TALES FROM THE BENCH
Is there life after music? We all have our auditive off-days every now and then when music just won't sound the same. Sometimes the everyday noise of life itself sounds just about right to tug in on the couch or favorite chair and read a book or some interesting atricles. So to anwser the initial question: there will always be. Just as there will alwas be music.
To give your ears a well deseverd rest yet to keep your mind focused on everything 'sound' we created these page where we publish every now and then about our thoughts on 'the being of sound' and ramblings from the workshop.
posted October 07 2022 by Jord
The sound of music
Many of us grew up watching the Von Trapp family. The opening scene of the film, in which you see Maria spinning around in the mountains of Salzburg while singing 'The Sound of Music', is one you don't forget easily. But why do certain songs stick with us?
Some songs simply have the power to make us feel incredibly nostalgic, like 'The Sound of Music'. When listening to music, the parts of our brain that are involved in musical memory, such as the visual cortex, become active. From the very first chord onwards, your brain will show images and memories. Some songs therefore stick with you for a lifetime. You listen to some *NSYNC song and suddenly you're back at your high school dance about to have your first kiss, or in your childhood bedroom listening to blink-182 with the volume up to forget about your parents' divorce. This has everything to do with the 'reminiscence bump': researchers have discovered that memories from our teenage years and early twenties are the ones we return to and cherish the most.
But music does more than make us feel nostalgic. Music has the power to affect us mentally and physically in so many ways. For example, everyone has a song that sends shivers down their spine or causes goosebumps. Imagine you're listening to your favorite song. You've heard it thousands of times. You know exactly when a new instrument starts, the bridge enters or the volume suddenly increases. As the song slowly builds up to your favourite chord, your brain builds up the dopamine. And when it's finally there, your brain sighs with dopamine-saturated satisfaction – you get the chills. It's almost like a reward for knowing that a great chorus is just about to hit. It's addicting.
Other songs can uplift your mood. In fact, there's probably not a single soul on this earth who doesn't get happy from listening to music. The reason for this is actually purely scientific, as listening to music causes the brain to produce dopamine – the addicting feel-good hormone. What comes next is a chemical reaction in your body. Your brain records the experience and saves it as something that you should do again, to produce more dopamine, and more, and more... Your brain begs you to replay music.
Speaking of replaying music: why do songs get stuck in our head? This phenomenom has to do with the so-called an earworm. While this sounds like a tiny, gross, living creature in your ear, it's nothing more than a section of a song that your brain plays over and over again. It's stuck in your phonoligical loop. Sometimes it happens spontaneously, sometimes it's because you've heard the song recently or because it's really catchy. They're harmless, yet annoying. A well-known method to get rid of earworms is to chew gum or to sing Happy Birthday.
Do it right
These tips don't always work, though. A study from 2009 reports a 21-year-old man from India who had Hindi movie songs going around in his head for five(!) years. Even powerful drugs couldn't stop the music. So, next time you listen to music, make sure you do it right. If it gets stuck in your head, it might as well be songs that make you happy.
posted September 02 2022 by Jord
The sound of nature
When was the last time you were out and about in nature? What did you hear, and how did it make you feel? The sounds of nature are diverse, astonishing, fascinating – and they're even good for your health.
When you think of the sound of nature, you probably envision the sound of singing birds in a luscious forest, a babbling brook in the mountains, howling wind and rustling reeds, waves crashing on rocks, the pitter-patter of falling raindrops or the chirping of grasshoppers on a hot summer night. Nature has a hefty oeuvre. Even when you think you have found complete silence in nature, you'll always hear her.
But have you ever thought about what you actually hear? Take those singing birds, for example. They make tons of different sounds: chirps, rattles, whistles, trills, croaks, drumming, and many more. Quite a number of bird species are named after the sound they make. These names are onomatopoeic. The chiffchaff, the grey go-away-bird (yes, really), peabody, peewit and the bobolink all sound exactly like their names. And while these are just examples of the English language, each language has its own onomatopoeia.
Beneath bird territory, hidden away in the grass, you'll find grasshoppers singing their songs. Especially during sunset and at night, after a long, hot, sun-drenched day, these tiny creatures put on a hell of a performance. Most grasshoppers make their characteristic chirping sound by rasping tiny, file-like pegs on their hind legs against the prominent veins running along the fore wing. Other species rub their wings together. And there is an enormous variety between species. Some grasshoppers sound like a big, fat bluebottle, whereas others remind of a hard rattle.
Did you know that nature sounds are beneficial for your health? Natural sounds and green environments have been linked with relaxation and well-being for hundreds of years, but recent studies have discovered that there are more health benefits. A group of American researchers found that listening to natural noises leads to a decrease in stress and pain, an improvement in cognitive performance and enhanced mood. They may even decrease pain! In fact, certain sounds are claimed to bring about specific benefits. For example, the study revealed that bird sounds had the largest effect on lowering stress and annoyance.
Maybe you don't have the luxury of being near nature every day. Maybe you live in the city with a small balcony instead of a luscious garden, and spend most of your days inside the bullpen. But wory not: the abovementioned health benefits can also simply be established by listening to a nature playlist. And when you get off work on a Friday afternoon and sit yourself down with an ice cold beer on one of the crowded terraces in the city, you might notice that nature is closer than you'd think. Through the buzzing of a bumble bee, the cooing of pigeons and the squawking of seagulls on the hunt for food: nature finds its way through the concrete jungle. It may not be quite the same as walking through a luscious forest, but at least you'll have your ice cold glass of beer.
posted april 29 2022 by Jord
The sound of listening
Music is all around us. At the hairdresser, on television commercials, in the office. Most of the times, you simply hear the music while you do other things. It isn't until you eliminate those distractions and give music your full attention that you're engaged in active listening.
The terms 'hearing' and 'listening' are often used interchangeably, but there are structural differences to the concepts they denote. The definition of hearing revolves around the physiological act of hearing sounds. It is a passive, physical act that does not rely on concentration. Compare it to the collection of data: all day long we hear sounds, but we don't pay attention to them. That would be impossible: you'd be exhausted before you know it.
The science of hearing
Hearing is a matter of auditory processing. A sound reaches your outer ear and travels along the pathway of your ear canal. It reaches your eardrum, causing it to vibrate. The sound is sent to your inner ear and are converted into electrical signals, which are carried to your brain. That is where they're turned into a sound that you understand. For example, you can distinguish and recognize sounds, notice differences in tone, speed and pitch, and process information.
The definition of listening, however, revolves around actively paying attention to the words and sounds that you hear, in order to absorb their meaning. Additionally, you develop an emotional response. It is an active, voluntary process: you choose whether or not to hear. In other words: you can hear without listening, but you cannot listen without hearing.
The science of listening
Whereas hearing is a physical process, listening is a psychological process. It depends on your environment and what you listen to. Listening goes beyond hearing, and is linked to your working memory, your long-term memory, executive function, attention, and your lexicon. Additionally, listening goes beyond words. It's all about interpretation. Think of tone, volume, and speed, for example.
Have you ever heard of the term 'active listening'? This entails that you're actively focusing on the sound. Whether this is a conversation partner, the sound of birds singing, or a piece of music. Let's dive into the latter. Active listening allows you to fully appreciate the music. Its compositional structure and nuances, the different instruments and their role, the complexity of the piece as a whole. Listen to instrumentation, for example. Can you identify every musical instrument? What is the structure of the piece like? Or, with regard to style, can you identify the genre? You can also listen actively to the technique of the instrumentalists and vocalists, or focus on the lyrics.
Spark your emotions!
Music and emotion are inevitably intertwined. Music makes you feel. A good book or a movie can carry you away, too. But there is something deeper to music, because of its physical impact on our brain. Neuroscientific research has shown that music imprints and locks itself deep into your emotional memory. Everyone has a number of songs that spark their emotions on a deeper level. Vocal songs that alter your mood, such as an uplifting song, a song that makes you want to dance, or cry. But also instrumental music. The long, high-pitched quivering sounds of the violin, or the light and happy notes of the piano. Sweet, sad music that allows you to feel sorry for yourself, or thunderous drums and cymbals for your angry mood.
Tips for active listening
In order to consciously connect music and emotion, to listen as attentively as possible, there are certain things you should keep in mind. When you're in a live setting, for example, try to position yourself near the center of the room and a little back from the stage. If you don't find yourself in a live setting, use headphones. Sing along, practice ear training, and select hi-fidelity audio Most streaming music services leave out key parts of the sonic texture. High-fidelity formats do not. Stop hearing and start actively listening to music!
posted april 15 2022 by Jord
The sound of the ocean
The definition of casual magic: holding a shell to your ear and hearing the sound of the ocean. Those large, spiral conch shells that you brought back home from holiday as a souvenir worked best. You might not have known exactly how, but you were sure that the ocean was somehow trapped inside that shell.
Unfortonately, as we grow older, we lose our sense of imagination, whether we like it or not. We learnt it was not the ocean we heard. Some people argue that you hear the echoing of your blood that is rushing through the blood vessels of your ear. However, if this were true, then the sound would intensify after exercising, but studies have shown that this is not the case.
Others say that the sound of the ocean is generated by air flowing in and out the shell. This could be explained by the fact that the sound is louder when you lift the shell slightly away from your ear, allowing more air to flow through the shell. However, this theory doesn't hold true in a soundproof room: there is no sound when you hold the shell to your ear, even though there is still air.
The most likely explanation? Ambient noise from around you, that is captured inside the shell. The noise resonates inside the shell. This is also explained by the fact that each shell has its unique sound. The size and shape of the shell accentuate different frequencies. Sometimes you'll hear big waves, sometimes you'll hear small waves.
Empty coffee cup
Besides, you don't even need a shell to hear the ocean. You can also use your empty coffee cup, or simply your hand. If you vary the distance with which you place the cup or your hand near your ear, you'll see that the level of the sound will vary depending on the angle and distance the cup is from your ear. The noise around you also changes the intensity of the sound you hear inside the shell. The louder the environment, the louder the sound of the ocean. And seagulls are only an inch of imagination away.
Did you know that the inside of your ear – the cochlea – is shell-shaped as well? Scientists have long thought that the cochlea was shaped like this purely to save space. However, recent studies have shown that the snail shape serves a more complex function. In fact, the spiral shape acts to enhance the low frequency sounds that we use to communicate with others.
When a sound wave hits the ear drum, tiny bones in the ear transmit the vibrations to the fluid of the cochlea. This is where the waves travel along a tube that winds into a spiral, which gradually decreases in width. It is comparable with an ocean wave that gets taller and narrower before it breaks at the beach. Different frequencies reach their peak at different positions along the tube. This is not influenced by the spiral shape of the cochlea. If you'd roll the tube out, it would function exactly the same.
But the spiral shape does serve a specific function. Not for the average vibrational energy travelling along the tube. But as the sound wave progresses, the energy increasingly accumulates near the outside edge of the spiral, rather than remaining evenly spread across it. As low frequencies travel furthest into the tube, the effect is strongest for them. It could easily make the difference between understanding a whisper in the ear or not.
Simply put, there is a shell in our ear that enables us to pick up the subtlest sound, even the mysterious sound of a sea shell. Isn't it a shame, then, that we lost our imagination throughout the years? If we disregard scientific theories about blood flow, air flow, and ambient noise, why not believe that we actually hear the ocean?
posted april 1 2022 by Jord
The sound of silence
Sound is everywhere these days, even though there seems to be an increasing need for silence. However, real silence is unattainable, and would be intolerable. But by learning to appreciate sound, you can come closer to silence than you'd think.
Surrounded by noise
Silence. You don't hear it: you rather notice it. Silence is thus often described as the absence of noise. But we are always surrounded by noise. Noises from radios, television, and electronical devices to cars rushing by, road work, and noisy neighbors. It seems as if it is never truly silent, while this is what we crave most from time to time in our ever-moving society.
During the pandemic we came close to that silence. Fewer cars and planes, empty streets, no social events. Some regions even dealt with a night-time curfew, meaning that everyone had to stay indoors during a certain period of the day, or night. Only those with a valid reason were allowed outside. But for the majority of people time seemed to stand still, literally and figuratively. Now that we are slowly returning to our normal lives, the noise around is are also back to its pre-pandemic level.
Back to lockdown
Even though it is great that we are leaving the pandemic behind us, many of us sometimes catch ourselves reminiscing over the lockdown. Yes, the world was at crisis. But besides the daily number of cases, for the majority of us our biggest worry was whether we could succesfully share our screen at home, or which route we would take on our daily walk. Other than that, we were literally locked down, surrounded by a strangely silent world. But nowadays we are back to spending our commute in overcrowded trains, longing for just a little bit of silence.
Quietest place on earth
The so-called anechoic chamber is the quitest place on earth. This room is so silent, that the background noises are reduced to -9,4 dBA. This silence is achieved by the materials it is built with. Deep, fiberglass wedges, a double wall of insulated steel, and foot-thick concrete. Sound waves must travel an excessive long distance and 'melt' in the process because of the many reflections.
And yet, you won't experience true silence in this room. When background noises are eliminated, your ears will adapt. The result? You will hear things you have never heard before. Your heartbeat, the blood flowing through your veins, the ringing of your ears. Basically every sound your body produces.
In the quietest place on earth, the noise of your own body will drive you crazy. Someone who enters the room will quickly feel the need to scream something. Just for the sake of hearing a sound. But the massive walls would swallow the cry for help, causing it to dissolve into nothing. People soon become desoriented and start to hallucinate. Especially since the room is completely dark, and your body relies on sound to orientate and navigate when your vision is disregarded.
And so it seems that true silence does not exist. But the rustling of trees in the wind, a babbling brook, a whistling blackbird: we often regard this as silence. In that case, the definition of silence – the absence of noise – should be revisited. Silence would then be viewed as the absence of disturbing noise, and is therefore associated with appreciation of sound. This appreciation of sound extends the tone itself, and is linked with the producer and the environment. For instance, the sound of cars rushing by is less appreciated than the melodious singing of birds during spring.
Listen to the silence
We are lucky that we have the power to adjust the way our environment sounds. Renovating neighbors, crying kids, beeping cars... Flee to a quiet place, to a nature reserve, and listen to the silence of the rustling trees. Or stick to the comfort of your own home, your own room. Listen to the Pink Faun 2.16 ultra.. A high quality listening experience: you'll never crave real silence ever again.