September 1st, 2009

Mobile Music & Treble Culture

I’m in the process of working up a short essay on the topic of “treble culture” for a volume on “mobile music.” I’m hoping that some of my awesome readers/interlocutors might lend me a hand (and/or ear). There are two main areas in which I am interested:

1) the rise of “treble culture” and the crucial relation to music technologies (incl mobile devices)

2) the effects of “treble culture,” esp as, ironically, a means of filtering “bass culture

With regard to the first point, I’m hoping to offer a historical overview of the attenuation of bass frequencies in consumer/commercial music culture with the successive advent of particular player/media technologies. In particular, I intend to trace, alongside an increase in audiophilia and high fidelity, a steady march toward consumer-end devices that have different priorities and have, in effect, progressively moved us toward a rather trebly everyday engagement with music. There are plenty of technologies which have contributed to this “rolling off” of bass frequencies. Here’s a partial list; if you can think of other notable factors/tech (esp particular devices and their quirks), please make a note in the comments:

* vinyl records, esp 78s, 45s, and 33 rpm LPs (the 12″ single, with its deeper grooves, offers an exception)
* early AAD CD transfers, which often didn’t account for the bass boost in record-player pre-amps
* lo-fi speakers, portable radios, boomboxes, headphones, cellphones, etc. (recognizing a wide degree of difference across brands & platforms)
* audio compression (in the studio, but also for radio, in clubs, etc.)
* MP3 (and other file format) compression

With regard to the second, I’d like to explore the cultural/phenomenological significance of this trend — what is gained & what is lost, besides certain frequencies — using some ethnography and interview data. In this sense, I’m interested both in listeners’ perspectives and experiences (how frequently do you encounter, or practice, treble culture?), as well as producers’ (from savvy 80s hip-hop heads pushing stuff “into the red” to compensate for attenuated bass to the more recent mid-freq emulation of bass in bassline, niche/electro/blog house, etc.). Please feel free to share any and all thoughts on this. It seems to me that “treble culture” is increasingly broadcast across our city soundscapes. Tell me about the kids on the bus, walking down the street, outside the club, huddled around computer speakers. I’d love to offer more cross-cultural/geographical context than my own curious ears and eyes have witnessed.

Getting us toward phenomenological effects, consider some of the following perspectives (all, admittedly/interestingly, “British”):

Don Letts: “It’s disturbing when I see kids on buses, listening to music on their phones, and it’s just going: tsk, tsk, tsk, tsk, with no bass. Bass culture is Jamaica’s gift to the world and technology is, kind of, ruining that. Bass is sexy. Women respond to bass.”

Kode9: “there’s a particular kind of bass sound which really fucks me off. … a kind of lowest common denominator way of getting people to move. … a complex of frequencies which works on even the shittest soundsystems. And you can’t underestimate the impact having to play on shit sound systems has on a music culture…”

K-Punk: “Both dubstep and minimal techno only achieve their full potency when played on a club soundsystem. The subtle pressure of sub-bass, the way it moves the very air itself, the hypnotic pulse of the drums, not to mention the role of the dancing crowd iself: none of this can be replicated at home, still less on iPod headphones.”

Finally, here is my (lengthy) abstract, in case it provides further food for thought:

Since the advent of the handheld radio, listeners have long adopted portable music technologies and adapted to the (often tinny) range of frequencies supported by such devices. For their part, producers have tailored their mixes in order to exploit the popularity of such technologies. From one perspective, then, the rise of personal mobile devices — especially mp3 players and cellphones — represents yet another stage in a historical continuum which includes the boombox and the walkman. There are, however, significant differences presented by the latest wave of mobile music products and practices, especially with regard to their ubiquity, their social uses, and their narrow frequency ranges. Whereas previous portable music devices certainly enjoyed some popularity, even that degree of usage stands in stark contrast to the present: today most people — in the overdeveloped world, that is — have a cellphone, an iPod, a laptop on their person, much of the time. (And cellphone usage is rising drastically in the “developing” world.) These digital devices have become, for many, the primary interfaces with sound recordings, especially in the form of mp3s, compressed music files that allow for easy circulation and storage by adding a further layer of frequency range constraint (albeit mostly out of the range of human hearing). While some bemoan the social isolation symbolized by Apple’s white earbuds, remarkably, especially among young people, these personal portable technologies also enable the sharing of music in public. It is not uncommon in major cities such as New York or London to observe a crowd of teenagers clustered around a tinny piece of plastic broadcasting a trebly slice of the latest pop hit.

Despite ongoing endeavors in audiophilia, some of the most commonly used devices for listening today — cellphones, mp3 players, laptops — were not designed with high fidelity as a priority. Rather, as size constraints and style have dominated design, certain sonic dimensions have been conspicuously left out, namely bass. So ironically, even as what Linton Kwesi-Johnson calls “bass culture” remains strong as ever through the global reach of hip-hop, reggae, and other electronically-produced dance music, we simultaneously witness a filtering of such low-end-centric genres through what we might rightly call “treble culture,” as mediated by mobile music devices and their physical limitations. The attenuation of bass is a product not just of the size of these devices but — as highlighted by the issue of bandwidth (both internet/wifi and telephonic systems) — results also from the transformation of sound into digital representations capable of being easily transmitted and stored (i.e., “lossy” encoding).

But beyond tech specs, the rise of “treble culture” calls attention to a number of crucial intersections between music, technology, society, and culture. In offering a history of treble culture, this essay will place today’s digital mobile music players alongside twentieth-century precedents, considering their relative frequency range constraints as well as their relative popularity, but it will also attend to the new practices emerging with such devices: the class issues surrounding cellphone vs. iPod use, the racially-tinged discourses around public projection of mobile sound (or “noise”), the socialization of such technologies via communal listening practices, and the representational strategies on the part of producers and engineers to compose music that “works” through such devices. Just as Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” was meant to evoke grandiosity through even the most “consumer-end” radio, the recent embrace of mid-range synth lines and square waveforms suggests a kind of zeitgeist aesthetic feedback loop, a way of suggesting bass amidst all the treble. As an utterly mundane — indeed, naturalized — and yet largely unexamined phenomenon, the advent of treble culture merits a serious and critical appraisal.

Hit me on Twitter, in the comments, etc. Tell me all about those trebly slices of life you’ve been a part of and/or a witness to. I’d love to collect some anecdotes, find some angles I hadn’t considered, flesh out my brief history, and so on.


  • 1. nina  |  September 9th, 2009 at 2:51 pm

    heh, till a few years ago “skeet” was the word that preceded “shooting” and referred to a sport involving firearms. i’d have totally been confused as to how there could have been a slip or a pun in there. i pick up all my slang from my younger brother.

    skreet isnt so much slang as it is just a regional pronounciation, its still the word “street” and heard and understood as “street”

  • 2. Boima  |  September 9th, 2009 at 6:34 pm

    Real late on this one, got a lot of catching up to do!

    One form of music that I think is absolutely necessary to hear Bass in order to understand and enjoy it is Zouklove, and by extension Tarraxa, or what Toke from Luanda’s Kudurofiles calls Ku Bass. But specifically Zouklove cause it seems to be one of those musics that often gets dismissed (save for Rachel, the Zouk crusader! what up girl!) as syrupy and cheesy romantic stuff. And while it is romantic, I don’t think there is a music with a harder Bass drop. I think it hits so hard cause of the minimal production, and there’s not sonic competition. If u listen to it on trebly system, your missing half the song! U have to listen to zouk in a crowded hot room with bangin bass and hella people coupled up.

    As aspiring electronic beats producer, I always mix a track with decent bassy studio monitors, but then preview it on laptop speakers, to make sure there’s at least a trace of the low end cause I know when I send it through email, people I want to hear it are probably gonna check it on some computer speakers, and I want them to realize there’s something else there. That’s the (email) beat tape test. But the final test is the East Oakland mastering test. Check it in the car system!

  • 3. Boima  |  September 9th, 2009 at 7:33 pm

    Ok just caught up! I’m with Nina on the sexual nature of Bass!

  • 4. nina  |  September 10th, 2009 at 8:51 am

    LOL@ the “East Oakland mastering test”.

    And there is NOTHING like syrupy cheesy romantic music with ((((BASS)))). I don’t think I’ve heard any Zouklove but I’m going to go find some now!

  • 5. rozele  |  September 10th, 2009 at 9:59 am

    oh, and i forgot to say, wayne: you & anyone else in or around boston can see what’s going on with the bassyness or trebliness of the street brass world in october – the 4th annual Honk! street brass gathering will be on all invasion weekend (10/9-11), centered in davis square. should have the schedule up; or just drop by and listen for the tubas…

  • 6. wayneandwax  |  September 10th, 2009 at 10:10 am

    thanks for the reminder, rozele! i was away last year during the festival and missed it. DEFINITELY plan to check it out this time around.

  • 7. dj empirical  |  September 10th, 2009 at 3:46 pm

    a couple anecdotes:

    like Specter, Dimebag Darrell (of Pantera) used to take tapes of the rough album mixes out to the pickup truck to hear them on that stereo.

    plus there’s also the constant treble element of Public Enemy that was designed to be recognized in passing cars (or so goes the anecdote i heard, apocryphal or not).

  • 8. nina  |  September 11th, 2009 at 8:45 am

    Interesting anecdote about PE. I was driving yesterday and had the windows down and it occurred to me that I LIKE listening to the music with the windows down so I can hear the outside noise. All I can really hear is the highest of the high and feel the lowest of the lows. The mid range stuff sort of gets lost with the sound of the wind and traffic. The idea that artists design the music to be heard in specific environments, “non traditional” ones, intrigues me.

  • 9. phil freeman  |  September 11th, 2009 at 9:31 am

    One anecdote: I have noticed far fewer booming cars in my neighborhood in recent years than in years past.

    Personal listening data: I listen to almost everything on either an iPod (though I have bought better Sony earbuds to replace the white ones that came with it) or my laptop (into which I plug big headphones which sound very good and full, with plenty of bass). Occasionally I will use my living room speakers, but primarily for classical music.

    One bit of data from outside the genre continuum you’re primarily discussing here: Black metal, which despite its name is one of the whitest musical forms you’ll ever encounter (it started in Scandinavia, though it’s now made and played worldwide, especially in Central and South America, with some of the most interesting records currently coming from France), has almost no bass. It’s a thrashy form of metal played with extremely trebly, distorted guitars that sound like pavement saws, a very thin drum sound and high-pitched, screeching vocals, with some bands adding strings and/or minor-key keyboard melodies. Black metal bands have bass players, but the primitive recording conditions for the earliest demos and releases kept the bass out of the mix, and it was taken by second-generation acts as a stylistic hallmark.

  • 10. e  |  September 11th, 2009 at 4:54 pm

    I come from a long line of audiophiles, my great-grandfather was an audio engineer, and I remember having a conversation with my dad around the time napster came around and mp3s were taking off, and he was horrified at this lossy, low-fi new format. True, of course, but mp3 won because it fit the shift in technology and in the culture. We used to sit down and listen, now portable audio is the rule, and audio fidelity is sacrificed to the portability imperative. Bass is long-wavelength… physically BIG. Portablity dictates smallness, therefore short wavelenth, treble. To parallel rozele’s thoughts on live brass, if you’re going to carry a horn around all day, do you bring your trumpet or your tuba?

  • 11. james gyre  |  September 12th, 2009 at 4:54 pm

    on the zouk love tip, i’d love to hear more, boima… a kuduro cabo love producer was in my home recently and recommended some, but it’s mostly trebley youtube links some are great tunes like this one, but i’d love to hear a good mix of it sometime… know where any are?

  • 12. ripley  |  September 14th, 2009 at 11:25 am

    I really love Beni’s point about the other sensory inputs involved in listening to music in the car! Maybe I’ve missed other discussions of this, but that seems like a really important point that often gets left out of the car music discussion – the recontextualization of the music in physical space and with changing scenery. A whole other aspect of transformative listening.

    and yes, bass, physical vibrations, sexual/physical pleasure, the fizzy-woozy delight of sitting on (or in) the subs at raves.

  • 13. pipecock  |  September 14th, 2009 at 6:54 pm

    “Bass is long-wavelength… physically BIG. Portablity dictates smallness, therefore short wavelenth, treble.”

    i was just going to make this point since i had not yet seen it come up. moreso than any of the other things, bass drivers and horns need to be BIG to be effective due to the size of the soundwaves. and on a power consumption tip, bass requires more power to sound/feel loud than treble does, also as a result of the physical properties of the soundwaves themselves. generating that kind of power kills batteries very quickly.

    these two things more than anything else culturally and even monetarily will limit what can be done while maintaining a listening device’s portability. if it were possible to have actual bass reproduction on a supersmall portable scale, it would be done. that shit just isn’t possible. as people expect the kind of portability they have on their laptops/cellphones, they will make whatever sacrifices to achieve that in their music as well.

    maybe i’m the odd one out, but most of my music consumption is through my home theatre system, my studio monitors, or my car stereo (which is some shitty factory system, but still has a very nice thump to it!). i have an iphone but i almost never listen to music on it. i use youtube to hear rare records i don’t own and haven’t heard, but it is simply as a way to get to see if i need to hunt that shit down. occasionally i will go listen to things i already own on there if i’m really bored, but usually i prefer silence instead of terrible audio quality.

  • 14. boima  |  September 17th, 2009 at 12:32 am

    Hi James, if you want to do some exploring, you could start here. Plenty to wade through!

  • 15. james gyre  |  September 17th, 2009 at 1:43 pm

    thanks, boima… will do!

  • 16. rozele  |  September 18th, 2009 at 10:39 am

    re: wayne @56:

    glad to hear it! i’ll be there with the Rude Mechanical Orchestra (a trombone-heavy project, though not the bassiest around). i’ll be the one recognizable to various nessons (…though it’s been some time…).

  • 17. » B&hellip  |  September 21st, 2009 at 3:09 pm

    […] by jake walters, via the wire As the treble/bass culcha conversation continues here and there, it keeps coming around to the words & work of Kode9 / Steve Goodman. It became […]

  • 18. Bass Poverty & the Po&hellip  |  September 22nd, 2009 at 11:05 am

    […] Politics of Frequency: Kode9 on Treble Culture Some interesting discussions at here and here + a short interview with Kode9, about the politics of frequency. No […]

  • 19. Kevin  |  September 23rd, 2009 at 2:36 am

    whew! it took a serious minute but i finally caught up to this treble culture conversation. i’m going to drop a bunch of bullet (points) here and let you sort them out.

    preamble: a word about bass,
    all of this music we’re discussing is dance music and dance music is body music. just as the nose and tongue and eyes and fingertips collaborate to produce a “taste” sensation, so too is there collaboration among gut, rear end, feet, and ears to “hear” dance music.

    re: mobile listening habits,
    i’m big into walking around and the minute i got a cellphone with decent volume (nokia 5300 musicXpress, 50$ at INXS wireless in central!), i gradually stopped using earphones. my preferred listening style now is to carry my phone in my left breast pocket where it hums against my chest. i’m frequently walking alone and playing music out into the air. like nina with her windows down, i like a lot of street noise with my music.

    (note: when my phone rings, it vibrates along with my mp3 ringtone. why can’t i enable that buzz when i’m simply listening to music player?)

    re: polyphonic/MIDI ringtones,
    you should check the 454 sound monster “blazing blip blop and blar n blee” mixtape. acapellas + polyphonic ringtones.
    also, i’ve heard that chiptunes people were getting hired to do these ringtones for a minute. this rumor is parallel to the rumor that pixel artists were getting hired to do mobile games. both rumors are unverified but intriguing. is pixel-art treble?

    re: mysterious switches,
    can explain the cultural and technological context of the “loudness” and “high filter” switches on the face of my solid state realistic amp? what about the ubiquitous sony BASS BOOST switch on walkmans, boomboxes, and discmans? i often felt like these switches only made sense with certain recordings but could never predict.

    re: black metal,
    i’ve been out of the loop but i recall that the american black metal (ABM) world was heavily invested in “thin” recordings. in particular, i had some tapes of leviathan that were controlled bursts of treble. japanese noise-punk confuse also fits this category.

    re: lossy files,
    i wonder if a quantitative evaluation of the spectrum response in 320, 256, 192kbps mp3s might be worthwhile. sites like beatport and boomkat sometimes sell the higher bitrate (or lossless) files for more cash. am i actually getting a good rate? more boom for my buck?

    really really excited about this line of investigation and looking forward to the next blog post!!

  • 20. Beni Borja  |  September 23rd, 2009 at 4:55 pm

    On mysterious switches:

    They are all based on something called the Fletcher/Munson curve.

    Fletcher and Munson were researchers at the Bell Labs in the 30s , that devised this curve that intended to ¨correct¨the human ears tendency to perceive treble as a higher in volume than lows..

    In practice this means that when you listen at low volumes with the loudness/bassboost switch on , you have a serious bass boost… that is phased out as you increase volume according to the curve.

  • 21. pit schutlz  |  September 26th, 2009 at 11:35 am

    mp3 culture as a lot in common with tape culture. you get degrading quality with every generation of transcoding. how to mix a recording to make it survive different generations of sonic degradation? listen in to mixtape culture from 80ies, such as steinsky, bambaata, early coldcut or much more arabic and asian tunes such as in the radio field recordings of sublime frequencies. Up to the overcompression of justice/ed banger and the mono sound systems of raggaton technology matters, but then again, if you are becoming a technological determinist on the way, you’re probably completly missing the point.

  • 22. Tim  |  September 28th, 2009 at 9:33 am

    This is an interesting read. I’ve talked about this with a lot of people + some don’t really see why a little bass can be so important.

    But unless you know what you’re missing, you probably won’t care. If you grew up listening to music on awful speakers – at home and at clubs, too – you won’t know about the magic of a heavy system.

    Treble hurts my ears. Bass makes me feel good. Simple as that.

  • 23. Sophie  |  September 30th, 2009 at 3:05 pm

    Today my friend Zoe posted on twitter:

    @theendbegins This “use of shitty cell phone speakers to inflict one’s own questionable taste upon public transit passengers” phenomenon has got to stop.

    And I happened to read this post.

    Once I was on the T after seeing Andrew Bird and some concert goers were sitting there playing MGMT’s “Electric Feel” out of their cell phone. My friend and I started dancing and singing along. Strangely (and depressingly) the cell phones owner (about two feet away) completely ignored us. It would have been so fun to start a train-wide electro-dance party. Overall though I must say I agree with my friend’s position.

  • 24. Gregzinho  |  October 2nd, 2009 at 1:53 pm

    Rio, like in the Jamaican context, has a sense of extremes — from the bassiest-heaviest-chest-shakingest fifty speaker sound system to the mobile phone speaker, there isn’t much of a middle ground. A lot of funk MCs carry phones around their neck on straps (common in Rio in general among favelados, actually) and will play tunes out of it, sing into it to record lyrics, play back recorded lyrics, play back songs of theirs. It’s like a mobile (no pun intended) rehearsal studio.

    But I think those little injections of tinny funk are just pallatives to hold you over for the real medicine on Friday/Saturday/Sunday night.

  • 25. kiddid  |  October 2nd, 2009 at 5:25 pm

    i’m in an academic mood…

    off of what Kevin, Beni, & Tim were talking about: it might be worth pointing out that treble is actually the frequency range that humans are LEAST sensitive to. treble frequencies are also the first to go when we lose our hearing. also important to point out is that when most people drop the term “treble” they’re actually meaning the mid-range (or upper mid-range to be specific), which by most definitions is not considered treble.

    like Beni said, according to the equal loudness principle (sometimes called the “Fletcher/Munson” curve) we naturally hear certain frequencies better than others and these BASS/TREBLE knobs act to adjust volume (amplitude) accordingly. according to this principle, as the volume increases our perception of the loudness of each frequency evens out (more or less). what i didn’t realize was that on consumer sound systems with these types of knobs there was a re-adjustment to these frequencies as the volume increased (which would only make sense…though i’m sceptical that this actually happens).

    if you think about it, this completely justifies the importance of the dubplate and proves why not all “dance” music sounds right on smaller (not so loud) sound systems. i’m sure kode9 touched on this in the interview a few posts back but i’m too lazy to check (perhaps W&W has already discussed this in length in another post in which case pardon the retread!).

    which has maybe already been discussed in this thread which is to ginormous to review at this point.

    and if you’ll allow me to further indulge in my recent studies of frequency

  • 26. kiddid  |  October 2nd, 2009 at 5:29 pm

    oops…a few stray sentences i forgot to edit out of the post at the end…ha! funny…

  • 27. » Mobile&hellip  |  October 6th, 2009 at 4:16 pm

    […] shoutout to Rozele, who chimed in on the treble culture conversation and snuck in a plug for her band, Brooklyn’s Rude Mechanical Orchestra […]

  • 28. Could it be that Bass Cul&hellip  |  October 10th, 2009 at 9:36 am

    […] has several posts and discussions jumping off from this post: Mobile Music & Treble Culture. With the proliferation of bad sound on iPods and phones, can we see a march towards treble in the […]

  • 29. » P&hellip  |  October 28th, 2009 at 3:01 pm

    […] not least of which being the way it illustrates an improvised solution to the problem of “treble culture” (i.e., no […]

  • 30. AKinCLE  |  November 17th, 2009 at 11:36 am

    From an interview with Yamatsuka Eye and Yoshimi P-We of the Boredoms, by
    Hisham Akira Bharoocha from BOMB 104/Summer 2008…

    EYE It’s not like this sound exists and then I’m there outside it; it’s how I am in relation to it. If you think about dance music, the sound with the kick — boom boom boom — is considered the main part now, but if you look at Japanese shrine music, there’s a _sho_, which makes a high-pitched howling: that sound makes the Shinto priestesses start dancing. Everyone now responds to the bass, but I think we’re going to see more of that kind of pleasure in responding to those high-pitched sounds. Even now there are those moments in dance music when everybody goes crazy for some high note.

    Our sense of rhythm is going to change—we’ll also see strange kinds of dancing. It’s because of pii-go-sho! that people get totally excited with Merzbow. It’s the best! Dance music is the most physical—it takes in this thing called noise. At least in Japan we see the tendency to pay more attention to noise as dance music. Everyone’s playing noise.

  • 31. Mike in CO  |  December 20th, 2009 at 5:50 am

    I recommend taking any serious MP3/lossy compression questions to the experts on the HydrogenAudio forums, rather than speculating about actual or perceived loss of bass in certain-bitrate MP3s. One recurring theme there is that you can’t correlate an objective analysis of frequency content with subjective statements about sound quality. Perceptual codecs, and the MPEG psychoacoustic models in particular, involve the removal of tiny blips of the audio signal that we humans normally couldn’t perceive in the first place. My understanding is that these too-quiet and/or ‘masked’ frequencies are removed across the spectrum with a fairly even, random spread; exactly what frequencies are being removed varies greatly from overlapping split-second sample to overlapping split-second-sample, so it’s not like you can say a preponderance of certain frequencies are getting cut by certain-bitrate MP3s. Even if you do measure a decline in the overall energy in the bass range, how much that actually matters to a listener, if it matters at all, can only be determined with ABX testing, and this is something that will be not-so-gently insisted upon in the forums.

    Now, that said, due to the way the bands are split up and bits allocated to them in MP3 in particular, too low a bitrate does happen to have some nasty effects in the high end, a situation often worked around with a lowpass filter. So, if anything, MP3 listeners could be said to be accustomed to missing treble, not bass. We’re talking about the really high end, here, ~16-20 KHz. However, I’d argue that most records & tapes, or their usual playback equipment, tends to have deficiencies in those same frequencies, so really it has only been in the CD era (late ’80s to early ’00s) that any of us got used to hearing that treble in the first place, and even then it has only been among those of us who bought a good pair of headphones. And then there’s our age/concert/headphone-related hearing loss… maybe more treble ain’t such a bad thing?

  • 32. scott mc laughlin  |  August 15th, 2010 at 11:52 am

    Some more psychoacoustics, if we already know a song our memory will will fill in the frequency gaps, such as in situations where we can’t physically hear the bass frequencies but our brain fills them in so we “hear” them anyways. Also, the brain will extrapolate bass frequencies from higher spectral components in a similar way, although this is less likely to work in music where the bass may be harmonically unrelated (in a western traditional harmonic sense) to the treble instruments.

  • 33. wayneandwax  |  August 15th, 2010 at 11:58 am

    Thanks for the comments, Scott. Can you direct me to any research that’s been done on this sort of “filling in”? I’m curious to look into it further.

  • 34. scott mc laughlin  |  August 15th, 2010 at 5:28 pm

    There’s not a lot online, most is in books, or paywalled journals. These two books are excellent, Bregman covers everything and is the main go-to book on this, Deutsch is a major pioneer in the field.
    Bregman, A.S. (1990). Auditory Scene Analysis: The Perceptual Organization of Sound. Cambridge, USA: MIT Press.
    Deutsch, D. (Ed.) (1999). The Psychology of Music (2nd ed.). London: Academic Press.

    Wikipedia article is respectable:

    This article’s not especially relevant, describes how the stanford mobile phone orchestra create phantom fundamentals that are much lower than the phones can produce: see section 4.1

  • 35. wayneandwax  |  August 30th, 2010 at 12:26 pm

    Just FYI — as an addendum of sorts, here’s Dan Hancox’s piece on sodcasting as published recently in the Guardian —

    The comments are pretty telling in their opposition to the practice!

  • 36. » W&hellip  |  September 14th, 2010 at 3:23 pm

    […] it invited a fairly strong bit of opposition in the comments. Since I’m still polishing up my own essay on the phenomenon, I’m grateful for the plenty more grist for the mill this provides. Also, to Dan for quoting […]

  • 37. Myom – State of Pla&hellip  |  November 12th, 2010 at 5:32 pm

    […] Kode9 und andere Musikethnologen von “Treble Culture” sprechen, der Musikrezeption über Handy, Mp3-Player, Laptop- oder PC-Boxen, dann ist damit […]

  • 38. builder  |  December 28th, 2010 at 6:55 pm

    In Pakistan people actually turn up the TREBLE because that’s all the speakers are good for. This despite the fact, as much as it music in the entire subcontinent is generalizable, that while one-half of both the folk and film music is extreme treble-lead-vox ( ) the other half is percussion. The low low end in newer Indian music is still pretty weak ( ) but even that is completely missed by the majority of the population.

    In rock, I think of sludge, doom, stoner (Kyuss with their guitars plugged into bass amps, with the riffs taking the place of percussive impact) and some lower-end crust as the reactionary bass alternative to the shrillness of black/death metal.

  • 39. builder  |  December 28th, 2010 at 6:58 pm

    Also, a lot can be blamed on the particularly low-quality earbuds that Apple supplies with its players. If people don’t notice how tinny the sound is, can they really be expected to notice much else about the music that they mostly-casually listen to?

  • 40. dave s  |  December 29th, 2010 at 1:47 pm

    If you’re talking about treble on the subcontinent/Central Asia, the ultimate example is Pathaan music from Northern Pakistan and Afghanistan.

    It’s not that bass doesn’t figure in it – it does – but in most cases all of the percussive movement is in the higher registers, the melodies are always pretty shrill, and the vocals are Autotuned to blazes. This is a totally dominant effect right the way across Northern Pakistan/Afghan borders these days, but I think it ties in with a prexistent aesthetic of massively foregrounded vocals and melodies (the emphasis on vocals because the songs tell stories and that’s their primary function), rather being a product of recent technological developments/limitations.

    It’s true, though, most of this stuff will end up being played on terrible home/in-car stereos, and you can totally “get” any of these songs without low-end frequencies at all, which is no doubt at least part of the aim of its producers.

    Few bits by Nazia Iqbal (often carries an AK47 on her tape sleeves, bills herself as the Queen of Pashto Music and that’s how people see her)

    Some by Rahman Gul, who I actually like better

  • 41. » H&hellip  |  March 24th, 2011 at 11:32 am

    […] under: treble culture, mp3 as cultural artifact, platform […]

  • 42. Ethan Hein's Blog &rs&hellip  |  March 12th, 2012 at 4:46 pm

    […] Even the MP3 does not represent the lowest-fidelity music experience. That distinction goes to the increasingly common practice of listening to music with the small, low-quality speakers in laptops, tablets and even cell phones. If you’ve taken public transportation in a major city in the past ten years, you’ve probably heard teenagers playing music for each other from their phones. The UK has a slang term for this practice: sodcasting (with sod meaning “inconsiderate jerk.”) This behavior is considered a nuisance by most non-adolescents, and in 2006, London mayor Ken Livingstone went so far as to call for a sodcasting ban. But social music sharing is a fundamental part of our social life, and we should expect kids to do it with whatever tools are at hand. Some scholars take a more positive view of sodcasting, which  technomusicologist Wayne Marshall terms “treble culture.” […]

  • 43. Mais introversão, pede o&hellip  |  October 14th, 2012 at 10:14 pm

    […] repetidos para elevar decibéis e vocais potentes. A distorção tamanha tem nome e se chama “Treble Culture“, em clara oposição à tal “Bass Culture”, que teve como último expoente o […]

  • 44. Len  |  March 23rd, 2014 at 5:38 pm

    Fascinating discussion!!! Don’t know how the following fits in — I’m a classically trained organist. The pipe organ — the real pipe organ, not an electronic one — is known for its huge range of frequencies — some pedal pipes are 64 feet long (!) and some a fraction of an inch. Low frequencies and high were often combined.

    Try this: for tonal complexity (even from an mp3).

    This is not an extreme example, but you can get the flavor here: — try playing #3 (Bach Ich ruf zu dir).

    Also see the Wikipedia article on “Mixtures” — high frequency organ stops that greatly emphasized, sometime in an artificial way, the natural overtones of the root notes . The whole article of organ stops is interesting in the light of what you have opened up (5 years ago!). The section near the end of the Wikipedia article on “Notable organ stops” has some interesting trivia.

    Thanks for this.


I'm a techno-musicologist, internet annotator, imagined community organizer.

I left my <3 in the digital global, but I reside in Cambridge, MA, where I'm from.

I represent like that.

wayne at wayneandwax dot com

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