The Science Behind the Sounds Around You

September 9, 2022

Have you ever stopped to wonder about the sounds around you?

While you’ve been busy doing your laundry, washing dishes and heating up your microwave meals, a revolution’s been occurring that we bet you didn’t even notice!

And no, we’re not talking about veganism or the age of the Kanken backpack. We’re talking about the growing movement that’s seen washing machines learn how to play the harp and ovens taking up an instrument you’ve probably never even heard of (the kalimba...?!).

Related article: How sensitive are you to sound?

What is with these sounds around you?

Have you noticed that your microwave doesn’t just beep or ding anymore?

When it comes to developments in digital technology, most of us are aware of the race between Apple, Google and Amazon to win us over with their voice assistants. But what about the increasingly sophisticated electronic jingles being penned for the notifications that come from household machinery?

The specialists behind the movement include Audiobrain CEO Audrey Arbeeny. She’s recently composed a bubbly harp melody for a washer dryer in order to evoke feelings of ‘familial tenderness and love’. And she’s also the one who selected the kalimba as the instrument of choice for an oven, to encourage home cooks to unleash their creativity.

According to The Atlantic, Audrey Arbeeny believes ‘We don’t make noise. We create a holistic experience that brings about better well-being.’

Better well-being? Machinery? It all sounds a little far-fetched. Or does it...

Related article: Why Do Some Sounds Feel So Good?

a guy taking out the food out of his microwave after the beep sound

Where all the sounds began

Humans have always relied on sound to better understand the functioning world around them - right down to the crackle of a fire reassuring them that their wood is burning well.

Since then, other machines, like cameras, clocks and cars, have reassured us with the click of a shutter, the tick of a second hand or the roar of an engine - even though they weren’t deliberately designed that way.

Modern machinery doesn’t necessarily need to make noise in order to function, but the concept remains the same.

Still, could a sophisticated harmony really convince us to buy a Zanussi oven over a Beko one?

Related article: Effects of Music on the Brain

The power of sound

Sound waves cause our eardrums to vibrate and, unlike sight, these are processed directly in the brain stem. Daniel Levitin, a famed neuroscientist, explains that ‘they sound like they’re coming from inside our heads’, which is ‘very intimate’.

The sounds our appliances make not only guide us through our everyday tasks, they also set a mood.

You could see them as providing the soundtrack to our very own dramas, in which we heroically heat up soup or romantically tend to our laundry. And companies hope that by penning a custom sound that makes you feel like a hero, they get deeper brand loyalty.

Related article: 5 Ways That Sound Affects the Human Body

a woman covering her ears from too much noise

When sound becomes noise

However, it’s not all roses and unicorns.

There are some appliances that provide us with that emotional arc more easily than others - a coffee machine or a hoover with a jingle could be seen as irritating or inauthentic. And where do we draw the line?

The last thing we want is a cacophony at home where ten devices are all shouting over each other to be heard (no matter how beautifully their melodies have been composed!).

So, where do we go from here?

Do our machines start learning more instruments, or composing more elaborate theme tunes?

Do we start creating jingles for toilets, hairdryers or cars?

We’ll just have to wait and see.

But we can’t help wondering whether, just as quickly as our machines have learned to play the harp, the smart machines of the future will eventually opt for silence instead.

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