Various fragments on what sound can do


On the occasion of taking a class on the anthropology of sound I spent a little time brainstorming with the collective intelligence that is the Internet on various examples of different contexts in which sound is doing something.
Sound can be shown to affect people physiologically. Here’s a (kind of strangely written) danish news article about acoustics in classrooms. The most interesting aspect of the article is a mentioning of a study demonstrating a correlation between the frequency of the heartbeats of the teachers and the amount of noise in the classroom. Thus in comparison in a room with 0.7 seconds decay the teachers in average had 10 more heartbeats per second than in a room with a decay time of 0.4. seconds. Also, it seems that it’s quite well established that classrooms with insufficient muffling of sound significantly worsens learning. Unfortunately, in a lot of cases this knowledge still haven’t managed to be materialized in the architecture of educational institutions.

Sound and health. Sound, as music, can also be shown to be made work in favor of (a certain definition of, re. the measurement scales) mental health and well being. Here’s an example of a study.

This study used a random control experimental design with a music-listening group and control group for 22 older adults undergoing hip or knee surgery. The experimental group listened to music at the bedside for at least 4 hours daily. The NEECHAM Acute Confusion Scale and the Folstein Mini-Mental State Exam were used to measure cognition and acute confusion. Findings demonstrate that the music-listening group had higher levels of cognitive function and less confusion than those who did not listen to music.

I found the very fact that a journal of the name Music and Medicine existed to be kind of interesting too.

Noise is also being utilized for health and wellbeing purposes. Thus, there’s a bunch of web pages and apps solely made for generating noise-sounds. Often you can choose between white, pink and brown noise, and sometimes you can have recorded sounds that approach noise too such as ocean or rain sounds.

One of those noise-machine pages lists a whole array of alleged possible effects of noise: “Sleep Aid, Enhance Privacy, Block Distractions, Mask Tinnitus, Pacify Children, Soothe Migraines, Increase, Focus Stress Relief“. It also offers a differentiation between the different types of noise in terms of uses and advantages. I especially think the aspect about enhancing privacy is quite interesting, serving as a case through which to think about sound and spatiality as well as possibly lending a new meaning to the term ‘wall of sound’.

The idea of certain sounds having very specific effects, also made me think of the quite curious recent appearance of so-called ‘sound drugs‘; sounds that are being sold as allegedly having effects similarly to psychoactive chemical substances. It could be entertaining to see someone do an analysis of the rhetorics and imagery of the phenomenon. Here’s a quite funny Wired article from 2010 mentioning how an Oklahoma public school actually banned iPods in response to the phenomenon.

Finally, talking about sounds and physiological effects, I need to mention ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response) too, which I’ve had a small interest in for a while. The term covers a certain type of reaction consisting of a very pleasurable shivering, tingling feeling in the head and sometimes the spine some people report to have as a reaction to certain stimuli, including listening to other people speak in calm and whispering voices with lots of lip sounds often in relation to activities involving personal attention such as examinations or haircuts. Despite the medical-sounding name the phenomenon has not yet been the object of any form of institutionalized scientific research, but it has spawned a vast online-community (thus, the reddit-page devoted to it currently has 34,700 subscribers) and a trend of creating role-playing videos deliberately designed to trigger the reaction.

 Image in top by sam_jennings (slightly modified), CC 2.0-BY-NC-SA

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3 thoughts on “Various fragments on what sound can do

  1. Nope, I haven’t, but I would like to. Despite my belief in the importance of always being wary about the (often to large) power natural scientific accounts are given (as we talked about the other day re Foucault), I’m also at the same time very curious about looking more into those at the moment. And the theme of this article sounds particularly interesting in relation to the above as well as to other interests of mine. Thanks for sharing.

    1. I see your point in exercising wariness to the power of differing accounts.
      Personally I find much knowledge understandable through experience.
      This can even be a physical experience, where intellectual understanding is, for me, not always necessary, but interesting. These experiences will obviously differ greatly from person to person, depending on factors too complex to get into here.

      Here a few links on some more alternative accounts on the effects of sound and music that I’m guessing you might find interresting:

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