Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Time and The New York Times

In Natalie Angier’s January 23rd article, Making Sense of Time, Earthbound and Otherwise (©2007 New York Times, Science), she writes:

"The long and short of the universe is just that, almost exclusively long and short, with the hyperclipped quantum clickings of the atom on one end and the chasmic lollygags and foot drags of the greater cosmos on the other."

Human rhythms she reminds us, are bound by the simple coincidence that we are born on a tilted planet, one which takes 24 hours to make one revolution around itself, and 365 revolutions to turn around the sun.

So, it appears the rhythm of life falls into place like a jazz fan tapping his foot to a cosmic pulse.

"Every cell of the human body pulses to a circadian beat, sucking in glucose, squirting out hormones, building up fresh proteins and breaking down stale ones, all in predictable swells and troughs throughout the day,” Angier continues, "–a rhythmicity that may help explain why we love music but still does not explain the lingering popularity of Bachman-Turner Overdrive."

I picture aliens on Mercury taking a week off from work every eighty-eight days, in order to celebrate the Winter Solstice with gifts, and sing in a New Year.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Ancient Audio Free With Every Brain

In Same Old Song, but With a Different Meaning (© Copyright The Washington Post Company, Monday, January 22, 2007; Page A08), Washington Post Staff Writer Shankar Vedantam discusses the impact music has on brain behavior. The question isn’t if music stimulates brain behavior, but rather how.

"For neuroscientists," Sherpe writes, "the power of music poses a puzzle." He then reports how McGill scientist Robert Zatorre found that music "activated very ancient parts of the brain."

Meanwhile, two decades prior, in 1984, in The Secret Power of Music, David Tame wrote:

"…science is beginning to suspect that matter is all composed of one fundamental something, and that the frequencies or rhythms of this something determine the specific nature of each object and atom."

Sound, it seems is everything; and it certainly is if we are to believe the quantum notion that every bit of composed reality is a vibrating element of a wide electromagnetic spectrum, which we are only capable of seeing and hearing but a nano-sized slice of.

It almost begs the question, is sound particles or waves? Of course, we know the answer is waves. However, we might also suggest and imagine (if only as a thought exercise) that any transmission that communicates meaning is actually composed of micro sized particles of symbolic data

Carl Jung hypothesized that humans are born, not just with their physical body parts, but that our brains inherently contain what he called the collective consciousness. The collective consciousness, he suggested, was composed of "the residues of ancestral life… (whose) origins can only be explained from assuming them to be deposits of the constantly repeated experiences of humanity."

So then why shouldn’t we who are aural centric also suppose then that some of these ancient deposits inlude archetypal sounds that endow us with the building blocks of music and the (metaphorically) sub atomic sonic particles that make all audible means of communication possible?

And might such sub atomic particles, the substance of archetypes, be made manifest as signs, and thus be subject to analysis and potential manipulation by capable semioticians, wielding a craft one might call 'Sonic Semiotics?

Independent of any prior use of the term, I arrive at this phrase simply because of what I perceived as limitations on the scope of analysis presented by traditional music semiology. That is to say, I arrive at this analysis as not just a composer or musicologist might, but from the position of someone involved with commercial audio production, one who often produces music as a means not simply to enhance dramatic action or otherwise entertain and promote a story experience, but as someone commissioned to use sound in order to fulfill a marketing objective (and deliver a message, if you will).

So, when I say 'Sonic Semiotics', I mean the analysis of any sound unit, not just musical sounds, in order to determine the inherent symbolic 'message' that a given sound might serve as a carrier for, and whether that message is culturally born while other transmissions affect us a certain way because of a bio musical code or archetype that is possibly part of our DNA.

For instance: Audible emissions such as a GIGGLE, the tonal properties identifiable with a cry for HELP (in any language), the spoken word 'MA' or 'MAMA'; and non human audio such as the rumble of thunder or the rustle of wind through long grass, even the revving engine of a Harley Davidson; or a wail –be it produced by a grief stricken mourner or the SIREN call of law enforcement– these things all absolutely possess inherent symbolic properties.

Although, I have also considered that perhaps the emission 'Ma' is simply the sound a baby makes as he pulls his lips away from his mother's bosom. And the proud mother thinks the kid has actually said something, and then repeats it often enough that it eventually becomes his name for her. Maybe? Anyway, moving along–

Certainly, the diversity of species is great, but is there any animal whose GROWL does not induce fear?

This is not to diminish the power of symbolic sounds that can be found in much music, but rather to suggest that my search for inherent semiotic properties of sound are found in much smaller units than musicologists generally identify. I think more of what is today called music semiology can more accurately be described as Sonic or 'Music Memetics', if we allow that a meme, in the broadest sense of the term, "is any thought or behavior that can be passed from one person to another by learning or imitation".

I think this definition lends itself to the consideration of motif sized musical expressions with greater exactitude than 'semiotics'. Whereas to my mind, semiotics more accurately describes expression via symbol, that which the motif serves as a memetic carrier for.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy 2007 Update – About Critical Noise

Happy New Year!

–Or if you've arrived to this post via a search query–


So, what's this blog all about?

CRITICAL NOISE is about SOUND in all its many facets–

–From natural phenomena to sonic branding and other musicological topics. And as it can be heard in the ecology, our educational institutions, entertainment, industry, advertising and everything in between.

This blog is not a personal dairy, nor do I even think of it as about me, so much as it's about my experience with sound. I do keep a professional journal but I don't use it to write about the sometimes esoteric topics presented here. Critical Noise is like the op ed section of a newspaper that only reports about sound.

I attempt to post one article a month, up to 3000 words per article (they do get long). I may post an article in its entirety initially, but then later break it up into a bite size installments before archiving, if only to test the patience of those who do stumble here from search engines.

And few people want to read a 3000 word think-piece on the relationship between early childhood development and bird song as much as I may want to publish it. But if you are one of those people, you've come to the right place (Aural Intelligence ).

None of the articles published here are time sensitive, although some links may naturally expire. If you love the subject of sound, you'll equally enjoy my most recent entry as you will something I posted several years ago.

Want to get started? You can start at the top and work your way backwards but I suggest you head over to the index and sort entries by tag or subject.

So, who am I to assume such an interest or fair degree of expertise in these topics?

My name is Terry O'Gara. (A select list of clients and accounts can also be found listed in the left margin).

Beginning in 1991 I've made a living producing commercial music, sound design and sonic branding projects. And since 2003 I've provided brand and image marketing solutions, in the capacity of a creative consultant, to independent artists, artist management and creative entrepreneurs doing business in the advertising and entertainment industries. Interested parties are welcome to contact me via email to the address listed in the left hand margin.

Along the way I've been fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to produce, direct audio or otherwise contribute to a fair number of projects that went on to be recognized by the Advertising Entertainment Complex and international design community. So, yes, I've got a few awards. Earning them was once important to me. I only mention them now by way of providing readers with credentials.


* I was a key member of the first team of music supervisors supported by a commercial music house.
* I was a senior producer on the first Olympic music library delivered with Meta tags and a digital database.
* I was one of three internal supervisors/ producers that created that first Meta tagged music library –pre iTunes.
* I was the senior producer for the first commercial music company to offer product ‘sonification’; and in this capacity I produced –or was part of a team that produced– sonification assets for AT&T and TeleTV, an early interactive Television platform.

I was also the senior producer for the first company to produce corporate audio identity systems, where I became the key architect of standard operating procedures for production at what turned out to be the first U.S. bi-coastal music production house and the leading sonic branding enterprise of its time.

Additionally, I was an early adopter of pre Protools computer technology as a musical instrument and recording tool; and co-founded the first dedicated interactive music production house that catered to Silicon Alley. Blister Media was the first music company to provide music, sound design and code as a standard service. Mix Magazine, in their Interactive Audio supplement suggested Blister Media's hybrid practices were a portent to ‘The Future of Music Production’. And as such, Blister Media was the first music house to provide such services for Sync-To-Broadcast events/experiences, such as for MTV's webRIOT.

I've also produced sonic identity and music imaging promo packages for ABC, CBS, Disney, E!, ESPN, Fox, HBO, MTV, TBS, TNT, TNT Asia, The Comedy Channel, PBS, VH1 and not to mention TV and Radio projects for many household brands.

The best part of it simply was –and is– the opportunity to work with other uniquely talented and creative people in the earnest attempt to create remarkable advertising, accessible information and maximized entertainment entertainment experiences.

And so much the better if we burn a blazing trail while doing it.

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Young people (or the simply curious) interested on just exactly what a commercial music producer is and does on daily basis are invited to read a number of articles I've composed explaining as much and collected under the the series title:

The Music Producer's Syllabus

Academic Institutions and persons are of course invited to print, distribute and expand on The Music Producer's Syllabus for limited educational purposes. Kindly credit and notify the author via email, and provide a trackback or originating URL.

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I hope you enjoy reading Critical Noise.

Comments are invited.

Spread the knowledge.

Terry O'Gara

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(This article last updated January, 2009)