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Timbre: Emotions in Music

Timbre, also called tone color or tone quality, is the quality of a musical note that differentiates different types of sound, such as a trumpet and a guitar. When these two instruments play a note with the same loudness and pitch, they still sound different. That is because the timbre of the instruments is different. Timbre is determined by the physical characteristics of the sound, such as the spectral envelope, the rise, duration, and decay time envelope, the prefix to the sound, micro-intonation, and the range between tonal and noiselike character. Timbre is the quality of a sound that makes it different from others.

Why is it that two singers with the same range, singing the same note, at the same volume, do not sound the same? They might sound similar, but they might sound extremely different. It depends on the physical aspects of that which produces the sound, such as the vocal cords, and the method of delivery. That’s why some people have extraordinarily beautiful voices and some people, frankly, do not.

Timbre is that which makes you cry when you hear a sad song. It is what makes bagpipes so mournful. It is what makes a violin sound so beautifully sad. But it is also what makes the saxophone and flute so joyful. The pitch plays no part in the emotions associated with the sound. The timbre controls that entirely. The method in which these instruments are played also affects how they sound. For instance, the violin can sound incredibly happy and upbeat when played in an Irish folk song. And the flute can sound wistful and lonely when played slowly, with long notes stretching out sorrowfully. All of the emotions we feel when we listen to music come from the tone quality, the timbre.

Here’s an example of the mournful, yet beautiful, bagpipes at work:

And here is an example of very interesting and beautiful timbre in a voice:

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Nokia Design Contest Winners’ Designs Actually Produced

In 2008, a contest was set before artists and designers. The challenge was to design headphones based on a song title. The contest, entitled the Nokia Music Almighty Headset Competition, has spurred the creation of numerous unique headphones.

A particularly inspired design came from Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” The headphones, called “The Graveyard Shift,” features zombies, tombstones, werewolves, and other aspects of horror. The adornments flow together seamlessly, creating a very natural and aesthetic feel to the headphones.

Another memorable design is that of G Smith, inspired by Daft Punk’s “Robot Rock.” The sleek silver headphones are a work of art, transforming the wearer into a being reminiscent of a robot.

Another exceptional design comes from R. Kelly’s song “I Believe I Can Fly.” Designed by Rodshakur, the “I’m Flying” headset design evokes images of angels, of the snow-white wings of a dove, or perhaps of the Greek god Hermes. They flash electric blue sparingly along the inside, and golden pipes and trumpets adorn the earpieces. This headset is truly a heavenly creation.

Another two designs were produced, bringing the total number of winners to five. Maria Lecanda created the “Free Willy” headset, inspired by Michael Jackson’s “Will You Be There.”

Rufige Kru’s “Dark Metal” inspired the final headset. It is called the “CF Flex” headset, created by Mr. G.

Over 8000 designs were submitted over a three-month period. The amount of creativity and ingenuity these entrants have shown is inspiring. Only one headset for each winning design was produced, to be displayed by Nokia, and then to be given to the designer. But numerous people have expressed interest in these headsets, albeit displayed as works of art rather than used for listening. It makes you wonder if there will be more to come for these unique designs.

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Music Between the Generations

There have always been great chasms separating generations, but none so much as right now. We live in the era of technology, the Technocratic Age, and we youngsters are eager to adopt new technologies. The older generation, namely our grandparents, has more trouble with them. Perhaps they don’t want them, perhaps they don’t like them, perhaps they don’t understand the need for them. But the fact remains that while the younger generation embraces new technology, the older generation keeps its distance.

I don’t claim that technology is the sole perpetrator of creating the chasm, but merely of widening it. Music can be a great dividing force.

When was the last time you saw an elderly man rapping along with Pit Bull? When was the last time you saw a high school student belting out one of Andrea Bocelli’s operas? I’m not saying that this never happens, but in general, the elder generation sticks with classical, opera, etc., while the younger generation sticks with pop, hip-hop, rap, etc.

When my family goes to my grandparents’ house for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or a birthday, my grandfather always breaks into song before we sit down to dinner. He is a very good singer, to tell the truth, but his style clashes with all of his grandchildren’s preferences. My younger siblings all groan as he begins to sing, and they all shout loudly in efforts to drown him out. All in good fun, of course.

It is true that music preferences vary greatly among all types of people, but the greatest difference lies between age groups, between the generations. There will always be something separating the generations. This time, it’s music.

I have to say, though, that classical music and younger people can mix well. Seriously. Check out Chris Mann from “The Voice” :

http://youtu.be/F6wG0zRhKB0

Rap and older people can mix too. Seriously. Case in point, Betty White”

http://youtu.be/5phqDvrWNZc

Music can also be a uniting force between the generations too.  We just have to be willing to step out of our comfort zones and give it a try!

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Music’s Effect on the Brain

Has music ever cheered you up? Has it ever helped you remember something you forgot? It probably has, and if it hasn’t happened to you yet, it likely will. Music has the ability to affect your brain in many different ways, from enhancing your workout to boosting your immune system.

One useful side effect of listening to music lies in the recollection of memories. When you listen to a song you know well, you might be reminded of a certain time, place, or memory. That memory had been forgotten, but when you heard the song, it came rushing back as if it were yesterday. We all have unique ways of remembering things. Personally, when recalling a memory, I have a single image, a snapshot of the memory in one moment, and the accompanying worded explanation. But I have that single image. When I listen to Frou Frou’s “Let Go,” I remember a majestic mountain range, captured through the windshield of an old van, the snow-capped peaks complimenting the song’s lyrics of absolute beauty. The song retrieves a memory that I can only remember when I hear the song. As I write this, I am listening to the song. I have to, to remember. Many of my songs have the same effect. Perhaps my method of recalling memories is unique to me, but I doubt it. Listening to music you know stimulates a region of the brain known as the hippocampus, which handles long-term memory storage. So if you’re having trouble remembering something but can remember what song you were listening to at the time, then your best bet is to listen to that song.

If you’re starting to feel stressed or ill, music could be the cure. Music has been proven to boost the immune system. Slow, soothing music is known to decrease stress, as it decreases the level of the stress hormone cortisol. Fast, upbeat music is known to increase the level of antibodies in your system, effectively boosting your immune system. I know that listening to Afrocelt’s “Persistence of Memory” eases the tension of the day, relaxes me. And Peter Gabriel’s “Shock the Monkey” always puts a smile on my face. Next time you’re not feeling your best, a nice upbeat song might be the perfect thing for you.

Music can help you decrease anxiety and keep yourself from choking up when placed under pressure. Humorous, light-hearted songs decrease anxiety and are perfect for before meetings and presentations. Some such songs are Weird Al Yankovic’s “Fat,” some of Jonathan Coulton’s or They Might Be Giants’ songs, or Monty Python’s “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” These songs distract your brain and make you laugh enough to keep you from choking up or freezing.

When exercising, listening to music can increase exercising strength. It can help you run, swim, or bike faster for longer. Fast-paced music distracts your attention, while at the same time pushes your heart and muscles to work harder and at a faster pace. Music makes exercising much more enjoyable, and much easier.

The delivery system for this music must be quality if you want the best results. But you can’t tote around a boombox when you’re running or swimming. No, for that you need an MP3 player. And that means headphones. But not all headphones are adequate for such things. Many are ill-fitting, and fall out as soon as you start moving around. Velodyne’s vPulse in-ear headphones have ear adapters for all ear sizes, providing the user a perfect seal for balanced sound and ensuring they stay put. This makes them ideal for exercising, and for all occasions, really. If you want these effects of music, you need the right headphones.

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In A Vacuum: Silence

A vacuum is space that contains no matter. Outer space is a vacuum, more or less. We can create artificial vacuums here on earth. The strange thing about a vacuum is that sound cannot travel through it. So, if something big out in space explodes, in a supernova, you can see it, but you will never hear it. If you’re in space, and a bomb goes off near you, you may feel the heat wash over you, but you won’t hear it.

The reason that sound can’t travel in a vacuum is that there aren’t any particles to carry the wave. Sound waves are longitudinal waves that must have a medium to travel through. They cannot transfer energy from particle to particle because they are spaced too far apart, and the energy cannot jump from particle to particle.

Whenever you see a movie that takes place in space, listen to see if they’re following this law of physics. Much of the time, if there’s an explosion, they add sound effects, when in reality it’d be silent. Take the newer Star Trek movie, for example. When people are pulled out into space after part of the ship was destroyed, everything was silent. That is how it should be. Next time you’re watching a space movie, listen intently to your sub and speakers, and see if the filmmakers got it right.

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The Ukulele Craze

Perhaps the ukulele craze is limited solely to high schools, but I watched, amazed, as various people, sometimes completely unexpected people, brought ukuleles to school. I thought that maybe none of them could actually play, and were still just learning. But no. They all played extraordinarily well. I have no explanation for the sudden boost in popularity of the instrument, only that I have thoroughly enjoyed it, as have my peers.

I’m sure you’ve all heard a ukulele before. They’re not uncommon. But to see them in such abundance is fascinating. I have come to love their unique sound. It’s actually quite beautiful to me. But why now? Why have they returned so suddenly, and with such force?

In 2003, Hawaiian musician Israel Kanakawiwo’ole’s medley of “What a Wonderful World” and “Over the Rainbow” rekindled interest in the ukulele as the song reached #12 on Billboard’s Hot Digital Tracks chart. Yes, that was nine years ago. This song got the ukulele going again in 2003, but why is it so popular right now?

In 2010, Glee’s Matthew Morrison covered Kanakawiwo’ole’s version of “Over the Rainbow” as the final song of season one. It was very successful, and many people, especially teenagers, fell in love with the ukulele. I certainly did.

Soon thereafter, ukuleles began appearing everywhere. It turns out that the ukulele is actually quite simple, and can be learned with relative ease. So the instrument began appearing everywhere, and I enjoyed listening to “Over the Rainbow” between classes and at lunch throughout the school year, that beautiful tune reverberating around in my head for days on end. And it didn’t get annoying! Everyone has such different styles of playing that the song didn’t seem repetitive, which is a blessing, I assure you.

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Take you a-ridin in my car

Woody Guthrie’s 100th birthday would have been a few weeks ago.  This would-be event was momentous enough for NPR to have a special feature on his life and music – At 100, Woodie Guthrie Still Resonates.  The singer and songwriter grew up in Oklahoma and was forced out during the Dust Bowl, along with thousands of other displaced Americans. He worked on a farm in California before recording music at the beginning of WWII. He wrote “This Land Is Your Land” among thousands of other songs. In 1943, the folk singer was hailed by The New York Times as a national treasure — “part of the best stuff this country has to show the world.”

NPR’s story was interesting enough for me to search for Guthrie’s music on Pandora, and having a six-month-old I naturally opted for the result that said “children’s” next his name. Within seconds I was caught somewhere in between Santa Barbara and the Great Depression, an illogical time between ipods and old-timey record players, LIDAR-guided autonomous cars and cars that you start with a crank.

As I listened to the first song Pandora threw at me, a tune about Guthrie’s sweet ride, I realized that although horns don’t sound like “a-wooga” anymore, music and cars is a timeless combination.

Luckily for me, Babydyne loves them both. The little guy hasn’t figured out what kind of creature our cat is yet, but he can certainly tell a good road trip song.  We hope that he will someday outgrow his insistent preference for “Wheels on the Bus,” but for now I humor him.  It’s a fair trade to see his face light up and his eyes sparkle as he waits for me to do the “whooshing wipers.”

We really tested this magic of babies and cars and music last week.  We were headed home from our first weekend of camping with Babydyne. It had been a 5 hour car ride and we were less than thirty miles away. I was daydreaming about my bed and a warm shower when all of a sudden we hit bumper to bumper traffic and Babydyne suddenly needed a diaper change. What song would you choose in a moment like that? I can’t say I remember which tunes brought us home that day. But Woody Guthrie would have been a good choice.

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First, There Was Highway Hi-Fi

Did you know that in the 1950s, you could buy cars with special record players installed? Dr. Peter Goldmark invented the Highway Hi-Fi in 1955, and Chrysler agreed to install them in their cars. In order to allow for longer playing time, and therefore less time changing the record, Goldmark slowed the rotations to 16 2/3 rpm, which is one half of the Long-Playing (LP) speed. He also shrank the record to 7 inches in diameter so that it could fit into a car’s glove compartment. However, this required the record to contain three times as many grooves per inch as the LP.

Goldmark developed the ultra microgroove record, but was afraid the turntable might not work in an automobile. Once he balanced it properly, however, the turntable could withstand sudden stops, cobblestones, potholes, etc. Chrysler went ahead with production, advertising the Highway Hi-Fi as a wonderful new innovation. But they had installed it in Dodges and Plymouths, which have different suspension and other characteristics than the Chrysler line. The machine made terrible noises, jumped grooves, and did everything that it wasn’t supposed to do. But Goldmark pulled it off, and was able to develop a Hi-Fi system that worked in these cars. The press conference was a success. All seemed well, the cars were certain to sell.

But it didn’t take off. Complaints abounded about the way the record players worked. Chrysler and Columbia Records failed to do the proper marketing by not advising prospective customers how to acquire additional records. Dealers stopped stocking the cars with Highway Hi-Fi, and Chrysler relaxed its promotion.

 The Highway Hi-Fi disappeared from the highway, but appeared in homes. The record-changer manufacturers liked the idea of the 16 2/3 rpm record that they included the new speed in their changers “so you can take home your Highway Hi-Fi.”

The interesting thing is that hardly anyone knows about these Highway Hi-Fi record players. Just as the youth of today may not have heard of or seen an 8-track player, which was largely popular in automobiles in the 1960′s. Later, cassette tapes became more popular, not only in cars but in personal/portable tape players. Eventually we were all in awe of the CD players in cars (and WOW, a 6-CD changer!). Now, that is all old news in the age of MP3 players. What’s next? Who knows. We sure have come a long way from Highway Hi-Fi.

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Waterproof MP3 Players

We’ve been taught this since we were children: electronics and water don’t mix. And so we’ve held to this belief, until recently. It’s almost an oxymoron, waterproof mp3 player. I mean, really? Imagine listening to music as you swim. That sounds impossible. But so very, very cool.

There are many different types of waterproof mp3 players, from different companies. One style is to simply enclose a regular mp3 player in a waterproof casing, and attach waterproof headphones. Another is the waterproof mp3 player itself, with waterproof headphones.

The third style is bone conduction. Rather than using headphones, which can be annoying or uncomfortable, the bone conduction waterproof mp3 player attaches directly to your goggle strap. It rests against the face between the temple and cheekbone. The vibrations are transferred to the bone, which send the sound to the inner ear. When immersed in water, the water amplifies the sound, creating a richer sound that surrounds you completely. You can still hear the music outside the water, but the best experience is when your head is in the water.

If your preferred exercise is swimming, then the waterproof mp3 player is for you. Studies have shown that those who listen to music while swimming have longer workouts and faster times. Working out to a beat is much more productive than working out without one. Plus, it’s so much more enjoyable!

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