Resonance and Harmonics in Writing

dead stop wait reread


Last week I was challenged to describe how my college education has influenced my current job and I totally failed to say anything interesting. Given my role as a brand strategist and writer, the irony was not lost on me. (Or anyone else in the room.)

In my defense, it was a stretch: in college, I studied audio engineering. Today, I plan global brand strategy. That’s a yawning mental chasm to leap. But someone, at some point, figured out you could put peanut butter on celery, so who’s to say what’s impossible?

After a hard think, I think I’ve arrived at a plausible answer.

Music creation, audio recording and sound engineering require nuanced resonance. The end product is reliant on a hundred layered details meshing as a harmonic whole. It starts with the melody and lyrics and theme, but it’s also the fuzz and blur and microscopic corruption at the edges of audible perception, the accidental compounding reactions of volume, EQ, compression, reverb and a hundred other levers. How just a tiny turn of the knob or the addition of a fragment of a sound placed in the gulf between beats can change the tonal presentation of an entire body of work. How noise can be musical, how music can be noise, how just redefinitions of conventions can stop people in their tracks.

The song is nothing without its production. Brilliant songwriters matched with pedestrian producers are poets without pens.

This is no different than other expressions of creativity.

In my designer days, I can’t tell you how many creative reviews contained the phrase “this is good, but it just needs a little something”. Good designers blend typography and color and whitespace into communication that works inside grids and expectations. Great designers tweak the knobs and introduce a fragment of dissonance, an unexpected overtone, a playful echo inside the stereo field. Impression leaps from “it works” to “it’s perfect”.

This extends to writing. Words are symbols, sentences are meaning, but communication is about the holistic production of ideas.

So I use my background in audio engineering to explore the resonance in writing. The way words rhythmically interlock, or audibly flow from one to the next. Is there a staccato beat, a more ambient tone? Is punctuation providing the mental white space, like the subtlest intake of breath in a trumpet solo? Is there deliberate dissonance to force the reader to dead stop wait reread?

Resonance is not an audible quality, but a mental aesthetic. All of the details of feel inside audio recordings that snag our attention can be triggered with rhythms of writing, creative language application, and straight up rule breaking. And when done well, impression leaps from “I read it” to “I remember it”.


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