Cultivate Clean Observation
It is impossible to hear a truly accurate recorded reproduction of an analog instrument as it would sound if you were in a room with a musician experiencing them playing the same instrument live. The reproduced playback is infinitely colored by endless points along the signal flow to the recording medium and then back out from the playback device to your ears.
The sound waves produced are first and foremost colored by the space they are recorded in; reverberations varying by degree and intensity. Then the waves must be captured by a microphone; each microphone tailored to a purpose, tuned to detect a specific frequency range and dynamic sensitivity.
When the sound wave is converted into electrical energy by the microphone it then travels down a cable on a journey towards a mixing board and potentially to some outboard gear. In the recording, mixing and mastering processes the board and outboard gear expose an almost infinite array of coloring opportunities; morphing and shaping the original sound wave that initially left the instrument.
Preamps can provide extra volume, equalizers can boost or remove certain frequencies, compressors can squash or expand dynamic range and gates can completely eradicate unwanted noise or resonance from the signal. After these basic needs are addressed by the sound engineer, there are countless ways to color the sound even further if desired. Phasers, Flangers, Distortion, Delays and Reverbs are more intentional tools that are used to morph and twist the original sound wave to form frequency experiences that may melt into the mix of an entire song in a more unique way.
The recording medium itself cannot be ignored either. Analog or digital, tape or computer; either one of these may itself provide signal conversion and compression. From here, the final recorded, mixed and mastered sound wave will be sent for reproduction which may again include its own analog or digital format.
When the sound is finally ready for consumption, things get even more complicated; one listener may be in their car adjusting the bass and treble settings listening through factory-installed speakers, another may be listening on their audiophile-quality home sound system and yet another on their mobile device through a streaming music service with any thousands of brand/style of headphones.
But the coloring does not stop there. As the signal enters our ear, we each uniquely interpret the sound based on the frequency range and sensitivity of our hearing mechanics. Further along the journey the signal is processed by each of our brains uniquely based on our life experience and the subsequent connection of our synapses. We each have an individual preference for when something sounds subjectively “good” or “bad”.
What can we learn from sound waves, the audio engineering process and this seemingly infinite combination of signal coloration?
When we examine our observations we must recognize that each one of these is unique to us and they are all infinitely colored by an endless combination of experience and interpretation. Through this we find awareness of self, how and why we interpret the way that we do and can ultimately help ourselves to cultivate a more true and clean state of observation. Why is this important?
When we find acceptance of our own observations and how drastically morphed they are from the original source, we discover that everyone’s observations are uniquely and unintentionally colored to their own experience. Through this process we find understanding; we find connection; we find a deeper acceptance of one another.
When we uncover that the morphed inputs, twisted processing and complicated outputs that comprise our own unique truth are no better or worse than anyone else’s, we can more easily connect and accept one another’s views, opinions and observations.
When we accept the faults in our own signal flow, we are more forgiving of ourselves and others. We receive, we process, we interpret, we store, we deliver. The base process is the same for all of us, yet the results exist in endless combinations within all of us. We must work to acknowledge this, keep our observation as clean as possible and accept the music as it exits each one of us back into the world. Together, with intention and our own individual outputs, we can create a symphony of sound that lifts us all to a higher plane of existence.