Daedalus

Music with everything

Music used to be a scarce luxury; but these days it is available all the time and everywhere. The children of the electronic age can hear it 24 hours a day. But some folk still agree with George Orwell, who said that the purpose of light music is to prevent you thinking. Those who enjoy their own thoughts often wish to be without it. Daedalus is now attacking the problem.

The most intrusive music is the stuff that company telephone switchboards play to you while they try to make your connection. You are forced to listen to this pestilent noise in order to tell when it stops. And it's no good retaliating by singing a few bars back when you are finally connected. Your hearer will simply be puzzled: he never hears the stuff himself. So Daedalus is devising a circuit that can distinguish between speech and music, so as to kill the latter.

He points out that the power spectrum of music has regular peaks at the intervals of the musical scale. It should be simple to detect this pattern, and use it to drive a muting switch. You could then wait for your call to be connected in blessed silence, but would still hear the recipient's voice when he came through. If he started to sing, however, or to accompany himself on the banjo, you would lose him: the circuit will cut out any sound with that tell-tale musical periodicity in its power spectrum.

The same principle could tame the radio. News and weather buffs could hear them whenever they came on, without being distracted by the noise between. But what music-haters want most of all is a device to kill music heard through the air — as from Muzak speakers and other people's radios. So far, Daedalus has only a partial answer. His Music Saboteur has a microphone, a music-detector and a processor. When it detects music in the ambient sound, it splits the whole incoming signal into several bands. Some are raised a fraction of a tone while others are lowered; some are advanced in time and others retarded. This mixture is then put out through a speaker as a local spoiling signal. The user hears the incoming sound and the spoiler together. Speech is slurred and roughened by this combination; but music is utterly wrecked. Its frequency and time-domain power spectra are smeared out; its ‘catchiness’, its hold on the attention, is almost completely lost. It becomes mere formless background noise — still there, alas, but far less annoying.

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Jones, D. Music with everything. Nature 390, 663 (1997). https://doi.org/10.1038/37735

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