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Sound Practices Magazine Online!
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Casual Reactions
Article By Herb Reichert Of Audio Note USA
From Sound Practices Issue 15

 

The Matrix Of Culture
Anyone familiar with my Casual Reactions column will have noticed that I like to speculate about the relevance of leading edge audio engineering and that I am constantly seeking to place this research in a larger cultural context. I can't help it, because it is impossible to study the basics of electronics without realizing how primary the physical laws that govern electronic circuits are. Changing energy from one level or state to another is fundamental to all science and a principal technology in human culture since the dawn of man.

In a very short time, less than 10,000 years, humankind has dematerialized its own culture. The objects we now manufacture tell us less about our present cultural state, than the data we store on discs and reels. Who we are, where we think we come from, and what we aspire to be are buried in some form of stored data, somewhere.

The archaeologist of the future will not be brushing off stone tablets. He will be resoldering traces and listening for archaic signals through headphones. The anthropologist will be studying microfilm. Signal and data recovery will become the primary tools of the historian, anthropologist, and archaeologist. The archaeologist of the 30th century will need to decipher forgotten languages buried in electromagnetic code. His lab and study will be filled with discs and reels and scopes and meters. Screens and loudspeakers will surround him. He will transduce and decode. Part of his task will be to restore and reinvent ancient playback machines.

Our attention is turning away from the sensational interplay of natural forces and man's role within these forces. Instead we simply accept our role as "caretakers" of the planet. Our new "job" is to collect information about our collective selves and our environment. Great collaborative efforts now organize this information so that it may be used to solve problems concerning our longer term survival. Our culture itself is now rapidly becoming information and theories of information. We have come to see problem solving as a process of data retrieval, sorting, and analysis.

Surprisingly, if we look broadly enough, we notice that the majority of this alluring information is stored on discs and reels, played back over and over and sent amplified through antennae to pulsate through space. We create data, we store it, we transduce it, we study it and we give it power, transmitting it, globally and out into the stars. Alien anthropologists must see humans as doing only two things; moving heavy objects from place to place and transmitting data.

The contemporary human enterprise is evolving into a global ideas/technology generated matrix of coded electromagnetic waveforms. These vast interlocking waveforms are now, quite literally, the first living, vibrating, archaeological remnants. Like cultural DNA, this pulsating, encoded, electromagnetic plasma is becoming our species fingerprint. It is the ever-evolving, spherically-expanding, musical score of our civilization. Remember, these are storage media we are discussing. The stone tablet and book were first but now, since the development of magnetic science, we have a rapidly evolving succession of cylinders, discs, reels and cassettes, each storing more information than the previous incarnation.

The big break with the past appeared when we began to store sounds where we can't hear them and sights where we can't see them.

 

History Is Superimposed Upon History
We speak, we tell stories, we sing songs, we do business, we conduct experiments and everything that we do is recorded and then transmitted via periodic electromagnetic energy into the vastness of the galaxies. Interestingly, this larger matrix predates civilization and is, itself, an electromagnetic record of the history of the universe.

Imagine vast layers of electromagnetic grid fields, pulsating, morphing and folding one upon another. Imagine these grids generating harmonics of themselves, picking up and dissipating energy, being pushed one way or another by electromagnetic, solar and celestial "winds." Imagine our own thoughts, movements and worldly interactions as organized disturbances in this electromagnetic medium. Imagine our narrow bandwidth human activity morphing harmonically into the wideband electromagnetic spectrum. Imagine the effects of playing music or acting drama, recording it and playing it back... over and over. Every solar eruption is super-imposed with Citizen Kane and Eric Dolphy. A symphony of ideas and dreams and aspirations is being written in electromagnetic code in our own remote comer of the ether.

The musical waveforms, the CDs and LPs we so innocently play with as hobbies in our living rooms, can easily be seen as very tiny "micro-models" for the whole picture. For the moment, the symphony, the raga or the song appear to be tangible glimpses of the big picture we are all seeking. The "where do we come from?',"who are we?" and "where are we going?" questions are most likely already answered -- they are out there "coded." Recovering stored musical information to be played back, over and over again, is nothing less than a sacred enterprise.

 

Audio Engineering
Lowly and often disparaged, audio engineering is potentially the most profound of the science disciplines. It can be seen as a distillation of all branches of science. Its primary purpose is to create machines that allow humanity to share in the examination of our most important scientific, religious, and philosophical data. This is a grand enterprise. It is the beginning of man's first multi-disciplinary odyssey into real self-knowledge. The study of information storage and recovery, especially analogue storage and especially musical information, may be the core study that ultimately unites the now separate fields of science, art, and philosophy.

Audio engineering must be considered not as a subtext to hard science or the bastard child of electronic engineering. It must not be allowed to become a trivial branch of the entertainment industry. We must not too quickly forget that it is the armature of twentieth century scientific and cultural growth. Audio engineering is the mother of all waveform and electromagnetic study. It is not only a core technology for cinema, redo, television, communications, computers and data processing, it is also related in substance to scientific studies in fields as far reaching as propulsion, atmosphere science, leading edge particle physics, quantum mechanics, and astronomy.

 

Transmission And Content
I believe that it is reasonable to assume that all of nature's secrets, the answers to all our better questions, are already encoded and stored! More than likely, these concepts are stored in the larger and smaller interlocking electromagnetic energy matrixes that envelope us. Perhaps, quite literally, the answers are "blowing in the wind" -- or broadcast from our radio? Accepting this, it is obvious that nothing could be more shallow than discussing audio engineering in terms of detail, soundstage depth or bass slam. We must stop focusing our attention on the clarity of the transmission and begin to recognize and examine the patterns of the content.

Our audio equipment can be considered at least adequate if it directs our attention towards the content of these messages. When the music is playing we must be allowed to inquire about more than just the sound. Unfortunately, almost none of our best audio equipment accomplishes even this simple feat. If audio equipment did indeed direct our attention towards the larger message, we would certainly not be wasting so much time discussing soundstage and bass definition. We would be considerably more busy decoding and analyzing the structure of what is on these discs and reels.

Typically, the 'hard science' school of audio design looks only at linear and steady-state data, hoping to recover a clean stream of amplitude and frequency modulations. What tends to be forgotten is that the larger audience for musically-encoded data is receiving a confusing, severely edited and highly simplified version of the original musical event. It is almost as if another layer of "black ice" encoding has been added. The information has not only been magnified (amplified, with all the inevitable distortions that entails) but has gone through yet further, unnecessary stages of encoding.

Unfortunately one can not encode (or decode) information if they do not read and understand the language of the original. Presently, the communities of art, science, philosophy and religion could not be more ignorant of each other and this ignorance has contributed mightily to our inability to recognize the significant patterns in the data we experience.

In fact, each of these disciplines has developed a lexicon so singular as to be barely intelligible to the others. The lack of a shared lexicon or even a pan-disciplinary approach to study is surely the biggest roadblock to any understanding of the bigger ideas being entertained today.

Let us presume, just for the moment, that we can recover and play back some crystals of musical code in nearly their virgin, but slightly amplified form. (I not only believe that this is possible, but I believe that some of the no-feedback single-ended triode technology emerging today has been quite successful at this.) Would the music and art loving public at large truly be able to process this information? Would some basic "where do we come from?" questions get answered? I believe so!

Here is how it happens. At first you will hear some lone shouts and momentary exclamations, "I've got it!" But no one will really take notice. In fact, many of you have already experienced this. The process has begun. The solitary voices of those few who have experienced this new 'virgin data' have, by now, joined into small choruses. Worldwide there are little pockets of people emerging from their listening rooms and studies - instead of their minds reflecting on right and wrong or their lips speaking of profit and loss, we see the drunk-trough, glazed over eyes effect of a new innocence. The data was right there all along, we just couldn't distinguish it.

The technology is in place. The data is already stored. We can now begin the new anthropology. Starting perhaps with Thomas Edison and "Mary Had a Little Lamb," we can start examining the code, looking for the primal melody. We can begin to look at our culture broadly, not through a magnifying glass but through a pair of loudspeakers.

 

 

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