Sacred Spaces Project – A Tale of Two Cities

Source: citiesandmemory.com

 
A little while ago, I was part of a cool project called Sacred Spaces, headed by Cities and Memory. Field recordings were contributed from various churches, temples, and other sacred places from all around the world. After gathering together all of the field recordings, they had different sound designers “re-imagine” the field recordings and put their own creative spin to it. For mine, I chose a recording of a church in Greece.

The original recording can be heard here. While listening to this, I happened to be looking at some pictures of Syria online. There was a picture of what Syria looked like before and after all the wars and turmoil occurring in the area.

Syria: then and now
Source: imgur.com

It definitely struck a chord with me, seeing the amount of devastation that the city had undergone and how time can just completely transform a city. This inspired me and I wanted to capture the dual, contrasting nature a city can have through my sacred spaces track.

This was what I ended up with for my final arrangement.  To check out other songs from the Sacred Spaces album, click here.

 

Thought Process

The first half of this track represents the dark and tumultuous effects of war on a country. This was done through taking the original recording, starting with the section with the bells clanging. I reversed the audio of that whole section until the end. If you listen to the recording at 0:12, that is the sound of the clanging bells reversed with an added delay. Then I composed an unsettling music ambience that creates a sense of uneasiness with its unstable meters and eerie sounding textures. The percussive nature of the piece starts off with some organic sounding hand drums that grow into loud booming drums that further develop into exploding distorted electric booms panning back and forth, representative of flying explosions and the destruction that occurs in wars. The piece then unravels a little bit and you get from 1:20- 1:48 little after shocks of the war that haunt you (bringing back the short snips of reversed materials).

The second half of the piece until the end is reminiscent of the land before being ruined and a sort of emerging from the ashes toward a more hopeful future. I took the original recording, cleaned it up and enhanced it and played it forward (instead of backward/reversed like in the first section) to show that this is how things should be. The city sounds healthy with its natural bustling energy and there is music I composed below it that represents a sense of serenity and hope. It is indeed like its title,  “A Tale of Two Cities.”

Why People Turn Off Audio – Designing Audio that Accommodates Rather Than Dominates

Photo: segascream.com

This concept of audio respecting the user has been something that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. I know that often times people who work in audio may feel that they are the scapegoat or the black sheep, that they are ignored or only paid attention to when the audio is broken. Audio is also usually the last part of the production cycle, so people often don’t think about it until the very end. I don’t know if this contributes to the need often times for some people to overcompensate by mixing audio to be super loud, to make sure that they are heard and that the proper attention is given to audio, but there are so many things nowadays that are mixed so loudly to the point where it is disrespectful to the user.

So what do I mean by audio that respects the user? It has to do with the volume of the mix, but it also has to do with the content design as well. Let’s first talk about the volume since that is more straight forward.

Loudness Wars 

Many are familiar with this concept of loudness wars or have heard it in pretty much most forms of media. With so much flashiness going on in today’s media, it’s always about capturing the audience’s attention and wowing them. What better way to do this than by making things loud and bombastic. The trend for a lot of albums, trailer music, game audio, etc. is to make things louder and louder. I used to work with a movie trailer composer and the amount of loud music he had to compose regularly was making him deaf. This is not healthy for the composer or for audiences in the long run.

Metallica_My_Apocalypse_waveform.pngPhoto: Wikipedia.org

There is a lot of artistry and beauty lost when everything is just loud all the time. There is no contrast, no dynamic range. Everything just sounds the same all the time like someone is constantly yelling at you. It is an understandable trend though. How are you supposed to hear your bumping music in the car if there are sections that are too soft that get lost in the roar of the engine or in loud conversations?

I remember when I was studying composition in college, one of our teachers told us that most pieces that end with a bang or a loud section generate a louder applause from the audience compared to pieces that end more quietly. This is not to say that we shouldn’t ever make things loud, as there are many situations that call for this. Loud music helps get the adrenaline going, which is why a lot of people listen to fast and loud music to enhance their workouts. They are also effective in clubs or any setting where the desired effect is to get your audience excited and pumped.


Photo: tiestoclublife.files.wordpress.com

However, there are also a lot of inappropriate places for music or audio in general to be too loud. One reason I wanted to write about this is because I was watching two different streamers on Twitch; one was trying to talk to some of his viewers and the other was trying to talk to his friend on Skype while streaming the game but the in-game VO was so loud that it blast through everything that was going on. It was jolting even for me as a viewer who wasn’t involved personally in any of those situations. I think this is especially important for multiplayer games where gamers may use voice comms to communicate with each other. Some games also have really loud theme music or menu music that I always have to turn down by at least 50% to be at a comfortable listening level. I think there needs to be more sensitivity to this as you don’t want your users to just turn off all of the audio just because they had one bad initial experience with things being too loud but many people will not think twice about doing just that and switch off the audio if anything gets on their nerves.

Respectful Sound Design in Content
From a content standpoint, it’s also important to consider what draws people’s attention and what is more subtle and respectful.

Frequency
A lot of the sounds that are most annoying to people are things that contain high piercing frequencies. Think about fingernails on a chalkboard, a baby crying, metal scraping, a beginner playing a squeaky, out of tuned violin, or microphone feedback. These are all relatively high in frequency and have a harsh timbre to them that lend itself to irritating people quite easily. It’s important to think about the frequency spectrum when designing your sounds, especially if the sounds will be repeating quite frequently, or if you are creating a loop of some sort.

Repetition
Repetition is not always a bad thing. People like things they are familiar with so using repetition properly will allow you to reap great rewards. However, it’s important to have some variation when repeating sounds. That is why random containers exist to help ease the machine gun effect. Think of someone talking. When someone says the same thing the exact same way to you constantly again and again, it will begin to get irritating. However, if they try to prove the same point to you using different words and in a different angle, it will come off as way more enlightening and persuasive.

Duration
The duration of a sound plays a big role in how noticeable a sound is to someone. The new short and nimble typing sounds on my iPhone made my actions feel way more tactile and pleasant; it was the first time I left the sound on my phone on for a very long time. I’m usually very disturbed by all the longer duration notification sounds that occur that I don’t want to risk it bothering me during the day but this was very unobtrusive and actually gave me satisfaction when using the product. I think that this is what we should strive to do – create tasteful and appropriate sounds that don’t try to dominate but rather accommodate.

ADSR
Sounds that have a gentler fade in with a slower attack tend to give sounds a gentler and more background feel. Of course this depends on the content you’re actually working on, but in general sounds that feel like they’re swelling in and out are more pleasant and less disturbing to the ear.

VO
Dialogue is obviously super important because it is always used as a form of communication of some sort. If anyone came to the Seattle Game Audio HoloLens meetup, you will have heard talk at lengths how important the human voice is and how it should be used as a guide for your sound design. However, if the VO is blasting at extremes in order to cut through the rest of the loud noises, then the mix may be improperly balanced and everything might need to be taken way lower in order to accommodate the VO.

In summary, I think that a lot of sounds, with the proper mix, can be made memorable, distinct, and effective by playing with a lot of those different parameters listed above. Of course there are also times when big sound design is needed in order to make the experience more visceral and “real,” but it’s important to know when this is appropriate and when this isn’t and what the role of audio is.  In terms of music, there are times when music should and can take the spotlight, which is often the case with music with vocals but if the music is in support of another form of media, it needs to actually be a support. Audio should enhance the overall experience and many times that means accommodating rather than dominating.

Human Perception, Media & Bubbles – Post Election Reflections

Photo: cargocollective.com

Note: This is not a post about politics or any of the candidates’ stance on things, but more about processing the events of yesterday and trying to understand more about human behavior.

Most of my blog posts are about audio, but yesterday’s elections was just so shocking that I had a physical reaction to the TV and felt a need to blog about it. When they were nearing the end of the electoral vote count, I started coughing, my nose started dripping, and I wanted to throw up but once the TV was turned off, my health returned back to normal and I passed out from exhaustion. I’ve never had such a strong physical reaction to something I saw on TV and I wasn’t hugely invested in the elections as I didn’t support either of the candidates, so I was surprised by my body’s reactions. And for those who read my blog, you probably have caught on to my tendency and need to analyze why things happen and the need to understand how things work the way they do. This is my attempt at rationalizing all the craziness and thoughts floating around in my head about these elections.

 

Your Bubble

The most shocking thing about yesterday’s events for me was how misinformed I was about America and how America actually felt about the state of things and the candidates. It felt like when you think you know a certain person only to find out that they are a completely different person. I honestly thought that the results from yesterday would have been flipped with Hillary winning in a landslide. I am back tracking my steps to see how I came to such a wrong conclusion as I have never predicted the outcome of something so wrongly before in my life. I think a lot of it stems from the fact that I naturally think everyone has a similar base perception of things and that others rationalize things in a similar way to me. I forget that everyone’s brains are wired differently and that each person possesses very different life experiences and backgrounds. We often surround ourselves with people who are similar or think similarly to ourselves, thus the saying, “birds of a feather flock together.” The problem with this is that your bubble’s point of view may be completely different from the vast majority point of view but since that is all you are exposed to, it becomes the justified and accepted view that you think everyone has. At least, that’s what I felt like happened in my situation. I knew there were others out there who supported Trump’s views but I didn’t know how widespread that sentiment was.

A lot of it we can see on social media as well. Like with Facebook for instance, it shows you things that they think you like or that you have similar viewpoints and perspectives to and that’s a big reason why their targeted ads are so effective. People like it when others agree with them, but often times that’s not the healthiest way to live and grow as a person. Conflict is never fun, but it’s important to have friends who are different from you and to not just cut them out from your life because they voted differently; it’s healthy to have people challenge your viewpoints and make you really think about things and why you believe the things you do. I think that Trump is also going to experience this when he goes into the White House and will have to learn to work with people that he may not like or have completely different stances on things with. It is why diversity is encouraged in the workplace because people with all the same ideas most likely won’t bring anything new to the table versus people with different perspectives and experiences may challenge how you think and create things. Though there has been a lot of division within this election, I think it’s important to accept the fact that people have different perspectives and values, which may be offensive to yours, but it is important to learn how to grow and work with these people who are different from you.  Sometimes the best things are created when this happens. I know it’s a hard road, but I think there is always hope to compromise to make things work.

 

The Media

Another thing that left me a bit perturbed was the media’s portrayal of the state of how each of the candidates were doing. A lot of the articles I read online were showing how Trump has a very little chance of winning or painting the picture of Hillary seemingly having a strong lead. Likewise with the polls as well, showing Hillary being up by however many points and how she clearly won the debates. Those were sentiments that I had tended to agree with so I didn’t think to question if this was actually a true reflection of how the vast majority of America felt, or more so just a collection of opinions of those that live within the west coast bubble. That is why there was such a big shock when I saw the actual numbers from the voters show something completely different. Nobody was expecting the turn out, both Democrats and Republicans, and I think it has a lot to do with how the media painted the story up to now. This is a bit scary because now I question a lot of my perceptions of things that were often times based on things that I assumed were true because it was portrayed in the news on TV, in a news article, or in some other form of the media. There is definitely a left wing bias in the entertainment business and with many artists, writers, etc., which could have affected how the media portrayed certain things. It felt like the media had also fallen prey to being stuck in their own bubble and was out of touch with the actual reality and state of the country we live in as well. Regardless, this really got me thinking about the validity of the things we learn from the media and how tainted by bias the information we receive is.

 

Perception

The last thing I want to talk about is perception. We often forget how important perception is. Sometimes it’s not the person who is the best (skills wise) at what they do who gets the job but the person who people perceive to be the most capable at what they do who gets it. I have seen this happen in a lot of job interviews. When I ask the person making the decision why they decided to go with one candidate over another, a common response is that they went with the person they felt the most comfortable and reassured with, the person that was the most confident about everything, creating the perception that they can handle anything that is thrown at them. The feeling that we get from someone really affects our perception of them. I think this is where Trump excelled. He understood the working class and how they felt about the country and was able to speak in a way that showed them that he cared and understood them and wanted to represent them. It may not matter how inexperienced he is in the political realm compared to Hillary, it is how he made the people he was targeting feel about addressing their concerns, making their opinions heard, and making their perception of “America great again.” He spoke in a way they could understand and develop a trust in him.

Human behavior is deeply affected by perception. We tend to value things more or less based on our perception. Thinking of the law of supply and demand, people often value things that are less in supply because the perception is that there must be a huge demand for it if there are only a couple left. The diamond business for example thrives on this. Even though there are many diamonds in the world, the amount available to be bought by consumers is very few in comparison, so we perceive diamonds as being rare gems that we would value greatly and pay a high price for because of it.

Our human behavior is affected by our perception of objects but also applies to our perception of humans as well. I remember before when I was contracting for music and sound design, I was super busy and would take on many clients at the same time. Word spread and I got a lot of referrals. When asked, I listed out some of the other clients I was working with at the time and they immediately asked if I had time for their small little project. I said of course, and they were still concerned and offered to pay a retainer fee. Flattered, I agreed to it. This basically meant that when it came time to work on their project, I had to be able to drop other things to finish their project. I realized that day that perception is hugely important in the industry and that ties directly into how someone develops a reputation.

So coming back to the topic of the election and tying things up, I think that my perception of Trump was deeply influenced by the bubble I’m in, the state I live in, the friends I have in real life and on social media, as well as the media. Of course I also developed my own views based on his words and actions, but a lot of this was based on the information I got from the media. I think that one thing that Trump has to work on if he is to try to unify America is to work on creating a positive perception from people not just from the working class people that he was targeting but many of the other minority groups that feel shafted based on his past words or actions. It is hard to rebuild your perception of someone as it is a bit like erasing a first impression. There needs to be trust developed first, but it is not impossible. I think for the rest of us, it is important to embrace those who have opposing views from us. I know some may think that they don’t want to have anything to do with people who hate a certain type of people or exclude them but you can’t really put fire out with fire. I think it’s important to be the bigger person and show love to those who maybe in our minds hate others or don’t deserve love. You can’t expect people to change if you constantly hate on them but if you approach them in a loving manner, it is easier for them to take in what you have to say and that is the beginning of reconciling differences and compromise. I definitely need to work on this myself, but that is what I hope I and other Americans can strive to do in the days to come.

 

Music and Consumer Behavior

Photo: palmgolfclubmarrakech.com

 
You sit at a fancy restaurant and slowly savor each bite of a gourmet meal while drinking a bottle of wine as some smooth jazz music plays in the background. You walk into a clothing store and they have loud bumping music. It gets you pumped as you quickly sift through to find the shirt you’re looking for. These are two very different scenarios catering to potentially different audiences but both situations show how music plays a role in creating emotions and motivations behind purchasing decisions.

We can all attest to the fact that music does evoke emotions in people, whether it’s a song on the radio that hits you particularly hard that you can relate to, or the film score for a movie that pulls on your heartstrings to feel the emotions felt by the characters on the screen. Fifty percent of every purchasing decision is driven by emotion, so it is no surprise that music, with its ability to influence emotions, is closely tied to consumer behavior.

 

Music’s Genre and Creating Atmosphere

Out of all the qualities of music, the genre of music playing in the background has the biggest effect on customers’ perceptions of and preferences toward products. There was a study done in 1996 by North and Hargreaves at a university cafeteria. They found that if the customers liked the music they heard in the cafeteria, then they tended to like the cafeteria more and were more likely to return to dine there. Our associations with the music being played while we are shopping, directly affects our perception of the product. Not only will we tend to like the product more because we like the music, but specific genres of music will also change our perception of the products as well. In 1993, Areni and Kim played music from Top-40 to classical music at a wine store to see how it would affect shoppers’ behavior. The results were that playing classical music led consumers to buy more expensive wine because classical music is associated with sophistication, class and more expensive items.

@elizabethharbau I say we style your living room shelves with wall-to-wall wine. Just kidding. (Half kidding.):
Photo: pinterest.com

Knowing this, it isn’t a surprise that a lot of luxury car commercials often times will have classical music in their commercials for these same reasons.

North and Hargreaves continued their studies in 1999 where they alternated between playing French and German music in a wine store. On the days when they played French music, customers bought more French wine and on days they played German music, customers were more inclined to buy German wine. When questioned about their purchases later, customers were unaware that the music had an impact on their purchasing decisions. Like in film scores, we are often unaware of the music playing in the background, but it has a deep impact on our subconscious feelings and can lead us to make judgement and decisions based on these emotions.

Image result for person drinking in fancy restaurant
Photo: businessinsider.com

 

Music Tempo

Miliman did a series of interesting studies in 1982 and 1986 on the speed of music being played and the amount of time that consumers spent in a store in relation to that. In 1982, he found that with slower music playing, people shopped more slowly and ended up spending more money. In 1986’s experiment, Milliman played both fast and slow music at an upscale restaurant and found that customers tended to eat faster with faster music playing and slower with slower music playing. Because they ate slower with the slow music, they stayed longer at the restaurant and drank more alcoholic drinks, thus spending more money in the end. Image result for person drinking in fancy restaurant
Photo: gettyimages.com

 

Music Volume

This one is not completely surprising. Smith and Curnow did an experiment in 1966 where they played loud and soft music in stores. They found that people spent less time in a store when loud music was playing compared to soft music, but interestingly enough, the dollar amount spent by the customers was not significantly different. In 1988,Yalch and Spangenberg‘s study showed that younger customers spend more time with louder and more prominently featured music compared to the opposite for older customers who spend more time when music is softer and more in the background.

 
Music and Product/Brand Perception

Studies have shown that people tend to want to buy a product if they like the music in the ad compared to music they don’t like or no music at all (Mitchell, 1988; Simpkins & Smith). Similarly, if music that customers like is playing, they tend to enjoy their shopping experience more and think less time has gone by, even if they are spending a while waiting in line. Furthermore, people also tend to buy a product more when the music is fitting and appropriate for the brand or product (Oakes, 2007).

 

Music, Our Other Senses, and Our Brain

Image result for pleasure arousal in brain
Photo: alert.psychnews.org

 
Music also works great in conjunction with your other senses. In Spangenberg, Grohmann and Sprott, 2005, they tested the effect of: Christmas music alone playing in a store, a Christmas scent that permeated the store without the music, and then a combination of the scent and Christmas music playing simultaneously. They found the scent alone had a negative affect on its customers, compared to the scent plus the Christmas music together had a very positive, seasonal, and holistic experience on its customers.

Music can often seal the deal for product branding and perception because it speaks to us in subliminal ways. Why is that? PAD (Pleasure, Arousal, and Dominance), is “a psychological model developed by Albert Mehrabian and James A. Russell (1974 and after) to describe and measure emotional states,” as cited from Wikipedia. Music can often affect the pleasure and arousal centers in our brain that cause us to react or feel a certain way, and thus affect our purchasing decisions.

 

Tying it All Together

So after hearing all of this, which characteristic of music affects our perception of the product and purchasing decisions the most? It is the genre of the music that is played. The tempo and volume of the music affects how long someone stays in a store, with tempo directly tied to the amount of money spent by customers. Tying it all together from last week’s post about Music Genre and Personality Correlations, the type of music we like is core to who we are and shows correlations with our personality, so it is critical to understand who your target audience is when you play music in your stores or ads. You want your customers to have the best and most enjoyable experience possible; knowing what their taste in music is will help greatly in doing that and will help sell and brand your products more effectively.

 

Personality and Music Genre Correlations – Music For Businesses

Photo: storify.com

Just like your hobbies and your sense of fashion, your taste in music reflects a lot about your personality. You can probably deduce a lot about someone’s personality just by looking at their Spotify or iTunes.

 

Meyer and Briggs Personality Test

best-careers-for-your-personality-typePhoto: usmclife.com


Recently, I  took the Meyer & Briggs Personality Test when a coworker referenced it to me, as I was curious what archetype I would fall into. The Meyers Briggs test categorizes you into 16 distinctive personality types. If you haven’t taken it yet, it’s a fun  and more widely known test that is worth checking out. After taking it, I began to wonder what kind of correlation there was, if any, between the type of music you like and your personality. 16 personalities did a study with a sample pool of 4,000 people asking them what type of music they enjoy. Their findings are quite interesting:

  1. Punk music was most popular amongst the Intuitive and Prospective types instead of the Observing/Judging types. This includes 51% of Logicians (INTP), 49% of Mediators (INFP), and 48% of Virtuosos (ISTP).
  2. Jazz music was most popular amongst the Extroverted, Intuitive, and Assertive types. This includes 64% of Commanders (ENTJ), 64% of Protagonists (ENFJ), 62% of Campaigners (ENFP).
  3. Classical music was most popular amongst the intuitive over the observant personality type. This includes 79% of Commanders (ENTJ), 78% of Architects (INTJ), and 76% of Debaters (ENTP).
  4. Rock music was most popular amongst Intuitive and Prospective types rather than observing and judging ones. This includes 84% of Debaters (ENTP), 82% of Mediators (INFP), and 82% of Logicians (INTP). Ambient music was most popular amongst Intuitive, Prospective and Feeling types. This includes 65% of Campaigners (ENFP), 64% of Adventurers (ISFP), and 62% of Entertainers (ESFP).
  5. Pop music was most popular amongst Extroverted, Observant, and Turbulent types than Introverted, Intuitive, and Assertive ones. This includes 88% of Entertainers (ESFP), 80% of Consuls (ESFJ), and 78% of Adventurers (ISFP).
  6. Metal music fans “are a nearly perfect opposite of pop lovers: Introverted rather than Extroverted, Intuitive rather than Observant, Thinking rather than Feeling, and Prospecting rather than Judging.” This includes 50% of Entrepreneurs (ESTP), 48% of Logicians (INTP), and 42% of Architects (INTJ).
  7. Hip hop music was most popular amongst extroverted types. This includes 58% of Entrepreneurs (ESTP), 57& of Entertainers (ESFP), and 57& of Executives (ESTJ).
  8. Electronica was most popular amongst extroverted and prospecting types than introverted and judging. This includes 79% of Entrepreneurs (ESTP), 75% of Campaigners (ENFP), and 70% of Commanders (ENTJ).
  9. Country music was most popular amongst Extroverted, Observant, Feeling types. This includes 53% of Consuls (ESFJ), 52% of Entertainers (ESFP), and 46% of Protagonists (ENFJ).
  10. Soul music was most popular amongst Extroverted, Feeling types. This includes 58% of Campaigners (ENFP), 57& of Consuls (ESFJ), and 56% Entertainers (ESFP).

From personal experience, I tested as INTJ and do find that I am drawn to classical music more so than the other genres due to the more analytical nature of classical music as well as my desire to determine the structure and knowledge of how a piece of music works. As with everything, there are exceptions and may not always be a reliant way to judge a person’s taste in music, but I think it does show an interesting correlation between prominent characteristics in your personality and preferred genres of music. I would love to hear what others’ experiences are!

Music Psychology Study by Adrian North

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Photo: fossbytes.com

Music psychology scholar Adrian North, conducted a 3 year study with more than 36,000 participants. His findings come surprising – heavy metal fans are actually quite similar to classical music lovers, just younger. This matches the INTJ results from the 16 personalities test, that shows people who like classical and metal music have similar personality types (i.e. 78% of INTJ like Classical and 42% of INTJ like Metal). Specktor recounts some other results from his findings,

Heavy Metal fans are gentle and creative… Classical fans are smart (and know it)… Hip-hop fans are extroverts… Pop fans are outgoing and nervous… Rock fans are easygoing but selfish… Folk, jazz, and blues fans are deep thinkers… Country fans are hardworking and close-minded.

There are definitely some interesting commonalities between North’s and 16 personalities’ results, namely introvert and extrovert types. North’s study is in a sense a TL:DR version employing more general personality descriptors than the more detailed Meyers & Briggs personality archetypes in relation to their preferred musical genres.

 

Applications – For Composers and Artists

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Photo: alejandrocoello.com

So aside from being a fun test that shows similarities in various personalities in conjunction with different music genres and styles, what are some useful applications for this knowledge? As a composer, I find it super helpful to know beforehand what type of music the stakeholders of your projects like. It gives you a better idea of who they are and what they like and increases the likeliness that you will compose music that will get approved. Though this is my experience based on a composer’s perspective, I believe this is applicable to any artistic or creative endeavor. Furthermore, knowing the personality type of your stakeholders will allow you to figure out how to most effectively communicate with them. Half of the battle when working on a project is calibrating yourself to what your stakeholders mean when they say what they do. Music is one of those abstract things that is very hard to describe using words, so having some insight into what type of personality  type/genre of music your stakeholders like will go miles.
Application- For Companies and Businesses
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Photo: entrepreneur.com

A lot of social media companies, like Facebook for instance, thrive on finding out as much data about their users as possible so that they can provide custom new feeds that show you posts that represent your viewpoint; this also helps with monetization as they can cater ads that have a higher chance of their users clicking on based on their interests. Music plays a big part in how we perceive things and knowing your target audience as a company, will allow you to customize the most enjoyable music experience for your users.  Think for instance, if you own and run a restaurant or a store. What type of people are drawn to your store? Are you able to attract the type of audience you want to your business based on the music you play? Stay tuned in the next blog post as we continue discussing more about this!

 

Lucid Dreaming, Writing Music in Your Sleep, Hypnagogia, and Sensory Reflections

Photo: thirdmonk.net

Recently, I’ve been having so many vivid dreams. Apparently I have a very odd way of dreaming – 90% of the time, I am aware that I’m dreaming and if I don’t like the ending to a dream, I will rewind the dream and change it to an alternative ending of my pleasing. Sometimes I will also add commentary on top of the dream like, “Wow, this plot sucks. Looks like the writer just wrote themselves into a corner. Oh wait, that’s me. Rewind, try a different ending.” I have always accepted this as the norm because I didn’t realize most people don’t dream like this.

Lucid Dreaming

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Photo: deviantart.com

I learned that this concept was called “lucid dreaming” recently when our team went to lunch and we were talking about this subject. According to Wikipedia, a lucid dream is “any dream during which the dreamer is aware that they are dreaming. During lucid dreaming, the dreamer may be able to exert some degree of control over the dream characters, narrative, and environment.” I think part of the reason why I am so tired after dreaming all the time is because I am constantly lucid dreaming. People have tactics where they can develop the skill of lucid dreaming but I am trying to figure out if there is a way to unlucid dream. Doesn’t seem to be much information out there in regards to that. However, I have found that lucid dreaming can be used for a lot of great creative output, such as having great writing material for both storytelling as well as music.

Composing Music in Dreams
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Photo: pinterest.com

There was a time when I was very heavily writing music, pretty much 24/7. My brain was constantly in that harmonic and melodic mode. I remember feeling really stressed out about having to produce music tracks under tight deadlines and when people are anxious, they usually have anxiety dreams. I had just read about the terrible flooding in Nashville and felt really bad about what had happened to the Country Music Capital. With a combination of that article and my lucid dreaming at work, my brain decided that it was going to write a song about it when I fell asleep from exhaustion. In my dream, I kept going through different chord and melody changes in an attempt to write a song in the country music genre. I finally came up with something that I thought was decent. I knew I was in a dream at the time and forced myself to wake up so I could write down the music before I forgot it. So here is the song I literally wrote in my sleep for the floods in Nashville.

I am sure my fellow composers out there have probably also had similar experiences where they write music in their sleep as well. I haven’t had any experiences of this recently because I haven’t been writing music as frequently as I would like. I believe dreams reflect what you’ve been thinking or doing the most of recently, and so perhaps a good test of if you want to write music in your sleep, is to constantly be engrossed in the activity of music composition.

Paul McCartney’s “Yesterday”
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Photo: feelnumb.com

Most people who have heard of the Beatles know their famous song, “Yesterday.” Apparently Paul McCartney wrote the melody of this song in his dream one night as well. He was highly concerned that he had subconsciously plagiarized someone’s work (known as cryptomnesia). McCartney said, “For about a month I went round to people in the music business and asked them whether they had ever heard it before. Eventually it became like handing something in to the police. I thought if no-one claimed it after a few weeks then I could have it.”

Sounds in Dreams
Similar to how some people dream in color and some don’t, some people dream with sounds and some don’t. For people who are blind, sounds play a much bigger role in their dreams, though they also do dream with some visuals as well. However, what’s interesting to note is that the ability to hear sounds in your dreams is hugely reliant on being able to hear and experience sounds in real life in the first place. Many people who are born deaf do not experience sounds in their dreams.

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Photo: curiousread.com

Even though we shut our eyes when we dream, we don’t shut our ears. That is why a lot of times external sounds become a part of our dream. For example, a loud bang that might have happened outside your window while you were sleeping might become the sound of a gunshot for example in your dream. Our ability to distinguish between dream sounds and external stimuli sounds become blurred because our sense of reality is blurred. This leads us to the concept of hypnagogia.

Hypnagogia
Hypnagogia is basically the hallucinations of visuals, sounds, and other senses we experience going from the state of being awake to the state of sleeping.  According to Wikipedia, hypnagogia is a “mental phenomena” that occurs “during this ‘threshold consciousness’ phase” and includes “lucid thought, lucid dreaming, hallucinations, and sleep paralysis.” Wikipedia further describes it in this way:

Hypnagogic sounds vary in intensity from faint impressions to loud noises, such as crashes and bangs (exploding head syndrome). People may imagine their own name called, crumpling bags, white noise, or a doorbell ringing. Snatches of imagined speech are common. While typically nonsensical and fragmented, these speech events can occasionally strike the individual as apt comments on — or summations of — their thoughts at the time. They often contain word play, neologisms and made-up names. Hypnagogic speech may manifest as the subject’s own “inner voice“, or as the voices of others: familiar people or strangers. More rarely, poetry or music is heard.

Salvador Dali, my favorite surrealist artist, would keep a key in his hand and a metal bowl on the ground. Whenever he drifted into a deep enough sleep, his hand would let go of the key and it would fall into the metal bowl. The clank would wake him up and he would be refreshed and inspired to draw something weird. This brief hypnagogia stage between being asleep and awake was according to Dali, all you needed to revivify  your “physical and psychic being.”

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In Steven R. Pritzer’s Encyclopedia of Creativity, many examples are given of creatives and intellects employing the hypnagogia stage to their advantage.

Ludwig von Beethoven reported obtaining inspiration for a composition in 1821 while napping in his carriage on route to Vienna.

Inspired by a hypnagogic episode, composer Richard Wagner went on to complete an entire opera, The first of his celebrated “Ring Cycle”…

Thomas Edison often stretched out on his workshop couch; during these “half waking “episodes, he claims that creative images flooded his mind.


Sensory Reflections in Dreams

Based on my experience, the sense that is most prominent in my dreams is related to what I’m most focused on in my current season in life. Before my sound design days, I did not pay attention to audio and sound as much as I do now. I also noticed that my dreams were less audio centric than they are now. As a child, food was always something I looked forward to, so smell played a big role in a lot of my dreams. Now as an adult, I don’t think about food as often and can’t really remember the last time I smelled anything in a dream. Likewise, during my heavy music composition days as previously discussed, music played a larger role in my dreams. I’ve been focused a lot more on sound design lately, and the only sensory detail other than the visuals that I can remember from the long vivid series of dreams I had last night are the sounds. At one time I could hear the fast whooshing air every time I swung high above it and the distant sound of the train, alerting me that I had to dismount quickly onto the railroad tracks before it came. It’s truly amazing how your dreams reflect what you’re immersed in and the most dominant sense in your current season in life.

What are your experiences with this? I would love to hear about them! 🙂

Professionalism, Mobas, and Glasses

Photo: 2civility.org

During the Olympics, you turn on the TV and see Michael Phelps win the gold yet again. “What a pro!” you hear your friend exclaim.

Your father has to receive a colonoscopy and is fearful of the painful procedure. After he has it done, you ask him how it went and he informs you that while it was painful, the doctor was a true professional and put him at as much ease as possible.

Professional vs. Being Professional

Though these two scenarios are quite different, they both introduce the concept of pros and professionalism, which are actually two very different things. While we often use “pro” or “professional” to describe someone’s ability to excel in their respective fields, professionalism extends to something beyond that. Going off of the Olympics swimmers’ example, Ryan Lochte could also be considered a “pro” based on his abilities, but he is definitely not very professional based on his actions. Professionalism is, “the skill, good judgment, and polite behavior that is expected from a person who is trained to do a job well,” according to Merriam Webster.  I want to talk about this topic because often we focus on being the best at what we do in regards to skill set but we forget that another very important aspect to excelling at what we do is to be professional. It is an unspoken code of conduct that can make or break your career. Just look at Ryan Lochte going from a gold medal winner proudly representing the USA with his gold medal to being an embarrassment after he lied about his actions in Rio.

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Photo: Deadspin.com

The meaning of professionalism is different in each job, field, and individual company since each workplace has a very different culture. I can only share what it means from my experiences, and would love to hear what others’ experiences have been. Though situations may be different depending on where you are and what you do, a lot of it stems from having a good moral standard, and acting in a way that you would want to be treated.

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Photo: Photo.StackExchange.com

For instance, you see a big puddle of water in the company kitchen. Do you ignore it? Or do you take the time to clean it up in case someone slips on it? This may seem like a simple thing, but it’s little decisions like these that reflect how we will handle and react to bigger and more important moral decisions in the workplace. Always being conscious of how your actions will positively or negatively affect others is a good starting point in developing good habits in professionalism.


Professionalism in a Live MOBA Game

When I first started working at EA, professionalism was a huge thing that I had to learn because I was young and stupid.

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Dawngate, the game that we were making, was a game in the MOBA genre. Professionalism is especially important working on a live MOBA game where you are in direct contact with the community playing your game. For anyone who has never played a MOBA, the community of players for these types of games are often very toxic and not friendly. In 2015, Attack Gaming rated the top 10 most toxic games  and League of Legends and Dota 2, both MOBAs, took the #1 and #2 spots.  It is not uncommon for people to rage at you for making a mistake in a game that could cost your team the win. Below is a common type of interaction seen in League of Legends (Note: don’t read if you will be offended by coarse language):

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Picture: Elohell.net

Learning to interact with players in this type of game as a developer, and not as a player, really changed my views of what it means to be professional. Often times, the knee jerk reaction if someone complains to you as a developer about why this thing is broken or why this part of your game sucks or why you suck at the game, is to take offense, fighting them back with the same hurtful words they inflicted upon you. However, learning that as a developer of the game, you are representing not just yourself but the company you work for, has really changed my views on what professionalism means. It is taking the higher road, acknowledging and addressing the player’s concerns, and placing yourself in their shoes. They wouldn’t be complaining to you if they didn’t care about the game, and while the way that they communicate this may not be ideal, it is actually good feedback to have. Learning to respond in a professional and positive way helps us to lead the community as developers, setting the tone of the conversation to be a more inclusive and constructive environment for everyone.

Establishing Credibility 

There is a certain level of trust in that individual when you consider someone professional, similar to the example of the doctor doing a colonoscopy. A lot of that trust derives from developing a reputation and establishing credibility. There are different ways to establish credibility/reputation. You can have a good track record of doing great work; you can also assist others to more effectively do what they do. In MOBA terms, this would be like playing a good support. I generally play support characters in these games, which is another reason why I really like my new role in the Central Audio department at Microsoft. A good portion of our job is about developing innovative tools and prototypes that can assist other teams across multiple platforms to think outside of the box when it comes to making audio awesome in their apps, as well as things that can help their audio designers. Becoming an audio resource that many teams use across the company has helped establish our team’s credibility. This credibility translates to a higher notion of professionalism in the workplace. Think back to that earlier example with the water on the ground. When the bigger picture of assisting others for the greater good of the company becomes the main focus, this leads to an increased sense of professionalism among individuals.

Personal Anecdote

From a personal standpoint, establishing credibility has been an interesting challenge for me. A lot of this stems from the fact that people often think I look like a kid and don’t respect my opinions because of it. One time, I was trying to network with other audio professionals at a meetup and I wanted to connect with a certain individual who was a veteran in the field. I stood next to this person and tried to contribute to the conversation but this person acted like I wasn’t there and was ignoring me, probably thinking I was an intern or a student trying to get a job from him. While I understand his reasoning, it was still disheartening. I mentioned some names and he was surprised upon hearing that I worked at Microsoft and it was only then that he started speaking to me.  When I told him I was a senior sound designer, he was like senior?? How many years have you been working in the field? While I don’t think this was an intentional jab at trying to be rude to me, it made me start thinking that I need to work on establishing credibility and improving my professionalism.


The Glasses Experiment

In an attempt for a more professional and established look, I have been wearing glasses as an experiment to see if this helps provide better results. FullSizeRender.jpg

Several incidences have happened that have made me realize that glasses don’t make a difference in my situation. My team would previously always go to a bar called Malt and Vine to eat lunch until one fateful day, I got kicked out of the bar because I had forgotten my ID and the bartender insisted that I looked like I was under 21 and that minors weren’t allowed on the premises. The rest of my team was drinking in the outdoor sitting area and I ended up having to stand in the parking lot on the other side of the fence and watch them drink. It was pretty sad. A coworker felt bad for me and offered to put a chair on the other side of the fence for me to sit on. The waitress said this is not allowed because I was still on their premises (not sure how the shared parking lot still counts as their premises). Since then, our team has been on strike going there. I was also at a wedding recently and the waiter just automatically put apple cider in front of me instead of champagne. Then the final straw was when some kids trying to sell things knocked on the door and asked if my mom was home. While it’s a compliment to look young, it has been an interesting struggle in attempting to develop a sense of professionalism for myself. The results and conclusions of my glasses experiment are that glasses don’t really make me look older (or at least old enough to be respected) but they do help me to feel more confident and established; they are also quite fashionable so I think I will continue wearing them. This is some of my personal sharing in regards to this topic. I am still learning how to tackle this and would love to hear about other people’s experiences! 🙂