02 June 2009

Pathologies: Pain

There's a reason that extremely loud music hurts your ears: hearing is a survival skill. If you can't hear the car speeding down a blind alley (or the pack of lions descending on your cave), you're toast. Whether you believe in natural selection or intelligent design, it's obvious how a finely tuned auditory sense contributes to your safety and that its ability to do so is no mere coincidence. Very loud sounds may simply indicate danger in the form of whatever it is that's emitting them, but they also pose a threat to our ongoing ability to detect more subtle aural cues from sources that may be no less dangerous.

Appealing to such "animal instincts" is easy, whether by the direct infliction of physical pain or the mere visual display of a threat. Stick a knife in someone's face and tell them you are going to stab them and you will surely get their attention; follow through with the threat and you'll have an even better chance. In both cases, the sensation is intense enough that they simply can't ignore you. Also in both cases, however, you've been decidedly unsubtle in your approach when a simple tap on the shoulder would have sufficed.

Such is the modern day approach to sound reinforcement. Everyone seems intent on creating sounds loud enough to hurt, this being the only way to get the attention of an apathetic, over-saturated audience. Even at some venues where the audience sits and listens quietly, "deafening" is the default setting on the board. And many of the people who produce these shows have lost so much of their hearing this way over the years that they surely can't tell the difference anymore, creating a vicious cycle of ever-escalating volume.

Music that hurts is one thing; music that injures is quite another, especially when the very ability to hear is what's threatened. If you're looking for such excitement, I would think it would be both healthier and more exciting to seek out new sounds rather than merely gorging on the ones we already have.

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