Audio in Media

These are some short definitions I primarily gathered from the book Audio in Media by Stanley R. Alten. I have taken the liberty to alter or clarify these definitions to make them more applicable to our class, but they are by no means COMPLETE definitions. I strongly suggest looking up these terms if you are interested in gaining a more comprehensive understanding of their varied meanings and usage.

Frequency: The number of times per second that a sound source vibrates. Expressed in hertz (Hz).

Frequency response: A measure of an audio system’s ability to reproduce a range of frequencies with the same relative loudness; usually represented in a graph.

Equalization (EQ): Altering the frequency/amplitude response of a sound source or sound system.

Equalizer: A signal-processing device that can boost, attenuate, or shelve frequencies in a sound source or sound system.

Gain: A measure of the ability of a circuit (often an amplifier) to increase the power or amplitude of a signal from the input to the output, by adding energy to the signal converted from some power supply. It is usually defined as the mean ratio of the signal output of a system to the signal input of the same system. It is often expressed using the logarithmic decibel (dB) units (“dB gain”). A gain greater than one (zero dB), that is, amplification, is the defining property of an active component or circuit, while a passive circuit will have a gain of less than one.

Gain staging: The process of optimizing your input signal levels in order to maximize signal strength while minimizing noise.

Noise: A- Any unwanted sound or signal.
B- A genre of sound art in which sound classified as noise is utilized for composition and/or performance.

Signal-to-noise ratio: The ratio between the signal level and the noise level of a component or sound system. The wider the signal-to-noise ratio, the better.

Sine wave: A pure tone or fundamental frequency with no harmonics or overtones.

Fundamental: The lowest frequency a sound source can produce.

Harmonics: Frequencies that are multiples of the fundamental.

Overtones: Harmonics that may or may not be multiples of the fundamental.

Monophonic (Mono): Refers to a sound system (or recording) with one master output channel.

Stereophonic (stereo): A sound system (or recording) with two channels. Stereo gives the listener the illusion of sonic depth and width.

Timbre: The unique tone quality or color of a sound.

Treble: Frequency range between approximately 5000 and 20000 Hz.

Bass: The lowest frequency range; between approximately 20 and 320 Hz.

Midrange: The part of the frequency spectrum to which humans are most sensitive; between approximately 250 and 4000 Hz.

Upper midrange: Frequency range between approximately 2560 and 5120 Hz.

Dynamic range: The range between the quietest and loudest sounds a sound source can produce without distortion. Also, the range between the quietest and loudest sounds in a recording.

Reverberation: Multiple blended, random reflections of a sound wave after the sound source has ceased vibrating.

Reverberation time: The length of time it takes a sound to die away.

Sound frequency spectrum: The range of frequencies audible to human hearing: roughly 20 to 20000 Hz.

Compressor: A signal processor with an output level that decreases as it’s input level increases. A compressor reduces the dynamic range of a sound; evening out the disparity between the quietest and loudest sounds.

“Experimental” Response

In John Cage’s article “Experimental Music”, he argues that music is everywhere. Even at a time of seemingly complete silence, sound and music always have a presence. The sound of our hearts beating or the steady rhythm of our breath, there is always something to hear.

John Cage is discussing the future of sound and music, music can be anything- any continuous sounds occurring in combination. After World War II, tape recording became a new way of producing music and capturing sounds. Instead of relying on conventional instruments and musicians only, artists were free to record, rerecord, and play back different sounds than ever before. Like the impact with the invention of the hand held camera for photographers, the option to record has opened new avenues for musicians.

Although John Cage now accepts his musical work as “experimental”, he still considers everything he hears to be a type of music. He says sound and noise, the more experimental side to composing, is the new music, however the future of music is theater. He states that it is important to appeal to all of our senses, especially our eyes and in that way theater helps the audience to be closer to nature.

John Cage Response

It is nice to see an artist such as Cage change his opinions on his listeners responses after much contemplation. It solidifies the thought that the meaning of a work is not only provided by the artist but also provided by how the viewers/listeners respond to it. He notes how the way he interacts with his work is different from how the viewer interacts. I particularly like the unknown plant metaphor, because the listener really is going into it blind with a fresh perspective.

The term experimental is fine, it just means that the piece explores themes that haven’t been heavily touched on in the past or reimagines common or dated themes. A common theme right now is somewhat of a minimalist approach to sound and music. Taking the sounds for what they are and responding to them as opposed to overcomplicating the work. It reminds me of minimalism in visual arts. Making the most out of very little.

It’s important to look at how new technologies influence the way we look at a medium. Cages touches on this when he mentions magnetic tape and variations of tape players. It is especially important to realize how the computer has changed art. The computer is probably the most powerful invention ever created completely taking over the way the world interacts in just about every fashion and medium.

Sarah Nobles’ Response to John Cage’s “Experimental Music”

Music has been considered an art for centuries, but like visual art and many other aspects of society, new styles often must prove their worth to be considered as part of the progression. John Cage’s statement, “Experimental Music” brings about the conversation of experimental music as fine art, specifically what can be considered music. He correlates a musician and his music to a sculptor and his sculpture: explaining that there are drafts and prototypes in sound, just as in the visual arts. The visual art world has gone through many different movements, and the same goes for music (pun intended). Music has experienced several periods that are revered with much fondness, and just like in art, some of the newer practices and ideas are being proved difficult to be established. Similar to the avant garde art movement, experimental music is a type of music which utilizes unconventional instruments and methods to produce sounds in melodic fashion which encourages emotion from the listener. 

Cage discusses the introduction of recordings via tape and records, and how this concept, particularly with tapes, causes music to be seen as something visual and tangible in space in order to ensure the recording will have enough room in inches for the amount of time a “track” is played. While this seems so obvious to us today, when this idea first came about, it was very difficult to comprehend how one could display audio in a physical form. Not only the sounds had to be accounted for, but the rests and pauses had to be properly positioned as well. Time was assigned a visual measurement in inches, and tape could now take these cues and interpret them into audio. Now that sounds can be recorded and listened to repeatedly, this allowed for the expansion of tools used to create a composition. a sound that could not be heard over another now had the chance to shine through based on ability to control volume. Other manipulations like speed and direction could also change the way something is heard. All of these ideas were just beginning to reveal themselves at this time. Cage was clearly open to the idea of alternative music, and not only the music found under that genre today either. 

Further explanation of Cage’s definition of music includes the notion of sounds that cause emotion, “What is more angry than the flash of lightning and the sound of thunder” (p 3). He explains that sounds, beyond words and traditional music, can inspire emotions when heard and set a mood for the listener. These sounds can make up a composite that harmonize in ways that are not familiar to the audience which requires a more open mind to interpret meaning and feelings about the arrangement, just like the newer forms of visual art which require some suspense of the usual rules in place.  


Reading Response 2

I find it interesting that at the beginning of the article John Cage’s thoughts about the term “experimental” shifted. At first he was distraught when people called his music “experimental” because he, as an artist, knew that his piece was an actual finished piece. He was a true artist in the field of music, because he took the “prelim design” stage and fused it with the actual final product, giving he audience the final product when he himself is currently creating it. This gives the listener front line tickets to the process of music making as well as getting to see a product go through all of the stages of creation, in one performance.

John Cage sees music and sounds as continuous things that are constantly occurring around us and affecting how we react and judge things. He wants us as humans, who have both eyes and ears, to use them to their full potential and observe the world around us and the constant harmonies that are happening. He believes there is no such thing as silence. There are constantly sounds intermingling with other sounds, even if those sounds happen to be the “idea of silence”, which in musical aspects would be considered the rests. His idea that even rests in music are still sounds harmoniously interacting with other notes, or rests, is kind of an odd one for me. I am very musical, but i’m not sure if I can fully follow his thoughts.

He seems very calm when he is considering the fact that music is constantly changing and evolving, and while the rest of  the world is up in arms, he tells us there is not need for alarm. He explains that music is always and ever changing. The way we develop technology is helping it along tremendously, and we as humans are experiencing and creating completely new sounds and combinations of sounds never before played.

He then goes on to talk about the concept of how simultaneous sounds, no matter how recursive, will never match up and truly be harmonious. He gives a really good example of how bands and performers perform today with their speakers and instruments causing sounds to come from many different locations rather than a central focal point. This gives the listener a good chance of hearing all of the sounds together and as harmonious as possible.

Based on everything that I have read, I don’t really think I can agree with John Cage’s thoughts and ideas about his experimental music in the contemporary art world. On one hand, I do think that the way music is involved in our lives today is definitely more apparent, and I think that it is definitely in its own art form, I don’t necessarily consider it contemporary art. Like his piece, 4’33, a concert in which he gathered an entire orchestra on stage to perform, and they merely sat in silence for over four minutes, yes that was definitely making a statement in the performance/music world, but was it really something that should be considered contemporary art? I don’t personally have anything against him personally or his performance, I just don’t even know how I feel about them as of right now.

Nicole Singh

In reading the address, “experimental Music” by composer John Cage I envision a time in a reality over 50 years ago. During this time John Cage gives a deep and thoughtful analysis of the current course of changes in the landscape of music creation, understanding, and its effects for his current generation of music. In relation to our current time, let’s be honest, some of John Cage’s points are somewhat irrelevant in today’s world. I do find understanding the history of our cultures advancements is truly important. On the other hand, magnetic tape and disc recordings have far been over passed half a decade ago.

Personally, examining this address reminds me that I love and enjoy music deeply, and this delving into the finer points of musical creation or “experimentation” as Cage puts it, closely resembles the current state of musical creativity. New genres are created seemingly daily with the only limitations being the human mind. With the rapidity of technological advances, new techniques for the creation of sound are developed and adapted at an alarming pace. Listen to the radio and notice the incredible range of music that’s on tap for the average person to enjoy. My own thought processes pertaining to music and sound interpretation aren’t even in the same league as John Cage’s. I either enjoy music or I don’t. Zero introspection, and most of the time zero analysis as to the how or why I enjoy or dislike a piece of music. My mind though sometimes continuously troubled and chaotic is calmed in the act of listening. Curiously blank. Sublime. Maybe a psychological defect, but I can’t help but enter a state of complete emptiness. Can’t sing-along. Memorization of lyrics are completely, utterly, and hopeless beyond me. But maybe I crave that emptiness, in this busy and stressful world, always behind, always struggling; my mind craves the release that music gives me. Though I’ve never truly connected with an artist through their chosen medium, through messages they mean to convey, I really enjoy good beats and uplifting lyrics.

The contemplation of music in nature and the emotions evoked through music and sound are worthily pursuits of intellectuals and music theorists like John Cage, and I respect their pursuits. I utilize music to find release from the daily bustle of life. The emotions evoked are usually relief and a calm collectedness. I worry not about the future of music and the evolutions of its form throughout time. I worry of the possibility that the peace I sometimes seek through music in this chaotic world could eventually elude me. That I could change as music does continuously, and evolve as an individual, into something that isn’t viscerally affected by sound and rhythm.

Response to Cage Reading

Its interesting how Cage sees that there will always be a future to music because even in relative silence there is still sound and rhythm in our body such as the nervous system and our veins. One could even argue, on a much smaller scale, that cells themselves have sounds from their replication processes, even if such a sound is minuscule. So as long as there is cellular life there will be sound.

I do however disagree that humanity and nature are one in themselves. I believe that there is a difference in a sense that nature provides the organic components on which humanity organizes into an intentional composition. So while letting go and giving up music would give us building blocks to make music once again with sounds, there is still merit in current/past music theory and we don’t absolutely need to let go of it completely to understand music.

At one point in the article Cage states, “If he does not wish to give up his attempts to control sound, he may complicate his musical technique…”. This sentence resonated within my head as I could relate this to my own drawings and work. Being taught to draw semi-realistically has given me the ability to find my own aesthetic. Sometimes it leads to being static because of the more realistic approach. And to combat this impulse to make the work a technical work, I use a variety of tools on the same drawing to give it an added element and in a sense give the drawing more life.

Response to John Cage “Experimental Music”

I can see why Cage reacted negatively at first when he was told that his music was experimental. Like he said, as the artist he knows all the ins and outs of his music and every little nuance to it. He has envisioned it and made it a reality. To him it is as normal and accepted as anything else. The listener, however, has come into contact with this material for the first time and needs to confront it at face value. He may listen for each layer, each little sound of the music after he gets past the initial encounter, but he will never be as familiar with it as the artist. It is the same with the visual arts. As an artist, I can see all the layers beneath the final product that I present. I know how long it took me to get a certain color just perfect and how carefully I positioned my figures. I can see all the little adjustments and meanings I’ve worked into my piece, but the viewer does not have this benefit. They see the final piece and only regard it at its surface. They may be able to see some of the layers beneath, but they will never understand it as intimately as the creator.

I find interesting the notion of letting sounds be themselves instead of trying to make them convey a message. I must admit that I am at a loss as to how to approach something like that effectively. However, I can see a parallel between this idea and the modernist idea of letting color just be color. Color can stand alone and have a message in its own right, and it is not necessary for the artist to bend it to make it say something else. Though I am unfamiliar with sound art, I see certain parallels between this type of art and the visual arts.

The idea of accepting unintended sounds into the piece seems similar to certain Dada performances that allow the audience to participate. The performance is loosely scripted and the actors encourage audience participation into the piece and it is not carefully rendered or dictated. In this way, I feel that the musician shares some similarities in that they give up certain control of their music sounds. There is a general direction or result that they strive for, but the steps and the final result are by no means written in stone. It is very spontaneous and accepting of artifacts that traditionally artists have tried to hide or control.

When Cage speaks about the silent room and that even here sound can be heard, he makes the conclusion that there will always be sound, in some form or another. Similarly, I feel that there will always be visual art. Not just the kind you can buy at Target to cover a naked wall, not kitsch, but there will always be a dialect between people making art. Maybe not in the ways that are accepted now, but artists will always be making art in response to one thing or another.

John Cage Reading Response – Virginia Billings

I find it interesting how Mr. Cage’s attitude toward the word “experimental” changed. Before, he disagreed with people who called his work ‘experimental’ because, like in the visual arts, his compositions were finished pieces. The experimentation happened during the composing process. After some reflection, he decided that it applied to all of the music he found interesting.

As a choir member, I have some knowledge of music theory, so I understand exactly what Mr. Cage meant when he wrote, “For in this new music nothing takes place but sounds: those that are noted and those that are not.” However, I’ve never heard it put quite like that. He is referring to the rests and actual notes here, and goes on to claim that true silence does not actually exist – even in that special “anechoic chamber,” one could hear their own nervous system and blood vessels working.

I’m not sure I understand exactly what he means in the section warning against “this psychological turning,” but the paragraphs following it seem to describe the origins of the ‘techno-pop’ music genre before it went digital.

He also declares that a person has a choice to make upon the earlier realization: give up music and let sounds be how they are naturally, or adapt to the new possibilities of controlling sounds.

He then gives us a paragraph of rhetorical questions basically saying that nature provokes emotions in human beings. Somehow, he jumps from this conclusion to the declaration that composers of experimental music distance themselves from the emotional connections to the sounds they work with, using different methods to do so. Some use chance and random numbers from the Chinese Book of Changes like a physicist would in an experiment or research. Others use geometrical means to create their compositions.

Through out the entire passage, Mr. Cage seems obsessively worried about change and that everyone else fears that change. There are many instances where he assures the reader that there is nothing to fear or “need not arouse alarm” when pointing out a change in the world of music.

Mr. Cage makes the claim that perfect syncronization is impossible, therefore, every time a piece of music is preformed, (even if it is the same piece again), it is different – “even with leaves of the same tree, no two are exactly alike.” This is comparable to the moving sculptural art form (the mobile). He backs up this claim by pointing out that this new type of music “is more clearly heard when the several loud- speakers or performers are separated in space rather than grouped closely together.” This is his example of the reasoning that “music is not concerned with harmoniousness”

His conclusion is less than clear to me, but from what I gathered from it, Mr. Cage wants people to use the ears and eyes they were given at birth to view and listen to the world around them and not ignore the sounds that they think aren’t ‘correct’ or don’t follow the ‘rules’.

Sydney cannon-2

After reading John Cages’s take on experimental music I think he has put into words what I have always struggled to explain. To me, noise and sound and music etc. are all the same thing and like Cage said “reflect their environment”. Sound is everywhere, there is no such thing as silence. I liked the examples he gave to back that argument up. For example, the sound box at Harvard. I also found it interesting the way he talked about sound in terms of it’s only limitations are those set by our own ears, it immediately makes me think of photography.

The way that cameras work are very different optically from the eye, so the way the camera sees the world is very different from the human eye actually. Yet still, like sound, it is said in the art world that the only visual limitations that exist are in our own eyes. Like with the video world’s whole new 4K approach. What good is 4k if we can’t even see it? What good are the recorded and manipulated sounds if we can’t hear them or make sense of them? Cage goes on to talk about changing the whole way we analyze sound in categories of pitch, scales, modes, theories, etc. and recognize that technologically we can transform our preconceived notions of sound into contemporary art.

Another part I found interesting is when Cage goes on to compare sound vs. musical technique and how both are very different and in order to achieve contemporary art status,  in his experiment, Cage will abandon musical technique and just focus on sounds and listening.

“New music: New listening. Not an attempt to understand something that is being.”

A study of sounds that just are.

I also like his comparison of composed pieces vs recorded sounds and spliced together to create a highly unique piece. His parallel between music and sound with sculpture and moving parts posed a very interesting question in my head. Because the sculpture is now moving in increments is it still a “sculpture”? Similar to the arguments Cage is challenging.

Overall I don’t know if I totally agree with Cage because I think his comparison between music and recorded sound are very different. The formula for musical compositions is very different to the contemporary art that is created today but I think that is why it is categorized as contemporary art, because technology has opened up so many doors that hadn’t even been thought about in the 19th century, is it really fair to compare the two? I would go as far to argue that they are two completely different mediums all together.