Breaking Glass With the Human Voice

No doubt you have at least heard of it. The opera singer belts out a note and, all of a sudden, people find their tuxedos and dresses soiled by the champagne that just spilled out of their broke glasses. Yes, it can be done. But the question is how. What elements is it in a human voice that is capable of accomplishing this feat?

Disclaimer: Although I am giving you information on how to break a wine glass with your voice, your safety is your responsibility. I take no responsibility for any damage you do to your property or yourself.

The Key is

Have you ever tried (and this you CAN try at home, in fact I encourage you to) wetting your finger and then running it over the rim of a wine glass to here the note it created? Kind of cool huh? This note is the key (no pun intended). As you probably know all sound consists of vibrations that hit our ears and are then interpreted by the brain as some sort noise. Well it also works in the opposite way. Just as something vibrating produces sound, sound hitting something produces vibrations.

Remember that note we produced from the wineglass? Well this is the point where that becomes important. The note that we produced is called a fundamental frequency. It is the frequency at which the wine glass most efficiently turns energy into sound. Naturally, there is a lot more going on (see this blog for information on that), but that is the basic idea. Now if an object is hit with sound waves at its fundamental frequency, it will begin to vibrate along with the sound.

As the note gets closer and closer to that frequency, the glass will vibrate more and more intensely. Increase in volume will also cause the glass to vibrate with more force. Eventually the glass will, quite literally, shake itself apart. Depending on the loudness and the accuracy of the voice, it may just crack, lose a chunk, or shatter. However it can quite awesome.

That being said the chances that you will go to a fancy concert and come back with a ruined suit or dress are rather minimal. This will only work under specific circumstances. First off, the singer has to be on exactly the right pitch for a relatively lengthy amount of time. Secondly, the singer has to have enough volume in order for a glass to break. The videos that I have linked to thus far have both been examples were the singers mouth was only inches away from the glass. By the time the voice of a singer gets to you, it wont be loud enough to cause problems.

So rest easy. But know that it can be done.

What I Learned From Going Without Blogging for 1 Month, 8 Days, 19 Hours, 49 Minutes, and 51 Seconds

Yes, it really has been that long since I last posted. And yes, as unlikely as it may seem. I have returned.

Life is full of roadblocks. Although I cant give you exact details. I hit one in September. It fundamentally changed my day-to-day life. Blogging got pushed out.

But now I am back. Here are a few things I have learned in the past month or so that will hopefully help my blogging career.

I really, really enjoy blogging

After going a while without blogging, I began to realize that I really missed it. Every single day I wanted to go back to the good ol blog and publish some more posts. But I didnt. I had the time, but I chose to use it for other things. I think it was a big mistake. And I hope to rectify it.

I have a lot more to say

Who knows whats down the road!

Since I published my first post back in March of 2011, I have written quite a few words. 50,000 of them in fact (just enough for a Nanowrimo novel!). Some of my writing even got me on a relatively popular podcast (which was pretty awesome). However all that is in the past. The future is what is before me. I have plenty more to say. 50,00 words isnt enough. Im aiming for 500,000.

I do have the time

When I first stopped, I rationalized it away by saying I didnt  have the time. But as I continued through my life, I began to realize that time was not the problem. I really had no excuse for not bloggin. If I want to I can make it happen.

So Whats Next?

Lots more writing. In fact, after this post, I want to continue on as if nothing had happened. Unfortunately (and naturally enough) my traffic has taken a big hit. But I can rebuild it. My google rankings have remained relatively intact, which is awesome. So thats a big bonus. But it will take a while to rebuild.

Look for a post in the next day or so!

Is The Edge of Glory Lady Gagas Masterpiece?

The short and simple answer is no. The Edge of Glory is not Lady Gagas true masterpiece. Neither is Bad Romance, Poker Face, or any other of the numerous songs that she has recorded over her six years as a pop artist.

At least not yet.

If there is one thing people tend to forget about a musician or band it is that the music of an artist evolves dramatically over the course of the years and albums.

One band I really enjoy is Switchfoot, a rock band from San Diego. The started out rather mellow, but they have grown incredibly and changed in a dramatic way.

Lady Gaga has not finished her career. I would guess that she will probably have a hit song every record from here on out. However some people would argue that Lady Gaga cant have a masterpiece. They would probably even venture to say that she is a bad person and what not, and that we shouldnt listen to her music because of it.

Wait, we shouldnt listen to her music because she is a bad person?

I would also venture to say that many of the people who would say these kind of things are Christian and conservative (not that this is a bad thing, I am definitely right-wing myself, and a Christian for that matter). However we have to make a distinction between the music and the musician. Think Lady Gaga is a bad person? Are you saying this badness is somehow transmitted through the music into the ears of the listener?

Perhaps, but, if you are like me, you dont pay attention to the lyrics so much as the music itself. Remember, you can have music without lyrics. But if you have lyrics without tune or backing track, then its not music (although some might disagree with me). This is why the music itself is the most important part.

Do you think that her videos have strong sexual overtones (as many of them do)? Well  then just dont watch the videos.

This is a good rule of thumb if you are Christian, atheist, or anything else under the sun: Hate the sin, not the sinner.

How Sound Systems Work Part 2

In part 1 we examined home audio. Now, in part two, I would like to take a look at two big parts of speaker systems. How the speakers themselves work, and how systems are put together when focusing on live sound.

Live Sound

There are 3 basic parts to any sound system

  • Soundboard
  • Microphones
  • Speakers

These three are all it takes to get stage music going. In theory, nothing more is required. However, there are subcategories, and a few other things that you can use to make it better.

Soundboard

Many people think that to play live music you just plug your instrument into the speakers and thats the end of it, however that is not the case.

Soundboards (known to the professional as a mixer) are a rather simple idea: Bring in all the data from the instruments and microphones and send them to the appropriate speakers. However it is much more complicated in practice.

A soundboard is essentially made up of channels. Each channel corresponds to one input (can be instrument, mic, our anything else that can output sound). each channel has its own set of controls for volume and various other effects. The larger and more expensive the board, the more options you have on the soundboard.

A standard mixer

Most boards have a few effects that they the are capable of achieving. The most important, the pan effect. Allows a particular instrument to be sent to only one half of the speakers. There are also various reverb and delay effects. However these are most often applied by the instrumentalist himself before the signal even gets to the soundboard.

Microphones & Other Inputs

Different microphones are made for different tasks.  A condenser microphone, for example, is perfect for use in studios. It provides pristine sound quality and frequency response (in other words, it can record very high and very low sounds). The only problem with condenser microphones is that they are very sensitive to loud noises (which abound in concerts). Condenser microphones are also quite expensive, and unable to stand up to the abuse they might receive in a lively concert. Condenser microphones also require their own source of power (48 volt phantom power). For these reasons, condenser microphones are generally not used in concert.

Dynamic microphones, on the other hand, make a lot more sense in a concert situation. They are considerably cheaper then condenser microphones, but are much more rugged. Chances are that dynamic microphone that looks like its been to hell and back will still sound as good as the day it came out of the box.

The difference between these two types of microphones lies in the technology behind them, which I will discuss in a later post.

The Shure SM58 dynamic microphone. This microphone is considered a standard for all performances.

Microphones, of course, are not the only things that supply input to the soundboard. In fact, a large percentage of the inputs in, say, a rock concert, are not microphone generated. Some will come from an electric guitar. Others will come from keyboards, or any of the numerous non-acoustic instruments. These take input from the musician and convert them into an electrical signal which can then be sent to the soundboard to be processed. In the average rock lineup, the only true microphones are for the drums and the vocals. However many other instruments, such as acoustic guitars, may require microphones.

Speakers

This is the part that everyone understands at least on a rudimentary level. The speakers are what make the sound, simple as that, however there is a set of speakers that many people dont even realize are there, in fact, they arent even meant for the audience.

The are called monitors. It can be hard to hear yourself when all the speakers are pointed away from you and towards the audience. In general, it is nice to be able to hear what you are doing. This is what monitors are for. In larger concerts, they generally will take the form of an earbud or some such thing. But in smaller or low budget performances, they will most often take the form of speakers pointing towards the performers instead of the audience.

Different kinds of speakers are, naturally, used for different purposes. In a large performance there may be dozens of speakers working together to make the sound. Everything is huge. Loudspeakers can push out incredibly high amounts of sound.

Although I am not particularly knowledgeable in this area I can tell you this. Speakers like this are big, loud, heavy, expensive, hard to manage, and take a long time to set up properly. However, the results can be rather rewarding.

Although there are many intricacies in a sound system (amplifiers, effects modules, etc.) these are no doubt the most important. In fact, I get buy using just these three (and an instrument of course) when I play for certain groups.

How Speakers Work

I have touch briefly in the past about some of the basics of sound, however now might be a good time for a little refresher. Sound travels through the air in the forms of vibrations. When those vibrations reach your ears, a signal is sent to your brain in the form of electrical impulses, which is then interpreted by the brain as sound.

A speaker microphone systems uses this same principle. When sound enters a microphone it vibrates a diaphragm which converts the vibrations into an electrical signal and sends it through its chord to the soundboard, much like the human ear. The electrical signal is then sent to the correct speaker, which then is able to reproduce the vibrations exactly, kind of like the reverse of the microphone. But how is this done?

Like microphones, speakers also have a diaphragm. The diaphragm is a flexible cone generally made of paper, plastic, or metal. The large end of the cone is the end that points outwards. On the small end, however, is where the magic happens.

Attached to the back of the diaphragm is an electromagnet called a voice coil. A speaker actually has two inputs. When an electrical current is sent one way, it causes the poles of the electromagnet to point a certain way. When the electrical current is reversed, so are the poles. In every speaker there is a static magnet. This magnet interacts with the electromagnet just like it would any other magnet. When the poles of the electromagnet are facing one way, the two magnets attract and move closer together, when they face the other way, the magnets repulse and move farther apart. This happens many times a second, creating the vibrations needed to produce sound.

I hope you liked this in-depth (if rather long-winded) explanation of in concert sound systems and speakers. Although there is tons more to learn, I think this is a good start.

How Sound Systems Work Part 1

We love our music, and chances are we want it to sound as great as possible. But great music requires a great sound system. But how exactly does it work? And why do some sound better then the others.

Any sound system (beyond, say, just a couple of computer speakers, has two basic parts. The subwoofer, and the satellite speakers. Each server their purpose. Although this blog is geared particularly towards music, it can be easily applied to home theater systems as well. Please note, I am not offering buying suggestions on anything. However I will give you a few companies that have good systems for you to look at.

The Subwoofer

We believe you hear music in the highs, but feel it in the lows.
Kevin Lee CEO of SOL Repulic

The Subwoofer is the heart of any sound system. It is what sets apart the boys from the men. Its what shakes the house and makes you feel the music in every pore of your body. It hits those low notes that only the largest of speakers can hit.

Subwoofers come in many different shapes and sizes. Some, like mine, come in box shapes with a large speaker on the bottom to drive sound into the surface of whatever it is sitting on.. Others (particularly for home theaters) are more compact and come in strips that can easily hide under or behind something.

Some of the notes that these subwoofers manage to create are lower then the human ear is capable of hearing. However we dont have to hear it, we feel it. It is a whole other dynamic of the track that we never knew existed before we heard it on the subwoofer. However the subwoofer has other uses. One of its biggest ones is augment the bass capabilities of the smaller, satellite speakers. Satellite speaker do have some natural bass capability, but not much. With subwoofer, they dont really even have to worry about it too much. This allows them to be smaller and more out of the way.

The best part of a subwoofer is that it doesnt really matter where in an enclosed room it is placed (in a non-enclosed area, this is another matter). The brain has trouble locating sounds of very low frequencies in closed spaces, so you can fit it wherever there is room, and no one will know the difference. Even better, because of the low frequencies, you dont even really have to worry about things getting in its way, the sound just punches right through.

The Satellite Speakers

Music is a safe kind of high.
Jimmi Hendrix

OK, so maybe I faked this quote a little bit, but I couldnt find a good one pertaining to highs notes of music without reusing the previous one.

Although music does not require a subwoofer to be interesting, it does require something that can create the higher notes (the majority of the music) or there would be nothing to hear.

Satellite speakers typically are small. Unlike the subwoofer, they need to be out in the open to transmit sound effectively. However, the subwoofers allow these speakers to be small, allowing them to be put in corners. Frequently you will see them in high corners. Some houses even have them built into the roof. Satellite speakers, unlike subwoofers must be distributed relatively evenly amongst a room to get the feeling of being surrounded by the music. But dont forget that much music is recorded in stereo, that you should keep all the left speakers to one side, and all the right speakers to the other.

How Its All Controlled

For the most part, the sound system is connected to a central controller. This can be almost anything that has a stereo headphone jack. Many people connect their system to the computer and play it through iTunes or some other program. In my house, we have an Apple Airport Express that we can plug our speakers into and stream music to. This is just one solution, but there are plenty of others.

In theory, you could even plug a CD player into it, but for the most part this doesnt happen any more.

One thing I like to do is use the Remote app on my iPod touch to control the music. It connects to my iTunes library and controls playback. The music streams to the Airport Express and through that into the speakers. All controlled from my iPod.

In the next post, I look how live music systems work, and a little bit about how speakers work as well.

If you are looking for a good pair of speakers, there are a few good companies that have options ranging from less expensive starter kits to top of the line fully-fledged music systems

  • Bose

A Few Pointers on Performance

If you want to perform, and perform successfully, then there are a few things you need to do. If you walk up there, play the songs, and walk off, there is no way that you will be going back anytime soon. They audience wont like you. Read this, you might learn a few things

1. Dont Suck

This goes without saying, but you cannot perform if you cant even play music. Far to many people show up looking for a place to perform, but cant even play music. If you want good examples of what not to do, go watch the auditions for American Idol, X Factor, Britains Got Talent, or any of the other shows that showcase talent (although not all of it is music), and you will see plenty of people who think they can sing, or play guitar, but cant. And trust me, you dont want to hear boos from the crowd.

2. Engage Your Audience

This is perhaps the second most important part of performance behind not sucking. Your audience is there not just because of the music, but because of you. An unengaged audience is a bored audience. And an audience that is bored will not come back for seconds on a later date. You want your concert to be memorable. I would suggest watching some of the more experienced bands who do it best, take your cues from them. Also, it is fine to change what you are doing based on the audiences reaction. If you are making bad jokes and the audience doesnt like them, save yourself the trouble and stop making this.

3. Figure Things Out Before Hand

Obviously your set list is incredibly important and should be decided before hand. But you cant expect that to be enough. Engaging your audience frequently means doing more with the music then just playing things the way you recorded them. Music should be modified, you should plan things out that will make your fans happy.

One band I listen two likes to stop playing in the middle of a song and completely freeze, every single one of them, in whatever position they happen to be in. This obviously gets the crowd really into it, and they cheer all the louder. But it has to be timed perfectly. Figure things like this out before hand. And Practice them!

Unfortunately, far to many bands miss these, and this is no good. If you want people to really like you, do these things. Dont expect to be great at them all at once. But trust me, you will get there.

First Week of BlogX Done

What a week! You may have noticed some changes that have come to Sound Called Music. More posts, an optimized about page, and a complete restructuring of the URL system (long URLs are no longer so long), and way more posts.

Why am I doing this all? Tentblogger, an awesome blogger who blogs about blogging (now you try to use blog four times in the same sentence) that I respect very much is running everyone (or, at least, everyone who wants to) on his forums through a 90 day blogging bootcamp to get us in shape. We call it BlogX (inspired by an exercise program)  Its going awesome, and I wanted to share some of the things I am learning.

 

Main Takeaway Just Write

Ive had to write a lot this week to post the amount that I have. Im not to good at just writing. Not adding media, nothing, just writing. Theres time for everything else later. It worked quite well and I am happy with the results.

One thing I really love about this program is the focus on content. I love writing content, but I never got around to doing it. This first week showed me that I could get posts out everyday, and that they didnt have to be short little pathetic posts that didnt teach you anything. They could be good posts that you liked and enjoyed!

What I Hope to Learn and See Happen

There is a difference between what I wish for, what I hope for, and what I expect. I wish for several hundred views a day by the end of this. I hope four a couple hundred, I expect around 100.

I also expect to learn a lot from one of the ones who does it best. Already I have realized that there is a lot that I dont know about blogging that will help me become a successful one. I dont expect to earn a living from blogging, but it would be nice to make a few bucks on the side if you know what I mean.

I have to say, I have absolutely no complaints about this program (so far at least). Sure this may sound fake to some people but hey, I cant talk to you in real life. If you are a blogger, I highly suggest checking this guy out, he can help you a ton.

And tomorrow, we will be back to our regularly scheduled posts.