“That terrible mood of depression of whether it’s any good or not is what is known as The Artist’s Reward.” — Ernest Hemingway

It used to be so easy to think of Sufjan Stevens as happy guy. He made great music, he sang like an angel, he loved Jesus. But a recent interview with Sufjan has shown us that Sufjan’s life is not so simple. The interview seems to show that Sufjan has lost faith in music, or at least, publicized and distributed music. He points out how the industry has changed, and how the album no longer holds up. Because of this, he feels that his concepts can never be fully realized. He goes as far as to say, “What is the point? What’s the point of making music anymore?” He then finds fault in himself, explaining that, “I’m starting to get sick of my conceptual ideas. I’m tired of these grand, epic endeavors…”

So has Sufjan maintained his faith in God as he has lost his faith in music? I know that many musicians have tried to find happiness through either medium and often switch between the two. Most notable Bob Dylan, who became a Born Again Christian during the 80’s after growing up Jewish.

I also find the comparison between Sufjan and Jeff Mangum interesting. Mangum had similar struggles with religion, and also, had the experience of creating a work of art that is considered a masterpiece. For Sufjan, Illinois is the work of a life time, much like Neutral Milk Hotel’s In The Aeroplane Over The Sea. These albums are culminations of these artist’s lives. Conceptualized by one creator. Soon after the release of In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, Mangum announced that Neutral Milk Hotel would not release anymore albums.

“I guess I had this idea that if we all created our dream we could live happily ever after. So when so many of our dreams had come true and yet I still saw that so many of my friends were in a lot of pain … I saw their pain from a different perspective and realized that I can’t just sing my way out of all this suffering.”

-Jeff Mangum

This is something I don’t know much about, but is really interesting. If you want to learn more about this, check out Ernst Chladni. The information is around if you are interested enough to sit down and learn it all.

I was sitting in my Audio Aesthetics class last Tuesday and taking in Stan Freberg Presents The United States of America for the first time in my audio life. I was thinking about how the fidelity was truly amazing and how the stereo imaging was perfection. As I closed my eyes and visualized the orchestra playing in front of me, I began to think of how this image was being created. Small differences in loudness and time of arrival all contributing to making this recording as realistic as possible. Stereo is an illusion. And then I wondered, would this illusion still exist if I only had one ear to hear with. I realized that I had always thought of my left and right ears as the left and right side of a stereo feed. Maybe this just came from growing up listening to headphones, but either way, I had a disconnect. So I decided to test this theory. While basking in a Freberg recording, I plugged up my left ear… waited a few moments, and soon realized that my right ear does in fact hear in stereo, which must mean that my left ear does as well.

Intrigued by this, I looked online to find if there was any research on the matter. Though I was unsuccessful, I did find a page that was advertising a single stereo earbud. Seeing as the price is low, and it does not say otherwise, I assume that all this product just runs both channels into one speaker and creates a mono feed into one ear. It seems that the main use this product is for people who have hearing loss in one ear and don’t want to miss out on half of the signal and not to create an actual stereo image in one ear. Plus, who knows if that is even possible.

I thought about this more until my brother brought something else to my attention. He related my thoughts to how our eyes work. We can comprehend depth because of the differences between the way each of our eyes perceive a certain object. This is called parallax, and it allows humans, through the process of stereophsis, to perceive depth.  He said that you can still see to the left with your right eye and everything is almost as clear. But what you loose is depth to your vision. You can no longer sense depth of field. Aha! After this I went back and tested this theory on my home stereo. I plugged up one ear and stood in front of a really magnificent stereo recording. I realized that while I could distinguish between left and right, the recording had lost much of its depth. And in general, it just didn’t sound as pleasing though a single ear.

My conclusion is that having two ears is not so that we can can better perceive Left-Right or even Up-Down, but rather Near-Far. While one ear is capable of deciphering sound on the X and Y axes, two ears allows the Z axis to come into play. With two ears our brains can more accurately create a realistic image of an actual event.

Suggestion: Do the same test I did. It is interesting. Also, think about how headphones distort our hearing. Recordings are for the most part mixed on monitors to have bleed from ear to ear. Canceling this bleed changes everything.


Parallax is also an astronomy term. It used to figure out how far away certain stars are, but it is the same concept.

If July is your left ear/eye and January is your right ear/eye, stars A,B, and C might as well represent… a Jazz trio.

The Books

October 15, 2009

I saw The Books a few weeks ago at the Luminary Arts Center in St. Louis. It was a really wonderful show. This video was played behind them as they recreated the soundtrack. It made me realize that listening to The Books on CD is only getting half of the experience.

The Flaming Lips: Embryonic

October 13, 2009

The twelfth studio album by The Flaming Lips, Embryonic, is out today. I bought it from my local record store Euclid Records.

Thoughts: This album is abrasive in many ways. The drums sounds, the guitar tones, the… whatever sounds. Because of this, I couldn’t hear it at first. I went in expecting something to the extent of a… neo-psychedelic spacey pop-rock anthem, but Embryonic is just not that, and it really really does not want to be. That being said, Embryonic is very amazing. The album works as an album. The themes and sounds build periodically to form multiple high points, and in the end, a very clear product. freaky strangeness.

Listening: This album is meant to completely fill a space with sound. The dynamic range is huge. The frequency range is huge. There is so much to be heard. Thus, you should listen to it on speakers… and nice ones.

Warning: I would not listen to Embryonic with headphones unless your only other option is laptop speakers. This is for a few reasons…

  1. Loudness: This album is recorded to be LOUD.
  2. Transients: Embryonic is filled with quick hits and transients that your ear is not expecting, many of which are high pitched, covered in fuzz, or extremely loud. This can be painful or even damaging to your hearing. I know that after I listened to this album in headphones my ears just felt so tired.
  3. Panning: There is a lot of hard panning in Embryonic. This sounds really interesting through a stereo, but when there is no bleed from ear to ear it is often disorienting or even annoying.
  4. Length: Having headphones or ear buds in your ears for 70 minutes is just hard to do sometimes. It isn’t good if your ears are in pain.