Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Absolutely fascinating article on music

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Totally fascinating article in the current (28 Jan) issue of the New Yorker, but you’ll have to go to the library to read it unless you’re a subscriber. Worth it, though. Here’s the abstract:

ABSTRACT:ONWARD AND UPWARD WITH THE ARTS about Edgar Choueiri and three-dimensional recording. Of all the amazing things the mind does, the most amazing may be that it can take sound and turn it into music, and then take music and turn it into meaning. Edgar Choueiri, a rocket scientist at Princeton, has a laboratory the size of a small airplane hangar, and it is filled with plasma rocket engines that run on electricity. In his smaller lab, adjacent to the rocket one, Choueiri, the president of the Electric Rocket Propulsion Society, works on his musical projects, trying to force three-dimensional sound from ordinary stereo speakers. By three-dimensional sound he does not mean wraparound sound. In Choueiri’s system, when you listen to choral music by his hero, Bach, you will hear it coming not from speakers but as if from performers in the room itself. Outside his smaller lab is an office whose shelves are filled with those strange white dummy heads which sound scientists love. Choueiri plugged in his box, which runs what he calls his BACCH filter—the acronym also stands for “Band-Assembled Crosstalk Cancellation Hierarchy—and Bluetoothed it to the writer’s iPhone. The writer chose the Rolling Stones’ “Beast of Burden,” and there they were. Keith Richards was limping over to his left, licking at chords, and Ronnie Wood to the right. Choueiri belongs to a distinctly modern type: the engineer-aesthete. The creation of three-dimensional sound depends on each ear’s hearing only what it’s supposed to hear. The catch with previous attempts at crosstalk cancellation, or “XTC,” is that the sound coloration is extremely sensitive to small changes in position. Choueiri has discovered a way to feed more error into the designs of the XTC than anyone had previously imagined possible, so that the signal will never discolor. The sound of all stereo-era recordings can easily become three-dimensional, because they were all recorded with at least two microphones. Perhaps the densest concentration of sound scholars in the world can be found in Montreal, at McGill University, where the writer went to school. Albert Bregman, a former professor of the writer’s, spent almost fifty years at McGill studying the psychology of sound, and his masterwork, “Auditory Sense Analysis: The Perceptual Organization of Sound,” remains a basic text in the field. Discusses Bregman’s suggestion that music is essentially a form of what he dubbed “chimerical perception.” Mentions Robert Zatorre, Daniel Levitin, and Jonathan Sterne.

One of he scientists with whom he talked, a guy who has high respect for how MP3 has changed our music-listening experience, had some interesting comments about the artificiality of the concert-hall experience common to classical music: attentive listeners, isolated in their experience, paying hushed attention to a musical performance. He points out that in almost every other human cultural context, people are dancing and talking as music is played. I assume he’s correct, but of course one feels an enormous “So what?” forming. Different cultures are different? A striking observation indeed. The culture that gave rise to the concert hall and the extended musical compositions of the classical period resulted in amazingly complex and satisfying musical constructions, and the experience of listening to those is, however, unique to a particular culture and time, a wonderful experience. I don’t know that the Bach Masses, or the Mozart opus, or Beethoven’s symphonies, or indeed complex chamber music is to be denigrated because people listen attentively rather than talking and dancing. Perhaps things are possible in that context that don’t work so well in other cultural experiences of music. Value the uniqueness, for God’s sake.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 January 2013 at 2:53 pm

Posted in Music

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