The McGurk Effect

I saw an interesting thing while surfing the internet the other day.  There was a clip of two side by side images of the same man mouthing different words.  On the left you saw the man mouth the word “bar” and on the right the man mouthed the word “far”.  The exact same sound was looped over this video and depending on which image you looked at (either the right or the left) that is the word that you here. It is called the McGurk effect and it made me think about thick description that we discussed in class. Even that the exact same sound can be perceived in two different ways.  Often times we understand things based on our visual cues but this made me realize that not only do our visual senses offer clues about what we hear, but they can directly influence the actual sounds that we perceive. I tried over and over again to look at the image on the right and hear the word as “bat”, but it was impossible.  Our brains are somehow wired to understand language not just through sound but through movement.  We understand what certain words look long on someones mouth and that plays a critical role in our distinguishing of a specific word for the purpose of understanding language semantically.  I attempted to find the same sort of video but in a different language that uses separate phonetic sounds but I couldn’t find one.  I was wondering about the idea that if you don’t understand the sound or the visual movement related to it, would you still hear the same word or would it appear as different sound either way.  Even further for instance, would a monkey be able to look at this and hear both words being spoken or would he simply hear the same word and see two separate images not recognizing the muscular movement associated with each.  Basically,  whats being demonstrated hear is that no two senses are alone for us. Almost all of our senses rely on sight in some way.  Without an understanding of our environment, many sounds would lose meaning and that is why our environment is more than just seeing or hearing it is the combination of the two that create the world around us.

here is the link


and here is another video describing the same thing


The soundscape one interacts with when riding an airplane is definitely an intriguing one. Airplanes are commonly associated with noise. Many people feel like airplanes are noisy environments. When I think of a “noisy” environment, I imagine a place that is very busy with a lot of people who are doing many different activities. Some places that come to mind are crowded and popular areas of cities, a sporting event, an airport, etc. However, a plane doesn’t necesarily have much activity going on within it. Most people on planes sit quietly and do activities that don’t produce much noise. A lot of people read, watch movies, listen to music, or sleep. All these activities are fairly quiet. The only noise frequently produced from within the plane is from the flight attendants walking up and down the aisle. Other noises encontered could include: the pilots talking over the PA, people quietly conversing, and god forbid a crying baby. The main noise produced by the plane is from the engines. Even so, the newer planes do a pretty good job at sound proofing the cabin from exterior noise. From the inside, the engines sound like a gentle rumble that is not annoying and can sometimes be relaxing. Overall plane cabins are pretty quiet relative to many other soundscapes. However, while riding a plane it is very likely that you will see more people wearing noise cancelling headphones than you will see anywhere else.

I have a pair of noise cancelation headphones that I only wear on planes. I don’t usually mind the noise on airplanes at all unless there is a screaming baby. I can think of multiple soundscapes that bother me much more than airplanes do. They would be way better suited for my noise cancellation headphones. However, I don’t wear my headphones at the mall or in the middle of downtown whatever city. Why do I choose to wear these headphones in an environment that is quieter than many others where I am perfectly fine without the headphones? I don’t have a definitive answer and I’m sure the others like me don’t exactly know either. I would guess that the need for the noise cancellation doesn’t come soley from the noise produced on the plane but also has something to do with the different air pressure experienced at 30,000 feet.

My ears used to occasionally pop when I rode on planes. For anyone who knows the feeling I’m talking about, it is not super painful or anything, just agitating. Ever since I’ve worn the noise cancelling headphones I haven’t experienced this feeling. It is possible that the headphones don’t just block noise but they also keep your ears at a normal pressure. However, it is also possible that the reason my ears haven’t popped anymore has to do with increased technology and better pressurized planes.

Seeing Sound

In class, we have spent a fair amount of time discussing the relationship between sight and sound. Which sense is more important: seeing or hearing? And which sense is society most reliant upon? These questions led me to think about the visual components of sound, which we had not really discussed yet. I remembered from a Physics class I took in high school that sound waves can be represented visually, much like light waves. Sound visualizers can demonstrate this idea, a concept which brought me to the Rubens’ Tube.

For those of you unfamiliar, a Rubens’ Tube is a device which provides a visualization of standing sound waves. It was invented by Heinrich Rubens, a German physicist, in 1905. The basic construction of a Rubens’ Tube involves a piece of pipe with a line of holes drilled through the top and two closed sides. As propane is pumped through the tube, a lighter is used to ignite the gas exiting the holes in the top of the pipe. This results in a series of small flames, which then change shape based upon the sound generated next to the pipe. Since the concept is a little hard to describe (and my Physics knowledge is seriously lacking), I posted a video explaining the setup of a Rubens’ Tube below:

As the video shows, varying noises can make for really interesting visualizations on the Rubens’ Tube. Although dubstep is not my favorite music, I think it worked well in the visualization, showing the varying sound wave. I also find this to be an interesting way to think about sound that we did not necessarily discuss in class. I found a second Rubens’ Tube video in which different songs are played next to the tube and posted it below:

In this video, the Rubens’ Tube is used to play “Any Way You Want It” by Journey, “Fur Elise” by Beethoven, and “The Phantom of the Opera” by the Munich Symphony Orchestra. I was surprised that “Fur Elise” and “The Phantom of the Opera” seemed to make the most interesting standing wave and sound visualizations.

Anyway, I thought that the Rubens’ Tube provided a unique way of looking at sound that we have not necessarily seen from our more ethnographic approach. Research on the Rubens’ Tube led me to another interesting study of sound called Cymatic music. Cymatics is “the study of visible sound co vibration.” An example of Cymatics that I am sure some of you are familiar with is the placement of liquid on speakers to observe the sound waves of whatever noise is playing. Different sound frequencies create different patterns wherever the sound is “seen.” I posted some examples below (“Colour Sound” and a short TED talk), which I think contribute to the idea that a sound can be more than just what we hear initially. Although I cannot explain completely what is going on (from a physics viewpoint) it is worth watching if only to see sound in a new, unconventional way.


Each person has unique qualities to their voice that become easily identifiable by people close to them. It become so obvious that it is even detectable through a phone. You could call a friend or family member, and even without caller ID, they would probably be able to tell who it was. Furthermore, have you ever answered a call and been mistaken for your parent? People rely on hearing the tone of someone’s voice to identify the source. We know this to be causal listening. The sound of hearing a friend’s voice immediately instigates a connection with that person because of the familiarity with which their voice resonates with you. You can not get this same emotional connection over a text.

Not only do you rely on aural tone for causal listening when speaking to someone, but you also rely on inflection of voice as a form of semantic listening. Understanding the emotions with which someone else is saying something to you is a critical part of tying meaning to their words. The emotional connection found by hearing the traits of one’s voice may not be necessary, but the lack of ability to detect vocal inflections and tone when someone is speaking can be seriously problematic.

Our generation has become more reliant on visual sensors than aural ones. The development of advanced technology has heavily influenced this climactic shift. It seems we are always eagerly waiting for the next device to come out. Each object seems to come out with more and more visual features. It started with texting, then a camera, the smart phone, snapchat, and so on. However, these technological advancements have not all been detrimental to our attention to the soundscape. For example, we have “The Walkman Effect” discussed by Shuhei Hosokawa. I have also joyously taken part in the consumption of many new Apple products. However, no other technology in my mind has been able to truly replicate the sentiment and clarity of a real conversation than the telephone.

One of the most popular forms of communication is also one of the most misleading. It can be so difficult to get across a text message without seeming cold, angry, or dismissive. In addition to those more negative interpretations messages can also be taken as inordinately excited or even aggressive. Recipients struggle to find meaning in a simple text from people such as parents, bosses, captains, friends, and partners. Sometimes one of the most nerve-racking things is having to communicate with and unenthusiastic texter. I can speak from experience when I say that having a “bad texter” for a team captain can cause a great deal of unnecessary stress. A relatively new way to combat this problem is through the use of Emoji’s. There’s a face to express almost every possible emotion, and if one isn’t good enough, you can express your emotions through alternative emojis such as an animal or possibly a shady moon. While I think it’s ridiculous to have to follow every comment with a rosy cheeked smiley face, at least it gets rid of all the confusion. The use of Emojis has worked at clarifying the tone of a text, and it attempts to compensate for the loss of sentimental value with the affectionate multicolored hearts and kissy faces that you can add on to any text. 

To show the power of Emojis I have attached a clip from a current television show, Men at Work:

Music and Species

A friend recently sent me a link to an article, claiming that he believed I’d be interested in reading it. He was right. The article in question ( was about other species’ reactions to both human music and music tailored to their tastes. I’ve long thought that animals did not have a taste for music. To me, it seemed like they listened only causally, learning information about their habitat in order to survive. I’d never considered the possibility that animals could listen aesthetically.

The studies detailed in the article dealt with music as heard by cats and monkeys. After realizing that human music did not have positive effects on animals, researchers decided to try to create music that would fit the tastes of these very different animals, with some interesting results. Cats ended up reacting well to their music. Also, the monkeys (tamarins, to be specific) that were studied by the other researchers were shown to be affected by the music they heard.

The music that pleased the cats was composed partially of sounds that cats would typically associate with contentment. Some sections included purring, while others contained recordings of kittens suckling. The monkey music, on the other hand, was inspired by the sounds made by the monkeys. It consisted largely of high-pitched squealing. Agitating music made the primates anxious whereas calming music mellowed them out.

These animals’ reactions to the music cause me to wonder exactly what it is about human music that appeals to humans. Typically, the music we listen to is not in an extremely high or low pitch range to our ears, and I’m sure that that is true for a reason. Music also frequently contains topics that we can relate to and communicate feelings that we have often experienced. In a way, this is what the music made for the other animals did as well. The music played for the tamarins essentially contained an imitation of a singing tamarin communicating its feelings to others, and the cat music contained samples of sounds that call to mind situations with which cats are familiar.

In light of the above, perhaps music is really just an outgrowth of all animals’ basic need for communication. Since it’s vitally important to be able to signal one’s thoughts and feelings in the wild (as well as to be able to interpret these signals when they are given by others), it seems natural that this communication may have been the basis for the music we know today.

Game Day Sounds

I’m sure if you asked Davidson students how they know there is a lacrosse game about to be played (or any game for that matter), it is because of the pregame music blasting across campus. Believe it or not, this succession of songs is carefully picked out and strategically pieced together to draw the most energy and excitement from the home team, our Davidson Wildcats. Every sound, from the opening song of the warm-up playlist to the final buzzer, has been designed to ignite a fire in the players and provoke some sort of response. Confidence is one of the biggest factors in determining the quality of play that will be shown from each athlete on game day. Over the years, I have found that one of the easiest ways to draw out confidence in a player is by reminding them of why they started playing the sport in the first place: because they love the game. The joy and excitement they feel for the game is encompassed in each song they choose to welcome them onto their home field and get their spirits ready to pull off that underdog win. For when the music is right, the energy is high and each player is ready to fight at the start of the first whistle. The way which is person interacts with the music is through causal listening. They listen in hopes of hearing that one melody, that one line, that one beat that will give them all the excitement they felt when they scored their first goal, made their first stop, or got that first interception. They listen for the meaning behind the lyrics, in order to translate some of that meaning onto the field. They listen and envision a moment of glory, one that almost escaped the boundaries of human physical capabilities. In return, when that jaw-dropping goal is scored, that individual’s goal song blasts triumphantly out of the loudspeakers. As they are marching back to their lines to take the next draw, the beat of that evocative song is pulsing through them making any outlandish feat seem possible. Just when they are ready to burst with adrenaline, the whistle blows and the next battle begins. The ignition of the whistle is a result of reduced listening over years and years of playing sports. These athletes have given their lives to train for this sport and the keynote sounds are now permanently embedded in their brains. Such noises include the whistle, the sound of their coach’s voice, and certain lacrosse vocabulary terms used in the lingo of the game. Sideline cheering, while very important, is learned to become noise pollution in the most critical moments of the game when you need to play back that one revolutionary song and listen to your instincts. That way, when the final buzzer sounds, you can let every noise, cheer, and applaud come flooding through your ears as you run towards your exhilarated teammates victoriously.

What might seem to be a disruptive ruckus to bystanders on campus is actually the sound that a quarter of Davidson’s student body dedicates their lives to. Each song of the warm-up playlist is selectively chosen to get them mentally, physically, and emotionally ready to show everyone else why they play their sport. On game day, each athlete incorporates causal, semantic, and reduced listening with the aim of feeling a spark of passion and motivation overcome them. Passion is the reason they are there, and ultimately heart will determine the victors.

One of the many confidence building pre-game lax songs:

Unconditional Love: My Relationship with Death Grips

If you’re unfamiliar with Death Grips, they’re pretty much a perfect intersection of metal, electronic and rap. They’re debut album, Exmilitary is probably one of the most abrasive yet perfect things you’ll ever here. As any Death Grips fan will tell you, by becoming a fan, you’re only setting yourself up for heartbreak. And it’s true, very true. Upon the release last week of their final (maybe???) album jenny death that is the second album in a previously announced double LP, the powers that b, which is in so many ways a direct contrast to the surprise release of last year’s first section, niggas on the moon, featuring Bjork for some strange reason on every track. Anyway, jenny death defies all my expectations, I mean, I really don’t know what expectations you can have for an artist like Death Grips, but behind Kanye’s upcoming album this is going to be the best rap album of the year probably. The worst part about all of this is that, I don’t want to like this album, I really don’t. I don’t want anything more to do with Death Grips. They’ve broken mine and everyone else’s heart just too much. They haven’t performed a show for any of their last 3 albums, they booked a tour in 2013 where they decided not to show to any dates. They scheduled festival performances the next year followed by joining a tour with Nine Inch Nails and, I still can’t believe this, Soundgarden. I’ll never get over the fact that the Death Grips community truly believed that they’d go on an arena tour with Soundgarden, that baffles me. Right before this tour and these festival performances, the first of which, yours truly, bought a ticket to and made travel plans, bussing from Florida to Chicago, only to have them “break-up” a week before. That was it. After that, I swore off Death Grips, I revoked my fandom, I could no longer listen to them anymore, for once an artist’s hatred for their fans, finally worked. But then came jenny death, and I can’t help but forgive them, I mean it’s my fault really, I should’ve known they would never play that show, but I just wanted to believe. It feels like I’ve been in an emotionally abusive relationship for years with this band, only to come crawling back every time they say something new, I just can’t help myself. And now my relationship is at a more ambivalent point than ever with this group, they officially announced a tour, with dates that I will be flying out of my way for this summer to go see while I’m traveling. I don’t know what to expect, but after constant disappointment, I think just owning a ticket to see Death Grips is all that I want at this point, I mean even after all this, they’re just really cool. Professor Weinstein said “anyone who buys a ticket to that tour is an idiot” and I’ll admit it, I’m an idiot but I’m proud. jenny death rekindled my relationship with one of my favorite groups, which will inevitably disappoint me again, but that’s ok, it’s the cycle of Death Grips fandom.

Music Across Cultures

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.


I was thinking about hearing this weekend as a mental and physical way of interpreting the world.  What triggered these thoughts was hanging with my friends dog. While that may seem weird, please let me explain.  A thing that I have always wondered is, how dogs can understand some auditory cues like sit, stay, rollover etc. but not much else? It would seem that dogs do have the ability to listen semantically to human language, but just not very well.  I did some research, and it turns out that the average dog can understand almost 165 human words.  While they can’t understand words that represent abstract concepts they can understand words that represent tangible objects.  But why? is it a matter of necessity and dogs along with other animals don’t need language to communicate or is it the fact that their brains aren’t advanced enough to communicate.  I figured that obviously dogs brains just aren’t high functioning enough to process that much information, but some studies say this is not always the case.  Dogs along with many other animals, communicate in ways that humans can’t understand.

Another thought I had was the question about why dogs respond differently to different pitches in your voice.  For instance you can call a dog by name and it may come, but I learned that if I stand near my friends dog and say a different name in the same high pitched call that I normally use, he will come just the same.  Again, I attributed this to the fact that dogs just can’t semantically interpret human phonetic sounds.  However,  it is possible that the reason that dogs seem to respond differently to variations in pitch is due to the fact that their form of communication is just different than humans.  While humans rely on semantic interpretation of sounds, dogs rely mostly on visual cues and body language when communication, and pitch and volume of one’s voice often goes hand in hand with this time of communication.

Furthermore dogs and many other animals, have hearing that is far superior to human auditory perception.  Now, this has nothing to do with mental capacity. At the high frequency end of the spectrum dogs can hear up to 45 hz compared to 23 from humans. While dog’s ears are not different in make up than human’s, dog’s ears have mobility that humans do not have which allows them to maximize their hearing.  Dog’s evolutionally had a greater need for well equipped hearing than humans did, so maybe it is not a matter of dogs being too dumb to comprehend human speech, maybe it is just a matter of dogs having different needs of survival when it comes to hearing than.

here are some  dogs playing with babies

Spring Has Sprung (and so have the frogs)

Spring has always been (and I’m pretty sure will always be) my favorite time of year.  It’s the time when the sun actually comes out and hangs around for a while, and plants start to flower.  Most importantly, however, it’s the time when frogs start to call.  Ever since I was a little kid, I knew that it was officially spring when the Pacific chorus frogs began their earnest and earsplitting quest for a mate.  Every year there is one night when all of a sudden, every single male chorus frog in the vicinity decides to holler with his buddies in the hopes that maybe some female will think he has a particularly lovely voice.  This is not to say that the chorus frogs don’t call before that night, because individual males will sometimes bemoan their loneliness in the middle of winter, but on the night when all the male frogs decide that it’s their night to get lucky the sound is particularly cacophonous.  Here is a compilation of male Pacific chorus frogs calling:

The male frogs will call together for a couple of weeks, and then once the majority of them have mated they once again become soloists.

This year, since I’m on the other side of the country, there are no Pacific chorus frogs to officially announce the advent of spring.  However, I’ve always said that frogs as a group are a trusty bunch, and true to their dependable nature, the Southern leopard frogs took up the call last week and alerted me to the fact that it is, indeed, officially springtime, and no longer winter.

Southern leopard frogs call very differently from Pacific chorus frogs.  True to their name, chorus frogs form a chorus and call together in synchronicity (I even read in the book Why We Run by Bernd Heinrich that there are one or two individual chorus frogs that will lead and direct the whole chorus).  In contrast, leopard frogs are soloists who sometimes just happen to be in the vicinity of other frogs (not necessarily belonging to their own species).  The ‘chorus’ in North Carolina has a much more variable sound than the chorus in Oregon, because there are many different frog species singing together here, whereas in Oregon it is made up just of a group of individuals belonging to one species.  Here is a video of a male Southern leopard frog calling:

Of course, frogs don’t only call for the purposes of attracting a mate.  Many frogs have distress calls that they emit when threatened or consumed by a predator in order to warn other members of their species that danger is in the area.  Here is the distress call of a bullfrog being eaten by a snake: