Like most experiences in life, a sound’s effects on us will completely differ from one person to the next. From the way we hear our parents’ voices to the whistle of wind through trees and the first time we hear our favourite song – we attach memories to sounds that trigger different emotions in each of us. One thing is true though; sound is all around us, it is constant and without it we’d feel lost. It’s rare to take the time to sit back and go beyond just accepting that we can hear. The question we want to help answer for you is…
What is sound?
A definition from the University of Toronto, “Sound is a pressure wave which is created by a vibrating object.” In layman’s terms, when we hear sound, we are hearing air being displaced. The more air displaced, the more pressure and the louder the sound.
So how do our brains process sound?
Professor Remy Pujol of the University of Washington, Seattle states that auditory nerve fibres transmit the signals sent from the cochlea (auditor portion of the inner ear) to your brain. In the brain, numerous relay stations receive the signals and decode them (soft or loud sound, high or low, its location etc.) in order to cause a sensation or conscious perception. In exchange, the brain can alter how the cochlea functions. For example, in the general noise of a cocktail party we are able to focus on a friendly conversation, even though our ears are getting stimulated by many different sources, which are often louder. Our brain has “asked” to prioritise the information coming from the interesting conversation.
Is sound more than just a definition of physics and interaction within our brain? One of the first things that comes to mind when defining sound is music. There is no doubt that music can strike an emotional chord with its listeners. Music can make us laugh, force tears and inspire us. Music has no face; it is what the individual listener wants it to look and feel like.
According to a paper by Nidhya Logeswaran and Joydeep Bhattacharya from the University of London, music even affects how we see visual images. An experiment was undertaken where 30 subjects were presented with a series of happy or sad musical excerpts. After listening to the snippets, the subjects were shown a photograph of a face. Some people were shown a happy face – the person was smiling – while others were exposed to a sad or neutral facial expression. The participants were then asked to rate the emotional content of the face on a 7-point scale, where 1 mean extremely sad and 7 extremely happy. The researchers found that music powerfully influenced the emotional ratings of the faces. Happy music made happy faces seem even happier while sad music exaggerated the melancholy of a frown.
From this study, we can see that sound can mean different things to different people. In particular, the meaning of a piece of music is an emotive definition that is unique to each individual. That individual experience is what makes music so special. Like a wave breaking in the ocean, no two are the same, for us to decide on our own and to experience our own way. Whether you believe in the science of sound, the emotion that music can develop in your brain, or something more spiritual, there is no wrong answer.
To us here at Naim, sound in the form of music is about becoming immersed in a complete experience, feeling all the emotion that the artist intended when they first created the music. Every Naim product is conceived, designed and engineered entirely in service of the sound, revealing a pure experience of music that is as close as possible to its original live source.
What do you think? How does music play a part in your life? We’d love to hear from you – leave a comment and let us know!