Visible Sounds: What You Can’t See Won’t Hurt You?

Here’s what Serato Scratch Live looks like, if you haven’t seen it before:

When I’m not busy ballsing up a mix, I’m staring at this screen – mainly at the middle, at the sound wave graphs. They’ll show me where a break’s coming, where the sound gets fuller or quieter.

The newer recordings I have tend to be fuller. You can see it onscreen because the sound waves go bonkers, stretching the volume limits and bouncing through at a higher frequency (witness Major Lazer above).

Now I’m no musicologist. But I’d guess that coverage of the Loudness War gets to the root of what’s going on here:

Do you find it a bit weird that we don’t ‘see’ music like this more often?

The graphic equalizer has been around for nearly half a century. But iPods just show us timelines or numerals, and sleeve art. Music videos give us visual reference to understand a song, but rarely any data. The modern displays on digital radios are mainly functional.

Cue data viz delight when I discovered this little number today… A Visual History of Loudness (PDF) [via The Loudness Wars: Why Music Sounds Worse]

Wowzer. I’ve not even included the visual for 2010 here – but it probably won’t blow your mind to learn it gets louder again. You’ll have to check out the PDF.

So there’s one argument that appears to make sense: “Because louder music creates a more immediately pleasing effect on the listener, record execs have been ordering the volume knob cranked up for the last three decades.”

But is there more to it? Feels to me that musicians and producers must have played a role too. Look at this Ableton recreation of ‘Smack My Bitch Up’ [via Lemonade Was A Popular Drink…]

It’s not just about jacking up the volume. It’s about sampling too. Every time a track takes a sample and ‘smacks the pitch up’, it compresses more sound into a smaller space. That also makes it harder for you, or me, to mix it with another record – we’ll need to filter out more sounds to stop that nasty soundclash noise.

*SURPRISE ENDING* You might have heard of The Mosquito – a high frequency sound device that “stops teens from loitering”.

If you’re under 25 you should, in theory, be able to hear this:

The Teenager Audio Test MP3 [via The Oatmeal]

So what do you reckon? Will the music industry get itself back on an even keel? Will Apple introduce iTunes upgrades that let us ‘see’ sound differently? Will bigger gaps develop between the hearing ranges of different generations – and will they be used against us? Or will the kids fight back with ringtones?

Too many questions. I’m sorry. Got overexcited there.

If I were to make a prediction, it’s this – advertisers will make more use of sound and, specifically, sound viz this year. We haven’t seen the last of this.

More sound experiments:

Mathias Delplanque – ‘Call Centre’

– The sounds of the Indian call centre, remixed

Giles Turnbull – ‘The Present Sound of London’

Audio journalism from the Big Smoke’s undersides

More data viz goodness:

Information Is Beautiful

information aesthetics

Flowing Data

The 2009 Feltron Annual Report

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2 comments so far

  1. tommydigital on

    Interesting that advertisers were way ahead of the game on this, and have been using it for years to make people pay more attention during commercial breaks. The spokesman for ITV in this article has a different way of explaining what you’ve been talking about, though. He says that the adverts aren’t louder, they just ‘sound louder’… http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/7388473.stm

    • guy bingley on

      Haha! Yes, ‘loud adverts’ have got a lot of coverage. ‘Loud idents/ titles’ too – which I guess are adverts for a TV show within the TV show.

      That makes me feel more confident that ad peeps will take to showing sound, seeing as they can’t just crank it up anymore. (At least, not without informed complaint.)


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