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Sonic Conditioning

I cannot recall whether this has been a topic of consideration previously, but this idea is something that is an inescapable element of everyday life. Being exposed to an innumerable amount of sounds on a daily basis, it makes sense that the repetition of certain noises are going to imprint themselves within in our minds in unique ways. Establishing connections between events and sounds is in no way even remotely original, but that does not take away from how prevalent and fascinating it is. One of the most prominent examples that comes to mind is the experiment done with Pavlov’s Dog. Through classical conditioning, he was able to have the dog salivate at the sound of a bell ringing when it expected the stimulus of food. This is a family common example of this type of response, but it reminds me too much of a sonic connection I share with the ringing not of a bell, but of an alarm. Like most, I set an alarm on my phone to wake me up in the morning and on many occasions to remind me to tend to something I might have forgotten. Every time, I use the same loud, clamoring patterned ring that startles me even when I am expecting it. It has gotten to the point where no matter what occasion the alarm is redirecting my conscious to, a wave of overwhelming panic washed over me for one moment and I am terrified. I have been conditioned to recognize and process this tone only in negative circumstances. It means I have to wake up and go to class or wake up from a nap and continue the endless amounts of homework or remember that I have some burden hanging over my head that immediately needs to be dealt with. Even though I loathe this ring more than anything in my daily life, I cannot simply change my ringtone. It causes an acute, minor heart attack, but it has conditioned me to recognize a sense of urgency and quickly adopt the new primary task. I have overtime learned to react and shift my focus with much more haste and certainty because I constantly experience the same sheer momentary terror each time it goes off. I have been conditioned to act accordingly and even when I hear it out of context on someone else’s phone, it causes my body to shiver and I search deeper within my mind to pull out any information I may be forgetting to utilize. Sound without us even considering it, can latch itself onto a memory or imprint itself onto an event as a conditioning mechanism. Although the emotions it evokes can be both horrifying and soothing, the purpose it serves has  considerable value.

Self Defining Music

I think silence has a sound. Although you can argue until you have had your fill on the technicalities of there never really being complete silence, I see silence differently. When you are alone, and there aren’t sounds that can be deemed important or distinct, silence is that buzzing in your ear where noise should be. An irritating, relentless drone that bores into your skull and seems to absorb even your thoughts. As a kid, I was not a fan. Lying awake in bed with no noise to sate my nerves, I was left to the mercy of my own imagination. There was a lengthy period in my childhood where I would have to envelop my body in blankets and hide away from unseen creatures that filled my room. I couldn’t take it, and each night I would wage a war with which I had no chance of coming out the victor. As difficult as it was for me, it was probably tougher on my mother. Each night I would make the careful exodus down the hallway on my hands and knees and gently open my parents door. With quiet precision, I would maneuver around my sleeping father, and force my mom to save me. For both of them, this daunting process got very old very quickly. Child gates were erected at my door which barricaded me inside my silent box. It was maddening.

A solution suddenly came to my parents: the radio. From then on, we would leave a radio station on each night all night while I slept. This quick-fix method was short lived. Although it got the job done for a short while, I couldn’t take some of the aggressive, female-pop yelling 2am tracks. I would get slightly neurotic and scamper to shut off the radio and welcome back the silence. Then the process would begin all over again. I needed another solution. My mom bought CDs that contained white noise and produced a calming effect on brain activity. These worked like a charm. Waves, rain storms, I was all about it. This became my stocking stuffer for the next few years ranging from Japanese flute music to gentle thunder.

My nighttime woes, however, were not resolved just yet. After some time, each night I went to bed, the temperature was way too hot. I couldn’t focus and I couldn’t sleep. I kept fidgeting with blankets, my body heat would fluctuate, so sleep was still a delayed process as well as an uncomfortable one. This issue clearly had an easier fix than the last: a fan. A fan that I could constantly readjust and leave blasting cool air all night. This solved the heat issue, but offered a separate type of solace. I found my music. The noise of the fan was addictive. It couldn’t just be on at night, whenever I was in my room, I needed the steady, consistent drone of the fan. Unlike the boring, relentless monotony of silence, the hum of the fan was peaceful. It put me at ease. Eventually I stopped going tandem with the white noise and the fan (not as long ago as you might think), and only needed the fan. A fan was the number one priority for college. It keeps me sane, it helps me sleep, and it serves as a link connecting me as a child to who I am today. The fan is not so pertinent that without one I still cannot sleep, I just strongly prefer it. It marks a sort of progression in my life. It’s probably a bit too cheesy and potentially abstract to pinpoint turning on a fan as a transitional phase from childhood to teenage years, but there is definitely something there. If anything, my own perception of my fan demonstrates how music is in the eye of the beholder. I modified the cliche but the sentiment is there. The steady murmur of the fan is my music, regardless of the how others hear it, I enjoy my one machine symphony on repeat.


Is my noise your noise?

I always find it slightly irritating and embarrassing when I get to hear my own voice through recording. To realize that is actually what I sound like to other people is a bit of a low blow. Once I get over the slightly higher pitched and somewhat raucous sound of my “real voice” it is actually pretty fascinating. I found a video that explained why this occurs and part of it is a result of our early process of learning to talk. Mimicking how other people form words has a significant influence on our young, plastic minds. It also has to do with a little science. Our voice coming out of our mouths is conducted by the air and than transmitted into our auditory canals until it gets to the inner ear and is processed. But we also have the noise that is bouncing around in our heads which is conducted by our bones and flesh and goes directly to the inner ear.  All of what is inside our heads, does a better job of transmitting deeper and more resonant tones so our voices always sound like their pitches are lower to us. Science aside, it made me wonder if this is the only instance where we hear things differently than others do. As farfetched as this idea may seem, I wonder if our auditory system is similar to our visual in the sense that colors are not universally seen the same way, are noises? I remember in my high school psychology class in the midst of a child development topic, we watched a video that demonstrated babies ability to recognize the difference of two Chinese words that sound completely the same once we pass four years old. I am fairly fuzzy on the details, but the words were something along the lines of “shi” and “chi” but I could be wrong. It was strange because I truly could not hear a difference in the diction, but the experiment proved that babies could. This may have been determined by a change in brain wave patterns when the recording was played, but again I could be wrong. The reason young children are adept at differentiating is in part culturally base. Their minds are fairly tabula rasa and they have yet to have their own voice and diction shaped by their parents and the world around them. Regardless, I do wonder if because of our upbringing, sounds are different from one ear to the next.

Deception by Noise

Thinking about the human conscious and our ability to let certain noises take precedence while others become mindless background ambience as referenced in Andrew’s post had me considering other ways in which humans perceive sound. I came across the idea of noise as being deceptive. There is a YouTube video online called virtual barber shop which makes use of over the ear headphones for an illusory trip to receive a haircut. The way in which the video was recorded had multiple microphones set up to mimic a person’s ears to the point where closing your eyes while listening to the video makes you feel as though an actual person is trimming your hair. It is rather unbelievable and pretty frightening, but it also demonstrates how our auditory senses are similar to a machine where if sound can be harnessed and concentrated, deception and mimicry are easy. This can be identified in the artificial haircut simulation, but even can occur naturally. Echo and sounds waves reflecting off various surfaces can trick the human mind into believing that something is close by or far away. Our senses are imperfect and open to manipulation. White noise recordings are abundant on the Internet, some claiming to be able to calm them mind and enhance focus whereas others are meant to put the listener into a deep sleep and influence dreams. There are people who can mimic other sounds or the voices of other people. And what about when we hear a noise or voice completely out of context when it may have even been a fabrication of our mind? The auditory system is in no way simple and can operate in unexpected ways. It can easily be tricked into making the mind think one thing and can even influence other senses. This may be a result of the trust we have developed with our ears based off reliance on them, but in any case it is astonishing to consider how noise dictates our daily routine.