13 June 2012
Undergraduates listened to two brief musical clips (composed and performed on synthesizer by Bryant and co-author Peter Kaye) and rated how arousing they found the music and whether the emotional feeling in the music was positive (such as happy) or negative (such as fear-inducing or sad).
One of these clips, the "distortion condition," begins identically to the "control condition" but then abruptly adds the harsh "fuzzy" tone made famous by "overdriven" guitar amplifiers and fuzzboxes from Link Wray and Jimi Hendrix to Jack White. According to a press release from UCLA, the researchers "believe the effect of listening to music with distortion is similar to hearing the cries of animals in distress, a condition that distorts animals' voices by forcing a large amount of air rapidly through the voice box."
"Music that shares aural characteristics with the vocalizations of distressed animals captures human attention and is uniquely arousing," said Daniel Blumstein, a third study author and chair of the UCLA Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.
I haven't seen the full study, but my first question is whether we couldn't save several millions years of evolution and examine how some music shares aural characteristics with the vocalizations of distressed human infants. There are well-established links between infant health, the acoustical characteristics of infant cries, and caregivers' attention to and perception of those cries.
It appears that one of the characteristics perceived as more distressing, urgent, and arousing in a cry is its degree of dysphonation, or inharmonic vibration of the vocal folds that is experienced as noise. In acoustics, a sound is inharmonic to the degree that it contains overtones or harmonics the frequencies of which depart from whole-number multiples of the fundamental frequency, the perceived pitch. Many of the "gritty" or "dirty" timbres in contemporary music are achieved by technologically generating sound waves with high-amplitude odd harmonics.
It could be true that distorted musical tones have features in common with animal distress cries but also true--and more explanatorily relevant--that distorted musical tones have features in common with infant distress cries.
Unless you assume that marmots are more rock 'n roll than kids.
28 May 2012
Since I cannot grasp the Persian version, I spent the day discussing the lyrics with an Iranian friend and searching for good translations. The best I've seen is this one by Azadeh Azad. Taking this as a starting point, I've adjusted a bit to make it more idiomatic. One thing I'm still puzzling over is whether "For the sake of" or "I swear on" or some other phrase best captures the repeated petitionary form of address. Suggestions are most welcome.
by Shahin Najafi
Naghi, I swear on your wit
On this man, exiled far from the ring of battle
On life's big dick waiting menacingly behind us
On the width and length of sanctions and the rising dollar and the humiliation
Naghi, I swear on the cardboard cutout Imam
On the newborn who came out of the womb saying "O, Ali"
On Islamic jurisprudence lessons in the nose-job operating room
On The Leader, prayer beads and prayer rugs made in China
Naghi, I swear on Sheys Rezaei's thumb
On the absent religion and the religious soccer
Hey, Naghi! As the Hidden Imam is sleeping, we are calling you
Hey, Naghi! We are in our shrouds and ready to be buried
Hey, Naghi, Rise!
Naghi, I swear on love and Viagra
On spread legs and chakras
On bread, chicken, meat and fish
And silicon breasts and striped virginity
Naghi, I swear on Golshifteh's boobs
On lost honor that we never had
Naghi, I swear on Airya's race
And the pendants hung around the neck
Naghi, for Farnood's wee-wee
And the three thousand billion dollar fairy tale
Fictional like the Persian Gulf and Uromieh Lake
By the way--what was the name of the leader of the Green Movement?
On the fart-rending demise of the nation's Imam
On the fossilized pundits far from homeland
On the widows roaming in discos
On the intellectual discussions in chat rooms
On the honor of dissolute men
On the women defenders of men's rights
On the TV color revolution
On the three percent of people who read
On the insipid and hollow slogans
Naghi, I swear on this fickle crowd
Who say "long live" in the morning and "death to" at night
On the heroes of fiction
27 May 2012
For more than 40 years the BHI has promoted better hearing and hearing conservation. Exposure to noise is one of the key sources of hearing loss. The LRAD's power lies in its ability to emit sound in narrow 30-degree "beams" as if it were traveling through a "sound tunnel". Set at 150 decibels, the sounds can reach a target as much as 1,600 feet away. The human threshold for pain is between 110 and 120 decibels. Any exposure to the device at its maximum power could cause irreversible damage to the ears since the sound exceeds that of a jet engine taking off or a gun shot near a person's ear; in addition it can result in debilitating tinnitus (ringing in the ears).Thanks to Richard Einhorn for tuning me in to this story.
17 May 2012
Hildegard is often referred to as the first composer in the Western musical tradition, or the first composer whose name we know. Margot Fassler, Professor of Music History and Liturgy at University of Notre Dame, explains:
She has more securely attributable monophonic chants assigned to her name than any composer from the entire Middle Ages; she is the only composer in the history of Western music who was also a serious and highly respected theologian; she is the first composer who arranged for the ordering, copying and preservation of her musical compositions; she was the first to have promoted, and perhaps even planned, visual commentary for a theological treatise that includes song texts . . . . ("Music for the Love Feast: Hildegard of Bingen and the Song of Songs," in Resonant Witness)The best way to experience Hildegard's music for the first time is through the work of the great and groundbreaking Anonymous 4 and their final recording, The Origin of Fire: Music and Visions of Hildegard von Bingen. I heard the news about the sainthood from the wonderful vocalist and composer Lisa Bielawa, who will be performing a musical tribute to Hildegard later this month at The Stone in New York City.
23 January 2012
After Salman Rushdie withdrew from the Jaipur Literary Festival under threats of an assassination attempt (threats he now believes to have been "invented" by Rajasthan police in a scheme devised to dissuade him from attending), four other writers on the program--Hari Kunzru, Amitava Kumar, Jeet Thayil, and Ruchir Joshi--expressed their solidarity on stage by reading out passages from The Satanic Verses, which is banned in India, to the horror of some conference organizers.
Police have demanded that the organizers turn over recordings of the controversial readings. Yet as Salil Tripathi points out, it is illegal to import the book into India but it is not clearly illegal to possess it or read from it.
11 December 2011
I flip the switch and it was clear as a bell. It was as clear as the most beautiful radio signal you're ever heard in your life. It was perfect. It was right in my ear. There was nothing I needed to do. There was zero dropout, zero static, zero interference, zero hum. It sounded like a CD. It was amazing. And I just started to cry. I hadn't heard sound that good live in a year. I could probably hear better than the people who weren't using the loop. I could hear every single word. I didn't need the captions.
There are many reasons for that. The loop was great. The sound mix was great. Another very important thing is this: It was coming directly into my hearing aid, which is a sound environment that I know extremely well. Here was the absolutely perfect solution to a problem that had really put me in despair for a year.
Since that experience at the Kennedy, I've actually gone to the trouble of learning as much as I possibly can about the technology. I've even taken a three-day class in how to install them, crawling around on the floor, taping the loop down--it literally is a loop of wire--setting up the amplifiers, adjusting the sound. It is not as easy to set up as an FM system or an infrared system, which are the common ones that we see, but it is a far, far better system when it is properly set up. I'd like to see it in all the major concert halls in the United States.
We need a word for an environment that does not have a hearing loop. Hearing disabled?
Disgraceful. There are 36 million people with hearing loss in the United States. This is a figure that will double in the next 5-10 years because of the Baby Boomers who are turning 65 this year. I am not the only person who can't go the theater. Since I can't go to a theater, a ticket is not sold. Sales are going to plummet unless hearing assistance improves dramatically. The place where you start improving hearing assistance is with loops.
Who bears the responsibility for looping these environments?
For me, the interesting question is operational. Who's going to pay for it? Who should pay for it? The answer is, anybody who's got the money and who cares. In terms of the public sector, people with hearing losses need to make it as clear as they possibly can that if the government is going to provide help to the disabled--which I think is a moral imperative--then assistive listening devices need to be improved. The government needs to change its standards. The Americans With Disabilities Act should be updated and better hearing assistance should be mandated.
What about applications beyond the theater?
Loops are very flexible. They can be used for hearing assistance for subways, going to a bank, ordering at McDonald's, or at the Apple Store--which is a terrible environment for me. Loops are convenient and dignified. Where can't they be used? The major drawback is that they are mono only.
In what ways will you be involved in these issues in the future?
Bringing the technology that I know and use every day to bear on the question and the problem of improving hearing assistance technology, particularly hearing aids. Hearing aids are optimized for speech, but they don't sound good for music or anything else but speech.
Interestingly enough, there are two parallel industries that work in sound. I had no idea about this until I lost so much hearing. The hearing aid industry works on sound reproduction: it uses microphones, speakers, and all sorts of signal processing. The professional audio industry does exactly the same thing. But while the two of them know about each other, the hearing aid industry doesn't understand how advanced professional audio is and the professional audio industry doesn't understand how large a market there is for high sound quality in hearing assistance.
The major focus that I hope to have is in bringing the people in these industries a little bit closer together so that they can grasp the importance of it. I'm not making any money of it. I'm actually losing a fortune considering the amount of hours I'm working on it without getting paid! The only thing I want to do is to get better sounding hearing aids. And the only way I can think of doing is that is to take the technology I use everyday as a record producer, engineer, and composer and get more of it in my ear.
Is there room for a Richard Einhorn composition for orchestra and sound loop?
The sound loop is essentially just a sound delivery system, but I am working on a piece with my friend Bill Morrison--who did the films for the live version of The Origin--for the opening of a space in New York in the fall of 2012. Bill and I were talking about what had happened to me and he got this idea for an installation. Without giving too much away, there will be a lot of interactivity and a lot of very, very cool sounds rather than upsetting sounds. So, I guess I am still working with space.
Richard Einhorn's The Origin (CD cover image above) is based on Darwin's life and work.
05 December 2011
While the air sac makes possible booming vocalizations, it may have prevented the production of the rich variety of distinctive sounds that is exploited in spoken language. A paper published last month in the Journal of Human Evolution, "Loss of air sacs improved hominin speech abilities," explores this relationship. From the abstract:
Air sacs are a feature of the vocal tract of all great apes, except humans. Because the presence or absence of air sacs is correlated with the anatomy of the hyoid bone, a probable minimum and maximum date of the loss of air sacs can be estimated from fossil hyoid bones. Australopithecus afarensis still had air sacs about 3.3 Ma, while Homo heidelbergensis, some 600 000 years ago and Homo neandethalensis some 60 000 years ago, did no longer. The reduced distinctiveness of articulations produced with an air sac is in line with the hypothesis that air sacs were selected against because of the evolution of complex vocal communication. This relation between complex vocal communication and fossil evidence may help to get a firmer estimate of when speech first evolved.
The researcher, Bart de Boer of the University of Amsterdam, attempted to recreate the sounds of our inarticulate ancestors by forcing air through artificial vocal tracts of plastic tubing, some of which contained an extra chamber to model the air sac. The results can be heard here courtesy of New Scientist.