Sunday, 7 August 2011

Dynamics and Their Affect on Attention

Ok the subject of this first post is dynamics! Not just dynamics in volume but in all aspects of sound. In order to save processing power and increase efficiency, the brain is programmed to acclimatize itself to static sounds. (or any static stimulus really, but we're talking about music) In the same way you grow to take something for granted, your mind will pay less and less attention to something if it does not change perceptibly over time. This is due to the fact that it can't spend attention on everything and if there's no change then there's no point in continuing to report that stimulus. Think of going to visit a website every day to check if they've published a new article. Day after day you check and most days there's nothing new. Instead of wasting your time and resources you decide to subscribe to the page by rss and ignore it until you're notified something new has been added. This is similar to how the brain handles input.

What this means for your music is that if you want your listener to continue to pay attention to something, it needs to be dynamic. It's obvious on a larger scale; A 7 minute track of the same 4 beats looping will tire you quickly and the reason will be blatant. But this also holds true on a smaller scale, where it might not be so obvious to the producer. Say you have a sick line but after a while it just starts to grate on you. You think maybe it's just not as good as I thought? Maybe I should change it to something else? You change the pattern and it sounds a bit more fresh so you continue on. But in a while it starts to grate on you again. This can be very frustrating but realize it's not necessarily down to your lack of skill as a producer. It's just lacking dynamics.

What you need to do is change the part in question over the course of the track. This can be a change of melody, rhythm, timbre, atmosphere, volume, modulation, effects, etc. Anything that you can vary is fair game. This doesn't need to be massive restructuring of the part every four bars. You can still maintain continuity in the part and have it sound the same, while making minute tweaks that don't necessarily register to the listener. This keeps the mind on its toes and constantly processing input of that specific part which means it maintains relevance over the course of the track and helps to reduce boredom.

You can also do the inverse in your arrangements to creative effect. Repetition is a powerful tool to get the brain used to a certain sound. You can slowly blend something into the background and when the sound finally changes or ends, it draws new attention to itself. I'm sure you can remember not noticing the air conditioning until all of a sudden it shuts off. The abrupt silence sucks in your attention, despite there being not much left to listen to. In this way you can draw attention to negative space in your productions.

Once you get the listener used to something and then take it away they crave it. The track feels empty without it. Like the saying goes, you don't know what you have till it's gone. If you're so inclined, you can then reintroduce the element, which after a long absence, will be appreciated with much vigor and will have a new found importance in the listener's attention stream.

This doesn't just have to do with changes in arrangement over the course of the whole track. In terms of sound design, small variations within a single pattern or even a single note will give your sounds a more live feeling and reduce fatigue. With real live instruments and players, there is always minute variations in timing, tone, pitch, etc. that give things a human feel. Try this out on your productions and see if it gives them some organic analog life!

14 comments:

  1. Woah, very epic first official post. Definitely looking forward to the future of your blog. Really inspired me, since I often get bogged down after listening to the same melody line over and over, and why changing it feels so good. The psychology of producing has honestly never crossed my mind, even though they are two of my biggest passions.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Ha, started writing a comment, then I needed a new paragraph. When I need a new paragraph in a comment, I know that it should be a post of its own. So, I'll be posting a response to this quality post. Expecting tig bhings.

    Followed in a big way.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hooray for inter-blogular info-coitus! Throw a link in the comments when you get it up.

    (See what I did there?)

    ReplyDelete
  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Great first post, you raised some interesting points and seem to follow the same ethos as me when it comes down to writing.

    Wicked stuff!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Really interesting post man, glad you started blogging!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Very nice for your first post mate. looking forward for more :DDD +followed

    ReplyDelete
  8. I'm more of a thermodynamics or hydrodynamics type of guy. :D
    Following, mate! :)

    ReplyDelete
  9. Awesome post! You seem to know what your talking about! I'm gonna have to follow your blog and see what other things you have to say!
    And I wanna here about your taste in music!

    ReplyDelete
  10. Awesome post dude, really good read. Looking forward to seeing your next post!

    ReplyDelete
  11. That's some in-depth stuff. Always glad to hear how to make music more attention getting!

    ReplyDelete
  12. Great post. I'm really interested in Convergent & Divergent thinking and how it affects production. I can easily find myself getting bored of beats if i listen to them for too long without making changes. I must have several hundred half baked ideas sitting idle in my logic folder.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Great post really interesting way to look at the brain and music production

    ReplyDelete
  14. Great post. I dont know much to analyze such in depth like you did, but some of the things you said i find em to be very very accurate. Repetitive music tends to wear me down a lot faster and makes me sleepy, i cant really study while listening it. On the other hand, things like classical music, its like it clears my mind and i become more effective while doing something that requires a little intelect. I dont know if that even makes sense hahaha

    ReplyDelete