Since the birth of the industrial age, a roaring crescendo of motors, traffic, aeroplanes and air conditioning has been rising around us. As the din of modern life has grown, we’ve pushed it more and more out of our conscious awareness. But, even though we don’t pay attention to it, that cacophony has a profound influence on us. Evidence shows that what we listen to can affect everything from our perception of time passing, to how we experience flavour. As a consequence, paying more attention to the sound around us, and changing what we listen to, can enhance the rest of life. To help you, here is our guide to crafting your sonic environment and using it to your advantage.
Waking up refreshed
Being shocked out of a deep dream by a shrill alarm is a recipe for waking up groggy and discombobulated. The ideal moment to wake is during a light sleep cycle which comes around every 20-40 minutes. A better wake-up call, therefore, would be one that builds slowly over a long time. The gentle murmur at the beginning should stir you from a light sleep cycle so you wake up feeling refreshed. If you haven’t quite risen by the time you need to get up, then a last resort clang of noise will be there just in case. Condiment Junkie has made an alarm like this. The birds and wind chimes will increase in volume over 20 minutes, with a church bell sounding the final wake-up call.
Eating a tastier breakfast
If you’re trying to cut down on sugar at breakfast then you may want to listen to music that occupies a high register and favours percussive instruments such as piano or bells. Such sounds have been shown to enhance the perceived sweetness in foods and will be a substitute for the usual two spoons in your coffee. Try this out by listening to the ‘sweet’ sound we created for a research study with Oxford University and the Fat Duck.
Bouncing out of an after-lunch dip
After lunch is another period of your day that can be sonically improved. This is the moment of the post-prandial slump, when blood sugar levels drop and we find it hard to keep our attention focused. At Condiment Junkie we conducted a study to define the sensory attributes that could counter this lack of energy and concentration. Key to the most effective audio was a lack of repetition: for this reason natural soundscapes such as birdsong or rainfall seemed most effective. The scent of mint also helps, stimulating the blood and aiding digestion.
Speeding up home time
For the rest of the afternoon you might begin to clock-watch, waiting for the working day to end. Research has shown that slow music (below 100 beats per minute) – especially in a minor key – makes time pass quicker than listening to faster music. That is, music with a higher tempo causes the heart rate to increase and we become more alert, which means we notice the passing of every second more acutely.
Many of us put headphones on and shut ourselves away on the commute home. When the walkman was invented, the philosopher Marshall McLuhan said it would change the way people interact with the city. Listening to music on a headset can make the urban landscape become truly cinematic. And what better soundtrack than the major-9th coolness of John Barry’s score for The Ipcress File? Instead of the usual dull commute, you’ll feel like you’re in the middle of your own spy movie.
Taking the edge off
Once home and feeling pleased with yourself that you managed to shake the villain off your tail, why not enjoy a glass of wine with the appropriate sonic accompaniment? On a cold November night red wine is king. Based on cross-modal research into the pairing of wine with music, you should listen to something deep and warming to add depth, with some nice brass to bring out the tannins. Our suggestion is ‘Black Trombone’ by Serge Gainsbourg.
Drifting off to sleep
The right kind of noise can of course help you sleep. Scores of sleep aids fly off the shelves every year, pre-loaded with natural sounds to calm your mind. But, again, how about a more cinematic approach? There are conventions in film sound design that signal when someone is drifting away, out of consciousness or into a dream world. The soundtrack will float into a distant echo, drowned in reverb. And because we have such a strong understanding of these conventions, they have a strong emotional affect on us. We may find the same cinematic triggers also help us drift off to sleep. Condiment Junkie has created our own sleep aid exploring this idea. Nothing seems more dreamy than an old crackling 78 and some close harmonies. So we’ve used an old barbershop classic, ‘Walkin’ in the Rain’ by the Prisonaires, as the soundtrack for your slumber. Sweet dreams.