Space Theme #1 by Skud
Space Theme #1 by Skud
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.
The staff member who enrolled me, who apparently teaches Occupational Health and Safety, might be Senor Chang. When the guy who was after me in line (with dyed black hair, facial piercings, and tattoos) came up to the desk to do his paperwork, the instructor said, "Oh look, bad ink! You must be enrolling in Sound." I was more amused by this than the tattooed guy was. 3pershand points out that OHS classes taught by Sr. Chang would be neither healthy nor safe. So very true.
(Later, I was telling hope about this, and then said, with regard to the OHS classes, that I might see whether I can skip them on the basis of prior learning. I have, after all, done way too many OHS inductions for the crewing work I've been doing. hope pointed out that this makes me Jeff. Damn.)
Look, I may as well post about it. I’ve been planning it for months, and a whole swag of people already know, but this’ll make it official.
Sometime around early September, I’m planning on heading back to Melbourne, Australia, whereupon I hope to spend a few months bumming around on people’s sofas/the beach/relatives’ farms/etc, before going back to school in 2012 to study sound engineering.
So I’m leaving Google, then? Yup, that’s the plan. I’ll have done a year there since Metaweb’s acquisition, and I’ve got a lovely new replacement, Shawn, who started a couple of weeks ago and who’ll be supporting the Freebase developer community going forward.
Why sound engineering? Because it gets me away from the tech industry, from sitting in an office all the time, and from the mind-boggling ennui that’s started to attack me whenever I think about software and the development thereof. It’s well past time for a change. And I’ve been enjoying myself so much volunteering at Gilman St that it seemed like something I’d like to pursue more seriously. Plus, it’s a field that’s at the intersection of technical/creative that really works for me, and I suspect that with the increasing digitisation of sound production my computing background will serve me well.
What sort of work do I want to do, then? I’m not going to commit to anything at this point, but stuff with a “startup” feel to it (to use the tech industry term), that harnesses grassroots participation and encourages disintermediation between artists and fans really appeals to me. You know the stuff I like — open culture, remix and transformative works, online collaboration and crowdsourcing, micro-entrepreneurism, activism, connecting people together. If I can’t find a way to mix that stuff with a background in Internet technologies and a fresh education in the tech side of music production, I’ll be very surprised.
Why Australia? Why not go to school in the US? Short answer: tuition in Australia is about 5% of what it is in the US for similar sorts of courses, and I won’t need a visa for it.
What school? What program/course? I’m looking at a Certificate IV and Advanced Diploma in Sound Production, which is a 2 year course offered by various TAFEs (Technical and Further Education institutions — UK readers please think “Polytechnic”, US readers please think of a cross between a community college and DeVry). RMIT’s course description gives a pretty good overview of the program. I’m also considering NMIT. If anyone happens to know anything about those two institutions/courses and can offer advice or opinions, they’d be very much appreciated. (Yes, I’ve emailed the faculty/admissions for both; no, I can’t make it to Open Day at either.)
Will I be doing X before I leave? (For values of X usually including certain conferences or places to visit.) I’m attending WisCon in Madison, WI in just over a week, and will probably be in Portland in late July during OSCON though not attending (I do hope to catch up with a bunch of my friends there, though). I am not planning to attend any other conferences/events between now and when I leave, nor do I have plans, or much time, for other travel at this point.
Will I be coming back to the US after completing my study? Maybe. The sort of work I want to do (see above) may lead me back to the Bay Area, if the visa-granting gods smile on me. Who knows? It’s also likely that even if I don’t move back here, I will visit occasionally if my budget allows.
And this is definitely definite? Well, it’s about 90% definite at this point. It’s possible that something might happen to completely change my mind in the next couple of months, but I wouldn’t hold my breath for it.
So here’s where I ask you for stuff.
- If you read this and thought, “ooh, that reminds me of $person who works in that field” or “I know a startup that’s doing stuff like that” or “I bet Skud would love to hear about $project”, I would love an introduction. That goes double for anyone/anything in Australia.
- The courses I’m applying for are quite competitive and have an application/interview process where they want to know about your previous experience in the field. So I’m interested in picking up any related work I can between now and the end of the year. Do you know anyone who needs a hand or wouldn’t mind me tagging along while they work live shows, record demos, go into the studio, or whatever? Any kind of live or recorded sound work would be of interest. Volunteer/unpaid would be preferred for now — I can’t do paid work in the US outside of my primary employment, though of course I wouldn’t turn down paying gigs once I’m back in Australia.
- Know anyone who’s looking for a housemate in Melbourne later this year? I’m thinking of splitting a 3br house in Melbourne’s inner north (Preston?) with one other person, but I’m open to other suggestions too. Looking for a grownup who pays their bills on time, but who’s also fun to hang out with. I keep odd hours and am a bit strange, but I’m pretty considerate and reliable as a housemate, as well as being a good cook.
- Got a spare room or need a housesitter between September and, say, Decemberish? Mostly thinking Melbourne here, and more “need someone to feed the cats for 2 weeks” than “you can crash on my sofa for a night or two”, but any and all offers would be welcome.
Please feel free to email me (email@example.com) if you can help me out with any of the above!