Since I chose to do my ethnographic study on base libs, I’ve been thinking a lot about the volume of an environment and how that affects the people in it. I have been observing in a place of near silence and I’ve been able to see how that can affect the people in it, but what about places that are the opposite of that? Places that are so loud that the noises all mix together and it’s just one huge sound? I found an article from a few years ago in The New York Times about the sound levels in New York city and how crazy it has gotten. The article said, “The New York Times measure noise levels at 37 restaurants, bars, stores and gyms across the city and found levels that experts said bordered on dangerous at one-third of them.” New York is becoming louder and louder and it’s becoming a problem for those who live and work there. One waitress that they interviewed said that she got headaches all the time and had to take medicine to control it. These headaches are a result of working multiple hours in an environment above levels that a person is allowed to be subjected to for long periods of time.
Later in the article, it began discussing about the reasons for these loud environments. Apparently, research has shown that people tend to drink more and chew faster when the music is loud and fast, which comes in handy when you are trying to get people in and out of a busy restaurant. Unfortunately, this loud and fast music is forced upon the staff in the meantime. “Repeated exposure to loud noise often damages hearing and has been linked to higher levels of stress, hypertension, and heart disease”, which is exactly what the people who work at these places are going to have to deal with. Even though there are regulations in place, many work places aren’t inspected.
Not only are restaurants and bars using noise to affect their customers, but so are clothing stores. Ever walked into an Abercrombie & Fitch and experienced the abrasive music mixed with the overwhelming perfumes? They do that on purpose. They turn the store into a “club like” atmosphere to draw in young teens and keep out the older clientele so that the store can keep its image. It’s truly ridiculous that a place would be so dedicated to keeping older people out that they would raise the noise decibels to levels that could seriously harm the people who work for them. Personally, I will never go into a place like A&F because I hate how loud it is. Maybe I’m just a weird young person who thinks like a grandma sometimes, but come on, it’s soooo loud in there. I feel bad for the people who work there and I’ll probably never try to get a job at a loud place like that. I don’t know how they do it.
If anyone is interested in reading the full article, here is the link. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/20/nyregion/in-new-york-city-indoor-noise-goes-unabated.html
Growing up, my oldest sister was a huge role model for me. I payed a lot of attention to the things she did and would try to copy her. She had a phase at some point when she was in high school where she was completely obsessed with everything that had to do with Africa. I helped her with a huge collage of pictures from National Geographic on her wall and looked through the books that she was reading about child soldiers and apartheid. While she was going through that phase, she put a bunch of music on my iPod that originated from Africa. I still have that iPod that she loaded for me and I went back the other day and listened to the strange tribal music that she had put on it. The music was striking because it is so starkly different from anything that is produced here. Their use of unfamiliar instruments mixed with the foreign language is a new experience to someone who isn’t accustomed to this kind of music. Some of the artists that I have listened to are Amadou and Mariam, Ali Farka Toure, and Rokia Traore. The sounds vary greatly from the kind of music that I’m used to hearing. There are heavy drums and a tribal feel to the music that you don’t get from the songs that come on the radio here. I really enjoy Amadou and Mariam’s music. They also have an interesting story behind the music. Both Amadou and Mariam are blind artists who started off on their own but are now married and make music together. One of my sister’s favorites is their song “Je Pense a toi”, which I think is a good example of their music as it is very rhythmic and soulful.
Listening to these songs again got me thinking about the ways that music differs across cultures. The music differs in what it sounds like and also what kind of language is used. Back in high school, my Chinese teacher used to let us listen to popular music from China and teach us about what they were singing about. One thing I’ve noticed is that the popular music from the US is far more vulgar than the music of most other countries around the world. One of the songs I remember well that we listened to was about Chinese New Year and the red envelopes that they receive with money from their elders. Another example is a rap song from Greece that I heard. A friend of mine who is originally from Greece was playing some rap music and I had asked what it was that he was talking about. The rap song was nothing like the ones from US artists that have to do with sex, drugs, or money. It was a song about growing up poor. While there are songs in certain genres of music in the US that are about deeper things like this, a majority of the music that becomes mainstream is about more vulgar subjects.
While some music is international, it’s interesting to listen to the music native to other countries that introduces new sounds, meanings, and experiences to the unaccustomed listener. I always find it interesting to listen to music that I’m not used to, whether it’s a new artist or a genre I’ve never listened to. Music can be made in so many ways and can represent so many different things to people since it’s such an expressive form of art.
Before taking this writing class, I had never payed a whole lot of attention to the sounds that surrounded me. Not necessarily the sounds I consciously hear, but background noise and the different properties of sound that we listen to in different ways. The reading about causal, semantic, and reduced listening has really stuck with me and I’ve tried to focus more on how I listen to the things going on around me.
For spring break, a group of my friends and I journeyed to a beach in southern Texas, which I had never thought of as a place for vacation until now. Who knew Texas had nice beaches? But that’s besides the point. We got in yesterday afternoon and after a day of traveling due to connection flights and delays, everyone was pretty tired by the time it got dark, not to mention the time change, even though it’s only an hour. On the upstairs balcony is a big hammock and I decided to take advantage of it. I burrito-ed myself in a blanket and swayed on the hammock under the dimming sky with my eyes closed, allowing myself to absorb the peaceful environment I had entered. It was in this moment that i truly listened to the ocean. Of course I had heard the ocean before and knew what the sound of waves crashing sounded like, but I really tried to pay attention to it this time, thinking all the while about the different ways of listening that we had talked about in class. I was more aware of the way the water moved. How when the waves crashed and the water came farther in shore that my ears adjusted to the loudness and through causal listening, I could tell that it was closer to me. But as the tide pulled back out, the sounds grew smaller and, without seeing the ocean, I knew it was moving away from me. It was interesting to me how I could tell so much about what the water was doing just by observing the changes in volume. In this instance, I was using both reduced and causal listening. Reduced listening because of the focus on the unique properties of the sounds and causal because of the recognition of the source of the sound and the way it moved.
It’s an interesting thing to pay particular attention to sounds I don’t typically think twice about. Background noise suddenly seems to have more meaning than before.
The first time I heard Uptown Funk was in the car on my way to my house. I think I was heading back for Christmas break or something. The 80s-inspired beat came blasting through my radio and I immediately changed the station. “Oh, how downhill music has gone. Artists are now drawing from the 80s because they have no more creative thoughts left”. I was pretty cynical about that song the first time I heard it and I’m not sure why. I’ve found that the more I hear a song in a positive atmosphere, the more I relate the two together and the more I actually enjoy hearing that sound. Uptown Funk has since become an increasingly popular song that is played at almost every party, as I’m sure anyone who goes out on the weekends knows. Listening to it while I was surrounded by my friends and having a good time changed my perspective and made me view the weird 80s-like sounds in a different way. I don’t get annoyed when the song comes on anymore, I get excited because I know the upbeat tune that’s coming and the words so that I can sing along.
The weird phenomenon of changing tastes in music doesn’t just come into action with singular songs, it also pertains to entire genres of music. I used to absolutely despise country music, which was weird since I grew up in the south. I couldn’t really put a finger on what it was about it that I didn’t like. Maybe it was the fact that I was forced to listen to it any time I was in the car with my sister, including a grueling 10 hour ride to Orlando, or maybe it was because I had this weird thing about rebelling against what everyone else seemed to like at the time. Regardless, country music was just not my thing. It took me finding the unique, soulful sound on my own to realize how much I actually like it. The first song that brought me around to country music was the modern version of Wagon Wheel by Darius Rucker. His smooth voice singing “rock me mama” through the chorus can calm me down in any situation. Country music is now the thing I turn to first when I need to just relax and not think about things for a while. I’ve reinforced the connection between the slow, meaningful country music and the wonderful relaxation to the point where hearing country music makes me a calmer person.
It’s interesting how people associate sounds with experiences and how relating certain music to a positive memory can alter the way you hear it. The things I go through in life will continue to shape my perception of the sounds I hear and my taste in music. It’s curious thinking about what kind of music I’m going to be listening to in a few years, whether my tastes will have varied drastically or I’ll still be shifting between the alternative music or soulful country songs that I typically turn to.
I have always wondered about why certain sounds or combinations in music can alter a person’s emotions so easily. I know what kind of music affects me in certain ways but I never understood why or how it did that. There is no specific genre of music that I listen to the most because it really depends on what time of day it is, what I’m doing, and what kind of mood I’m in. For example, the music I play while I’m in the car is always different depending on where I’m going. On my way to volleyball practice and on my back from practice is completely different. Headed there, I crank up something with a big bass that’s super upbeat and gets my energy levels up before I go to work on the court. On the way back home was a completely different story. I would listen to slow, heartfelt country music that would put me in a more relaxed and peaceful state of mind. I didn’t always give much thought to my choice of music, it just seemed right at the time.
I recently found a ted talk, titled “Sound and Sentiment”, that touched on this topic as well. Mira Calix is an artist who has been working on a project that deals with different sounds and how they capture the sentiment of certain emotions. She notes that everyone perceives these sounds differently, interpreting it in their own way and feeling or recognizing the emotions they feel appropriate. She is attempting to make people connect the sounds she has created with specific emotions, but faces a challenge because she can only do so much to entice certain sentiment from people. I thought this project was interesting because I’ve never tried to pinpoint distinct sounds that affect my emotional responses, but she does a particularly good job of composing sounds that really capture them.
Finally, I enjoyed the quote that she ended with from a coworker who said, “I haven’t understood a bar of music in my life, but I have felt it.” Music really is more about the way it makes people feel than anything, that’s what is so influential about it.