Sound Designer, Freelance / Self-employed -Media/Entertaiment

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Why is loudness so attractive?

Hello my fellow TEDians.

I am currently writing a short paper on the very controversial "loudness wars" in the media, particularly the games industry and I would like to hear others people's opinions on a simple question.

"Why is loudness so attractive?"

As I've been researching, all the evidence seems to point towards companies boosting the levels in their commercials, music or film by using hyper-compression to basically grab peoples attention.

But I haven't been able to find a good explanation on why loudness is so attractive? Is it just because it stands out? Or is there a acoustical/psychoacoustical/scientific phenomena which the reason why its so popular?

If so, what is the line between attractive and unbearable/dangerous?

Any analysis from a scientific, theoretical or even spiritual standpoint would be great!

All the best!

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    Jul 13 2012: Now before I begin I must admit I am no scientist, I have no prove of what I am about to write, I am simply making an observation from the 17 years that I have lived.

    From the time that we are born we are taught two types, generally, of behaviour in a audio respect. When your inside, you must be quite, speak at a conversational level. The other is when you are outside, you can be as loud as you want, of course within reason. So what we are left with is the inside, normal voice level, being seen as the structured, rule abiding level. More importantly we see loudness as a way to be free, almost a rebellion of sorts. This is the first reason I think it is attractive.

    The second reason, is at a certain level of loudness, the sound, whatever it is, becomes authoratative. At this loudness everything else is blocked out and we focus mainly on the audio we are hearing. We allow it to guide us and tell us how to feel. This is the second reason.

    Know we can take this a step further and combine the two reasons. It allows us to be free, but is not so wild that it creates chasos (it authoratatively guides us). With this conclusion we can make several other observations. For example, it could explain why certain people like certain types of music. They purposely pick the music that will make them feel a certain way.

    Well I hope this helps and I wish you the best of luck!
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      Jul 16 2012: Maximilian,
      You are only 17 years of age? I would never have guessed. Your comments seem much older and wiser than your age! Did you see the site...I think it's called "are there any teens on this site"? How about checking in there with other insightful teens? Some of the teens checking in are new to TED, and you're an "old" Tedster! LOL:>)

      Interesting concept you present, and I agree that in some families and societies, we are taught certain levels of sound are appropriate for certain places. I like and agree with your idea that on some level, we may see loudness as a way to be free, and maybe a rebellion of sorts...this theory makes a lot of sense.

      I also agree that we choose music that contributes to a certain feeling. When I feel like resting/relaxing, I listen to soothing, calm music, and when I feel like being more active, I listen to more stimulating music. It makes perfect sense:>)
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      Jul 18 2012: Dear Myf E,
      Rob had two basic questions....Why is loudness so attractive, and What is the effect of silence on us?

      I LOVE how you brought them together, and I perceive that they can indeed happen at the same time, depending on many factors including needs, wants, beliefs, senses and preferences at any given time. I totally agree that it is very subjective.
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      Jul 18 2012: Interesting Myf E,
      Generally, loudness is not attractive to me, because as I mentioned in another comment, I have an oversensitivity to sound caused by an injury.

      I don't like to listen to loud music and prefer softer music when simply listening, or for background sound. However, when I'm dancing, loud good music doesn't seem to bother as much. I don't like the sound of idling engines for long periods of time, but working machines don't seem to bother the sound sensitivity as much. You mention a plane going over the house, and that doesn't usually bother most of us. However, if we lived in a war zone, that would probably have a big impact on our lives. We're back to subjectivity! Perhaps it has a lot to do with our focus? I believe that what we focus on expands, so our focus at the time of perceiving a sound might make a difference?
  • Jul 15 2012: Dear all,

    Thank you very much for your responses, I have taken on board some very insightful comments and used them to help sculpt a section in the paper about peoples perception of loudness.

    Now I would like you all to consider the opposite.

    What is the effect of silence on us?

    I personally find silence a lot more effective, especially in Sound Design in games/film/TV etc (it's what I do).

    On a social/psychological however too I find it a whole lot more effective than a loud space. Silence can really set the tone of the room that people are in, i.e. the tone of conversation, how awkward it is etc.

    I would love to hear your thoughts!
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      Jul 16 2012: Hi Rob.
      to address your follow up question, I find silence initially soothing. I need quiet for challenging reading and incorporating ideas from text however, with too much silence I feel lonely and isolated. As an extrovert I adore people and I find that I need their voices and rumblling around in life.
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      Jul 16 2012: Hi again Rob,
      I LOVE the sounds of silence. If you notice, there is never really total silence. The sounds of nature are all around us all the time, and I love experiencing those quiet, gentle sounds. Even if we think/feel there is no sound at all, we can hear our breath and the sound of our heart pumping...thankfully:>)

      Remember that song..."The Sounds of Silence"..."Hello darkness my old friend, you've come to talk to me again..."

      It is sometimes with the sounds of silence, free of mind chatter, that we discover more about our "self", and that is very comfortable and comforting for me:>)
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        Jul 17 2012: If there are sounds it is by definition NOT silence.
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          Jul 17 2012: Hi Debra,
          I responded to Rob's question..."What is the effect of silence on us?"

          I respect the fact that we have different perceptions. I don't honestly think you can identify what it is or is NOT for me...thanks anyway:>)
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        Jul 17 2012: I/ we can assume we are using the common useage of a word. What would happen to any communication if we all redefined common words?
        I do agree now that you were not responding to me. I simply observed the position of your response and not the level of indenture. I notice that you also routinely respond in threads and did not realize a response would offend you. Sincere apologies for that alone.
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          Jul 17 2012: Yes, we can assume we are using the common useage of a word. Yes, I routinely respond in threads. I simply observed the position of your response as well...directly to me, as what appears to be a correction. I am not offended...just want to clarify that my perception is as valuable as your perception:>)
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        Jul 17 2012: Advertisement (Bad banner? Please let us know)
        si·lence (slns)
        1. The condition or quality of being or keeping still and silent.
        2. The absence of sound; stillness.
        3. A period of time without speech or noise.
        4. Refusal or failure to speak out. si·lenced, si·lenc·ing, si·lenc·es
        1. To make silent or bring to silence: silenced the crowd with a gesture.
        2. To curtail the expression of; suppress: silencing all criticism; silenced their opponents.


        Perhaps you are still right as always Colleen. You raked me over the coals in my very first respnse on TEd and you are at least consistent if not edifying to me..
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          Jul 17 2012: Dear Debra,
          No one is "raking you over the coals", nor do I think/feel I am "right".....ever.

          In our first conversation on TED I disagreed with you, and respected your perception. I am doing the same thing in this situation. Thank you for noticing that I am consistent...I appreciate that:>)
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        Jul 17 2012: As you stated earlier you do notg et to tell me how I FEEL COLLEEN. Please stop trying. As you point out I do affirm you. I know that is not your practice toward me. How do you presume to speak for everyone?
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          Jul 18 2012: I do not in any way attempt to tell you how you feel Debra...sorry you feel that way. I speak only for myself always...all ways. I have reached out to you several times Debra, and you have a choice to accept that, or not, at any given time. I care about you.
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          Jul 18 2012: Thanks Myf E,
          I mentioned the "sounds of silence" in response to Robs question, because I enjoy listening to the sounds of nature, even though I may be in a "silent" mode. I agree that silence, for some, can mean depression, loneliness or just a temporary feeling of being too alone, as you insightfully say. Sorry you experience that challenge.

          Thank you so much for your kind words...I appreciate your feedback very much.
          "Your comment is bringing the life back to silence, saying there is no silence at all, by bringing us out of the cold deadly silence. (which suggests noise and silence live together)".

          I honestly DO feel a lot of life in silence, and because I LOVE interacting with people so much, I believe I have a balance of silence and noise whenever I choose either possibility.

          There was a time...after my divorce, the kids were both off to college, and I sometimes felt alone, and needed/wanted noise and people around me all the time. I had never lived alone in my entire life...going from parent's home, to a roommate, to marriage and family of my own. It felt lonely at times. Compounding the feelings of loneliness, were the facts that my parents died aroud the same time, I faced cancer, and sustained a near fatal head/brain injury. I sought people, activities and noise to remind myself that I was still alive and living the life experience.

          I think/feel we are still on topic...discussing loudness, and/or the sounds of silence and how it may impact our lives in so many ways. Thanks Myf E...I appreciate your insightful comments:>)
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    Jul 12 2012: what i feel is loudness is crucial when you want to set back an image in a person's mind.
    loudness doesnt completely mean been vociferous,it does even imply to the state of asserting pressure on a person to contemplate on what you want to convey.
    loudness is interesting/attractive when you get back the results you have been striving for but the mere fact is loudness should be in the form of non-violence.
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    Jul 11 2012: I am not a gamer myself, but I would imagine that gaming soundtracks would benefit from the same things that music give to us, especially the value of quiet atmosphere, calm and harmony when combined cleverly and appropriately with the loudness of crescendo and occasional shock or discordance.

    Like music, I think the value of loudness gets significantly diminished if it is allowed to be continuous or repeated ad nauseam - it can then get unbearable, and people either go crazy or just switch off.

    I get the same tingling, hair-raising sensations from a beautifully created passage of loud music played live, as I do from watching and listening to a violent thunderstorm at night. The loudness is not just heard - it is felt in the body. And it is very visual. Then there is the value of anticipation...

    In fact, that might be one of the answers. If there is loudness, then in order to be enjoyable, it has to be stimulating to multiple senses - not just auditory sensations.
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    Lejan .

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    Jul 11 2012: Pardon, what did you say? :o)

    Personally I do not consider this sort of 'loudness' attractive and switch channels as soon as commercials start 'screaming' and in general.

    I don't know about any psychoacoustical effect of 'loudness', but the fact, that our ear is capable of detecting different levels of loudness and that it is not good in focusing and sorting out on soft tones while it gets dominated by loud ones.

    So to me loudness is nothing but to 'jump the queue' towards the unshared attention of the targeted customer.

    That's it, simple, effective and annoying.

    As advertising is counting on any single shred of information which gets transferred into the conscious and subconscious minds of potential customers, it has to be heard loud and repetitive, loud and repetitive, loud and repetitive, loud and repetitive ...

    To me attractiveness looks different than that... :o)
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    Jul 17 2012: Perhaps both loudness and quite are tools first used by mother nature and are programed into us. Consider the woods. With no preditors in the area the sounds of the woods are joyful and of medium range. When a preditor enters the alarms are sounded and are quite loud. When the danger is close the silence is deafening.

    In the gaming and entertainment world the sound levels are hooks. When the action is about to pick up the movie background music starts low and you know something is about to happen.

    How about kids. When they are excited they are loud. When they are mad they are loud. Both are extreme emotions calling for extreme (loud) responses. Mad at your folks a non-verbal response is to turn the sound up. Want to pull their strings go non-responsive don't talk at all. Again both extremes. Non-verbal could also be slamming the doors, etc ...

    Stressed. The store will sell you Barry White ... sounds of a rainy day .... ocean waves ... this gets you away from the assult of unappreciated "noise". For years the ultimate use of white sound was used to "control" crowds.

    I was raised in a dorm environment and there was always noise. To much silence bothers me. I look for the danger. I have a child that demands total quiet to study and any sound is an excuse to stop.

    I have not made any point here just wanted to bring some different thoughts to the table.

    All the best. Bob.
  • Jul 14 2012: I don't find it attractive, but it always gets my attention :)
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    Jul 11 2012: I agree with Ed that it is the difference we hear- so something louder than its surroundings but not deafeningly loud would not be attractive in the sense of appealing but attractive in the sense of grabbing attention.

    When everything is loud, quiet does not, I think, attract attention in the same way, because being surrounded by loud interferes with our hearing.

    Anyone who has ever attended a secondary school dance knows that one cannot hear whispering there or even once one has left. The loud continues somehow to ring in the ears.

    Over-quiet speech that is too quiet to hear is also unattractive, I think. Many people will not listen to someone who deliberately makes it difficult to hear him.
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      Jul 12 2012: There is an advertising/ mind control gimick where they use sudden silence to get attention. Of course silence is ineffective so long as ambient noise levels are non-zero. Sudden changes in levels get our attention whether they are increases or decreases.
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    Jul 11 2012: I think it is because our ears are hardwired into our brains and we have no "earlids" and that is why some people run.
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      Jul 12 2012: Interesting concept Debra. Sight is the only sense for which we have control of the On/Off switch. Sometimes I really wish I had a mouthlid!
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        Jul 12 2012: Oh Edward, me too. I am an extravert anyway -surprise, surprise but one of the most horrible things to come out of my unexpected strokes was this sort of compulsion to talk. As you might guess, I choose to spend a lot more time alone. I am afraid of getting the monikor - Chatty Cathy - which was actually one of the first talking dolls. Look! I did it again!
        • Jul 15 2012: Not being talkative is boring though :)
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        Jul 16 2012: Oh Rob and Edward, I am afraid I wouldn't know -she said with chagrin.
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    Jul 11 2012: I think what attracts out attention is the relative, or comparative, power level of the sensory assault in question. Silence can be as attention-getting as cacophany.
    • Jul 15 2012: As stated in my question above, I agree with the silence being as attention grabbing. I think it is perhaps even more so.

      Not total silence mind you, as this is near impossible in todays society, but quiet ambiences and room tones especially. Combined with loud jabs of noise, it makes the loudness stand out more, which comes back to the "loudness war" in music, where everything has been so hypercompressed in music, it takes out the dynamics.

      Dynamics grab my attention the most.
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    Jul 11 2012: A loud noise triggers a build in animalistic response. Make one in front of any animal, and they will instantly tense up and look at the source. Same with humans. It's not attractive, it's scary, and frustrating, but it catches your attention. They don't care how you feel, just that you feel.
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      Jul 11 2012: Good points David. In addition to how we feel, it is name recognition, and it doesn't matter to some folks (advertisers, political ads, etc. ) how that name recognition gets in your brain. The louder the better as far as inprinting it in our brains!

      You ask for scientific, theoretical or even spiritual standpoint. This may be scientific/ medical.
      Because of a near fatal head injury, I have an oversensitivity to light and sound. I did not enjoy loud sounds PRIOR to the injury, and even less now! I do not find it at all attractive.,,,in fact, it feels intrusive.
      • Jul 15 2012: Very good points here.

        I like the thought that it is our primal nature to want attention and be heard and the only way to do so is to be louder than everyone else. It's sad to say that judging by our modern day "A-LIST CELEBS!", that is certainly the case, as they have the biggest mouths and yet the smallest brains (Kerri Katona, Paris Hilton etc)

        Intrusive is also in conjecture with the argument, it is supposed to be intrusive to get your attention, and when things grab your attention, it is arguably attractive. I see what you are saying about intrusive being annoying, because I agree that adverts are constantly bombarding us with traffic to our brains and it's frustrating.