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Professor discusses monitoring music

Published: Thursday, December 3, 2009

Updated: Monday, February 28, 2011 21:02

12/3/09 - Modern music exemplifies technological advances, but according to the University of Rhode Island's Assistant Professor of Communication Studies Ian Reyes, the average music listener hasn't seen anything yet.
As the last presenter of the fall 2009 Communications Studies Department Colloquium, Reyes discussed, "The new 'techoustemology': Monitoring music in the digital age." Techoustemology is a hybrid of technology, acoustics and epistemology. In other words it is the social construction of technology.

Reyes claimed a "sensorial shift" is occurring in the realm of audio. Moving from a soley auditory experience to a visual one.

To begin his explanation of this shift, Reyes said, acousticmalogically, there is no difference between background noise and the women's singing in native tribal music. The only way to represent the music is in the acousticmology of the people's original culture. So, if the Mugabe tribe from Madagascar wanted to sing their "waterfall song" one must have to hear the waterfall in the background along with them doing their laundry and singing, because to them all of the sounds are part of the song.
In "our" culture, Reyes said, sound has been extracted from the environment. Sound is not its own thing, but rather the product of another true thing.
He also explained the history of audio actually began as visual. He showed a picture of Edison's earphonautograph, which used a real human ear to translate vibrations on to a piece of smoked glass.

"After we get to this vibratory theory it is a quick jump to analog recording," Reyes said. "All analog recording is at some level a visual record of sound."

The full range of human hearing is 20 hertz to 20 kilohertz. IPod ear buds, for example will only allow the listener to hear 30 percent of the range that was actually recorded. This is one reason why music is becoming digital to try and avoid this bias, Reyes said.

"There is an object somewhere behind the speakers that your speakers can't show you, that you can approximate if you yourself are aware of your own biases, the biases, of your system and the biases of the entire world of mediation," Reyes said.

This segued into the reason why music today is a visual entity. It is now entirely possible to compose, mix, master and produce an entire song without ever even hearing the song. Today this is the standard practice.

People can take part in what is called non-destructive editing, which is like copying and pasting word documents, but now it can be done with pieces of sound. Spectrography is the visualization of the frequency of the sound being created.
"You don't even need to have high quality speakers anymore, what you need are visual analysis tools," Reyes said. "If you don't know what you're hearing or don't trust what you're hearing you should take a look."

Artists are now able to compose songs that can paint visual pictures, such as faces and shapes, when played back on a spectrograph. Music is not just one form of art; it is now able to be a visual form of art.

"Old timers are upset about this," Reyes said. They are upset because now too many people are making music.

"I personally don't think that it is a problem," Reyes said. "I would like everybody to make music but part of the beauty of the non visual system is that you had to be great at sound and listening."

Digital media now allows novices to be heard in the mass marketplace of ideas and media. Essentially the technological gatekeepers are now gone.

The next and final step in digital music and media is within music information retrieval (MIR). This is the tracking of music as data over networks. Now there are "data sniffers" who monitor the flow of data over a network when it "smells" something that someone owns. The iTunes Genius function is an example of MIR.

"Through MIR and through crowd sourcing we could theoretically have a very robust system of meta data that could algorithmically sort through your own MP3 archive and tell you lots of things about it - genre artists key beats per minute - automatically," Reyes said. "But we're not quite there yet."

With this new technology the sound engineers are becoming the musicians. Reyes did admit that whether it can still be considered an artistic act is still up for grabs.

"Authentic music is behind the speakers," Reyes finished.

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