THE EAR IS A HUNGRY GHOST
1984, Birmingham and the bridge from analog to digital; work, computers and lexicography (featuring the word ‘fuck’); leisure, music, tapes and the Fairlight Computer Musical Instrument.
That was then, this is now (featuring Cabaret Voltaire, Negativland, 2 many dj’s, John Oswald, the Grateful Dead, John Peel, Erol Alkan).
What happened when my wife won an iPod; how Random sets you free; why we need gatekeepers when there’s too much choice.
Via a music quiz, destiny calls and a radio show is born.
…the corpus had increased to around five hundred million words…
A brief visit to the world of corpus linguistics.
I love it, but if it’s somewhere you don’t want to be, just move on.
Displayed here is part of some work I did examining the way that the word sound is used, which produced some interesting results. Interesting to me, anyway. It was part of the groundwork for a proposed book about the language of sound and the sound of language. It’s still at the research stage, and has been for years.
The first page shows the result of a simple corpus search for every occurrence of the word sound. What you see are the first twenty-odd lines of 52,370. That’s a lot of information, and to make any sense of it some sorting is required.
The second page shows what happens when some sorting is done, with the word sound selected as the subject or NODE word. The program lays out the commonest words that occur with sound in a grid, based on where (across the page) and how often (down the page, most frequent at the top) they occur.
You can see that the commonest word to occur before sound is the, and the commonest word to come immediately after it is of. Using the two together gives the most frequently occurring string of words: the sound of.
Looking down the column of words directly below of, you can see that other, familiar words appear in the same position less frequently, such as system, effects, quality and waves. From this, we can see the identity of the word emerging – its meanings, the way it behaves and the company it keeps.
The third page shows part of another search, within the previous results, this time for occurrences of the three-word string the + sound + of, with the results listed alphabetically. You can see straight away the four-word sequence the sound of a…
What was surprising here was the division of meaning that seems to take place, even within this small sample. Most of the lines are literal, like the sound of a car being driven away or the sound of a glass being smashed. However, some lines refer to what are actually imagined sounds, generated by extending well-known phrases or idioms into a new aural dimension, for example The loudest noise here is sound of a barrel being well and truly [scraped].
Other imagined or extended sounds that I came across included the sounds of colours being nailed firmly to masts; chickens coming home to roost; and champagne corks popping.
The fourth page shows a search carried out within the previous list, examining more closely the four-word string the sound of a.
Looking down the right-hand column, the commonest usage turns out to be the sound of a car, and the second commonest is the sound of a band. The other words in this column might not be surprising, but the frequency of band seems unusual.
On the fifth and final page is a sample of results from a search analysing the unusual five-word string the sound of a band.
It turns out from this that bands are much more interesting than cars. Only three of the twenty or so lines about bands are about what you actually hear, as in the sound of a band tuning up. Almost all of them refer to bands and their sound in an extended or figurative way. And this usage is different from the barrel, mast and chicken idioms that we saw previously.
Here, we see lines like [Construction] For The Modern Idiot [by the Wonder Stuff] is the sound of a band confronting their fears, or …a bewildering, dizzy thrill, the sound of a band on information overload…. In these lines, judgments about and responses to a band’s music and how it sounds are being used to describe where the band is at emotionally or creatively.
Although many of these lines would seem to be drawn from the music press, it’s still interesting to see how corpus data can be used to reveal new and interesting things about the words we use and, in this case, the way we inhabit real and imagined worlds of sound.
…the Fairlight Computer Musical Instrument…
…a small Yamaha VSS-30 Portasound sampling keyboard…
…the only piece of recorded music I have so far released… the last track on the CD…
The rather mournful tone of ‘The Sound from Voyager’ and its position at the end of the CD connects it with the final two tracks on the Voyager LP, Blind Willie Johnson’s ‘Dark Was The Night’ and Beethoven’s ‘Cavatina’.
…“Scrambles Of Earth: The Voyager Interstellar Record, Remixed By Extraterrestrials”…
From the CD booklet:
…the aliens take as only the merest suggestion the 16 2/3 RPM at which the record is designed to play…
The photographs the record contains, encoded in the audio spectrum, have also sometimes been treated as fodder for an undiscerning… alien imagination.
What is more remarkable about the alien remixes is the possibility that the agent or agents behind them don’t always seem to be able to tell the difference between organized sounds produced by humans and damage to the record resulting from insterstellar dust.
…using only performances of the Dead live favourite ‘Dark Star’, a hundred or so versions…
…Conan The Librarian…
…“A Road Less Travelled”…
I used this graphic for a while, until someone on North Highland Radio objected to images of a person’s ears being displayed in this brazen and disgusting manner to promote a programme dedicated to music.