Forward Looking Statements

“This press release contains forward-looking statements. The words “believe”, “expect”, “anticipate”, “estimate”, “intend”, “may”, “will”, “would” and similar expressions and the negative of such expressions are intended to identify forward-looking statements, although not all forward-looking statements contain these identifying words. These forward-looking statements are subject to important assumptions, including the following specific assumptions: the ability of Mood Media and Muzak to meet their respective revenue targets; the ability to achieve cost synergies; general industry and economic conditions; changes in Mood Media’s or Muzak’s relationships with their customers and suppliers; pricing pressures; and other competitive factors; and changes in regulatory requirements affecting the businesses of Mood Media and Muzak. While Mood Media considers these factors and assumptions to be reasonable based on information currently available, they may prove to be incorrect. Historical performance may not be indicative of future performance.”

Text: Mood Media Corporation Completes Acquisition of Muzak DA: April 16, 2012.

Image: John Baldessari, Two Whales (with People), 2010. Screenprint, 32.25″ x 23.625″.

Echo & Narcissus

“Both reverberation and echo are reflected sound. Echo occurs when a Sound is reflected in such a way that the source sound is distinctly reproduced, as when a shout bounces off a distant, relatively flat wall, for instance. Echo might be single or multiple, depending on how many times the sound bounces. Reverberation, on the other hand, occurs when sound is reflected either so many times that no single, discontinuous repeat of the source sound is heard, or when the reflective surfaces are too near the listener to allow subjective aural separation (as in, say, a tiled bathroom).

“Reverberation does much to define what we perceive as timbre, volume and sound coloration, and largely determines our perceptions of how particular sounds are located, whether they are near or far. If all real-world sounds were to be somehow stripped of their cloaking of reverberation, it would be a wholly disorienting, dead, almost spaceless and depthless world. Lower amplitude reverberation though, like much of the totality that composes “hearing,” is something of which we are frequently not conscious, however much it may affect our subjective experiencing of place and space.’ [1]


“Echo appears as a minor but significant character in Greco-Roman mythology, sometimes as a daughter of the earth goddess Gaia. In Ovid’s account, Echo is a beautiful nymph, fond of woods and sports, and a favorite of Diana. She is, however, inclined to ceaseless chatter and always seeks to have the last word in any exchange. Zeus (or, romanized, Jupiter) has Echo detain his wife Hera (Juno) in ceaseless small talk, while he adulterously cavorts with nymphs. Hera comes to suspect Echo’s role in the deception and decrees that the nymph may henceforth speak only when spoken to, and then may only repeat the last few syllables uttered to her by others.

“Later Echo observes and falls in love with the beautiful and vain Narcissus, and follows his footsteps, longing to address him, but is obliged to wait until he chooses to address her. He eventually calls on her to show herself, but when she does he spurns her. Heartbroken, she hides herself away in the recesses of the woods, living in caves and among mountain cliffs. Over time her flesh wastes away, her bones change into rocks until nothing is left of her but her voice. She remains however ever ready to reply to anyone who calls her. Narcissus goes on to the reflexive exploits for which he is better known. His record of overweening self-regard, however, is first evidenced in his encounter with Echo.”

“The Ovidian version of the myth suggests a fundamental dualism: by the end of the story the human self, the masculine Narcissus, is alienated from his complement, the female Echo. As a result of this neglect, Echo is subject to a kind of atrophy. The remnants of her existence are eventually displaced into the landscape. All that remains is the residual aural effect (although Echo is still sentient). Echo and Narcissus are both losers here. The underlying thematics are of splitting, of reduction, of loss of the self. The Echo and Narcissus myth is in some ways a “fall” story, although, unlike other golden age narratives, Narcissus and Echo never enjoy a prior state of wholeness from which they fall. What is lost is the chance of wholeness, rather than the actuality. Recalling the notion of participation […] while the myth of Echo and Narcissus speaks of the alienation of the physical world from the human subject, it also signals a residual participatory possibility. Full participation may no longer be possible; we cannot, like the Bororo (as cited in Keil 1994) be parakeets. But a potential participatory nexus remains; Echo waits to answer any who may call her. A limited reunification with nature is possible, but only in the sonic realm.’

“Other accounts place Echo as the focus of violent and traumatic events. Earlier Greek versions, for example, have Echo as a musically inclined nymph who inhabits deep woods. Although very beautiful, she denies the love of any man or immortal, thus attracting the resentment of many. The god Pan, a rejected suitor, has the shepherds (his followers) tear Echo’s body to pieces and then scatter the remains far and wide. Gala, the earth goddess receives the pieces into her bosom, and retains Echo’s voice and talents for answering and imitating sounds and voices)]. In yet another telling, Pan strikes Echo dumb, save for the power to repeat utterances. The shepherds become infuriated by this habit of hers and eventually tear her to pieces of their own volition.

“In one western Australian Aboriginal account, echo is personified as a malevolent child-stealing personage named Balyet (alternatively named Marali). Originally a beautiful girl, whose beauty caused two blood brothers to fight to the death, Balyet has been made a complete outcast, so much so that not even death will accept her. Like the Greco-Roman Echo figures, Balyet’s body wastes away over time (although she remains technically a living woman and not a ghost). She haunts high rocky gullies, visible only at night, and then only as a mist. Lonely and painfully childless, she calls to children, seeking to lure them away from their homes. Those who respond are led away from family, and taken in Balyet’s cold, killing embrace. When Balyet realizes the child is dead, she retreats screaming into the mountain sullies. Those children who manage to escape usually become ill and die. Young girls are especially at risk from Balyet. Whereas Greco-Roman Echo is very much a secondary character, sentient but incapable of initiating dialogue, Balyet retains autonomy. Even in her final reduced form she initiates action, albeit action antagonistic to humans.” [2]

Peter Doyle, “Harnessing the Echo”, Echo & Reverb: Fabricating Space in Popular Music Recording, 1900-1960. Middletown Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 2005. [1] p 38, [2] 40-41.

Image: Nicolas Poussin, Echo and Narcissus, 1629. Via Art History Archive

Experimental space

The notion of reverberation is linked to a measurement of the time it takes for a sound to decrease by 6o dB. Etymologically, the word comes from the Latin verb reverberare, meaning “to strike back, to reflect.” In the displacement of a sound from its source to the ear, only a small part of the sound energy travels in the most direct way. A large portion of the sound energy follows indirect paths, as it is reflected on the ground and the environment of the milieu: walls, ceiling, facades. Since these routes are longer, reflected sound energy takes more time than direct energy to reach the ear. This discrepancy is the basis of reverberation. […] The phenomenon that we just described in time can also be characterized in space: if we place a constant-power sound source in a closed or semi-closed space and measure the intensity of the sound source while moving away from it, we can see that the sound normally decreases within a certain distance. Beyond that distance, the intensity does not decrease further. This distance, which depends on the space, is called “critical distance” (CD).”


Psychology and Physiology of Perception

In everyday practice, reverberation is omnipresent; even if measurements indicate weak physical variations, the correspondent hearing perception may be strong. The he average listener tends to valorize reverberation when he or she becomes aware of it, sometimes having the impression that sounds are interminable. In fact, because of air and material absorbtion, reverberation is always mediated. If reverberation was infinite – if sounds did not fade away and were never absorbed– a single sound would “circulate” constantly and the sound level would increase to infinity, making all communication impossible. Although limited, the reverberation of large spaces such as churches or concrete and glass buildings may illustrate this lack of intelligibility.

On the other hand, in a totally absorbant milieu it is difficult to be aware of space. In an atmosphere of quietness and absecence of sound, our impression quickly becomes unpleasant. We can hear our own heartbeats, and body sounds acquire incredible proportions. These impressions can be experienced in an anechoic chamber (an experimental space in which all reverberation is eliminated): the space seems to be squeezed in on itself, narrow and stifling, even if its physical volume is large.

Blind people listen for subtle variations in the reverberations from the sound of their canes in order to find their way and to detect a wall or an angle they are approaching. From this point of view, large, empty places are unsuitable for good perception of the sonic space. Reverberation frequently plays a role in our perceptions:

  • the perception of the presence of something or someone beside oneself (through the modification of the reverberated field)
  • the feeling of “collectivity” and the sharing of social communication (through the envelope it creates)
  • the propensity toward a narcissistic attitude as a sound mirror in situations of individual sound productions (singing or whistling in a bathroom, for instance).


Sociology and Everyday Culture

Reverberation is socially perceived as an indication of solemnity and monumentality. It signifies volume and large size. This monumentality can be sensed as functional and inherent to the use of some locations (cathedrals, concert halls) or as unpleasant and residual for others (train station halls, concrete underground parking garages). Reverberation is also perceived in terms of “resonance,” a term referring, in everyday speech, to reverberation in general. Through its architectural representation, reverberation is easily associated with various functions of power (religion, justice).’

In the domain of culture, reverberation is synonymous with a crowd. It is linked to large ritual or solemn gatherings in churches or sacred caves. Reverberation also plays a role in large press conferences, where, paradoxically it reduces the intelligibility of the message. In large spaces, a poor sound system may emphasize the shortcomings of natural reverberation.

Every epoch is characterized by specific types of reverberation linked to specific places, but a history of this effect remains to be written. Even if we consider the example of cathedrals, which are the oldest large enclosed spaces in the West, it is extremely difficult to have a precise idea of the diverse acoustics they contained because of the evolution of interior decorations and arrangements. The original reverberation is still unknown, and would be quite difficult to reconstitute.

Textual and Media Expressions

Reverberation is abundantly used in media expressions: horror and science-fiction films, westerns, and advertisements emphasize the connection of reverberation to large spaces, even if the location is often not adapted to such an effect (desert, interplanetary space). Reverberation can also refer to sociological aspects emphasized in the preceding locations (power, justice).

Augoyard, Jean-Francois & Torgue, Henry, eds. “Reverberation”, Sonic Experience: A Guide to Everyday Sounds. Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press. 2005. pp  111- 117.

Image 1: Al Held, Black Nile III, 1971. Via ArtNet

Image 2: Al Held, Roberta’s Trip, 1985. Acrylic on canvas, 243.8 × 365.8 cm. Via Brooklyn Rail

Are you now or have you ever been?

“In an interview about the sound for THX 1138, Walter Murch charaterised the ambience recordings for the “White Limbo” sequneces in this way: “It’s basically the room tone from the Exploratorium in San Francisco. …It’s a veil of mysterious sound – it doesn’t have have anything specific to it, but it is full of suggestive fragments.” This description could easily be used to categorize the entire sound track of the film. The sound montages are full of “suggestive fragments” that offer subtle cinematic metaphors, sharp social criticism, and even satire in in the tradition of George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldos Huxley’s Brave New World…” [1]


“Technology mediates the presentation of all of […] images and sounds, filtering them through video cameras and audio processors. Every bit of data is under review and scrutiny, not just by a centralized authority but also by the system of oppression in which the characters are trapped. No individual takes up the role of antagonist, rather the film presents the cumulative effects of intrusive technology and misguided authority and social rules. At this point of convergence, individual rights erode. The filmgoer is also implicated in the process of analysis. Just as with the French New Wave narratives, the film demands an active reading strategy to synthesize the narrative data and evaluate these images and sounds of the future. The hope is that the filmgoer will also speculate about the possibilities of this sort of oppression in contemporary society. Lucas explains, “We have all the potentials today [for this course toward the future], polluted air to drive you underground, tranquilizing drugs and computers. Whether it happens depends on the human spirit. Or the lack of it.”‘

“As the sequence continues, the social and technical mechanisms of observation and oppression are revealed more clearly in the editorial equivalent of a pull back. The images become less processed, though the sounds remain heavily manipulated as a subtle reminder of the notion of eavesdropping. The allusion to “Big Brother” in Orwell’s 1984 cannot be missed. A central control node is revealed, exposing controllers, banks of monitors, and computerized consoles, much like a television studio. Thematically, the setting reiterates the connection to modern media practices, while the screens and sound bites underscore a connection to consumer culture. In a cutaway, a chrome police officer holds the hand of a child as they wait for an elevator. The music accompanying the scene is canned and hollow, akin to something shoppers might hear in a mall. To achieve this effect, Murch played “dry” recordings of the music in the empty hallway then re-recorded it to merge its echoes and spatial cues, using his technique of “worldizing. “‘ The result is the audio equivalent of fluores- cent lighting, dulling humanity and emotion in this controlled subterranean environment. Thematically, the images and sounds reveal that this society has reverted to infancy by a dependency on mechanization and technology.” [2]

William Whittington, “Suggestive Fragments in THX 1138”, Sound Design & Science Fiction. Austin: University of Texas Press. 2007. [1] p 75, [2] 78.

Embodied Listening

“…An alternative model of a subject’s encounter with reverberation might draw upon the account of music and subjectivity advanced by Naomi Cumming in her study of Erbarme Dich from Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. […] Cumming’s analysis focuses upon the subjective identification that listeners feel with works. The “musical subject,” as she terms it, is the thing that listeners become while they are engaged with a piece of music. Cumming argues that the sense of this musical subject emerges from the interaction of three parameters: first, timbre, which involves the listener in a kind of vicarious vocality -an empathic understanding of the emotive quality of the sound in terms of our own voices; second, gesture, through which a listener gains access to a vicarious kinesthesia: physical gestures of the body serve as interpretants for motivic shapes, rhythms and contours; and finally syntax, those elements in music which create implicative expectancies and draw us through a linear trajectory, which can serve as the locus of causality and intentionality.


“Following David Lidov’s account of ’embodied listening,’ Cumming links the “bodily” subject primarily with the domains of timbre and gesture, while the domain of syntax is more closely connected with “the will” or the volitional agency of the musical subject. Taken together, timbre, gesture, and syntax produce the sense of musical subjectivity. Cumming’s model highlights the importance of vicarious sound production. This notion shifts the emphasis away from the receptive subject […] onto an active, productive participant.

“According to Cumming, what engages our subjectivity, what makes “the musical subject” come to life, is the act of imagining what it might feel like to be the source of the sound. To account more specifically for the listener’s response to reverberation, we might add a fourth parameter to Cumming’s list: spatialization. If the listening subject is, at some level, always engaged in a vicarious production of the sounds that confront her, then it is the subject herself who vicariously generates the sonorous envelope. [The] model of the passive subject, enveloped within an ephemeral, diaphanous softness, is counterposed in Cumming’s model of vicarious sound production by an active subject producing a vibrant halo of expanding sound energy.

“Certainly the experience of sound-making suggested by reverb is distinct: it is the experience of producing echoes and resonance, familiar from tasks like playing the piano with the pedal down, shouting in a large empty room, or even singing in the shower. What is common to these experiences is that, with a minimal input of sound energy, one gets a powerful sound in return. One can play a pianissimo chord on the piano with the pedal down and still produce a richness and breadth out of proportion with the effort expended. The magical experience of producing an echo is an experience of effortless excess. The vicarious omnipotence that reverberant sound induces in listening subjects is easily mapped onto fantasies of plenitude, abundance, and fecundity.

Rebecca Leydon, “The Soft-Focus Sound: Reverb as a Gendered Attribute in Mid-Century Mood Music”, Perspectives of New Music, Vol. 39, No. 2 (Summer, 2001), pp. 103-104.

Image: Colors for a Large Wall, by Ellsworth Kelly, 1951 The New York Times