06 March 2009

Music for the cloth-eared generation and why a musical ear means luck in love.

Technological changes affect musical tastes according to the Telegraph: the piano allowed composers greater freedom to change volume within a piece of work, while the four-minute limit of the early phonograph player setting the standard for the length of the modern pop song. Those of us raised in the vinyl era prefer the sound you get from an LP or a single to later musical formats.

Now it seems that the flatter, tinny, sound associated with digital music is being chosen by some record producers as young listeners no longer appreciate high fidelity recordings.

Jonathan Berger, Professor of Music at Stanford University, California, has conducted an eight-year study in which students have rated various formats playing the same song. He found that, over time, there was a rise in preference for MP3 players and that there was no perception of inferior quality. Professor Berger said that the phenomenon was similar to the continued preference of some for music from vinyl records heard through a gramophone. "Some people prefer that needle noise – the noise of little dust particles that create noise in the grooves. I think there's a sense of warmth and comfort in that.

Rennie Pilgrem, a dance music producer, said he mixed his tracks while listening to them through iPod headphones to cater to the less refined tastes of today's youth. "To my ears iPods are not even as good quality as cassette tape," he said. "But once someone gets used to that sound then they feel comfortable with it."

Stephen Street, who has produced records for Blur, the Cranberries and Kaiser Chiefs, said the change had led to pressure to add volume at the expense of quality. "What you are hearing is that everything is being squared off and is losing that level of depth and clarity," he said. "I'd hate to think that anything I'd slaved over in the studio is only going to be listened to on a bloody iPod."

Personally I find the iPod to be very convenient way to listen to my music collection. I have getting on for 2,000 albums so a nice, big iPod means I can have a all the songs I still listen to in one place. The quality isn’t that great but a decent set of headphones (I prefer Ultimate Ears Super Fi5 pro phones)) does sound quality. The headphones that come with MP3 players are, quite frankly, crap. Still there’s nothing like dusting off an LP and putting it on the turntable.

Meanwhile, having a trained ear can be an advantage in a romantic relationship. According to a study by North Western University researchers (Again reported in the Telegraph).

Anyone searching for a lover with that elusive quality of being a "good listener" should pick someone who has gone through musical tuition, said the results of the study. Apparently the the ability that allows them to pick out a tune also means they can pick out 'emotion' in the human voice better than most. Lead researcher Dana Strait said: "Quickly and accurately identifying emotion in sound is a skill that translates across all areas, whether in the classroom, boardroom or bedroom."

For the test, the 30 volunteers were strapped to electrodes to measure the reaction of their brainstems. Wearing headphones they were asked to watch a nature film in a foreign language with subtitles in order to keep various senses occupied. Then a tiny blast of a baby's cry, lasting for a fraction of a second, was played through the headphones while their brainstem reaction was monitored. It found the brains of those with musical training locked on to the complex parts of the sound which contain the emotion.

Well there you have it. I wish I wasn't tone deaf (sighs)

8 comments:

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Interesting. I love the feel of vinyl and I still have a special implement for picking it up! How sad that some will never get to know it.

jams o donnell said...

It is a shame isn't it Welshcakes. I know vinyl gets scuffed and scratched too easily but the sound is richer than MP3

A Doubtful Egg said...

Doesn't every medium have its drawbacks and strengths? I love vinyl, but I also love the fact that, rather than having to carry a box with 200 records around, I can put all that music on something that fits in my pocket (something which still astounds me). Cassettes are great (except when they snarl up in your player, break, or develop faults which distort the sound). Live music is great, but I can't fit the Berlin Philharmonic in my living room...
The solution: experience them all!

jams o donnell said...

Point taken Egg. I know that MP3s are substandard but they are such a cnvenient way to listen to my collection. At home it's out with other media!

Claudia said...

It was miraculous to find a new turntable, 5 years ago, for my huge LPs collection. A few scratches here and there but I have treasures among them that I couldn't find on CDs. Yet as you say, DE, I can't travel with them. It's wonderful to have Bach in my ears when I run on a boring treadmill...

jams o donnell said...

That's true Claudia. Running with a turntable would be uncomfortable and the records would skip!

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Hmm... and I always thought that a good listener is one who knows to nod his head at appropriate moments, while being in catatonic state himself.

jams o donnell said...

Haha such is the lot of the good listener amigo!