📑 How Science Got Sound Wrong

Bookmarked How Science Got Sound Wrong

In this edition of Tech Turncoat Truths, William Softky asks whether analog LP records are more authentic than digitally compressed sound.

William Softky unpacks the question as to whether vinyl is better than digital? This includes providing a history of recorded sound, from the phonograph, to the radio, to stereo. He suggests the difference relates to the how and what of listening:

Headphones and earbuds, being smaller and quieter, do indeed give better sound per dollar, but they move with your head and remove the bass notes from your skin. Digital CDs — being digitized but not otherwise compressed — still sounded nearly perfect to me, but not so MP3s, AACs and, later, streaming, all of which made audio more portable and convenient but at some cost. It is very clear to both my senses and my intellect that too much compression really does damage sound quality — no one disagrees with that part.

This all comes back to the sensory experience of how the body picks up vibrations:

Imagine you’re alone and frightened in the woods, in the dark, with threats nearby. Suddenly, crack! A twig snaps close by. At that moment, which would matter more to you: where the sound came from or what type of wood the twig was made of?

The best way to locate sounds is to use the whole body — ears, skull, skin, even guts — since the entire body contains vibration sensors. The brain’s main job is making sense of vibrations throughout the body, eyeballs to toes to eardrums, all consistent, all at once. One single vibratory image unified from skin and ears.

Headphones and earbuds fracture that unified sensory experience.

Softky explains that the digital sampling and compression associated with CD’s and MP3’s denies the information resolution the nervous system cares about. This is where analogue technologies are still superior.

In response to all this, Softky predicts the emergence of three new technologies that could change the world by reconnecting people with sound:

  • Devices that quantify sound the right way
  • Microtime recording and stereo
  • Micropresence = microtime telepresence

Alternatively, we could see a return to more ‘acoustic’ music concerts:

The best connection will always be a physical presence and proximity. I expect more “acoustic” music concerts, all-live musicians, no microphones or even hyper-flickering LED illumination. Acoustic dances. Acoustic conferences. It turns out the so-called “emotional resonance” people enjoy together really is a kind of neuromechanical resonance, aided by acoustics and reduced by reproduction. (It’s best experienced in sacred spaces like churches, temples and Auroville’s Matrimandir. Live silence, like live music, will always connect people the way Neil Young hopes.

This reminds me of intimacy of La Blogothèque.

For more on sound and technology, Geoffrey Morrison discusses the problem with digital compression. This is also something discussed on Switched on Pop in an interview with Dallas Taylor.

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