Sunday, November 30, 2014

bad listeners

An interesting piece by Tom Barnes on how how analogue formats have been scientifically proven to offer a richer cognitive payload than MP3s / streaming

Among the experts called upon are Poppy Crum, senior scientist at Dolby Laboratories and consulting professor at Stanford's Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics, who avers that "True love or appreciation for a piece of music ... comes with depth of knowledge of that music," and that three elements crucial to in-depth experience / cathexis with music ("repeated exposure, iterations and intent") get diminished in a "taste and go, streaming environment.... Those sorts of heightened emotional responses of pleasure and enjoyment and satisfaction come in a way that is counter to rapid, quick streaming and constant exposure to a lot of different things,"

That's both a familiar idea and one abundantly supported by many people's personal experience (including my own) when it comes to encountering music via the internet. We know from our own experience what Spotify has show with data analysis ("there's only about a 50% chance we'll actually make it to the end of a song"), ie. we become all too easily skittish, inattentive listeners.

More interesting is the  hard science stuff to do with compression and data-stripping :

"A recent study performed by audio researchers at DTS divided a group of listeners into two groups — one that watched a video accompanied by standard stereo 96-kbps sound (Spotify's default audio setting) and the other group listened in 256-kbps audio format. The responses in the brains of the group listening with the 256-kbps audio were 14% more powerful on metrics measuring memory creation and 66% higher on pleasure responses. And this was just 96 to 256 kbps.
Vinyl records are estimated to play at a whopping 1000 kbps. Music might not just have lost its revenue when it switched to digital; it may have lost its emotional power too."

Still, I must say,  most people have always done the bulk of their listening to in music non-ideal circumstances from the hi-fi point of view....  some of my most intense musical connections came through radio, listening to Peel and evening Radio One on a pretty tinny transistor radio.....  later on with pirate radio, it was a much better hi-fi set up but the signal itself was of variable quality, then recorded and played back on re-used tapes of advances releases ...  and then in the last four years or so, falling in love with a lot of mainstream pop and commercial / street rap through hearing it in the car - less than ideal listening circumstances (we're not rocking a great in-car stereo, believe me) and the radio transmission itself is usually compressed and thin. So far more than the actual audio quality, or analogue being intrinsically superior to digital,  I think it is the listening mode  that is most crucial in terms of receptivity, impact, and cathexis. Listening to the radio while doing your homework, or doing household tasks, seems like an "open" mode of listening  - true, you're not as focused and immersed as the reverent stereo hi  fi listener or person encased in high-end headphones - but it's a lot better than listening to music on your computer or your phone, where it is almost impossible not to engage in other browsing activity - social media, reading stuff on the internet, replying to emails, downloading more music, etc etc.

Listening to the radio in the car, or indeed your ipod or CDs or tapes, seems almost ideal in terms of receptivity - if driving, you're engaged in an activity that demands your attention but involves a lot of automatic processes, and engages different parts of your mind than the aesthetic;  if you're a passenger you're probably in a light trance as the streets and the landscape go by. Music also is entwined with everyday life in that classic way, as opposed to having to jostle for attention while you engage in info-hunter/gatherer activities on the web.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Simon,
    Very interesting reading and it proves my assumptions.
    My own own experience is that I can listen to analog longer time, compared to digital where I tend to change CD more often. Even in the middle of a tune. Digital is just less involving.