How to Enjoy Music: Listening for Experience

by Langdon Crawford

A student recently pointed me towards this article on mic.com. It discusses why we’ve lost touch with music. On the one hand, streaming and skipping on digital platforms decreases our attention spans when it comes to music. On the other, crushing musical data into bandwidth and spatial constraints is limiting our experiences.

I don’t even for a second believe its the quality of the audio that is neutering our connection with music. The ease at which we experience music is.

Take a look back at the thought an attention required just to make ye olde mix tape.
Then when you listened to that mix tape, you actually listened.  You didn’t edit, you didn’t skim, skip, or flip the tape over other song.
And the quality was total crap. It was a cassette tape recorded either from the radio or another cassette, which may have also been another mix tape. The noise floor on these tapes was crazy.
But the tapes were awesome.
You listened to every song, because you knew what it took to make that tape. And when you listened, you listened not only to the tracks but the intention of the mix tape maker who chose to put on one track after another.
You can make a playlist in iTunes or burn a CD in seconds. It’s the ease of rendering which has rendered the playlist almost trivial. It’s just a collection of songs.
When you receive a playlist from someone, you just sample it.  You listen and go, Hey, thats cool, then probably skip to the next song after the second chorus or bass drop.
All that said you have to ask why people are listing to music. When I’m inhabiting my role as a music maker and educator, I listen to music very differently than I do when I’m driving to the airport or painting the house.
Each context involves different levels of attention, (background noise, vs focused analysis) and different motivations (inspiration for my next piece or lecture, vs inspiration to move furniture while vacuuming). If I’m looking for something new, I might skip more tracks on Pandora. If I’m looking for the right vibe to keep me going while organizing photos on my computer, I might jump to the heavy section of Bohemian Rhapsody…
But if I’m looking to feel the feelings,  I’m probably going to set up a playlist of the songs as presented on an artist’s album and let them play through, preferably in a chill space without any noise from Fox News or Buzzfeed.  Vinyl records and cassettes are good for that, but it’s not because of the sound quality.  It’s the fact that its not a computer, it’s the album and only that album. I don’t have a remote or itchy trigger finger when playing a tape or record. It’s a time to listen and relax: there’s no need to stress, or spazz each time there is a series of 4 notes I don’t absolutely love, because the next good part is probably less than a minute away…
Take a break and enjoy music every once in a while.  It might just be good for you.
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NAMM, Loudness Wars, and Grammys (but not in the way you think): Weekly Roundup for January 19-26th

We’re trying something new here at Science of Music: from now on we’ll give the low-down on all things that are at once science-y, tech-y, and music-y in the news once a week. Watch this space for more.

NAMM 2014

We’re keeping our eye on the “best of” lists and products coming out of NAMM since we can’t actually be there…which we’re still getting over for more reason than one. (I mean, just for the weather alone, right?) xlr8r has a take that covers the good, bad, and weird while Line 6 has created an unholy guitar-amp-bluetooth-speaker-iOS-integration combo.

But what we really, really want is this right here. Korg has announced a build-it-yourself kit that will let you build your own MS-20 synth. This analog, monophonic synth comes pre-disassembled (which is a little sad, because some of the fun is tearing something apart) giving you the chance to put it together. For the ultimate consumer-tinkering-friendly experience, no soldering or knowledge of schematics are required. The MS-20 kit is expected to be out in March for around 1,400 USD.

Breaking Genre

British Singer Katherine Jenkins says her record sales game is too strong to ignore. She claims her “crossover” pop-classical style of singing has become so popular it’s “becoming its own thing.” In fact, the Telegraph is referring to it as the “crossover” genre. To this, we say: what defines a musical genre, anyway?

A 1981 study by Franco Fabbri defines genre as “a set of musical events (real or possible) whose course is governed by a definite set of socially accepted rules.”

More recently, companies like Echo Nest (which supplies Spotify with data) are mining for these rules with—according to their website—over 35,000 songs and over 1 trillion data points. With user data refining such an enormous machine will the algorithm become the ultimate genre codifier?

A quick borrowing of my sister’s Spotify account showed a biography that called Jenkins “classical” but that her related artists contained singers like Sarah Brightman, Andrea Bocelli, and Charlotte Church, all of whom are known for their pop take on classical singing. Then again, it also had serious classical musician Howard Blake and non-classical songwriter Emmy Rossum.

Crossover as a genre? Maybe.

Peace in Our Time

Hugh Robjohns of Sound on Sound covers the protracted end of the “Loudness Wars” in the magazine’s February issue. Mastering engineer Bob Katz declared an end to the wars at AES in October, but how will we keep the peace?

In the noise of modern society, everyone is clamoring to get heard. In particular, recorded audio has been trying to “out-loud” itself for some time now, which has led to the loss of dynamic range, over-compression, and just bad sound in general. But with new technology that will put a smarter limit on audio, either broadcasted or streamed, the war may be over. The rub? Overly loud mixes will probably end up sounding “feebler” over the new system. So shut up or sound bad.

Dead Musicians’ Society

The Providence Journal ran a commentary piece about the importance of music education in schools while an upstate New York music teacher receives the first-ever Grammy in Music Education.

Of note in the PJ commentary is the idea that musicianship is not a 21st century skill. Of course not: it’s a 23rd century skill. Who else is going to teach our cyborg overlords how to play the violin? They’re going to want to be proper gentlemen, after all.

Got a tip? Send us a message at scienceofmusicnyu@gmail.com , or , or post it to our Facebook page.

A Speaker From a Starbucks Cup?

Part of what we at the Science of Music love about DIY electronics is the tinkering aspect of it. It’s the idea that you can take an everyday object and just…flip the script a little bit to create something new entirely. That’s the spirit with which we present this video project.

We looked at a Starbucks cup and, with just some magnets, a coil of wire, some tape we saw how you could “flip the script” to create a working speaker. Plus, it’s a good excuse to get yourself a frappuccino*.

(*Note: not an action we recommend in January. Unless you’re close to or within the Southern Hemisphere. In which case: Hi, can we come visit?)

A New Project: DIY Electric Slide Guitar

Video

Our compatriots never cease to amaze us.

Student and guitar pro Adam November guests on this episode of the Science of Music to show us all his homemade electric slide guitar! This DIY project was made for an acoustics class at NYU’s music technology program. Watch as Adam shows off his creation and explains how you can make your own guitar from materials easily purchased at your local hardware store.

Introducing an Introduction (to Electrical Components: Capacitors)

New YouTube channel means new content! The Science of Music presents an Introduction to Electrical Components: an ongoing series dedicated to teaching the basic building blocks of musical electronics. Today’s topic: capacitors or “caps” for short.

Capacitors are a type of passive electrical component that store electrical charges via an electrostatic field. There are several different types of capacitors, and we’ll go through their differences and shared similarities.

Be on the lookout for more in our Intro to Components series with resistors, voltage regulators, and more in the weeks ahead.

The Science of Music’s Secret Origin Story

The truth is, the Science of Music wasn’t always a blog. Or a YouTube channel. And it definitely didn’t start out as a Twitter or Facebook page.

I’ll give you a moment to stifle your gasps.

This project actually began in 2010 as an after school program. The four-part workshop was presented by NYU MARL’s Science of Music team at the Institute for Collaborative Education (ICE). We had then, as we do now, the same goals of spreading the joys of music and technology far across the land. That will never change.

And now you know our secret origin story. Things will never be the same.

Photos by Eric Humphrey and Pia Blumenthal.

Credits:

  • Editing and Music by Langdon Crawford
  • Produced with support from The National Science Foundation

DIY: Build Your Own Microphone!

This how-to video explains the process of building a dynamic microphone (which, incidentally, can also be used as a loud speaker) from a cup! This rudimentary audio transducer could be used as a quick project for a physics class exploring electromagnetism or an audio technology class exploring transduction. Or you could do it just for kicks.

The fidelity of the completed project is not studio quality (if it was our lives would be a whole lot cheaper), but it’s cool. And on the upside you don’t have to have an EE degree to build it.

Credits:

  • Written and Directed by Travis Kaufman and Nick Dooley
  • Produced with support from The National Science Foundation