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The Same Song Sung in 15 Places: A Wonderful Case Study of How Landscape & Architecture Shape the Sounds of Music

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Les Paul, known primarily for the iconic guitar that bears his name, also invented most of the recording technology we still use today, including the use of reverb as a studio effect. But of course he didn’t invent reverberation anymore than he invented the guitar; he just turned both of them electric. Reverb has existed as long as there have been soundwaves, obstacles for them to hit, and ears to hear what happens when they do. In every possible space—landscape, cityscape, and architectural formation—the effect announces itself differently, though we’re seldom aware of it unless we’re in grand, cavernous spaces like a cathedral or mountain gorge.

But musicians and audio engineers like Les Paul have always paid special attention to the way sound manifests in space, as have singers like the gent above, who calls himself the Wikisinger, real name Joachim Müllner. With “no artificial reverb added,” Müllner demonstrates how much environment contributes to the quality of what we hear with a montage of sound and video clips from several—very aesthetically pleasing—locations. In each place, Müllner sings the same strange song: in a tunnel, an attic, a field before an oil derricks, the nave of a cathedral, and an anechoic chamber—which resembles the interior of an alien spacecraft and produces no reflections whatsoever. Sometimes the effect is subtle, inviting you to lean in and listen more closely; sometimes it’s outsized and operatic.

The filmmaker’s claim to “no artificial reverb” sounds a little slippery after viewing the Wikisinger’s performance since one of the most dramatic clips features his voice, and person, reduplicated several times. And we should keep in mind that no recording technology is perfectly transparent. Microphones and other equipment always add, or subtract, something to the sound. As slick as an advertisement, the short video uses a heavily mediated form to convey the simple idea of natural reverberation. You may, in fact, have seen something just like this not long ago. Before the Wikisinger, there was the Wikidrummer. In another “no reverb added” video above, he snaps, cracks, booms, and crashes through the same beat in garages, open fields, and underpasses. With each abrupt shift in location comes an abrupt shift in the frequency and duration of the sounds, as the full spectrum collides with metal, concrete, asphalt, and open air.

The ways in which sound and space interact can determine the shape of a musical form. This subject has given musician, artist, and theorist of music and art, David Byrne much to think about. As he puts in in a TED talk above, the “nature of the room”—the quality of its reverb—guides the evolution of musical genres and styles. Beginning with the example of CBGBs and like dive bars around the country, he describes how the art punk pioneered by his band the Talking Heads depended on such spaces and “didn’t sound all that great” in places strictly designed for music, like Carnegie Hall. His talk then takes us to some fascinating architectural environments, such as the kinds of rooms Mozart composed and played in. Byrne speaks to the neophytes as well as to the audiophiles among us, and his talk works as a perfect intellectual complement to the sonic and visual adventure on offer in the Wikisinger and –drummer’s videos. Both approaches equally persuade us of the prime significance of that intangible wonder called reverb.

Related Content:

David Byrne: How Architecture Helped Music Evolve

What Ancient Greek Music Sounded Like: Hear a Reconstruction That is ‘100% Accurate’

Listen to the Oldest Song in the World: A Sumerian Hymn Written 3,400 Years Ago

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness.

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janwillemswane
2498 days ago
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Wie is de koning van Wezel?
Amstelveen, NL
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Verschlüsselung: Soll sich der Schwarm doch kümmern

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Programme für Verschlüsselung – wie GnuPG – werden von wenigen Idealisten entwickelt. Das ist ehrenhaft. Skandalös ist, dass der Staat sie nicht genug fördert.
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janwillemswane
2659 days ago
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De overheid moet de ontwikkeling van beveiligingsprogs als GnuPG ondersteunen, vindt @ZeitOnline.
Amstelveen, NL
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Why You Do Your Best Thinking In The Shower: Creativity & the “Incubation Period”

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archimedes bathing

“The great Tao fades away.”

So begins one translation of the Tao Te Ching’s 18th Chapter. The sentence captures the frustration that comes with a lost epiphany. Whether it’s a profound realization when you just wake up, or moment of clarity in the shower, by the time your mind’s gears start turning and you grope for pen and paper, the enlightenment has evaporated, replaced by muddle-headed, fumbling “what was that, again?”

“Intelligence comes forth. There is great deception.”

The sudden flashes of insight we have in states of meditative distraction—showering, pulling weeds in the garden, driving home from work—often elude our conscious mind precisely because they require its disengagement. When we’re too actively engaged in conscious thought—exercising our intelligence, so to speak—our creativity and inspiration suffer. “The great Tao fades away.”

The intuitive revelations we have while showering or performing other mindless tasks are what psychologists call “incubation.” As Mental Floss describes the phenomenon: “Since these routines don’t require much thought, you flip to autopilot. This frees up your unconscious to work on something else. Your mind goes wandering, leaving your brain to quietly play a no-holds-barred game of free association.”

Are we always doomed to lose the thread when we get self-conscious about what we’re doing? Not at all. In fact, some researchers, like Allen Braun and Siyuan Liu, have observed incubation at work in very creatively engaged individuals, like freestyle rappers. Theirs is a skill that must be honed and practiced exhaustively, but one that nonetheless relies on extemporaneous inspiration.

Renowned neuroscientist Alice Flaherty theorizes that the key biological ingredient in incubation is dopamine, the neurotransmitter released when we’re relaxed and comfortable. “People vary in terms of their level of creative drive,” writes Flaherty, “according to the activity of the dopamine pathways of the limbic system.” More relaxation, more dopamine. More dopamine, more creativity.

Other researchers, like Ut Na Sio and Thomas C. Ormerod at Lancaster University, have undertaken analysis of a more qualitative kind—of “anecdotal reports of the intellectual discovery processes of individuals hailed as geniuses.” Here we might think of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, whose poem “Kublai Khan”—“a vision in a dream”—he supposedly composed in the midst of a spontaneous revelation (or an opium haze)—before that annoying “person from Porlock” broke the spell.

Sio and Ormerod survey the literature of “incubation periods,” hoping to “allow us to make use of them effectively to promote creativity in areas such as individual problem solving, classroom learning, and work environments.” Their dense research suggests that we can exercise some degree of control over incubation, building unconscious work into our routines. But why is this necessary?

Psychologist John Kounios of Drexel University offers a straightforward explanation of the unconscious processes he refers to as “the default mode network.” Nick Stockton in Wired sums up Kounios’ theory:

Our brains typically catalog things by their context: Windows are parts of buildings, and the stars belong in the night sky. Ideas will always mingle to some degree, but when we’re focused on a specific task our thinking tends to be linear.

The task of showering—or bathing, in the case of Archimedes (above)—gives the mind a break, lets it mix things up and make the odd, random juxtapositions that are the essential basis of creativity. I’m tempted to think Wallace Stevens spent a good deal of time in the shower. Or maybe, like Stockton, he kept a “Poop Journal” (exactly what it sounds like).

Famous examples aside, what all of this research suggests is that peak creativity happens when we’re pleasantly absent-minded. Or, as psychologist Allen Braun writes, “We think what we see is a relaxation of ‘executive functions’ to allow more natural de-focused attention and uncensored processes to occur that might be the hallmark of creativity.”

None of this means that you’ll always be able to capture those brilliant ideas before they fade away. There’s no foolproof method involved in making use of creative distraction. But as Leo Widrich writes at Buffer, there are some tricks that may help. To increase your creative output and maximize the insights in incubation periods, he recommends that you:

  1. “Keep a notebook with you at all times, even in the shower.” (Widrich points us toward a waterproof notepad for that purpose.)
  1. “Plan disengagement and distraction.” Widrich calls this “the outer-inner technique.” John Cleese articulates another version of planned inspiration.
  1. “Overwhelm your brain: Make the task really hard.” This seems counterintuitive—the opposite of relaxation. But as Widrich explains, when you strain your brain with really difficult problems, others seem much easier by comparison.

It may seem like a lot of work getting your mind to relax, produce more dopamine, and get weird, circular, and inspired. But the work lies in making effective use of what’s already happening in your unconscious mind. Rather than groping blindly for that flash of brilliance you just had a moment ago, you can learn, writes Mental Floss, to “mind your mindless tasks.”

Related Content:

John Cleese’s Philosophy of Creativity: Creating Oases for Childlike Play

David Lynch Explains How Meditation Enhances Our Creativity

How To Be Creative: PBS’ Off Book Series Explores the Secret Sauce of Great Ideas

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Why You Do Your Best Thinking In The Shower: Creativity & the “Incubation Period” is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

The post Why You Do Your Best Thinking In The Shower: Creativity & the “Incubation Period” appeared first on Open Culture.

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janwillemswane
2697 days ago
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Waarom krijgen we onze beste ideeën onder de douche?
Amstelveen, NL
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December 27, 2014

2 Comments and 14 Shares

Whee!
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janwillemswane
2699 days ago
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De headlines. :-)
Amstelveen, NL
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1 public comment
pdp68
2700 days ago
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The media explained
Belgium

Mobility on demand

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Helsinki has announced plans to integrate all transportation within the Finnish city into a single system with a single payment structure and run it as a public utility.

Helsinki aims to transcend conventional public transport by allowing people to purchase mobility in real time, straight from their smartphones. The hope is to furnish riders with an array of options so cheap, flexible and well-coordinated that it becomes competitive with private car ownership not merely on cost, but on convenience and ease of use.

Subscribers would specify an origin and a destination, and perhaps a few preferences. The app would then function as both journey planner and universal payment platform, knitting everything from driverless cars and nimble little buses to shared bikes and ferries into a single, supple mesh of mobility. Imagine the popular transit planner Citymapper fused to a cycle hire service and a taxi app such as Hailo or Uber, with only one payment required, and the whole thing run as a public utility, and you begin to understand the scale of ambition here.

As the Helsinki Times' headline reads, the future resident of Helsinki will not own a car.

Tags: Finland
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janwillemswane
2866 days ago
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De OV-chip voorbij: Helsinki wil reisplanner en betaling combineren in de smartphone.
Amstelveen, NL
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6 public comments
tante
2866 days ago
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Helsinki wants to rethink mobility in cities.
Berlin/Germany
RedSonja
2866 days ago
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I can't wait to see how this plays out.
jhamill
2866 days ago
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Sounds fantastic.
California
macjustice
2866 days ago
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Ideal future. Godspeed, Helsinki.
Seattle
skorgu
2866 days ago
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Jeez.
satadru
2866 days ago
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.
New York, NY

If countries’ populations matched their size

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If countries’ populations matched their size

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janwillemswane
3072 days ago
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Nederland ineens verhuisd naar Japan.
Amstelveen, NL
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