Monday, November 10, 2008

The Boom Box Effect

Earlier this year I posted a series of articles discussing the dynamic relationship between branded sound opportunities and silence.

In Silence Please, for the Soundtracks of Our Lives, I wrote:

"We're in such a rush to score the whole world that it's easy to forget that arranging opportunities for SIMPLE QUIET or shaping RELATIVE SILENCE may actually prove the most intelligible means for creating a platform to communicate with audiences, customers and users. One reason for that is that more and more of us are bring our own sonic branding with us, principally in the way of customized playlists.”

Media, omnipresent even a decade ago, still had not quite reached the interruptive tipping point as it has in recent years. Media is exponentially more pervasive and invasive than it was in the recently faded Twentieth Century.

We know from studies of physics that when sound waves collide, the result is interference.

Consider the following laws of acoustics (source):

* Sound waves that are exactly in phase add together. The result is a stronger wave.
* Sound waves that have varying phase relationships produce differing sound effects.
* Sound waves that are exactly inverted, or 180 degrees out of phase, cancel each other out. The result is silence.

[For a quick primer on sound, visit this link: Sound Primer]

Now consider the case of the Boom Box:

If in 1987 I walked down the street carrying my boom box playing one song, and you were walking in the other direction, coming towards me and carrying your boom box playing another song, the result was noise. That's because the music didn't sync, didn't share the same key, followed a different structure, played on a different beat. In fact both songs lost entertainment value because the sum of their sounds created cacophony. Would that Boom Boxes automatically beat matched when they were in proximity of each other, but they don't.

That's what I call The Boom Box Effect –the collision of sounds (that don't cancel each other out) in a given human habitat.

Today a lot of brands suffer another kind of Boom Box Effect.

At any given time we are bound to our electronic devices as if we were outfitted with law enforcement tracking devices (and we are). Between incoming calls, text messages and alerts to our PDAs and mobile phones –not to mention our proximity to other people's media platforms– there isn't a single urban environment where our ears and our brain do not wage a daily war against the bombardment of random information.

Because of the density of any urban environment there is no escape. You can't leave the room, because everywhere else is swimming with just as much distraction as the present environment.

This may in fact be one reason why the iPod or other digital music playback devices have become ubiquitous, their popularity being a side effect of necessity. Besides their obvious function of permitting us to carry entertainment assets with us on our respective journeys, these devices also provide a filter from unwelcome incoming sensory data.

In effect, they help combat stress and insanity caused by the boom box effect.

All of which is not to say that individual, multiple sounds layered atop one another can't work together. They most certainly can, and frequently do in any single harmonized chord, or series of chords. They also do in any cohesive and unified music composition. In fact, they work well together in any unified experience - be it a song, a film score, a retail environment or a theme park venue.

Casinos present wonderful case studies of environments where the combined sum of noise making machines do not contribute to chaos at all, but rather create positive, hopeful excitement.

Yet, this is still not the case in most urban environments where people are often expected to live, work and inhabit daily. One simply can't expect your client's competitors to tune their brands to your client's brand.

Or can we?

Does the loudest voice get the most attention? Near term, probably. It's hard to ignore a cry for 'help', for instance. But long term, if we hear enough of them, we become immune to such cries, especially if they don't deliver honest results (e.g. See: The Boy That Cried Wolf).

And yet given today's technologies, maybe it's now possible to create communications that are capable of being delivered regardless of competing distractions?

So that instead of our circa 1987 Boom Boxes fighting with each other for available audio space and attention, –making it impossible to hear either song–, we simply broadcast our message using 2017 'Boom Pods' that automatically eliminate defined noise; but also beat match, pitch correct and remix colliding transmissions, with the result being a perfectly blended Green Sound music mashup capable of allowing us to clearly and legibly hear both informational and utilitarian messages, musical melodies and overlapping sets of sonic memetics simultaneously, sans interference –PLUS whatever other audible elements happen to inhabit the environment– not to mention in perfect groovy harmony –and at a volume that won't wake the babies passing by in carriages pushed by their mothers or fathers.

Because, fortunately or unfortunately, silence is not an option.

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