Tag Archive: music

Is there universality in music?

Photo credit: shankar s. licensed under CC BY 2.0

By Antonella Radicchi, PhD, Steering Committee Member, The Quiet Coalition

Despite its inherently subjective nature, music appears to be universal across different cultures around the globe, according to the findings of a hot-off-the-press Harvard study published January in Current Biology.

This interdisciplinary study, run by an international team of scientists from Harvard University and the Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse, produced significant findings that suggest people can infer song function on the basis of song form alone, regardless of the song’s cultural origin.

The scientists were committed to filling the gap of knowledge regarding the lack of empirical evidence for whether or not different types of music share common features across cultures. To address this issue they designed a study based on two experiments.

In the first experiment, 750 online participants in 60 countries were asked to listen to 14-second long excerpts of songs collected from nearly 90 small societies around the globe. The songs were drawn from the collection of the Natural History of Song–a Harvard-based project investigating the world’s vocal music–and focused on three types: dance, healing, and lullaby. Participants were then asked to rate the association between the vocal songs and their potential functions, on a scale composed of six prevalent functions, such as dancing, soothing a baby, healing illness, expressing love, mourning a death, and telling a story.

Data collected through first experiment showed that people were able to infer the song function only on the basis of the song form, despite the random sampling of the songs, the short duration of the excerpts, and the unfamiliarity of the online participants with the cultures were the songs originated. This finding contradicted academic expert projections–when ethnomusicologists were asked by the scientists whether people could deduct the song function from the song from or not, they were skeptical and expressed doubt. But they were wrong.

The scientists continued with a second experiment that evaluated potential commonalities in music making across cultures by asking the online participants to rate contextual and musical features, such as the number and gender of the singers, the melodic complexity of the songs, etc. Again, the results were very consistent, and by comparing the results form both the experiments scientists were able to argue that common musical features exist across cultural boundaries.

Despite the promising results, a significant weakness affects the study, as highlighted by the lead scientist: the participants were people who have had access to Internet and probably were familiar with vocal songs from different cultures. In this regard, it remains unclear whether the results reveal the structure of the human mind or they tell us how and what the contemporary listeners hear in world music.

This bias will be addressed in a follow-up study in which the survey will be translated in 24 languages so the scientists can extend the number of countries involved. Furthermore–and this sounds very exciting!–the scientists aim to bring the study into the field and play in real time songs excerpts for members of small societies based in Indonesia, Ethiopia, and elsewhere.

Stay tuned for further amazing results!

Dr. Radicchi’s main area of expertise encompasses innovative urban design and planning, soundscape research, citizen science, and mobile technology. Her ultimate goal is to design environmentally just and human scale cities. Dr. Radicchi is a registered architect, and she holds a Ph.D. in Urban Design and Territorial Planning, with doctoral studies conducted at MIT and at the University of Firenze. She is currently an Ipodi-Marie Curie Fellow at TU Berlin Institute of City & Regional Planning, where she has created and run two innovative soundscape projects, including the Hush City app, a citizen science tool for empowering people to identify, map, and evaluate quiet areas worldwide.  Dr. Radicchi is a steering committee member of The Quiet Coalition.

Being able to hear the music

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

My father used to say that people don’t know how important some things are until we don’t have them. He wasn’t talking about physical things, but about health, love, and security. Well, money and food, too.

The same is true of music. Those of use born with normal hearing don’t appreciate how wonderful it is to enjoy music, whatever type of music we like to listen to.

But for someone born with profound hearing loss, cochlear implants offered her the opportunity to hear music for the first time.

After seven years, she wrote this wonderful essay, which we want to share with you.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America.

This is pretty cool

CanadaSound aims to make library of Canadian noises. Haydn Watters, CBC News, reports that a “new project is hoping to round up Canadian noises like these to make a soundscape of the country.”  So, what iconic sounds are on the short list? “The roar of a snowblower. An orca’s breath underwater. Bed sheets on a laundry line, snapping in the Newfoundland wind.” Watters writes that the project, The CanadaSound, wants people to submit “their Canadian noises” online with the aim of making those sounds accessible by musicians “making new music.”  

We think this is an excellent project and would actively encourage a similar one for the U.S. What iconic U.S. sounds would you include? The cruel and relentless drone of the Mr. Softee jingle? The ear-blasting screech of New York City subway cars braking as they enter Union Square Station? The loudest stadium crowd roar encouraged in a sadistic display of bravado by sports team franchises? Or perhaps the unconscionably loud scream of a motorcycle with an after market tail pipe racing down a residential street, setting off car alarms in its wake.  Oh….never mind.

Adding that the sound of the wind blowing through a wheat field or waves lapping up on a beach–any beach–at dawn would be pretty fabulous. Your suggestions?

Link via London Sound Survey.

 

Fido to human: More Bob Marley, mon.

Your dog thinks your favorite band sucks.

Study finds that dogs are happier listening to soft rock and reggae. Of course, like humans, the preferences weren’t universal, with some pooches preferring other music genres.  But researchers at the University of Glasgow and the Scottish SPCA found that “[r]eggae music and soft rock were found to provoke the most positive changes in [doggie] behaviour.”  This study followed an earlier “2015 study by the same institutions that found classical music had a calming effect on dogs.”  Now that researchers have determined the absolute favorite canine music genres, the Scottish SPCA is planning to “install sound systems in all its kennels to play Bob Marley and Jon Bon Jovi [Ed.: Really?] to their unsuspecting charges.”

Proving once and for all that your dog is cooler than you are.

LInk via @QuietMark.

Hearing Loss Is Growing


From the book The Human Body and Health Revised by Alvin Davison, 1908 / Public Domain

And Experts Say Earphones Are Part Of The Problem.

Mack interviews audiologist Michele Abrams who spoke about limiting exposure to damaging sound:

When we think about decibel levels, when we think of loudness levels, it’s really incremental.  It’s a logarithmic scale. It’s not a linear scale. So we know that 85 db is that critical level. Eighty-five db, eight hours a day, that’s your maximum. If it’s 90 db — five db greater — you have to cut your time in half.

While generally informative, Abrams’ comment unfortunately identifies 85 db, eight hours a day as the “critical level.”  But this noise exposure level is too high.  It was developed solely as an occupational noise exposure standard and should never be applied to the general public, certainly not to children.  As Dr. Daniel Fink, a noted noise activist, wrote in, “What Is A Safe Noise Level For The Public?”:

In the absence of a federal standard, an occupational standard meant to prevent hearing loss appears to have become the de facto safe level for all public noise exposures. This is demonstrated by the use of 85 decibels as a safe sound level by hearing health professionals and their organizations, in media reports, and in publications, most often without time limits; by its use as a volume limit for children’s headphones marketed to prevent hearing loss, again without exposure times; and by general acceptance of higher indoor and outdoor noise levels in the United States.

*   *   *
Eighty-five decibels is not a safe noise exposure level for the public. In 1972, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health developed an 85 A-weighted decibel recommended exposure level to reduce the risk of hearing loss from occupational noise exposure. … Even with strict time limits, this standard does not protect all workers from hearing loss.

So what is a safe noise level for the public?  Dr. Fink states:

In 1974 the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Office of Noise Abatement and Control (ONAC) adjusted the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommendation for additional exposure time: 24 instead of 8 hours daily and 365 instead of 240 days annually.  The EPA calculated the safe noise level for the public to prevent hearing loss to be a 70-decibel time-weighted average for a 24-hour period… The EPA did not adjust for lifetime noise exposure, now almost 80 years versus 40 work-years, so the real average safe noise level to prevent hearing loss is probably lower.

One thing is clear, allowing children to use earbuds or headphones without limiting volume and time exposure is a recipe for hearing loss.  Since the federal government has abdicated its authority to regulate noise, and manufacturers are unlikely to design products that limit the user’s ability to deliver as many decibels as he or she wants, parents must step in to protect their children’s hearing.  Here’s something that will help: Don’t allow your children to wear earbuds and headphones.  Tell them that if they want to listen to music they must play it through a speaker.  While this may be unpopular, know that you will be giving your children an important gift–the ability to listen to and enjoy music throughout their lifetimes.

 

 

This is fascinating:

Plants Have an “Ear” for Music. Matthew Sedacca, Nautilus, writes about Dan Carlson, Sr., who, after his experience in the Korean demilitarized zone in the 1960s, dedicated himself to “increase plant growth and help reduce, or even eliminate, world hunger.”  Carlson studied at the University of Minnesota, trying to learn everything he could about how plants grow.  What he discovered was interesting:

Years later, Carlson believed he found part of his answer. He maintained that “green music”—sounds akin to, or recorded from, those found in nature, like birds singing or crickets stridulating—possesses frequencies that boost plant growth and yield rates. He claimed that when exposed to synthesized birdsong, a plant’s stomata—the mouth-like pores on the underside of leaves that absorb water and nutrients and expel oxygen—widen. Before he died in 2012, he listed growing a Purple Passion (Gynura aurantiaca)—a houseplant that usually grows up to a foot—1,300 feet high to the sound of green music as one of his lifetime achievements. It earned him a Guinness World Record.

Yes, it sounds kind of nutty, and some people in the past relied on pseudoscience, but today “plant bioacoustics is a growing field of interest in science.”  In fact, in “a recent study published in Scientific Reports, a team of researchers from Yeungnam University in Gyeongsan, South Korea, found, just as Carlson did over 30 years ago, that “green music” can cause plants to undergo biological transformations.”

Click the first link to read the entire article.  It’s well worth your time.

Not surprised at all:

Noise tops list of complaints to NYC’s 311 last year. Noise complaints made up 9.3% of all complaints to 311, New York City’s official complaint line, according to Trulia, a real estate listings firm.  So, just how many complaints was that exactly?  212,318.

There’s a reason why New York City is known as the city that never sleeps.

The Best Music for Productivity?

Silence.  Olga Khazan, writing for The Atlantic, wonders whether wearing headphones and listening to music to avoid the noise in an open plan office is “just replacing one distracting noise with another.”  And her research, unsurprisingly, leads her to the inescapable conclusion that music interferes with concentration.  Khazan notes that the more engaging the music is, the worst it is for concentration, adding that “[m]usic with lyrics is dreadful for verbal tasks.”

So the next time your boss tells you to don a pair of headphones to drown out the noise of your fellow open plan toilers, send him or her the link to Ms. Khazan’s article along with a request for an office.

Thanks to @QuietEdinburgh for the link.

Think you’re improving your health by going to a spinning class? Think again:

Study says loud music played during classes may contribute to hearing loss.  , Boston Magazine, reports on a Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary study that found that “the speaker-shaking beats at your local studio may contribute to hearing loss over time.”  According to Duchame, researchers using a smartphone app called SoundMeter Pro found that “[t]he average noise exposure in a single 45-minute cycling class…was more than eight times higher than the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s (NIOSH) recommendations for an entire eight-hour work day.”  Duchame notes with alarm “past hypotheses that exercise compounds noise-induced hearing damage,” adding that “[i]nstructors and repeat class attendees, logically, are at highest risk.”

Thanks to @QuietEdinburgh for the link.

New research shows reason why it’s easier to work in a coffee shop than in an open office

Startup Stock Photos

Photo Credit: Startup Stock Photos

And the short answer is that conversation and music is more distracting than meaningless noise.  Oliver Staley, writing for Quartz, reports on a study by Takahiro Tamesue, a sound engineer at the University of Yamaguchi, in which research subjects were asked to complete “tasks on computers, like counting the number of times an image flashed, while listening to both unintelligible noise and human speech.”  Tamesue concluded that “[t]he more meaningful noises, like conversations, were the most annoying, and proved to be the most distracting.”  That is, “meaningful noise” leads to “a greater decline in work performance.”

Can someone remind us again why open plan offices are so super awesome?

Thanks to Charles Shamoon for the link.