As with most of my pieces this is going to start out not being about music and end up being all about music. I was in the supermarket the other day after watching a documentary called ‘Vegucated’, where 3 New Yorkers tried to become vegan for a certain amount of time. I’ll be honest, I’m not planning on becoming a vegan any time soon, but I have endeavored to eat healthier as a result.
However, what I took away from watching the film was just how difficult it is to just eat good, honest food these days. Almost everything has some kind of ‘E number’ or preservative or coloring or flavor enhancer in it. What I’ve heard from a lot of vegans is that after a few weeks of eating good, organic food, their taste buds start to return to being able to taste food the normal way with all its nuances, because the food they are eating is natural.
So this is where this piece becomes about music. In production, we have a number of processes that help us to tweak and shape the sound beyond the original way it was recorded. Compression for example, is a tool that lets us take the quietest part of a recording and the loudest part of a recording and make the difference between the two extremes more even by ‘compressing’ the extremities. Producers use compression to make a song sound ‘louder’ especially over radio and in clubs and bars etc, as there is this unfounded belief that louder equals better. There is also EQ-ing (equalization) which allows us to change specific frequencies of a recording to make some elements more or less apparent. We also use a technique called saturation, which makes a recording sound warmer and thicker.
Back to the supermarket. I’m standing in line and looking at the magazines where every photo is excessively photoshopped with everyone having perfect skin and perfect teeth, skies and waters impossibly blue and grass so lush and emerald green with colors turned up to the maximum that it must be what Dorothy felt like when she finally stepped into Oz.
And then it hit me. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about food, or pictures, or sound. Almost everything in our environment has been over-saturated, over-compressed, over-photoshopped that we are totally overstimulated.
There is a beauty in listening to a song with some parts quieter than others (we call these dynamics), where you can hear the spaces and the nuances of the musicians and genuinely feel the emotions. But alot of songs today are tainted with the musical equivalent of these ‘flavor enhancers’- louder, punchier sounds that don’t give the mind space to savour the subleties in the sound. It’s exactly the same way our social media feeds are also over-saturated with the visual equivalent of ‘flavor enhancers’ like photoshopping and Instagram filters etc.
Sometimes I hear younger generations singing and out of their mouths they have this strange robotic tone exactly like an AutoTune because they think that’s how a human is supposed to sound like. Personally that makes me a little sad.
We’re in danger of losing our abilities to ‘taste’ real, organic sounds because we’re so used to the levels cranked up, that we’re unable to be moved by more natural recordings. ‘E-Numbers’ are not just a concept that exist in food, they are in what we see and what we hear too.
We as humans were never really designed to take in so much information or sensory inputs on such a continual basis, so it makes sense that if everything around us is enhanced and unnatural, after a while it’s going to wear us down. Everything begins to sounds the same, and we need it get louder to get the same emotional reaction.
Our bodies are processing chemicals we were never designed to ingest and everything is sweeter and saltier than it should be though we think that’s perfectly normal.
In closing, if we can be mindful and make the effort to taste the real and listen to the raw, natural tangible things in our environment at least every once in a while, we might do ourselves a favor and return our senses to their baseline.
To taste and to see and to hear is a beautiful thing. It’s important to remember that in the pursuit of more grounded and authentic experiences. It may not be as salty or as sweet or look as perfects as you might have been used to, but it will be real.
I never thought I would hear myself saying this, but in the case of music, there may be a case for a kind of ‘vegan’ sound, and possible food for thought.