Today was my first day of school: the Certificate IV in Sound Production, leading (next year) to the Advanced Diploma in same, at NMIT. It’s the next step on a journey that started in January last year, when Google decided I wasn’t their kind of nerd, and it started to become clear what their plans were with regard to Google Plus and names (definitely not their kind of nerd, since I believe people have the right to control their own identity). I decided to quit and do something else. I was recently going through my (locked) Dreamwidth posts from that time, and it’s funny how quickly I made the decision to change careers, even though I didn’t announce it publicly til May.
Anyway, today was my first day on campus for classes. I’m studying at the Fairfield campus, which is the old infectious diseases hospital. The heritage listed Federation buildings, well-groomed grounds, and natural light in the classrooms are fantastic, but the isolation and lack of lunch options less so. I caught the tram/bus down there today, but from tomorrow I’m going to be biking along Merri Creek.
The morning was spent in orientation sessions, which were just as boring as you might expect (I took my knitting), then the afternoon in going over the student handbook and assessment criteria, followed by our first class in Occupational Health and Safety. My cohort is approximately 25 students, of whom five are women (a better ratio, I note, than any tech job I’ve had in the last decade or so). Most are recent school leavers; among the “mature” students, I am apparently the most mature (ha!), being the only one who can remember the introduction of CDs in the early 1980s. Only a handful of students were born before 1990.
The course is vocational, which means it focuses on practical applications and only gives you the theory you need to get the job done. I have about 18 hours of classes a week, spread across four days (Fridays are free), and we’ve been told that we generally won’t get homework or assessment tasks that need to be done outside of our scheduled time. I’ve been explaining TAFE to my US friends as “community college crossed with DeVry” but in fact the curriculum is closer to DeVry; there are no general education credits, and no classes outside of our vocational focus. There’s also very little attention paid (as far as I can tell so far) to the sort of cultural analysis or free-ranging ideas-based discussion that I tend to get from the mostly university-educated nerds I hang out with.
For example, one of the instructors today, when describing an instruction unit called “Implement copyright arrangements”, stated outright that “copyright is the only way people in the music industry can make money”.
(Pause for all my copyright reformist friends to pound their heads on their desks.)
Another thing I heard today, from our OHS instructor, is that rock and roll makes you horny. Well, sure, I’ll buy that. But he said it’s because the sacculus (part of the inner ear) responds in a certain way to vibrations over 90dB (the volume at which rock and roll is typically played), provoking an erotic response.
Is this something that’s widely believed? All I found when googling “sacculus erotic response” was a scam trying to sell “Pherotones” (I won’t link), a sort of ring tone for your phone that makes you (the default heterosexual male customer, of course) irresistable to girls, based on magical frequencies that vibrate the sacculus in a certain way. Classy.
Google Scholar, however, turned up the work of Dr Neil Todd of Manchester University, who published papers such as Vestibular responses to loud dance music: A physiological basis of the “rock and roll threshold” (1999) and Evidence for a behavioral significance of saccular acoustic sensitivity in humans (2001). Their research was reported in New Scientist, which summarised it as:
Because the vestibular system has a connection to the hypothalamus, the part of the brain responsible for drives like hunger, sex and hedonistic responses, Todd believes that people might be getting a pleasurable buzz when they listen to music–which could explain why music has developed into such a cultural force. This buzz may mimic the thrills people get from swings and bungee jumping, where motion stimulates the balance centre.
But there is a proviso: the sacculus only appears to be sensitive to loud volumes–above 90 decibels. Despite this, crooners could also love their own singing because sound levels in the larynx have been estimated to be as high as 130 decibels. “It’s bloody loud in there,” Todd says.
“The distribution of frequencies that are typical in rock concerts and at dance clubs almost seem designed to stimulate the sacculus. They are absolutely smack bang in this range of sensitivity,” Todd says. Large groups of people singing or chanting together, such as a choir or a crowd at a sporting event, could also trigger the mechanism, he adds.
I haven’t read the full papers (ahem, mainstream academic publishing prevents spread of knowledge, blah blah copyright blah blah revolution blah blah first up against the wall), but as far as I can tell, the experiments involved getting a small number of subjects, taping electrodes to their necks, then playing blips of noise at certain volumes and frequencies and watching their neck tension. The neck tension demonstrates that the sounds are affecting the sacculus. What’s the connection between that and pleasure, though? Well, the participants are “required to rate the pleasantness of the stimuli on a nine-point scale”. So there is no connection between the two that’s not mediated via a subjective judgement. Oh… kay.
So I guess if you believe that the sacculus response and the pleasure are connected, that that pleasure is necessarily sexual, and that 10ms single-frequency blips are equivalent to, say, seeing AC/DC play live, then sure, rock and roll makes you horny. I could have told you that, but I probably would have mentioned something about low lights, sexually oriented lyrics, crowds of sweaty people moving against each other, and alcoholic disinhibition. Still, it was a lecture about hearing and hearing loss, not about cultural context, so that’s beside the point.
In passing, while looking for this stuff, I also found (in this article) what is possibly the greatest “no shit, Sherlock!” statement I’ve seen so far in the study of rock and roll: “Studies suggest that there is an increase in alcohol consumption in environments with loud music (van de Goor, 1990).” Apart from muttering “correlation mumble mumble causation” under my breath, it does occur to me that the field research for that one must have been fun.
Tomorrow I have classes in repairing and maintaining audio equipment (yay electronics) and editing dialogue (boo Pro Tools). I suspect once we pick up the pace and really get to work I’ll enjoy it more than I did today’s administrivia. Still, I suspect I’m going to have a challenging time focusing on the vocational skills that actually form the curriculum, and saving my semantic nitpicking, cultural critique, and plans for the downfall of the RIAA for more appropriate forums. Wish me luck.