Communicating Anticipation & Suspense

Thinking about the added suspense that the music on the SACD version of Dire Strait’s Brothers in Arms seemed to have (see last post), I wonder if and how this might be artificially produced by a system.

When humans talk to each other, at least in English, they can communicate to a listener that they should expect something to follow a particular phrase by at least three methods:

1. raising the frequency of the last word of the phrase, near the end of the word
2. drawing out the last word of the phrase (saying the word very slowly)
3. adding a lot of ‘uh’s or ‘um’s after the phrase

It seems like music also uses these same techniques (a background beat might replace the ‘um’s to mark tiime after a phrase).

So why are only a few systems able to communicate this ‘suspense’? Are so few able to render the characteristic raise in frequency at the end of an anticpatory note? Or is it that LPs and CDs for the most part do not have a high-enough resolution to contian this kind of subtle information?

At a CES a few years ago, there was a system with Joseph speakers, Joule amps and Audio Aero CD player that had oodles of suspense. It was great fun and seemed to communicate the musician’s desire to be suspenseful with both the listener and their fellow band members. So now one can wonder things like: did this system have a tendency to raise the frequency of the sound at the very end of major notes, just a little, to artificially add suspense?

What about the recording engineers who made the Brothers in Arms CD? Did they do the same? Do they have a little knob in the studio that says “suspense”?

I don’t know. I do know I like suspense and anticipation in music. It adds to the excitment and highlights the webs of communication going on both between the individual band members (for example, think jazz and one musician prompting another to play a few notes, who does the same right back at them, back and forth) and between the band and the audience.

The audience can also communicate suspense and most other emotions back to the band and to others in the audience though crowd mutterings and clapping and shouting and whistling. This is one of the things that can make live shows and unprocessed live bootlegs that are recorded from the audience so involving.

[I would like to talk some more about this ‘muttering’ another time, by which we are refering to the largely involuntary sounds an audience in response to what the musicians are doing – and how this is a large part of the (near) instananeous feedback loop between the audience and the musicians which is a whole nuther communication channel being used that is almost completely disjoint from the actual melody being played. The ‘suspense’ added by a musician is almost a bridge between these two channels; one channel being of sound and the other one is .. a deeper message about being human and alive at that moment].

OK, it is time to start composing these posts in somethng that has a spell checker… 🙂