Wednesday, July 21, 2010

ITF Reflections #3 Bonerama and the Stapedius reflex

One of the groups I was looking forward to hearing at ITF was Bonerama. Well, I guess I'm an old fuddy-duddy because after one or two tunes I had to leave. Why?

Maybe loudness is simply the "terroir" of this musical style. It raises some interesting questions, though. I'm guessing that, on some level, these guys want to be edgy. Watching them, I got the impression that they were really committed to what they were doing. I wanted to enjoy what they were doing, musically but I had to bail because I was physically uncomfortable.

I'm not against loud music. Without the benefit of amplification, I've had moments where I've enjoyed generating quite a few decibels. BUT, these loud moments were just that: moments The loudness was in contrast to other moments.

It seems that, by making everything loud, you've removed dynamics from the musical equation.

The loudness becomes part of the ambiance, just like the clothing you choose to wear for the performance.

Here's another thought: I honestly believe that the music didn't sound as loud to them as it did to me. I'm not talking about the relative levels of the feedback monitors to the house speakers. I'm talking about our old friend, the stapedius reflex.

So here is a lovely, fascinating paragraph from Wikipedia:

When presented with a high-intensity sound stimulus, the stapedius and tensor tympani muscles of the ossicles contract. The stapedius pulls the stapes (stirrup) of the middle ear away from the oval window of the cochlea and the tensor tympani muscle pulls the malleus (hammer) away from ear drum. The reflex decreases the transmission of vibrational energy to the cochlea, where it is converted into electrical impulses to be processed by the brain. The acoustic reflex normally occurs only at relatively high intensities; activation for quieter sounds can indicate ear dysfunction and absence of acoustic reflex can indicate neural hearing loss.

Now here's something that has been hanging around in my memory: I seem to remember that when that stapedius muscle is tensed (to protect the ear), less blood gets to certain vital ear regions. Also, I seem to remember that is takes about 24 hours for the muscle to completely relax again. So, if I'm remembering correctly...

Frequent loud noise = stapedius is flexed most of the time = less blood flow = long term hearing loss.

Or, for the guys in Bonerama...

Lots of loud performances = stops sounding as loud = turn up the volume.

So we return to a twist on that basic irony: as we perform we can never truly hear ourselves as the audience hears us. The twist: I'm guessing they don't/can't know how loud the music was for me/many of us.

They seemed like a really cool group. I'm just sad I didn't feel I could stick around to hear them. Or to put it another way: I heard so much of them that I couldn't stick around to hear them.

Should have brought ear plugs....