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Nov 12, 2009

Jigsaw falling into place

Posted by The Advanced Audiophile

It's nearly 3:30 in the morning. I've just gotten off of an incredible high. No, not that kind of high. A better kind of high. A musical high. I'm too drained to do anything but write. But.... this entry is probably not going to make any sense to anyone, or be of any interest. Maybe to weirdos who might relate just because they find it weird". But it just happened, and this is a web diary. So I might as well put this one down on the books...

The experience came from listening to music on my old $20 Jensen portable behind-the-ear headphones during a test of an experiment. The phones were plugged into my computer, and the software player used was the very first beta version of "Foobar" (Foobar ain't the best sounding software player, but at least this version sounds much better than the latest one). I was doing some tweaking, and I simply got "lucky" and hit a good spot. This kind of "lucky" really doesn't happen too often, but I have had similar occurences happen before. Except this time, it was a more unique "happening". Things immediately got intense, as I started to listen to an m4a (encoded at 128kbps) of Janis Joplin's "Summertime". (I'm not even a big Janis Joplin fan, it was actually part of my friend's music, which I had just found on my drive at the time). Seconds later, I was lost in the music, and it just got worse from there.

I was only supposed to be testing this "good spot". I allowed myself to get pulled into the centre of the music in my head. And that was it, it didn't want to let me go, so I went along for the ride. Next thing I know, my head is swaying like Stevie Wonder's. But more intensely. My face starts working itself into extreme contortions, like John Belushi doing Joe Cocker. But more intensely. I'm way way down in the music now, and I could hear the raspiness of Joplin's voice, and I never really heard how soulful she could get. But the more she was, the deeper it affected me. And that sweet guitar work going on around her vocals was to die for, really. It came across as rich and sonorous and deeply melodic. Now my hands were jerking around as I shook my head back and forth. I looked like Homer Simpson when he played an ape. But with more intensity.

I couldn't see anything because my eyes had been tightly closed the whole way, as I swam more deeply into the music. But I was shaking my wrists so hard, that I knew that if it hit anything, I was definitely going to feel that. And break whatever it is it hit. Much of this really felt involuntary, as the intensity of the reproduction transported me along the fabric of the song. Unlike experimenting with drugs, I was still conscious of what was happening, so never lost control of that. At the same time, I was very glad I was alone in the house! Because if I wasn't, whoever was with me would have called an ambulance. Particularly when they couldn't get me to stop convulsing. I know it must have really looked like I was having an epileptic fit. But with more intensity. I was shaking my head from side to side so violently now, that I could feel my cheeks just swooshing around like sacks of jello. If I listened to an album like this, I would probably do damage to my arms, because of how hard they were beating the air. And the chair was rocking around, so it must have made a good racket by itself.

Finally, "Summertime" ended and the next song came on. It was "Jigsaw Falling Into Pieces" by Radiohead. A much faster beat. At this level of intensity, well... the listening session could have been a bit more dangerous! The guitar strings had a delicious liquid resonance, and the percussion had a fine crispness to its sound. But even so, none of these details predicted how musical the sound was going to be. It was of course, almost as musically engaging as the Joplin tune. Not quite so, if only because Thom Yorke does not have Joplin's soulfulness. Although I love the Radiohead tune, that quality of soulfulness in the Joplin cut transmits a more emotive message. And when the sound is capable of high degrees of musical reproduction, it will better communicate that emotive message to you. The Radiohead song was still intense enough to listen to that I had to finally put the brakes on this listening session, because my body was taking a beating!

I thought the title of that song was fitting, because "Jigsaw falling into place" is what the experience of the (Beltist) experiment seemed like. The exact procedure involved taping a piece of twist tie 2mm long, near a matchstick on a phone. Told you it was weird. Sorry, this one's not for public consumption though. If you tried to repeat the experiment with those items, it wouldn't do anything. The "magic" is in the details, and the location of the "good spot". Still, I thought it was necessary to convey the result because, I don't know of any conventional tweaks I've tried that can produce a musical experience as intense. Maybe some day someone will achieve the same sort of success with this stuff and say "That  happened to me as well". Ok, we have time for just two questions...

Q. "Does the intensity remain everafter? Is the effect, whatever it is you did, permanent?"

A. No, the quality and intensity of the initial test with me is always strongest right after application. Thereafter, it diminishes. And thankfully, because I don't want to go into convulsions every time I pop some music on! The reason for this is the working memory is adjusting itself to the new standard of quality upon first listen. Once it gets used to it, you no longer hear with quite the same intensity, because later experiences are not anything new. On top of that, things you naturally do in your environment will degrade (more likely than improve) your sound in at least small degrees, due to these changing patterns of energy that are always occurring everywhere. But on the whole, the effect is permanent, until I do something to change the sound again. Although it may not have the initial intensity, it's influence can easily be heard in song after song, the next day, the day after that, and all the days following. In fact, with the kind of effect I described above, it allows me to hear new information in my old songs. Songs I've heard a thousand times before. So it becomes an interesting experience afterward, to re-listen to songs I am familiar with, and re-experience them in a different, better way.

For example, I'm writing this part of the article the next day, and listening to my computer speakers. On them, I'm hearing bass notes and the melodies they create in a way not heard before. While it's less full than I remember, it's less boomy as well. New parts of the songs are opening up to me. All musical sounds have a more realistic ring to them. All sounds are better defined in and of themselves, and better defined within the sonic image. It's a bit harder to write what I am writing here, because the music is playing and my body is still reacting a little more strongly than usual, as it has a stronger connection to the music, and its rhythm. Not everyone will have the same physical reaction necessarily. That depends on your relationship with music. It should be noted that however the sound has changed on the music I am hearing on the computer, it will change in a related way, when listening to sounds on the internet; ie. YouTube videos. I still don't know yet how exactly, as I haven't tested that for this change.

Q. "Are you sure you were really hearing differences from this? Maybe it's a "placebo" effect? You just wanted to hear an improvement in your sound, so you did. "

Well first, I always want to hear improvements in my sound! That's the goal of the experiments. But that doesn't always happen, so my desire and my effect must be independent of each other. Secondly, yes, I am sure of the effect. It's a repeatable effect, it remains from song to song, and although it was a consistent progression, it was different (but not entirely different) than the sound that came before. Yes, I would love to always take significant leaps in sound quality, but that rarely happens. I can't remember the last time the sound went in this direction. So if it's a product of autosuggestion, that would mean my autosuggestion generator must be out of whack 98% of the time. Seriously, if you have access to any "placebo pill" that has this kind of effect on one's music... I strongly advise you to take it. (Otherwise, don't do drugs kids! Stay in school!).

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