Field of grain.

Sounds that paint pictures.

About four years ago, I started to become very interested in the idea that sound waves were very significant in it’s ability to affect matter and consciousness…
I started listening to classical music on the National Public Radio

and found that my afternoons were so much more calm and peaceful on my way home from work. In the mornings I would also listen to NPR News, which seemed to flow so smoothly, like a slideshow for your ears and inner eyes. Here were some details that I loved about NPR Radio’s news programming.

  • High quality sound bites – The recorded audio is so clean and clear, with no high-pitched peaking for a pleasurable and painless hearing experience. The room tone is also quite extraordinary in the way that it compliments and adds depth do the sound of the speakers voice. Remember hearing your mother speak while you were laying on her chest? The ear thats touching her chest hears a deep resonant voice, while the other ear picks up the higher tones coming from the throat and head, as well as the bounced sound off of any walls or objects in the area.
  • Quality choice of words – All the speakers on NPR news seem to have a keen sense of appropriate word choice for the appropriate times. There is never any vulgar use of words, slang, highly emotional ranting, cynicism, overly subjective content, or degrading comments. They try to deliver the most objective and most authoritative representation of whatever knowledge is being acquired by their news reporters, without letting personal opinion get in the way. Of course, many times people’s personal opinions, thoughts and feeling are a part of the story itself. In those cases I feel that they are able to hand-pick just the right people to speak, because it’s always excellent in it’s presentation and is highly detailed.
  • Picturesque background sounds – The sounds that fade into the story are so well engineered, that it might seem like an artist is painting a scene before your very eyes. It almost seems to follow a format that filmmakers use in their productions. First you have an establishing shot, which gives the viewer an over all perspective of place, time, mood and current situation. Then you have a medium shot, which gets the viewer a closer look at a specific situation or setting that is soon to be revealed. Next, you have a close up shot which brings the focus to a particular person, place or object which will be telling the story to the audience. Finally, an extreme close up is sometimes used to bring the viewer into a kind of intimacy with the subject, and allows to viewer establish his/her own personal feeling or relationship with the subject. The way that this works in the audio engineering world might sound something like this.

1) First, we hear the sound of a wind chime, followed by the gradual fading in of the sounds of clucking chickens and baaing goats.

2) Then, we might hear a rocking chair creaking as it presses against a wooden floor board. We then hear some machinery in the distance, and the distant sound of people talking to each other loudly as to be heard over the sound of the machines.

3) Then a voice says in a southern accent, “Our families’ been working this land for three generations,” followed by a quick responsive, “Is that right?” “That’s right,” she responded quickly, “and the woman here work just as hard as the men.”

Did you see how we were brought from one subject to the next? It allowed us to interact with the story by becoming more and more curious as to what could be going on. Is allows our imagination to wonder, “Where could this be? Who could this be?When could this be?” Our minds try to paint a picture which gradually becomes more and more detailed and might even completely transform altogether in a matter of seconds. It’s actually an amazing process that happens, and it’s what I call “picturesque background sounds.”

  • Follow up information: Almost every story concludes with a message explaining how you can learn more about the subject matter that was covered. You can go onto the internet pages and research all the stories, authors, reporters, interviews and video clips that might be associated with that particular story. They also provide transcripts or audio recordings of the radio broadcast, allowing you to review or share them with others.

For these reasons I loved listening to this radio station, and I almost felt like I was a more intelligent person while I tuned in. I felt as if I were associating with seasoned and worldly people who travelled the world and learned many things from various different cultures. It felt scholarly, authoritative, intelligent, open-minded, scientific, but most of all it felt human. They were not news robots who simply speak what is scripted for them. There was humanity and empathy about the way people spoke on this news station.

If NPR Radio had a personification, here is how I would describe “her”:

A widowed woman in her mid-fifties, who took care of her personal health and was never distressed by getting old. She has three granddaughters who follow their hearts in different ways. The eldest is 24 years old freelance photographer and has a eyebrow and tongue piercing, with a small tattoo of a butterfly on her leg that she got when she was a freshman in high school. The middle one was only in 8th grade but had already spoken four languages fluently, and was already studying and determined to become a diplomat for the UN. The youngest was a 15 year old boy who was simple and lighthearted, and liked to read a lot of novels. The grandmother loved and appreciated each of their interests, styles, goals, personal traits and preferences, and encouraged them in whatever positive ways that she good.  She never felt that she always knew what was right, or the way she did things when she was their age was the best way to do it. Through good times and hard times, she was able to remain steady in her demeanor. 

That may sounds strange to some of you, but sometimes I like to personalize things like that. To give a persona to things that would conventionally not have one. This is the kind of creativity that exists within sounds. The classical music that was played on this radio station had moods, feelings and a life story. It was not always easy to pick up on, but if you really tune in you may find yourself acquainted with a new interesting friend.