OUR LOSS OF EMOTIONAL RICHNESS DUE TO BAD SOUND REPRODUCTION
THE URGENT NEED TO PRESERVE ANALOG SOUND IN
AUDIO, TV, CABLE, SATELLITE DISHES, AND VIDEO CASSETTES UNTIL DIGITAL SOUND IS PERFECTED
©1996 The Anstendig Institute
Regarding the universal loss of emotional richness and spiritual depth in modern man’s frames of reference
An understanding of the dominance of sound over sight is crucial to understanding how the richness of our lives has been degraded by digital sound, the current versions of which, including HDCD, are incapable of accurately capturing emotional subtleties. We are literally losing the most important part of our souls: refined, highly differentiated emotional experience, which is our birthright for being born in the 20th century.
The refined emotional experiences captured in art represent the summation of all that has come before. Only in the 20th century has mankind obtained a means of preserving sounds, with all their nuances, and repeating them over and over in the same way. Suddenly, all the emotional richness of experience contained in the musical compositions of the past, present, and future can be available to us with their rich range of emotional experience. That is our heritage, our birthright, if you will. After coming close to achieving this universal cultural legacy with the advances in analog sound of the 70’s, that precious heritage has been wiped out by the premature introduction of digital recording technology, before it was perfected.1 The emotions experienced when listening to digital music are not the emotions of the original performance because the digital recording does not contain them. What is experienced lacks those expressive subtleties that refine a human being.
The late Virgil Thomson, dean of American composers and music critics, quoted an institute paper to define the role of music in life:
The Anstendig Institute,
musico-acoustical investigators in
Music is the highest, most powerful, most overriding, of all the arts. In the presence of music, all the other arts take on the character of the music, not vice versa, and it is capable of, and can produce in us, the finest, most delicate, of possible human reactions. 2
That quotation also applies to sound and sight in general: we experience life through the five senses. Sight and hearing are the primary senses, which means that our lives are made up predominantly of visual images and sounds. In fact, our inner, mental world consists mainly of sights and sounds, with thoughts, i.e., sound, being our most common mental activity. Since life is predominantly sight and sound, understanding the dominance of sonic impressions over visual impressions3 (i.e., sounds over images) is crucial to understanding life. When both images and sound are present, sound determines the character of experience, i.e., the visual takes on the character of the sound, not vice versa. Sound, not sight, conveys the deepest, richest, most powerful of our experiences. Through sounds we acquire our vast frame of reference of emotional qualities. Through hearing we become familiar with and learn to differentiate between the enormous range of nuances of emotional qualities from total dejection and deepest sadness to angelic sweetness. Through music, and the other arts as well, we vicariously acquire an emotional richness that would otherwise take hundreds of lives to acquire. Many of the emotionally differentiated experiences we have had through controlled perfection of art cannot be produced in real-life situations.
Our external appearance seldom if ever conveys the full intensity of our emotional experiences. For silent films, a whole vocabulary of extremely exaggerated gestures had to be developed in order to convey visually any of the emotions of the characters. And those films still had to be shown with appropriate live music to make their effect. Furthermore, the whole meaning of the film could be changed by simply changing the character of the music.
Consider the end of a Western movie, with the hero riding off into the sunset. With apotheosis music, it is a glorious, heroic ending. With a funeral march, the ending is tragic and lugubrious. With bittersweet music, the ending is tinged with regret. With a polka, the scene becomes a satire. For silent films, the music was usually very carefully written out and even when the musician was a master improviser, he followed a precise scheme of moods that was written down with appropriate cues in advance. While we tend to take these sounds for granted, the irony remains that they determine our experience.
While images have to be in front of us to be seen and fine details can only be discerned if they are in the center of our vision, all the subtleties of sounds can be heard from any angle. We do not have to be next to or facing a person to hear his/her pain, happiness, bitterness, resentfulness, cunning, etc. Films allow everyone to have a close, intimate view of the protagonists from the very best viewing angle. Yet it is still the music that determines a film’s success, not the visuals. Many scenes from the Star Wars Trilogy, for example, would be a mess of sloppy images, were it not for some of the best music in films. And ET taking off to the skies on a bicycle with his friends would just seem silly if the orchestra did not break out into that glorious theme just as the bicycle takes off. Watch ET without the sound, and see if your heart still jumps up into your throat. It won’t! Watch it with digitally re-mastered sound and see if the experience is the same. It won’t be!
The current video release of Star Wars has lost most of its riveting effect because the sound has been digitally re-mastered. Most people think that the poorer visual quality and the narrower screen have ruined the effect. But the real reason is that the digital sound no longer contains the original expressive content.
The dominance of sound over visual images has implications which are far greater than immediately apparent. When we have understood and thoroughly digested the primary nature of sound, it has to become clear that, since sound-reproduction is now the main source of sounds in our lives, a universal form of sound reproduction that is unable to capture the differentiations of emotional qualities contained in sounds will drastically reduce the richness of our lives and ultimately impair our emotional well being.
For centuries, philosophers and mystics have believed that we live not only from food and oxygen, but we also live from impressions. Hazrat Inayat Khan explains throughout his “Sufi Message” series: reduce or take away our food or oxygen and we suffer or die; reduce or take away our impressions and we also suffer and sometimes die.4 The Institute For Human Communication Research in Raleigh, NC, possesses third- party research materials showing that “the human brain itself becomes shaped both anatomically and physiologically by the action of communication with its parents and community. The fulfillment of the developmental process, only initiated in the zygote and employing genetic processes as but one among many others, appears to require active communication with mother, both parents, and its local society including its physical environment [in order to adequately grow and develop]. The primates, and Man in particular, require such communication and community in order to express and physically develop an individual’s potential form and abilities.” Those studies also show that the sonic influences to which a child is subjected at various ages profoundly determine not only the child’s well-being, but the ability to master essential and advanced skills. Also children subjected to particular sonic stimuli at crucial ages, easily develop certain abilities. But children not subjected to the requisite sonic impressions at the proper times, will probably never develop those abilities, or have great difficulty doing so. One well-known example is the ability to master languages. Since hearing is the most powerful of the senses, sonic communications with the parents and environment most strongly affect the child’s development.
The Anstendig Institute believes that distorted sounds, produced by flawed reproduction systems are at the root of many of the medical neuroses that characterize our age. This loss of emotional richness and refinement is also a major culprit in the callousness and crime problems of our age, because the humanizing aspects of sound that affect us positively, that uplift us and give us reason to lead moral lives, were lost in the reproduction of the sounds, with which we are surrounded. Yes, machines have dehumanized society. But it is not the everyday mechanical machines generally thought to be the culprits. Sound-reproduction machines have eliminated the emotional richness and depth of expression in the world we live in.
Even live music has lost much of those qualities because today’s musicians, who have grown up listening to, and studying, music with inadequate sound reproduction, have lost their expressive richness and even emulate the distortions of sound reproduction in their own tone production. Sounds and the emotions conveyed by them are too much a part of the make-up of society as a whole as well as our individual lives for this to be anything less than a universal tragedy. It is not the way life was meant to be.
A noted psychiatrist at the Langley Porter Institute at the University of California in San Francisco, Dr. Peter Ostwald, M.D., recognized our Institute’s warnings, dating back to the early 1980’s, about the probable effects of the acceptance of unperfected digital technology: “I was fascinated by his original theories, which included the daring proposition that due to its inability to record subtle changes between notes, the then-developing digital technology might be detracting from listeners’ perception of emotional nuances in musical instruments and the human voice.” After nearly two decades of digital recordings, that has, in fact, already happened: we now live in a society that suffers from a general impairment of its ability to perceive and experience emotional nuances. Worse, people no longer are aware of the finer differentiations of emotional qualities and no longer listen for them.
This lack of emotional differentiation in the recordings we have been brought up on has been going on for nearly a century. Analog recordings did capture the expressive-emotional qualities in the recording process. But the playback equipment seldom reproduced what was on the records. And, tragically, when that equipment was finally perfected to the requisite degree of accuracy and the public became aware of the need to use equalizers to adjust the sound, the recording industry changed prematurely to a digital system that was not yet adequately developed. Unfortunately, they did not realize that they were playing with the sensitivities of the whole of mankind, since digital recordings have now become the nearly universal sonic experiences.
The deficiencies of the digital systems used in currently available products are scientific fact, not a matter of opinion. Even musically naive people were able to hear the differences in controlled experiments5 at The Anstendig Institute. The lack of opportunity to hear both digital and analog versions of the same sonic program is at the root of the public acceptance of digital sound. The public would not be so accepting if they had the opportunity and the time to hear the difference and experience the differing emotional effects of properly reproduced analog and digital sound.
The important and universal effects of the shortcomings of present digital technology make it crucial to improve the technology and, until then, preserve analog sound sources. That is not being done. Instead of improving the digital technology in digital sound tracks, most important movies are already being filmed with four or more channel digital surround-sound, a system that has even less expressive detail than stereo CDs. New smaller CD-type formats, with even less sonic definition have been introduced. Most radio stations use CD recordings exclusively. Video cassettes are now being released with digitally re-mastered sound, even old films with perfectly good analog sound. This is the ultimate madness, because the sound system on the video cassettes is analog. The analog sound is first re-mastered into digital sound and then re-mastered back to analog to put it on the cassette. Thus there are two more electronic processes between the source and the listener, which necessarily results in some deterioration in the sound, even if the digital system were perfect.
“DSS”-type 18-inch satellite dish systems all have digital sound, which is ridiculous: most satellite transmissions have to be analog until well after the year 2000 because of the equipment in the satellites which are already up there. In effect, DSS takes an analog sound track from the satellites and converts it to digital before play back, then converts it back to analog so it can play through the speakers. The public mistakenly thinks that the fact that it has been digitized means it is getting high quality sound.
There remains one single source of sound that has not yet been universally changed to digital. Cable TV is still analog in the Bay Area and most parts of the country. All cable companies have plans to change over to digital sound in the future. It is imperative that they preserve analog sound until perfected digital audio is released, because changing to present digital systems will cut off mankind’s last source of programs that still contain the emotional qualities we crave.
What is the ultimate solution, beyond simply saving the analog cable TV that is left? Digital has replaced analog too completely to consider going back. Analog equipment is no longer around. Digital manufacturers must finally bring out the right digital system. Many good ones are on their drawing boards already and only await agreement on a universal format. But one warning: a sampling rate under 300,000 samples per second will not be adequate. A larger storage medium (a larger or much denser CD disc, for example), must be used to prevent compromise with a lower sampling rate, like the systems already in use. The sampling rate must be approximately 500,000 samples per second to equal and improve on analog sound. This decision affects all of humanity. The source of our sonic experiences is not just another product to buy. It is just as important as the purity of medical products and the safety and fuel efficiency of our cars. Since sound reproduction media is the chief source of our sonic impressions and ”canned” sound is becoming ever more unavoidable in our lives, a vast aspect of the future of humanity actually rests on the outcome.
1 A large enough storage media did not exist that could contain all the necessary information that would have to be saved if the system had had an adequately high sampling and bit rate. Digital sound was brought out with less than a tenth of the necessary sampling rate and a bit rate that is at least four bits too small.
2 Virgil Thomson, “
3 Unfortunately, a shift in mankind’s
basic orientations has clouded our ability to recognize this truth. The advent
of photography and TV, the emergence of the independent individual rather than
the spatial dependence upon the group (family) for survival, and the time-sight
orientation of our busy modern day schdules have changed our general
orientation to sight rather than hearing (see our papers “”The Misapplication of Visual criteria in Hearing and
Sound-Reproduction” and “Hearing,
The Informational and The Experiential”). And ever present background music
has conditioned us to ignore sound. But the fact that the general public’s
orientation is primarily towards time and towards seeing and secondarily
towards hearing, does not change the fact that, when sounds accompany visual
images, the sounds determine the emotional content of that which we see. Nor
does it change the fact that sound, not sight, is our primary source of emotional
richness. Those who follow Astrology will be interested to know that a
4 Babies deprived of sensory stimulation often die. Solitary confinement in most prisons is considered to be the most intense form of punishment because of sensory deprivation, primarily sight and sound. There are many more such examples.
5 Carried out according to the procedures set forth in our paper “AB testing, a Misapplication of Visual Criteria in Audio”.
The Anstendig Institute is a non-profit research and educational institute that studies the vibrational influences in our environment, particularly those of sight and sound, and how they affect sensory perception. Its papers on sound reproduction, problems of focusing in photography, psychology of hearing and seeing, and erratic vibrational influences that affect our lives are widely distributed throughout the world. All are available free of charge.