists Okkult Motion Pictures have used PhonoPaper to make “talking GIFs.” It’s a roundabout way to creating a looping audio sample, but hey, it’s damn cool.

Zolotov’s app works by taking a sound — be it someone’s voice, a segment of music — and translating it into a 2D visual code that runs left to right. The app can then “replay” the audio by scanning the barcode. It’s based on a software simulator called Virtual ANS, which itself is based on the Russian synthesizer ANS created by Evengy Murzin.

Okkult decided to take this a step further by creating GIFs of specially made barcodes, in order to create an audio loop. Their particular GIFs translate out to something incredibly creepy: you can hear someone saying “I’m in a loop. Stop me please

One of the potential uses touted by PhonoPaper is sending secret messages to people that can only be deciphered using the app. Few people beside the intended audience would know that the blotchy black shapes found on a piece of paper actually contain an encoded message. That’s a pretty sweet way to leave a voicemail.

Internet denizens have always explored GIFs themselves as a medium for sending hidden messages back and forth, even as far back as 1995. The idea is that an indexed colors could be patterned to change in such a way as to camouflage the real message.

This new project by Okkult reintroduces that idea in a way that’s much more practical for tech newbs to get in on the action — only in this case, the GIF actually speaks. Don’t expect the CIA or dark web enthusiasts to start communicating like this, but it’s not unthinkable that GIF-obsessed high schoolers (and Slack users) might start playing around with PhonoPaper, using it as a way to talk — since face-to-face conversations are quickly becoming the realm of Luddites.

And the graffiti possibilities are endlessly fascinating. Someone could tag a train and have it play music. We’re not going to do it, but someone could (read: should).