Colorless writings, part 17 – Words

What now?

With a title “Words”, i’m referring to the difficulty of humanly express the tone and its qualities. You know, almost everyone is familiar with what anyone means when he/she is referring to that “mid-hump” usually associated with Tubescreamers and derivatives. But how does one describe the difference between yellow, red or blue clipper LEDs in the feedback loop of a non-inverting amplifier? Thought so. Like some of you, i do have an aural memory, or recognition, accompanied by strong gut feeling of clipping textures of different materials. This can be easily achieved by just playing and listening to the same circuit with different clippers as many times as it takes to recognize the different textures. The memory develops as you listen. I’ve listened a lot over the last five years. Or how does one define the difference of 2N5089 and BC550C silicon transistors in otherwise exactly the same fuzz circuit? Or a differences in sound of two Tubescreamer circuits, one loaded with JRC4558 and the other with NE5532? If the diode texture takes rehearsing to recognize, these differences aren’t as noticeable. Sure. There are differences in tone, but in all honesty. Really hearing a difference between old glossy JRC4558D and modern NJM manufactured JRC4558D? But for the ones that are more obvious – Why is it so hard to describe what we hear?

Even the most basic questions like does this sound good or does this sound better than the other example, are highly subjective. Artists, fashion designers and all the others have spent decades to come up with peach, fuschia, aero and beaver to name each and every color they can. There’s a full list of colors on wikipedia. Sounds do not have a similar list. Yet, the colors have certain wavelength we humans detect. There may be millions of more colors out in the universe, but we just won’t be able to see them. The sound has similar qualities. We humans can only hear what is an amplitude modulation in frequency range of about 20 Hz to 40KHz (Hz being the modulations per second). We all are aware of lows, low mids, mids, high mids and highs. Sometimes we even recognize upper highs as “presence”. Some more technical minded, or just professional sound people might go to lenghts of  expressing the exact frequncies as numbers. But that’s as far we usually go with the frequency or pitch. Just five or six frequency ranges. But sound has other qualities too. The waveform. The attack and release. Just to name a few.

Could it just be that as opposed to fixed colours, the different qualities in sound make it exteremely hard for us to describe? Sound we want to hear is rarely static or fixed. If the static colors had the ability of changing in short periods of time, the naming would have been a lot more difficult. But. Let’s compare the sound to other aspects of our senses. Taste. Now that’s a closer thing to think of. We have our sour, sweet, salty, bitter and a few others. And for the physical taste, there are same subjective things of good, bad and better as there is for the sounds. Wine tasters have done their best to come up with wild comparisons so they can put the wines in order. I urge you to check the wikipedia page for this subject too. Then, why there isn’t similar list of earthy, black pepper and dark fruits adjectives to describe the sound? This is, after all a much better analogy that the colors. Sure. I could start using the similar words to describe sounds and tones, but i might get simply frown upon for doing so.

If there is a consencus for describing sounds, i’m not aware of it.  Maybe it’s just for the best to stop talking about it and keep on listening. If you like what you hear, there is a great chance you’ll find other people who agree with you. If you come up with a tone that’s “earthy”, you can reproduce it and you’ll find people who agree with you – Let me know. I sure would like to start using that word for a tone.

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