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“All Sounds are Created Equal”
That’s a phrase I used to like to throw around. The idea is that all sounds are ultimately ripples in the atmosphere, changes in air pressure that our ears can decode; and as such the waves that radiate through the air carrying a Beethoven symphony are no different from the ones that radiate out from a car accident.
That’s true, I think; but it’s not the whole truth, because each wave is perfectly unique as well. No two can be identical. And it is precisely because of this that it’s been possible for us to connect different meanings to these waves. Words, car horns, music, and so on would be indistinguishable if all sounds were the same.
These two truths seem to coexist as a kind of double helix, with one strand standing for the unity of all sounds and the other standing for the uniqueness of each. Sound is comprised of both.
Falling Hammers
Most of us only call certain sounds music. If a hammer falls off of a table, say, most people would not define the resulting clatter as music. But, happily, there are some of us who would hear music in that falling hammer, and it is the music made by these people that is the subject of this post. The station I’ve been working on this week, named “Ovals,” is the soundtrack. Listen.

Some of the music it plays is made from the sounds of machines malfunctioning (a genre known as Glitch). Some of the other music it plays (referred to by the genre name Minimal Click) has been described by Torben Sangild as “the frailest dance beat ever heard” (See his essay in “Bad Music: The Music We Love to Hate”). It will also play Noise music, which is comprised of hisses, scrapes, white and pink noise, and similar things.
If the station works right, tonal sounds (pitches and chords) will be rare, as will traditional Western musical syntax or form. There will rarely be any regular beat or pulse in the music, and if there is a pulse, it will be unlike the rhythms heard in other popular music.
There is an emphasis on timbre and texture in these pieces, either by strict limitation of timbres or by inclusion of unusual and possibly “unmusical” ones.
There is often a strong sense of dimension and landscape, as if music is all about the collisions and arrangements of shapes and masses. These are compositions of blocks, holes, slices, and motes of sound.
There is also a sense of vacancy in this music. The world is crowded, but here in this music, entire buildings, parking lots, valleys, and continents seem uninhabited.
Beyond these values and charms, there is the fact that these pieces present most of us with sounds and contexts that are new and unknown. That may be an inherently artistic quality. Hard to say for sure, but it can feel that way. With few associations to bring to these sounds, we are free to make our own. We engage with experience in a way that makes us beginners again. We see the world differently.
If there is a house of music, it has a door that most of us have never noticed before. It is rarely used and coated with dust, and in that dust I have written the word “Ovals.”
See you on the other side.


  1. James
    September 19, 2009 at 8:30am
    The ads have finally gotten to the point where pandora is no longer worth listening to. Screw you Pandora!
  2. Roland
    September 20, 2009 at 1:25pm
    Sounds the atmospheric impressions of our lives. The buzzing of a humming bird with your eyes close you can visualize the energy pattern running through it micro- bird body . The wind moving through and around a green leafed tree, but yet it sounds so different after the leaves have changes to the colors of fall. Bach or Led Zeplen, Warren Zevon or The Temptations. Two different types of music but oh so very pleasing. Six steel strings of an acoustic guitar of various woods types or the wind tone coming from the reed of an saxophone. Sounds and music like people, are individuals and stand alone in excellent,good and bad ways.
  3. Progman
    September 20, 2009 at 2:22pm
    An interesting article, very thought provoking. I agree that all music is in the ear of the beholder, what I find musical is quite literally noise to someone else. We bring all our experiences with us at every second. Many times I have stopped what I was doing because I heard something that interested me, I have even changed my listening tastes based on something I have heard in passing. Like all music, services that deliver them are also all different for everyone. Some prefer public radio, some will only bring their music with them, and some feel its worth paying for quality music. I started listening to Pandora because I was drawn to the name "Music Genome Project", I wanted to hear for myself what that meant. I became hooked on it very quickly, listening at work, and even at home sitting on the couch. Economics hits everyone, someone provides a service, they should get paid for it, that is a fact. Sometimes advertisements are the method of choice, a "necessary evil" you might say. When they come on, I just change the channel, whether its music or TV, but I don't begrudge the station for needing to survive. I stared subscribing to Pandora One because I was starting to get capped, which is annoying, but understandable. I love the service, and would hate to see it die because a few people don't feel they should have to pay a nominal fee or endure a minor inconvenience to listen to exactly the music they like. Keep up the great work, you've still got me!!
  4. anunturi
    September 24, 2009 at 5:35am
    nice point of view. the sounds can be music for some people or for other just noise. p.s. the picture looks like a secvence of ADN regards, anunturi
  5. Joseph C Bigornia
    October 06, 2009 at 9:01am
    I think Pandora is the most wonderful blessing that anyone could ask for. Music has such an impact on our lives and if we would surrender to that fact. We might appreciate the gift that music in itself brings us. Pandora has taken it to another level, where they have disected the music and layed the pieces out for you to sort out and make some sence out of it all. In Michael Jackson's life. He said he could not get the music out of his head. He had to record it for his own sanity. This article above is so true. Words alone have such a powerful impact on us. Then you add music and it get embedded into your heart and mind or soul.
  6. licitatii
    October 10, 2009 at 5:01pm
    I really like your point of view.
  7. monica
    October 12, 2009 at 4:31pm
    love it i joined like a few days ago and im pretty shure my free hours are almose out sucks though i cant get oandora on my phone lol thx
  8. monica
    October 12, 2009 at 4:38pm
    its all so personalized i have to listen to at least one song or i will go mad its like how people meditate the article proves that music is the same and it can afflict moods lol my friends always joke that music is my life lol not quite true though. <3
  9. wow leveling guide
    November 25, 2009 at 4:40am
    its all so personalized i have to listen to at least one song or i will go mad its like how people meditate the article proves that music is the same and it can afflict moods lol my friends always joke that music is my life lol not quite true though.

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