Speech, Music, Sound by Theo van Leeuwen (auth.)

By Theo van Leeuwen (auth.)

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Literary Awards
Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction Nominee for Longlist (2010)

Additional resources for Speech, Music, Sound

Sample text

In Skylab's drum 'n' bass track 'The Trip', a voice sings in whispers, almost next to our ear, while we hear the much louder drums at the same level, and equally closely miked. It is a physically impossible aural 26 Speech, Music, Sound vantage point. Perhaps the drums, with their exceptionally close presence and lack of reverb, must be heard as being 'in our head' rather than out there in space, and the female singer as whispering words in our ears- 'I start to dream', 'Close your eyes': on much of the track there is no other sound, as if the rest of the world has ceased to exist.

The segments also contain 'a rising stimulus which provides a sense of forward movement', to prevent 'boredom or monotony or fatigue' (Muzak Corporation publication, quoted in Schafer, 1977: 97). This is of course quite a different thing from the way workers may themselves rhythmically coordinate their actions by means of work songs, as happens in many societies (cf. Merriam, 1964). In other cases characteristic qualities of Western time are musically represented. According to Tagg (1984: 32), the regular beat of 'disco' music thus 'represents a high degree of affective acceptance of and identification with clock time, digitally exact rhythm and hence with the system in which this time sense dominates'.

They carry further (think of the foghorn) and fill spaces more completely. They are also harder to tie to a particular spot and seem to come from everywhere at once. Evergreen forests produce this kind of perspective and so do medieval churches. The amplification of the low frequencies and the long reverberation time of these places submerge the listener in sound. Perspective and hierarchization disappear. The individual no longer feels separate from the crowd, but becomes fully integrated and immersed in the environment: The sound in Norman and Gothic churches, surrounding the audience, strengthens the link between the individual and the community.

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