The WFAE postings on "loud music & hearing loss " continued for weeks. What follows are some of the postings that should appeal to anyone interested in the subject. On this page my responses sometimes follow the postings and sometimes are interlaced with them.

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The argument for clean high sound pressure levels.

On Tues, 27 May 1997, Mark Kolmar wrote:

<The sound-pressure level isn't necessarily as much of an issue as
<distortion (esp. inharmonic or intermodulation distortion). I've
<owned different amplifiers over the years. In the last couple
<years I've been able to purchase a somewhat high-end pre-amp,
<power amp and speakers. It can create significantly higher SPLs,
<but causes far less fatigue at the same SPL versus equipment I've
<used previously. My motivation is not to create a high SPL for its own sake,
<but to create a more realistic, balanced soundstage --
<which follows from the ability to recreate transients and higher
<SPLs with low distortion. This means less strain on the ears, as
<well as a more enjoyable and relaxing listening experience. (And
<there is, perhaps, a link here as well.)

RP. This is one of the better arguments that I've been hearing for years from the better audio engineers and audiophiles. Get the best equipment with the least distortion for the best listening experience... The problem is that audio equipment with a perfectly linear response exists only in your sweetest dreams. Least distortion is not the same as no distortion. All audio systems, even the best, impart their color to the audio signal. The color, subtle as it may be at lower levels and more obvious at higher levels, is a combination of influences such as the noise floor (composed of component and thermal noise), transient response (response to sharply defined events of short duration), amplitude distortion (unequal frequency response), phase distortion (unequal phase response), harmonic distortion (resulting from the combination of amplitude and phase distortion), and intermodulation distortion (frequencies beating against each other to create sum-and-difference frequencies). All those distortions are always present in the sound produced by any audio system. That's the given.

The key to getting the best sound out of any audio system is to have intact fully functioning ears, an experience-based (not just book) knowledge of how the music is supposed to sound, a full working understanding of the limitations of your equipment, and the time and temperament to tune the system to fit the music. In other words, be an audio artist, levels up from audio engineer. The audio artist breed is rare indeed. Mark's statement that "My motivation is not to create a high SPL for its own sake, but to create a more realistic, balanced soundstage..." sets him far apart from that audio engineering mob out there unconsciously blowing away our hearing. The issue of sound-pressure levels can't be dismissed. The hearing system has limits and thresholds. Sounds that exceed those levels threaten the hearing system.

Ron Pellegrino

This page's link list.


Understanding "Why folks need to listen to loud music"

From: (A year or so after this exchange was originally posted, the author sent me a message (10/1/98) asking to remain anonymous. His argument was that "It [his email message] is taken out of context without the benefit of the thread that preceded it on the WFAE list." Given that there are three sections devoted to Loud Music and Hearing Loss including the WFAE postings and that his message appears here exactly as the original post, most likely the author gave the issues deeper thought and decided to change his positions. Whatever the case, his request for anonymity is honored here.)
Subject: loud music

<Shouldn't this discussion include an understanding of Why folks
<Need to listen to loud music - particularly during those early
<pubescent years.

RP. How will understanding "Why folks Need to listen to loud music"(excessively loud music) affect the factors that lead to hearing loss? Wasn't hearing loss the issue? Is there actually a subcultural or biological "need" to listen to music that's so excessively loud that it leads to hearing impairment? Is the need for partial self-destruction healthy or pathological?

<OK, there are the obvious hormonal answers - which I'm not
<dismissing, we've just heard them all before.

RP. I would love to hear those "obvious hormonal answers " articulated. And the not so obvious too.

<What about physiologically - does our body/brain Need this
<kind of input? Psychologically - do we need a kind of rite of
<passage which loud music comes closest to? If we don't
<understand the answers to these questions, we'll just be
<bandaiding the problem with holier-than-thou pontifications
<about how bad loud noise is. Sure it's bad; let's understand
<why it's there.

RP. There's a switch in the above paragraph from "loud music " to "loud noise. " Is "loud music " the same as "loud noise?" Drum and bugle corps = a pneumatic hammer corps? In fact, neither loud music nor loud noise are inherently "bad. " It's a question of context and degree. Loud is a normal perception level in music. Loud noise at a construction site is normally good for the bottom line because it means people are working, the equipment is being used, and work is probably being accomplished. Loud music or loud noise that exceeds the threshold of pain should be dealt with consciously and appropriately - put on ear protection or put some distance between your ears and the offending source if you care at all about keeping your hearing intact near term or long term. The "holier-than-thou pontifications" ploy is usually indicative of an unwillingness to follow or present logical arguments.

Ron Pellegrino

This page's link list.


Sing, clean your brain, and stay sound and sane:

From: john wynhausen
Subject: Re: loud music

<Your message reminded of a book I once came across entitled
<"Sing, clean your brain, and stay sound and sane: Postulate of
<the mechanical effect of vocalization on the brain". It was
<written by a father/daughter team, Karel F. and Heda Jindrak,
<both of whom are M.D.'s. The book was published by JINDRAK,
<Forest Hills, NY in 1986. I don't know if it is still available.

<The authors' hypothesis is that the structure borne sound that
<propagates along bony structures, primarily in our head, during
<loud vocalizations, tends to vibrate brain tissue in such a way
<that the natural diffusive processes of cleaning "waste
<material" from the brain is enhanced. They recommend singing
<and LOUD vocalization for general health maintenance.

RP. Loud vocalizations produce powerful vibrations that are not just in the head. There are also powerful vibrations in the trachea and the lungs that radiate throughout the body via bone conduction, stimulate the nervous system, and probably affect every single cell in the body. The vibrations coming out of the mouth also come back into the ears to create a feedback loop that further stimulates the nervous system and helps to focus the mind.

For a variety of reasons (bad posture, sedentary lifestyle, polluted indoor air, habit, etc.) most people take very shallow breaths, consequently their lungs are mostly filled with stale air composed of carbon dioxide and other biological waste gases; plus shallow breathing causes their blood to be deficient in oxygen (brain food). Proper singing and LOUD vocalization make people breathe deeply by bringing the diaphragm into play to forcefully press air out of the lungs. The physical effort of repeating the deep breathing process promotes a higher level of activity in all the circulation systems which results in overall (not just brain) cleansing; it also improves the focus and clarity of all the sensory systems. These observations come from years of testing in the context of university music teaching. During those years I met with all my music students from freshmen to Ph.D. candidates twice weekly for two-hour sessions. The first 10-15 minutes of every meeting focused on elephant swinging and singing for the purposes of deep breathing, physical and mental relaxation, and tuning. Most of these people walked in at 6 PM dragging their tired bodies from the efforts of the day; after 15 minutes of swinging and singing I was in a room full of highly energized creative people.

<They use as an example, kids playing in a playground - are they
<ever quiet? No, kids always tend to make loud sounds - maybe
<it is some deep biological need that adults have suppressed.

RP. Adults have plenty of outlets for making loud sounds. If you're looking for a loud adult experience, just attend any professional, college, or high school sports event. Try an Italian, or Greek, or Mexican, or just about any wedding reception.

<One must also wonder that, if such a phenomenon were true,
<could it be related to the meditative uses of chanting."

RP. Meditative chanting from the ancient eastern religious traditions incorporates but goes far beyond deep breathing, mechanical cleansing, and clearing the mind of its incessant chattering. What is chanted, Om (the sound of the universe), is a mantric word that will tune the chanter to become one with the universe. The tuning is based on the principles of both physical and spiritual resonance and entrainment.

<The authors also discuss the possible devastating effects of a
<society that primarily listens to professionally produced music
<rather than producing it themselves (i.e. TV, radio, stereo,
<personal stereo, etc.)

RP. And that is one of the most important arguments for supporting music performance in all our educational systems, especially K-12. Have you heard public singing in the United States lately? Forget about harmony. Forget about unison. "Happy Birthday " is now performed in shifting inharmonic parallel clusters. But the music biz is booming...literally.

Ron Pellegrino

This page's link list.


More sing, clean your brain, and stay sound and sane:

From: Brad Story
To: "'acoustic-ecology@sfu.ca'"
Subject: re:loud music

<I've been reading the messages in this discussion group for a
<few months now but have not submitted any until now. Hence,
<an introduction is probably in order. My name is Brad Story
<and I am a research scientist at the WJ Gould Voice Research
<Center at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts (in Denver,
<CO).

<This is a reply to Jim Metzner's message on a possible need for loud music.

<Your message reminded of a book I once came across entitled
<"Sing, clean your brain, and stay sound and sane: Postulate of
<the mechanical effect of vocalization on the brain". It was
<written by a father/daughter team, Karel F. and Heda Jindrak,
<both of whom are M.D.'s. The book was published by JINDRAK,
<Forest Hills, NY in 1986. I don't know if it is still available.

<The authors' hypothesis is that the structure borne sound that
<propagates along bony structures, primarily in our head, during
<loud vocalizations, tends to vibrate brain tissue in such a way
<that the natural diffusive processes of cleaning "waste
<material" from the brain is enhanced. They recommend singing
<and LOUD vocalization for general health maintenance.

<They use as an example, kids playing in a playground - are they
<ever quiet? No, kids always tend to make loud sounds - maybe
<it is some deep biological need that adults have suppressed.

<One must also wonder that, if such a phenomenon were true,
<could it be related to the meditative uses of chanting.

<The authors also discuss the possible devastating effects of a
<society that primarily listens to professionally produced music
<rather than producing it themselves (i.e. TV, radio, stereo,
<personal stereo, etc.)

<-So, maybe, and this is pure speculation, loud music does serve
<some biological need that people are missing in their lives -
<could it be a cleansing process? When music is loud enough,
<maybe it is taking the place of the natural cleansing process
<once created by loud vocalization. Unfortunately, because of
<the inefficiency of acoustic transmission from air to tissue
<(e.g. from speakers to listeners bony tissue) the auditory
<system is probably sacrificed to obtain this effect if externally
<(external to the human body) generated sound is used.

<I must qualify my comments by saying that I have never heard
<of any other researcher's corroborating the statements in this
<book, and I'm not sure whether the research would stand up
<to scientific scrutiny, but it is something to think about.

RP. The subject of "loud music" is a digression from the original "loud music & hearing loss" thread that stimulated so many postings. Perhaps it would have been more precise to call the original subject "excessively loud music & hearing loss." "Excessively loud" means that the loudness level goes above and beyond the threshold of pain, a good sign that you are about to lose some of your hearing, either temporarily or permanently.

There is no good argument against the loud in music; in fact, the totality of loud contrasted with soft and all levels between the two extremes gives us dynamic range, one of the keys to expression in music. The dynamic marking "f" in traditional notation means loud. So the "loud" in music has been around for a long time. "ff" means loud as possible and given certain instruments - trombone and timpani - "ff" can make an powerful impression on your hearing system. The point is that "loud" and "loud as possible" are part and parcel of the music game, the acoustic music game. Music lovers love loud music in the context of a full dynamic range. It's exciting if used musically. Have you ever heard many soft climaxes?

Loud music is highly stimulating. It makes you want to march into battle, jump up and down, and shake your body parts in sync with the music. There's a long history of dance music that's loud and up-tempo.

Nevertheless, NONSTOP loud music desensitizes your ear (creates a threshold shift) and numbs the mind. Once you move into the sphere of electronic instruments and electronic sound reinforcement, other factors come into play. Any idiot can crank up the gain on a power amplifier to produce excessive loudness and threaten the integrity of your hearing and, unfortunately, many idiots do; it's a common public form of audio power tripping.

Ron Pellegrino

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