What wakes you up?
Your cat meowing at 4am…a bird chirping at 5am…the garbage truck at 6am or your alarm at 7am? Sounds are alive, and your brand is more alive with sound. Utilizing sound to represent your brand impacts memorablity. It wakes us up like nothing else, and stays with us nearly indefinitely. The following information is written by experts in sound with full attribution to the authors and references. My friend Beth Underwood wrote the first article for me, and the next is all excerpts from Diane Ackerman’s outstanding book, A Natural History Of The Senses. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I do sharing it. It’s fascinating.
Why Sound Mark?
Sound is intrinsically linked with memory. Even if there were no scientific data to support this, it would be difficult to overlook the fact that the temporal lobe of the human brain is all about auditory function and memory.
But there is scientific data, and it’s not dependent on the Mozart Effect. Infants recognize a familiar voice before they can identify that person with a name. Alzheimer patients know a familiar voice long after they have forgotten the name attached to it. Dementia patients frequently are able to sing songs when all other speech is no longer coherent.
Traditionally and today, distinctive sounds and rhythmic patterns are used as mnemonic devices to trigger memory. But there’s another advantage to using a distinctive sound signature—throughout history, sound and music have been identified with strong emotions. In a musical score, the directives often are meant to provoke a certain emotional response (vivace, grave = vivacious, solemn).
During the halcyon days of Greece, the structure of music was based on modes—similar to what we now call keys. But they believed each mode had specific meanings and usages attached to them. During the European Medieval era these modes were revived, and composers were obliged to use one specific mode for a particular emotion such as romantic love, and another mode for love of one’s country, for instance.
Both the Greeks and Boethius (Medieval music authority) considered music a serious science, which, like medicine, influenced the humours, as well as physical parts of the human body. Music, like mathematics and astronomy, reflected universal patterns and truths.
We could go back as far the ancient Syrians and as recently as yesterday for examples, but the point is that music and sound are inherently tied to memory and emotion—in turn, the most effective and most motivating elements of advertising. To make use of this powerful tool, sound, is smart business.
Distinctive, smart, aural punctuation as brand identification works.
The Oxford Companion to Music
Science and Music, Sir James Jeans
The Psychology of Music, Carl E. Seashore
Concise History of Western Music, B. R. Hanning
A Plain and Easy Introduction to Practical Music, Thomas Morley
Music, the perfume of hearing.
An ancient Chinese proverb says: “A bird does not sing because it has an answer—it sings because it has a song.” Birds speak dialects, as people do. There are auditory niches, echolocations. Leonardo da Vinci once suggested dipping an oar into the water and listening, with one ear against the handle…an auditory straw of sorts.
What we call “sound” is really an onrushing, cresting, and withdrawing wave of air molecules that begin with a movement of any object, however large or small, and ripples out in all directions.
Sound travels through the air at 1,100 feet per second, significantly slower than the speed of light (186,000 miles per second). That’s why, during a thunderstorm, one often sees a flash of lightening and hears the thunder a few moments later.
Sounds so captivate us that we love hearing words rhyme, we like their sounds to ricochet off of one another. Sometimes we prefer words to sound like what they mean, in the aural equivalent of a pun: hiss, whisper, chirp, slither, babble, thump. The word murmur makes us murmur just to say it.
A campfire wouldn’t be as exciting if it were silent.
At the peak of our youth, our ears hear frequencies between sixteen and 20,000 cycles per second-almost ten octaves—beautifully, and that encompasses a vast array of sounds. Middle C is only 256 cycles per second, whereas the principle frequencies of the human voice are between 100 cycles per second for males and 150 for females. As we age and the eardrum thickens, high frequency sounds don’t pass as easily along and between the bones to the inner ear, and we start to lose both ends of the range, especially the high notes.
Every religion has it’s own liturgy, which is important not just in teachings but also because it forces the initiate to utter the same sounds over and over until the are ingrained in memory, until they become a kind of aural landscape. We are a species capable of adding things, ideas, and creative artifacts to the world, even sounds, and when we do, they become as real a fact as a forest.
The odd thing about music is that we understand and respond to it without actually having to learn it. Each word in a verbal phrase tells something all by itself; it has a history and nuances. But musical tones mean something only in relation to one another, when they are teamed up.
Like pure emotions, music surges and sighs, rampages or grows quite, and, in that sense it behaves so much like our emotions that it seems to symbolize them, to mirror them, to communicate them to others, and thus frees us from the elaborate nuisance, and inaccuracy of words…music is a language which communicates experience.
If we transform music into emotion, how closely does this emotion resemble the original emotion? About as closely as the emotions of one human being can ever resemble those of another.
Music speaks to us so powerfully that many musicians and theorists think it may be an actual language, one that develops about the same time as speech. Music is a kind of intelligence, an aptitude like that for words or numbers, with which we’re simply born. PET scan recordings show that reading excites the left hemisphere of the brain, music the right.
How do we assign a particular meaning to a piece of music? How do we understand the language of music without learning it? It’s deeply hereditary.
A single chord is a calling card and, at that, a mighty simple chord, based on universally shared mathematics. Does music, then, have a grammar, like language, or its own set of mathematical laws? Each civilization seems to prefer hearing tones arranged in certain patterns according to slightly different laws. According to Felix Mendelssohn, it’s not because music is too vague, as one might think, but rather too precise to translate into other tonal idioms, let alone words. Words are arbitrary. There’s no direct link between them and the emotions they represent. Instead, they lasso an idea or emotion and drag it into view for a moment. We need words to corral how we feel and think; they allow us to reveal our inner lives to one another, as well as to exchange goods and services. But music is a controlled outcry from the quarry of emotions all humans share.
For Mozart, music was not only a passionately intense intellectual medium, it was one through which he felt, indeed conducted, precise emotion. Everyone touched by a piece of music hears it differently. Some animals and people speak in music alone. In Australia, the aboriginals have divided up their land according to a maze of invisible roads called Songlines.
When words and music meet, each enhances the effect of the other. Our pupils dilate and our endorphin level arises when we sing; music engages the whole body, as well as the brain, and there is a healing quality to it. Vision vs. Tone? If you mix blue and yellow together, you lose the individual colors and make a new one; tones, on the other hand may be combined without losing their individuality. What you end up with is a chord, something new, which has its own sound but in which the individual tones are also distinct and identifiable. A chord “ is something like an idea,” philosopher of music Victor Zuckerkandl writes, “an idea to be heard, and idea for the ear. An audible idea.”
Music is not just in time…it does something with time. Tones mark time.
Reference: All content by Diane Ackerman. A Natural History Of The Senses ©1990