Why does sound matter so much?

Sound is everywhere. Unlike most of our others senses, sound is something we cannot entirely turn off in our world and we take it for granted that our ears will never be at rest. Think about it:

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If you want not to see something, you can close your eyes.
If you want not to smell something, you can hold your nose.
If you want not to taste something, you can keep your mouth closed.
If you want not to touch something, well… there we run into a bit of a problem.

Touch of course is the only other sense besides sound that we really cannot “turn off” at any point. Just as we cannot not feel the chair upon which we sit, the clothes on our back, or the breeze caressing our skin, so, as Julian Treasure so aptly notes, “we do not have earlids.”

Ironically, with this in mind, it is interesting to note that our sense of sound is also the sense we most often tend to forget to remember. Because it takes some significant effort to trigger it specifically (this is of course less true in today’s world where we have every type of device imaginable at our fingertips), we allow and accept our experience of sound to be directed by those around us. We trust – if we think about it at all – that the music our favorite local wine bar or the Peruvian restaurant around the corner plays is picked to enhance our experience of the space, the food, the drink, and the general ambiance and mood of the place. But is this true? Should we rely on others to create a soundscape for us on a random Tuesday night? And more, importantly, what about when we’re celebrating something really important?

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We do not ask whether the sounds we listen to are appropriate for the experience we are having because we are not taught how to do so, or, more appropriately perhaps, that doing so is something we should even begin to consider.

Growing up in Europe and schooled for many years in the British system, I attended assemblies and morning chapel services for many years. Singing for me was always the best part of the day but I knew it wasn’t that way for most of my friends. Nevertheless, I specifically remember being amazed at how easily each of my friends could read the musical lines in the hymns we sang, how they were able to carry the tune if not produce a glorious sound, and how music was something they simply understood as a part of their lives. I also remember people thinking I was not a complete dweeb when I mentioned my music scholarship in piano, voice, and bassoon… well, until I came to the United States. When I landed in school in Connecticut, I had to give up the bassoon because there was no one to teach me, and had to resort to accepting comments such as “wow, I didn’t even go to sleep while you were singing” as my new norm.

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As I’m sure is no news to anyone living in the United States today, music education is not a large part of our schooling nowadays, and so we cannot be surprised that most people’s assessment of their sound environment is disengaged at best, nonexistent at worst.

Why does sound matter so much, though and why do I dedicate my time to finding the right sounds – and tastes and smells and feels and sights – to fit the special moments and experiences in life? Because I have seen time and time again how pairing the “right” music to the right wine, the right food, and the right sweet treat in the right moment creates a stunning sensory experience that lasts far beyond the few minutes of that actual experience.

But wait, what if I don’t agree with your pairings? You’re right, the process of pairing can be very subjective indeed, and I will address that repeatedly in this book. This isn’t a one size fits all approach. This article – and others to follow – is merely a first step in the direction of asking us to spend just a bit more time thinking about how we interact with ourselves, our friends, family, and coworkers, and the world around us on a sensory level.