Touching souls

April 11, 2021
 by Paul McGowan

When we listen to music we’re hoping for a connection.

Does it touch our soul?

We all have experienced that connection to music. Sometimes it happens at a concert, other times it’s totally random: in the car, somebody whistling a tune, or on your high-end audio system.

The better my system sounds the closer I get to connecting the inner me with the music.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could somehow measure that level of connection?

Alas, we need to rely upon our emotions both for connection and measurement.

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29 comments on “Touching souls”

  1. Here’s another band featuring two keyboard players. A true American original who eventually defined the genre “Americana” along with a cast of authentic characters and players.

    Documentary film on The Band entitled “Once Were Brothers”. The story of Canadian born songwriter Robbie Robertson’s personal journey featuring rare footage and interviews with Ronnie Hawkins, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, Martin Scorcese and others.

    Now streaming on Hulu. Sign up for a free 30 day trial and enjoy a few recently released movies as well.

    1. Ah-ha! Just what the doctor ordered! This sounds like the kind of movie I can enjoy, without endless gunfire and blood spilling out onto the family room carpet. Thanks, Doc!

      1. I catch your drift lp. There have been some well written engaging scripts for a few select films and 3 television series. The Hollywood formula of the 3 B’s; Boobs, Bullets & Blood appears to be a standard theme.

        Being a film student from the 70s i find myself looking through the violence to the actors and set and seldom have any emotional reaction for it’s all just make believe.

        That being said, in 1967 when i was ten years old watching Bonnie and Clyde on the big screen when ol Buck gets shot in the head was very unsettling.

        Well then, one out of three ain’t so bad? ( . ) ( . )

  2. I rely on music to feed my soul. The equipment to listen to, to look at, or to take measure of, is just a means to an end. I don’t NEED over the top equipment to enjoy the tunes, I can enjoy them in a car, on a plane, on the golf course, on a beach or anywhere I’m at, if so chosen. The higher end equipment doesn’t bring me closer to anything other than being destitute.

    The audio hobby can bring an interest in different genres and recordings, or an appreciation how far an industry has come, maybe even an appreciation of how far it has to go. All this, plus more.. along with Bragging rights and Ego feeding for some. Obsession for others?

    The level of the connection to the music for this soul is not determined by the equipment. However the equipment can still be appreciated… One may suggest that for them proper equipment is what they need for a connection, and there’s nothing wrong with that. That is until a judgement is made of how and to what others choose to listen.

    1. Mike
      Paul has opened another can of worms!!
      I agree with you. When I hear the song “Clocks” by Cold Play, takes me back to my first date with my someone special. When I hear “Give me Shelter” by the Rolling Stones , It sends me back the the Rose Bowl concert we both attended. I could go on. I feel that the memories and emotions are attached to those songs. It does not matter if I heard it thru my Boston Acoustic HD9s or heard it from the IRS Vs. There is just a different degree of emotion attached to the songs in our lives!! Enjoy the Music.

  3. Getting into connection with (a specific genre of) music requires being in the specific mood and able to establish this connection. As open air concerts show it is possible that thousands of people get raved even with the worst sound quality. Not to mention the last live concert of the Fab Four when they even were The Beatles not able to hear the sound from the monitors. 🙂 Most audiophiles and designers of audio equipment obviously seem to be lonely (single, autistic) listeners (sitting in the single seat sweet spot) focusing every details revealed from their stereo system. Only if everything is near perfect they might achieve a connection to the music. And of course they require the recordings are made from the best seat in the concert hall. Otherwise they would be music lovers primary enjoying background music.

  4. Hi Paul,
    I dont know. If you can measure it. Dan you can make a button to create it.
    And I am afraid that the magic off it will disapear.
    Because it wont be special anymore.

    Have a nice sunday.

  5. For me it’s simply not true that everything needs to be near perfect to obtain a connection with the music. Some of my best musical connections have been made listening to a new tune on the car radio, or a film soundtrack on a modern but fairly basic television. The strange thing is, when further exploring those moments, getting that song and playing it on your system for the first time the results can, on occasion, be disappointing. I find this especially true of some modern compressed recordings. It actually sounded better on the radio because that was what it was made for.
    Thankfully that’s not always the case and the other side of the coin is that a decent system can lift the quality and listening experience of some older recordings to a level that you never expected or experienced before.
    We know we’ll never get there but the nearer to perfection, the more ‘sit up and take notice’ moments you get, well that’s just a bonus, the cherry on the cake.

    Finally, to Paul’s penultimate sentence taken in isolation.
    “Wouldn’t it be great if we could somehow measure that level of connection?”
    NO. We don’t need any more measurements 😉

    1. Hah! Thanks. Of course we don’t. It was a tongue in cheek comment. It might awaken some spark of understanding in those who suggest everything can be measured and if it is not measurable it does not exist.

  6. Music can lift me up, bring me down, excite me, or calm me. It’s a matter of what I need, where I am, and the music itself. Of course, the better the playback system, the more intense my response as it allows me to travel to a live event.

    However, if I am wearing my analytical hat, then the music allows me to critique the system, or a component of the system, or the medium, or the music itself. It’s a different universe from the one that allows me to just listen.

  7. Hmm…what’s a soul?
    I don’t think that I have one of those to connect the music to.
    What sort of distortion figures does it have?
    Is it vacuum tube or is it solid state?
    Analogue or Digital?
    Can I buy one on-line?
    I know, I’ll Google it.

    What I like about music is how it takes me back to when life was fun & footloose & fancy-free.
    When things were simpler & they made sense, well, more sense than they do these days.
    When people had respect for each other, well, more so than they do these days.
    Yes, I like music because it connects me with the past, when songs were well written
    both musically & lyrically, & that’s why I’m such a nostalgia hound.
    Today’s music, like today’s world, is just a swirling tub of excrement that isn’t far off World War 3.
    Maybe souls are available in the next life or world…

        1. Fat Rat…

          Your thoughts.. They are from your soul that you will hear yourself thinking in your mind. Its kind of like when you can see what you type appearing on your monitor… If your soul could be put inside a sick body, or inside a vibrant energized body? Your thoughts would be altered. Your soul adapts to the body its in. When your body dies your soul will need another body to be mobile in a material world…. We take Amex and Visa if interested.

    1. Soul is whatever microphone preamp that Aretha Franklin, Sam Cooke, et al. happened to be using at the recording session at the time, vacuum tube or solid state. It was all analog back in the day, of course. “R-E-S-P-E-C-T . . .”

  8. From Scientific American

    “At the foundation of quantum mechanics is the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. Simply put, the principle states that there is a fundamental limit to what one can know about a quantum system. For example, the more precisely one knows a particle’s position, the less one can know about its momentum, and vice versa.”

    Therefore, if our souls are real, they must be composed of energy and matter.

    Additionally, music whether live or reproduced in it’s elemental construction is just particles of matter in different energy states.

    Heisenberg has already proved that we cannot repeatably and accurately make measurements of energy states of matter, because just the act of making measurements influences the results.

    So please, let’s stop all this talk of measurements, and let me get back to my music. This topic is keeping the music from touching my soul 😉

    1. There was an experimenter in the 19th Century who used a balance as a deathbed and measured the mass of the soul leaving the body at the point of death, which was a few ounces and fairly consistent.

      OTOH, this is now a popular meme, and also the thesis that energy has mass:

      My take on the subject is rooted in an in silico study showing that DNA can trap entangled electron pairs. If this proves to be true, it supports my thesis that all life is one thing (informationally), linked by quantum entanglement back to the first genetically reproduced life form.

      It explains all the anomalous behavior thrown into the grab bag of “instinct”, like murmuration sychronization, multi-generational migration of insects, mating of arctic terns, hunting behavior in predators. This can also explain the developmemt of language and music.

  9. It’s quite sure a fact, that hardly anyone would listen to music he doesn’t like or has no basic emotional connection to, just for sound quality.

    Given that, for me, considering the same music played LOFI vs. HIFI, the quality is 80% of the grade of emotional connection. The quality even lets me listen to music and understand its value, to which I wouldn’t ever have listened to and understood LOFI.

    As audiophiles we often think we must have bad conscience because audio quality plays that role for us, but if you think of live concerts, no one would argue how much better a good sounding performance transports emotions than a bad sounding one.

  10. “Music can lift me up, bring me down, excite me, or calm me. It’s a matter of what I need, where I am, and the music itself. Of course, the better the playback system, the more intense my response as it allows me to travel to a live event.”

    Thanks SoundDoc, I couldn’t have put it better myself.
    My system gives me a route to rest, to experience emotion and to glory in the sheer brilliance of it all. I don’t regret the expense, thats all forgotten now anyway.

  11. This connection has been measured via brain imaging. I saw the report from a fascinating experiment which came out of China. They monitored the brain activity of both the performers (as I recall it was a string quartet) and the listeners. When the music was deemed to be really “good” and “working” (ie a connection was being made), the brain activity of both the performers and the listeners became highly synchronized. There appears to be quite a bit of research going on with music and brain activity, and using brain imaging to try and come to better understandings-this has broad implications and hopefully will lead to a better understanding of psychoacoustics as well, in addition to more general understandings of the brain, consciousness, and the significance of many things to humans.
    I am, in particular, interested in the ease at which live performance can make these types of “connections” vs. listening to recordings-I believe there is a great power in live performance, creation in the moment, which is mostly absent from listening to a recording, and this may have much broader implications in terms of human communication by means other than speech-what might be termed ESP. I find memory to be a big factor in this as well: a recording seems to me to often be able to have more “power” to “connect” if there is an aspect of the music which relates to powerful live performance experience/memories the listener has had in the past. These connections between the live experience and the recorded need not be triggered as directly as a recording of the same music as was experienced live, or the same performers-it seems to help just as much to have small aspects of powerful music embedded in the memory.
    The implications are vast, but one take away for me, is that the value of experiencing live music performance should never be underestimated, as these live experiences can vastly increase the amount of “connection” we feel when at home listening to recordings. It is almost as if we “learn” to make this connection most easily through exposure to live music, and then it becomes (more) possible to make these connections while listening to recordings. High end systems certainly help make these connections more often, but I think we have all had the experience of achieving this connection occasionally, even when listening to a ordinary car radio, if we are in the right state, and the music is powerful to us.

    1. YESSS!

      There is also research showing that heartbeats and breathing synchronize, and MRI studies showing that professional musicians grow 10% bigger brains with enhanced melodic, harmonic, rhythmic, spatial, mathematical, symbolic, and social cortical regions. All of these are methods for measuring the instantaneous and permanent affect of music and better directing its optimization.

      I created an environment which maximized the musical connection between small ensembles (under 16) and a small audience (55 seats) through novel acoustics and electro-acoustics, re-inventing audio to more closely conform to how musicians hear. This resulted in weekly experiences of goose bumps, euphoria like drinking Dom Perignon and belonging like taking a shot of oxytocin (the social hormone).

      In particular, this room had an improved trade-off between articulation, intimacy and envelopment per Beranek’s definitions of acoustics preferred by top conductors and soloists in “Music, Acoustics and Architecture”; and bass modes were eliminated through a combination of bass leakage and bass diffusion. The upgraded articulation brought out the most subtle nuances of musical expression; the enhanced intimacy made this medium sized room (75m2) seem smaller like a bed chamber, and the envelopment made it sound larger, tribal sized – all at the same time. It was like being in a womb with 70 siblings, and nobody wanted to leave after the music faded.

      The specification for audio systems is one voice, one mic, one speaker (OVOMOS). Mixing, panning, and processing are not allowed because they are distortions that interfere with the connection to the soul.

      Further, the speakers are neither ‘one size fits all’ nor ‘one shape fits all’. Rather, they are designed to mimic the timbral, temporal, transient, and spatial characteristics of the target instrument, so for example a violin speaker is a dipole and a guitar speaker is a monopole, a ‘cello speaker is the acoustic size and shape of a cello, etc.

      This enabled a seamless blending of acoustic, amplified, electric and electronic instruments so the polygraphic and encephelographic responses approached the extremes of emotion and intellectual activity produced by 40,000 years’ evolution of acoustic music.

      I have only a few times in my life experienced this kind of response to music reproduction. I live for raw live music, either premieres or improvised. My favorite albums are live, ironically the ones I listen to repeatedly as they were produced as ephemeral events.

      Rather, the more I attended concerts with no mixing and collected recordings with no mixing, the less I was able to tolerate any studio chicanery of mixing, panning, splicing, overdubbing, equalization, compression, gating, noise removal, and especially digital reverb. All of these are veils separating us from the musical truth flowing from fingers and lips of human souls.

      I can hear the INTENTION to splice in recordings, and this is part of how studios interfere with musical performance. Without the physical and emotional feedback from an audience, it is never the same.

  12. Every time and each style epoch answers the question of the meaning and essence of music in its own way.

    “Because Iin my opinio the nature of music is incapable of ‘expressing’ anything, whatever it may be: a feeling, an attitude, a psychological state, a natural phenomenon or whatever.
    ‘Expression’ has never been an intrinsic quality of music, and in no way is its raison d’etre dependent on ‘Expression’.
    If, as is almost always the case, the music seems to be expressing something, it is an illusion and not a reality.

    (…) The phenomenon of music is given for the sole purpose of establishing an order between things and, above all, of establishing an order between man and time. ”

    Igor Stravinsky: Chroniques de ma vie ( Les Editions Denoël & Steele, Paris 1935 )

  13. One interesting factor about the “soul.” If we are to understand the Bible. It was the male and female souls that were created in God’s image. The body for the soul came later in the next chapter. That body remained lifeless until the soul was breathed into the nostrils.

    Animals have souls, too. But theirs were not created in God’s image. Its what makes man’s soul unique amongst the animal kingdom. Our souls will last forever. Animals have disposable souls. Its why man was allowed to eat animals.

    Our soul is the driver. The body is our soul’s automobile. The soul is not the automobile.

    This is Sunday, isn’t it? 😉

  14. As human beings we are electric and I feel our connection to audio runs deeper than we all may think. Anyhow, other than my family, I have no greater bond than with music. I’m as connected to my audio system and my sonic universe as much as anyone else who truly loves the stuff. When I get time to myself I immediately engage into my sonic world. Now that is love and it is food for the soul or the essence of who you truly are. I know that music has helped shape and motivate me into the man I am today.

  15. Today’s post doesn’t sound like the Paul McGowan of a decade, or even five years ago.
    Has anyone checked the water lately in Boulder? 😎

  16. I can’t say for sure whether or not it’s my soul being touched by music. The soul has so many different meanings for so many different people. However I can say I’ve found that the ‘goosebump test’ to be a fair indicator or how profoundly music touches me.

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