What’s in a Sound?
Seems funny, but all these years when I’m asked by friends and strangers what it is that makes for good music, I often think it starts with a good set of ears, and that’s not easy to explain. I remember from my young childhood days hiking in the woods being able to hear things both as distinct layers–say the chirp of birds together with the motion of the wind through trees and the gurgling of a small stream–and as a whole singular sensation…let’s call it nature in this case.
Those same traits were what often glued me to my first nine volt transistor radio and all that wonderful crazy world of AM radio in the late 60’s and early 70’s. Some songs, say “Eve of Destruction” by Barry McGuire, or Zager and Evans “In the Year 2525” filled my head with scary imagery and haunting sounds, while others, Smokey Robinson’s “Tears Of A Clown” or the The Beatles “She Loves You”, seemed to hint at a more personal yet universal world of aching melody.
In the world of sound that makes up our everyday life, it is this ability–both natural and learned, that leads one to the art of listening. And listening, in its highest form, is why music exists. More than just a language of sound, often in conjunction with singing, it is a way to shape and be shaped by the world and all its natural and manmade forces, expressing an endless variety of moods and emotions, balance and chaos, harmony and dissonance, rhythm and tone, and bring shape to this world of sounds in music.
It is a much smaller task that I want to tackle here, in this little corner of this tiny music room. But I am still often asked, again when people see me smiling over a particular sound coming from a particular amp and guitar “what is it about tube amps” that makes them better…perhaps we can help a bit. I realize writing about what creates good tone is often like “dancing about architecture”, but here goes….