Tuesday, October 27, 2009

I Don't Care If I Lose My Hearing, I Want It Loud!

Every time my mother asks for me to wear ear plugs when I'm going to a concert, or when I'm practicing with my band in a tiny, cramped basement, or when she asks me that the music in my headphones, I just never listened (that could be a bit of a pun, maybe?) Of course when I don't listen, I'm bitching for the next few days that there is a constant ringing in my ears that I can't get rid of.

In my foolish opinion, music needs to be turned up, it needs to be vibrating throughout your entire body in order for you to be able to capture the true essence of it. What I am also learning at too young of an age is that it is a fast and easy way to lose your hearing. Sure, I am in complete and total denial that I'm going to want to have the ability to hear at age 50, but at the rate my hearing is diminishing, it is a daily concern that I won't be able to rock out to "A Certain Shade of Green" any longer.

Where is this heading, ah yes, the ringing in the ears. What I always ask myself while it is irritating me, is how in the world the noise is created. Turns out, there is a bit of science behind it (who would have thought?). On the website for the Cornell Center for Material Research, a reader asked the question, "Why Do your Ears Ring?" When your ears receive an excessive amount of punishment from the speakers blaring heavy metal right next to your head, "delicate cells inside your ear" push through what are called "sound messages" to the brain. This is called tinnitus.

These delicate cells have things sticking out of them that look like tiny hairs, basically cells with beards (not basically, but that's what I would like to think.) Soon your brain is interpreting sound when pressure waves travel through the air into your ear, making your ears vibrate. This whole process then begins to effect the fluid inside of your ears, and once the fluid is effected, their movement will bend those hairs. The bending of these hairs soon cause your brain to think there is more sound, since there are "electrical signals" being sent to the "auditory nerve." This would be the reason why it may sound like a hear monitor is flat lining inside your ears.

This is supposed to only last for a short period of time, but if you are like me and 44 million other Americans, the ringing tends to be a bit more persistent. the article suggests that it is too loud if you have to shout over the noise. Thank god they don't know that I'm constantly stuck in the situation of someone shouting something to me, and all I get is that their mouth is moving.

All right, I'm in trouble.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Never do I want to think about Halle Berry and my Grandmother at the same time...

I've decided after reading a few of the articles in Discover magazine, the headlines do a fantastic job of tricking you into reading a story. What I mean by this is that I identify with a very well written lede , I think it is one of the most important parts of the story. it shows whether you can write on your own rather than spew a bunch of quotes from various sources. There is so much more that goes into a story, but the lede could be the one thing that has you throwing your computer out the window even though you have a full fleshed out article in your possession.

Coming away from that ridiculous tangent, when you read the headline "Can a Single Neuron Tell Halle Berry from Grandma Ester" you're probably expecting a gut-splitting, or at the most clever, lede. Luckily for them, the first thing I saw was the headline. The headline was the reason I decided to read it, and fortunately for author CarlZimmer, I was interested enough in the subject to read the whole thing. His lede reflects his whole writing style, bland and unoriginal. The lede jumps right into technical informati0n that would lead any other reader to search for Perez Hilton's Twitter page.

What is difficult for a story like this is trying to write the information in an enjoyable manner. What he does very well is covering all sides of the argument over the presence of the "grandma cell", a group of processors, or a "sparse coding network." he went in full detail about Jerry Lettvin's theory of "grandma cells" as they are neurons responding to a certain stimuli, such as Halle Berry or your Grandmother. Rodrigo Quian Quiroga of the University of Leicester in England tested this theory by showing several pictures to participants and marking the responses to a photo of Halle Berry he gathered from some neurons. There have been several disputes of this from other scientists saying that while that neuron may be responding so strongly to one image does not mean it will not do the same for another.

The rest of the article all describes different theories with no true conclusive evidence to declare any of the arguments true. Quiroga himself even admits that the "grandmother cell" theory is not an exact one, feeling that he may have missed millions of other neurons that could be firing off at other photos while only collecting 100. If anything, Zimmer's scientific research is very well done, the results themselves are what is lacking.

Much of what Zimmer discusses does not require much metaphor usage. The writing is pretty straight forward and very easy to understand. For example, it was easy to understand the description of the computer programming using processors to identify a certain individual by giving random guesses, but eventually narrowing it down to give a more perfect identification system.

Overall, the article is very interesting and poses some interesting questions. The purpose of the article seemed to be just a means of rasing those questions, not giving any conclusive evidence. What was missing were a few more interesting examples of how the "grandmother cell" is put into action. The flow of the article was fluid, as each paragraph had no problem transitioning from one to the other. All I have to say for Zimmer is, well, he needs to get working on lede writing.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

How is Music Remastered You Ask?

Recalling the sound of a chainsaw revving its engine, Mike McCready and Stone Gossard, the legendary guitarists of Pearl Jam, slide their fingers down the fret of their guitars to open one of the most prolific PJ songs known as "Even Flow." When it was first released on vinyl/cassette/CD, producer Rick Parashar did the best with what was available to him when it came to recording PJ's first ever full-length album, Ten. What it lacked was some serious low-end. The bass was almost non-existent, and after seeing bassist Jeff Ament perform live several times I knew there was some crunch in that bass that has never been heard before on CD.

I became immensely jubilant upon hearing the news that producer Brendan O'Brien was tapped to do the remastering and remixing of the tracks on Ten because of his work on albums such as Yield where songs like "Brain Of J" had the deep vibration I've been wanting. I never knew the intricacies of Ament's performance on the album until I heard the remastered version, and the levels of McCready and Gossard made their riffs more prominent.

Some bands prefer the analog approach because they feel it might add character to the music, or it is just a more natural way of doing things. The Beatles discography is getting a digital treatment. In an article in Fast Company, they discuss how the original Beatles discography is now being converted into digital files. The way it was originally executed was by taking the analog recording and putting it straight onto compact discs. While trying to "keep the integrity" of the original recordings, with digital remastering producers are able to take out some microphone pops, electrical clicks, that hissing sound on some recordings. What it is doing is giving the recording a much more polished sound and relevant sound.

In an interview I did with the band Barefoot Truth, they discussed how it is a "digital world" in the music industry these days and the only way to compete is by going digital. They use the process of recording in Pro-Tools, a recording software, and then transferring those tracks onto analog tapes. They are still able to keep their organic sound while keeping things a bit more professional sounding.

It just shows that everyone is trying to keep up with the times, even if its Pearl Jam, who are known to be set in their ways, or The Beatles, who don't even exist anymore. Barefoot Truth said it best though, "We live in a digital world."