Sound

Audio Analysis of Lament for Joe Hall

In Lament for Joe Hall, Matt Gray presents his interpretation of the Jeff Hall murder from the point of view of the son Joe Hall.  The soundtrack begins with a twitchy, high pitch feedback that made me cringe with its headache inducing frequency.  This sound is coupled with the boy’s somber monotone voice introducing his life as a failure and what sounds like parents arguing.  This introduction not only begs me to turn down the buzzing high pitch but really gives me insight into how irritated, confused, frustrated the muddled thoughts in young Joe Hall’s head must have been during this time in his life.  As I listened on it seemed to me that he wanted this sound that was troubling his head to end as well and knew of only one solution.

            Once this loud screech ended a child’s voice bluntly introduces the troubled life Joe Hall faced.  Whether it was intentional for this purpose or not I believe the use of a child to do the voice was genius since many people naturally have a greater inclination to listen and have more compassion for a child.  The rhetoric bluntness of his initial statement draws in my attention in a way that makes me want to hear more and see how he dealt with such troubles.

            The brief moments between talking were coupled with more unsettling frequencies.  These frequencies deliver an uncomfortable affect analogous to the agitating occurrences that young boy was facing.  Matt used rhetoric to show the controlling detrimental behavior of Jeff Hall by using phrases and words like, “he read me,” “he made me,” and “he said I needed to.” By using these phrases he shows how Joe lacked free will and how his father influenced him in ways he had no say in. 

            Around half way in when Joe is explaining a time when his dad took him out to the border to look for “illegals” Matt couples the speech with outside type creepy music with dogs barking to create an affect that made the listener sound like they were out there with them.  The eeriness of the background music mimics the nervousness and anxiety that Joe was experiencing at the time.

            Overall, Matt does an excellent job utilizing rhetoric, sound, and other audio sources to create effective affect that keeps the listener engaged throughout the entire story and binds us with similar feelings that Joe may have been facing even though much of the talking is monotone without emotion in itself.

 

Question: What types of assisting audio can we fuse into our projects to create the desired appeal to emotion?  What types of sounds evoke which emotions?

Shifting Tones in This American Life

This episode of NPR’s This American Life contains a prologue and four acts focused on superpowers and the interactions between real life people and the superheroes of their fantasies. 

Listening to This American Life, I noticed a pattern in the tone of the show. Almost all of the segments started with very lighthearted touches before gradually shifting to the more serious unifying element of the piece. Act One, for example, had comedian John Hodgman pose a seemingly whimsical question to friends: Would you rather have the power to turn invisible or to fly? Interviews with unnamed friends talking about sneaking into places, stealing, going to bars, or not having to ride the bus are interspersed and there is a fun, easygoing attitude to it. The unifying narration of John Hodgman, though, drives the piece forward and soon the characters start to examine the underlying human desires that drive their wishes for invisibility and flight. At which point the interviews revealing the darker explorations people had of the powers: voyeurism, spying, arrogance, etc. This shift in tone over time through carefully planned voice over narration and the arrangements of conversations seems to be an excellent way of getting an audience’s attention before leading them to a serious exploration of who we are as people.
These tonal shifts appear in the other acts and act four especially uses a number of sonic techniques to shift from the comedic to the serious. Glynn Washington’s highly conversational tone and use of slang devolve serious comic tropes into the absurd. One example that had me laughing was when he said, “So I trailed Superman in my special seein’ everything machine.” In a comic book I’m sure that would have a long imposing name, but his more practical, true to life title provides an ironic contrast to super-villain severity. Moreover, he also employs sound effects to parallel his narration. Crowd noises will appear when he talks about crowds, a shriek plays in the background when Superman shrieks, and other parallels appear in his broadcast. So along with music and the various feelings that music can excite in an audience, Washington’s diction, voice, and paralleling background sounds converge to create shifting moods in the audience as his piece moves from lighthearted comic book jokes to an analysis of the darker aspects of the Superman character.
I want to keep these uses of sound in mind when I make my sound project, because they can make my project engaging for audiences by creating subtle changes in mood and emotion that ultimately lead to my point.
Question: I wrote at length about sound paralleling narrative, but what effects do you think sound contrasting the narrative could have? For instance, what if someone took serious love poetry and interspersed it with crowds laughing? Does something like this fit with your project?

New Music Forever!

“At the end of the day, it’s all about reprocessing the world around you, and this will happen no matter how hard entertainment conglomerates and an old generation of artists tries to control these processes.  We’re in a delirium of saturation. We’re never going to remember anything exactly the way it happened.  Memories become ever more fragmented and subjective.  Do you want to have a bored delirium or a more exciting one?  The archive fever of open system architectures returns us, as I noted earlier, to the era of live jazz sessions, where everyone had access to the same songs, but where they flipped things until they made their own statement.  These days everyone and their mother is Dj-ing, so you don’t want to just send a basic loop. You’ve got to give people a sense of total context and environment, which means you’ve got to be a lot more creative and really open up some new space with your material.  It’s a lesson learned, because even in the delirium of the archive, part of the creative act is to actually make new stuff.  Even a slight shift in frequency pitch or mild sonic flourish changes the original elements you bounce off of.  Endlessly reconfigurable and customizable, sampling is dematerialized sculpture.” (29)

 

After reading this paragraph, I found that DJ Spooky hits on a few ideas in a short and to the point fashion.  His succinct answers left me more curious than fulfilled and really awakened a curiosity in me. In the first sentence he says, “it’s all about reprocessing the world around you, and this will happen no matter how hard entertainment conglomerates and an old generation of artists tries to control these processes.”  This was the first thing that drew my attention and instantly I had a flashback to the remix movie we watched the first week that whole-heartedly embraced this concept.  This quote to me shows the power to seek more and dig deeper into an unlimited database of creativity and potential that is music and sound, but that fact that he uses the word “reprocessing” made me question whether the potential truly was unlimited.  Reprocessing to me means to make new of something that already existed and in my mind I feel it holds a limiting connotation.  Why not just continue to make new?  Why can’t one expand the realm of creativity to tap into something that hasn’t already been made?

These questions lead me to do some research.  I learned that Itunes store holds over 28 million songs, last.fm carries over 45 million different songs, and the gracenote database contains over 130 million songs.  That is a lot of music, but this only led me to more questions.  Is the possibility of new music truly becoming limited? Is there an end to the combination of sounds to make a song?  The answers I found were affirmative.

The number of combinations of sounds in a five-minute song was finite but at the same time so unbelievable huge that it just as well might have been infinite.  Using the number of melodies that could actually be distinguishable from each other the number was toned down, but again this number was extremely large at roughly 79 billion.  This number being much larger than all the songs every created leads me to conclude that we will new run out of new music, but why do so many sounds tend to sound the same?  I learned that the human brain tends to incline towards certain patterns of sounds more than others simply because they are more pleasurable to us.  While this may be true, I enjoy DJ Scooby’s mentality of building “a sense of total context and environment,” being “a lot more creative, and really opening up some new space with your material.”  I feel as if more artists today could do this and think in this fashion there would be a lot greater range of music than our typical mainstream sounds that seem to all sound similar and get way over played.  Artists need to expand their horizons because like Scooby says, “part of the creative act is to actually make new stuff.”  Overall, the reassurance of continuing to have new music in the future is appealing, but we as artists need to start tapping into a new way of thought and expression like Scooby (or maybe not because I don’t think he uses the appealing patterns I’m inclined to enjoy).

 

Question:  What aspect of music makes it most pleasurable?  Do the lyrics play a large part or is it simply the melodies?