What’s the sound of the American Revolution? Of The Civil Rights Movement? Of your wedding?
People seek to consecrate the most important life and historical moments—both personal and national—with meaningful music that stirs the emotions, emblazons a memory, and brings gravitas to the event. Neurologically, meaningful music sets off a constellation of activity in our brains upon first listen and then triggers the same memory and reaction each successive time it is heard, transporting us across time and space to that same feeling in an instant. This is not a learned behavior. As human beings, we’re wired for this.
Sixty-seven years ago, the song “Hatikvah” became the unofficial national anthem of Israel (see video below). It was the perfect song, one that had gained popularity as a Jewish work song in the late 1800’s and was then chosen as the official anthem of the Zionist Congress in 1933. “Hatikvah” became the unofficial national anthem on Friday, May 14, 1948, the day the British Mandate over Palestine expired. On that day, David Ben-Gurion read aloud the Declaration of the Establishment of the State at a ceremony at the Tel Aviv Museum. The reading of the Declaration was punctuated by a live performance of “Hatikvah” by a thirty-person ensemble from the Palestine Philharmonic Orchestra, piped in from a separate room in the museum, enshrining the song in history and inextricably linking it to the birth of the new state.
As long as deep in the heart
The soul of a Jew yearns
And forward to the East
To Zion, an eye looks
Our hope will not be lost
The hope of two thousand years
To be a free nation in our land
The land of Zion and Jerusalem
“Hatikvah” has outlasted many challengers over the years. Notable contenders were songs from a failed contest in 1897 to create a new “hymn”’ for the cause, just before the First Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland. In 1967 another challenge came from a bill that was drafted but ultimately tabled in the Israeli Knesset to change the national anthem to Naomi Shemer’s “Jerusalem of Gold” (see video below). But “Hatikvah” has overcome all challengers, in part because of the historic Ben-Gurion moment, but mostly because of its clear message, Jewish liturgical feel (which comes from its minor sounding melody), and its uncanny ability to bring people together—even the diverse factions of secular and religious parties in Israel and supporters worldwide. I know if I were charged with creating an anthem for a new nation today, I’d most certainly base it on a folk song that was already ingrained in the culture and awash with meaning and memory—one that had already stood the test of time.
Itzhak Perlman called “Hatikvah” “the most beautiful national anthem in the world.” But “Hatikvah” has a new challenge, and it’s the same challenge that stands in the way of nation building for the state of Israel. The lyrics of “Hatikvah” and the song’s minor sounding expression (which to other cultures often sounds sad rather than religious) remind much of the world of one thing—struggle. Actually, for many people around the globe the Israel nation brand is synonymous with struggle—for a homeland, for security, and for survival. This is not to suggest that Israel doesn’t face existential threats. It most certainly does. But the issue is that this singular positioning of its global brand makes Israel a lightning rod for more struggle and even a target for blame for situations beyond its control. This reminds me of a quote from Mother Teresa, whom many consider a modern Catholic saint. “I was once asked why I don’t participate in anti-war demonstrations. I said that I will never do that, but as soon as you have a pro-peace rally, I’ll be there.” Mother Teresa knew the power of framing issues to drive true change.
Now, in contrast, consider the national anthem of the United States with its “rockets red glare” and “banner” that “yet waves,” coupled with its heroic (though hard to sing) melody. This song triggers memories and emotions evoking the American spirit, melting-pot culture, and unparalleled entrepreneurship. To much of the world, the brand of the United States is anchored in freedom and possibility—which drives goodwill that contributes greatly to the country’s image, and ultimately GDP, which has helped create and reinforce one of the strongest nation brands in the world.
What if Israel were to reach beyond the theme of struggle and have its nation brand stand for something much more inspiring? Its real story is much richer. What if Israel stood for prosperity—a nation firmly on the path of growth, success, and value creation for the world economy? What if people around the world knew Israel primarily as the home of the vibrant community of young minds creating breakthrough cyber-security, agricultural technologies, medical and biotech innovations, and popular global entertainment within its borders? Israel is already known as a renowned travel destination because it is an epicenter of world history, religion, and culture. But what if prosperity was the first thing to come to mind rather than struggle? How much direct impact would all this have on nation-brand value to drive a higher standard of living, investment, and ultimately increased GDP, higher global standing, and greater national security? Israel must begin to take credit for all that it is and all that it contributes to the global community and marketplace.
Actually, “Hatikvah” could help. One of the powers of a great melody is that it can be reinterpreted over and over again in a myriad of styles and instrumentations, each projecting very different emotional stories. A great melody can itself be adapted to a range of stories. In fact there’s a time-honored tradition of reinvention in nearly every musical form.
To help map the richer story, there could be innovative interpretations that evoke the stories of breakthrough technology and entrepreneurship—arrangements that are optimistic, instrumental, and youth-oriented to capture the essence of this “startup nation” and happy or motivating to bring focus to prosperity as a whole (see Spotify Playlist below). A quick review of currently available arrangements of “Hatikvah” online reveals that more than 80% of these interpretations defer to the standard religious sounding (and for many, sad sounding) arrangement that is very similar to the one from the Ben-Gurion declaration in 1948.
“One of the powers of a great melody is that it can be reinterpreted over and over again in a myriad of styles and instrumentations, each projecting very different emotional stories.”
This playlist of 3 distinct versions of Israel’s “Hatikvah” challenges the perception that the country’s national anthem is a sad melody of struggle, a theme which has long defined Israel’s national brand.
Track 1 by Accent evokes technology, modern sensibility, and youth
Track 2 by John Williams stirs patriotic emotions
Track 3 evokes optimism and opens the mind to possibilities
What if a public-private partnership to help add dimension to the Israel brand story began by commissioning a variety of interpretations from Israeli artists that could be used as the emotional engine for this movement for a richer more multi-faceted nation-brand story? Then, what if fragments of these arrangements, tiny sonic signatures, were applied each time there was any type of media communication about Israel, creating added value for a product or service? What if it were apparent at business and government conferences and in corporate marketing?
Not unlike “Intel Inside,” this sound of “Israel Inside” would trigger the same emotional reaction as “Hatikvah” and give Israel credit for its contributions to that product or service where currently Israel gets none. Furthermore, these sonic signatures could provide a signal that would attract and activate Israel-supporting potential customers around the world and trigger purchase behavior.
The tech ecosystem, tourism, and the business marketplace—ubiquitously filled with products, mobility, apps, digital videos, social media, and tech conferences—are rich with opportunities to hear and be reminded of “Israel Inside.” Nearly every device, space, and video today is already sound-ready. More than a campaign, this is a way to organically get credit for real contributions Israel makes to the world culture and economy and could do much to elevate Israel’s nation brand, change perceptions, and ultimately impact GDP. Sonic signatures are a massive source of potential free media exposure to bring needed attention in order to the shift the conversation to prosperity.
The time has come for Israel to fully embrace its status as a global brand and take charge of shaping the conversation about that brand to trigger a new nation building effort. This is possible only if Israel shifts and diversifies its brand story, and brings attention to changing hearts and minds using all the tools at its disposal. One underleveraged tool is the power of sound and music as an emotional engine for change, and for Israel this could be particularly potent. It’s a simple, actionable way to change the conversation.
Can a song or a sound build a nation? Not by itself. But “Hatikvah,” reinvented thoughtfully, would be powerful emotional engine—a symbol. Adding depth of meaning to that symbol can be a catalyst for changing perceptions and making people think differently. And when people think differently, social and economic realities can change dramatically for the better. And that would truly drive more social and business prosperity.
Joel Beckerman is Founder and Lead Composer of Man Made Music. Talk to him on Twitter @joelbeckerman.
Sound is the glue that holds nations and cultures together, especially newly formed, recently united or divided nations or cultures. Whether it’s the wordless national anthem of Kosovo or the Grateful Dead’s post-hippy rock that defined the jam generation, anthems can help solidify the idea of a nation even when it’s not a geographic one.
Behemoth Spanish-Language broadcast channel Univision used sound to seize just such an opportunity. Its audience is a rapidly growing demographic of Americans who, according to Pew Research, represent an entire emerging middle class. Generically grouped as “Hispanics” or “Latinos,” they actually come from several parts of the world. Our team at Man Made Music, along with branding experts and Univision’s lead marketing execs, created the sonic strategy that would put the network and the company behind it at the center of this movement.
The key to creating a unifying anthem for the largest Spanish language network in the world came down to specific word choices and the way players used one instrument in particular: the accordion. This instrument is where the cultural legacies of Mexico and the Caribbean intersect. If the accordion in Univision’s anthem carried the melody (the notes) in a way that sounded something like polka, the network would speak too directly to Mexican contingencies with their European lineage. Used as more of a rhythm instrument (the beat), the same accordion would speak to Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, and people with Caribbean or African cultural heritage. Like other anthems, Univision’s anthem had to speak to everyone in its potential audience and show up wherever they experienced the brand.
Lyrics tell rich stories, too — not just the meanings of the words but how they were pronounced. Just as some instruments have cultural connotations, so do some words. For example, some Caribbean people tend to drop the consonants at the ends of words and let the vowels hang. So vamonos (let’s go) becomes vamano. The Man Made Music and Univision teams had to work to integrate lyrics that spoke to every nation.
And different countries have different preferences:
China goes more for music with orchestral sweep, for example, which equates with traditional emotion. Brazil uses percussion to play to the pulse of the people; India mixes modern and indigenous instruments for unique results. The UK has a greater appetite for electronic instrumentation, even among broad audiences for programs such as the BBC News. Japan loves jazz — even more than listeners in the U.S. (jazz artists that only book small clubs stateside sell out arenas and stadium in Japan.)
In the end, the anthem for Univision sounds like a celebration. Baked from a blend of traditions from both Mexican and Caribbean musical sensibilities (and, yes, with prominent electronic textures and an authentic accordion), it sounds like the vibrant cross-section of contemporary Latin and Anglo pop-music culture, which was part of Univision’s mission for mainstream appeal.
Music works across cultures and connects people across the globe. For example, Electronic Dance Music (EDM) is currently the international music of youth. Orchestral music — pop or classical — is universally appreciated by older audiences. And movie soundtracks worldwide combine these elements for maximum impact.
Sound and music create a link across cultures and can strengthen a nation with or without geographical borders or a generation.
Joel Beckerman is Founder and Lead Composer of Man Made Music. Talk to him on Twitter @joelbeckerman.
By Joel Beckman with Tyler Gray
Quick quiz: What national casual dining chain restaurant comes to mind when you hear the term “sizzling fajitas”?
Got a name in mind?
Are you thinking of Chili’s? (Most people do.) Although they’re widely recognized as the pioneers of sizzling fajitas, Chili’s didn’t invent the dish. But they created a version of it that was loud as hell.
They made sound the main ingredient in their sizzling fajitas and tapped into a powerful experience. One that has helped Chili’s expand to more than 1,500 locations in thirty-three countries and two territories worldwide. Chili’s now sells more than 60 million pounds of fajita meat per year, “four times the weight of an average U.S. military submarine,” according to Brinker International, Chili’s parent company. Chili’s doesn’t sell steak. It sells sizzle.
That famous sizzle is just one example of the power in the sound of food itself. Charles Spence, the head of the Crossmodal Research Laboratory at the University of Oxford and his partner, fellow experimental psychologist Massimiliano Zampini, used Pringles potato chips and headphones to manipulate the sounds of crunch in the ears of participants, who rated freshness and crispness of the chips, based on the sounds.
Spence and Zampini found that “the potato chips were perceived as being both crisper and fresher when either the overall sound level was increased or when the high-frequency sounds (in the range of two to twenty kilohertz) were selectively amplified.” In other words, the louder or sharper the crunch, the fresher the chip seemed. Crispness and freshness are actually in the ear of the beholder.
The sound of the environment while dining makes a big difference in your experience, too. How do you feel about airline food? It’s pretty bland, right? While the low humidity in an airplane cabin and the cabin pressure affects the way you perceive taste, a Unilever study suggests that the lack of flavor in onboard meals can be partially blamed on the dull drone of the airplane engines. That type of noise makes you less sensitive to salt, sugar, and spices. But you do notice more crunchiness, according to the study, which would help explain why you’re likely to pass on the in-flight Salisbury steak but ask for a second bag of peanuts.
The chief designer at Chipotle, Mick McConnell says the impact of sound on atmosphere and sales almost became a problem for the Tex-Mex chain restaurants. When he was brought in, speakers and music and the materials in existing Chipotle locations often created an irritating swirl, a kind of dust-devil of noise in the exact areas people were supposed to sit, relax and dine—part of the restaurant chain’s strategy to elevate itself above fast food status. Mick helped solve the problem by strategically redesigning Chipotle’s sound—using softer materials that wouldn’t reflect sound and creating a more positive dining atmosphere.
This power of sound to influence your behavior becomes especially potent when it comes to decisions you make about spending money or time in a place. Clare Caldwell and Sally A. Hibbert, researchers at the University of Strathclyde, Scotland, found that diners spent 13.56 minutes longer in a restaurant when they were listening to slower-tempo music than when they were listening to up-tempo music. They also found that customers spent “significantly more” on food and drink when slower music was playing. Caldwell and Hibbert were actually building on previous studies that focused on the time and money spent in malls, retail outlets, and cafeterias. In one such study in the 1980s, acclaimed marketing professor and researcher Ronald E. Millman found that supermarket sales went up 38 percent when the store played slow rather than fast music.
Sound can manipulate our environment and physically influence our decisions about what we eat, how much we enjoy it, and how much we’re willing to pay for it. The crunch of a pringle or the sizzle of a fajita can make us believe we’re enjoying our food more than we actually are, and the lull of a slow song can make us take our time and buy more food. The power of sound goes beyond the boundaries of what we hear into everything we see, smell, touch and devour.
Photo credit: Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock.com
Joel Beckerman is Founder and Lead Composer of Man Made Music. Talk to him on Twitter @joelbeckerman.
Like so many others, I was shocked and terribly saddened by the untimely, recent passing of James Horner, a consummate film composer, wonderful man, and dear colleague and work friend.
I had always been one in the legion fans of James’ wonderful music, storytelling ability, and of course his distinctive composing voice. His stirring scores for films like Braveheart, A Beautiful Mind, Titanic, Apollo 13, Field of Dreams, and so many others, deservedly place him in the top tier of the greatest composers in film history. I was privileged to have the opportunity to work with James on a television project (not a film), and to participate in his creative process and to lead collaboration with him and his wonderful production team. But even more so, I was honored to get to know a bit about this very private yet warm, lovely, talented gentleman and learn some life-changing musical and personal lessons from him about being a creative person in the world. Lessons that I will carry with me always.
James and I worked over the course of a few grueling weeks, then intermittently over several years to bring his theme for The CBS Evening News to fruition, and continued to develop the works for all the needs of the CBS News division during the Katie Couric years. My role was as producer for the full soundtrack, as well as arranger and collaborator for some of the music over the ensuing years.
My first encounter with James was at his home in Calabasas, California—more precisely his ‘studio,’ which was in a large building adjacent to his house. Instead of state-of-the-art electronic music-making tools, the large building was a wonderland filled with perpetual motion machines—propeller-driven toys and whirligig contraptions of all shapes and sizes—all spinning and whirring in various physical planes and at different rates. It was like walking through a playground of the mind. Knowing his work, I didn’t have to ask why they were there.
Much further toward the back of this studio building was the only apparent music-making device—a fairly modest grand piano and next to it an architect’s drawing table with a stack of blank music manuscript paper. James went on to explain to me that he had long since disassembled his studio and sold it off in parts because he found himself frustrated—increasingly spending more and more time twiddling knobs and clicking mice rather than making music.
James was a true master of melody and film scoring—certainly one of the greatest ever—with two Oscars and numerous nominations to his name (not to mention five Grammys), and more than one-hundred films scores to his credit. By the time I got to his home he had already written the theme for the broadcast and it had been accepted—an expansive, optimistic journey and lovely ‘Americana’ melody with sweeping and evocative touches and just the right amount of gravitas for CBS News. But when it came to working on all of the other musical needs for the project James readily admitted that he was just a bit out of his element. Actually, he told me he didn’t even own a TV—or have any idea about how to put together the soundtrack for a news broadcast. His candor was so refreshing, and his self-effacing humor so charming—in short, we clicked. So perhaps it was chemistry or maybe necessity, but he immediately trusted me to lead him through the creative discussions and the process. We set to work talking about music, storytelling and the musical architecture of television news—discussing similarities and differences from the architecture of music in film. We also discussed his amazing opportunity—to reach millions of people every day with his work, and to give a voice to the venerable CBS News organization—the home of Paley, Murrow and Cronkite.
But there would be no seven-minute cues to write like in films, no intricate thematic development or multiple motifs to weave together. This was a bit of an alien world for this wonderful film composer, but he took on the challenge with great enthusiasm and relish. There were election themes to write, a wide variety of news stories to compose and arrange for, many short elements would play on CBS Radio and online.
But perhaps the most unfamiliar aspect for James was ‘scoring’ for picture that had not yet been created. A film composer might develop themes and motifs before seeing the picture, but the final music cues would always be scored to visuals and dialogue. In this project, all the music had to come first, because the show is broadcast live. We had to anticipate all their possible needs, and James had to write the whole score before the show even existed. We sat at the piano together, and I helped him navigate this world.
But while James was learning a few technical things from me, I learned so much more from him. It became apparent from the beginning of our discussions that James’ compositional world was full of limitless possibilities. In his mind, there were always ‘a million’ ways to musically solve any creative or storytelling problem, and a million, million more ways behind those. He created musical ideas in a moment and then let them go effortlessly, over and over. It was refreshing and liberating. And of course, inspiring. There was a fluidity to his approach that was joyous. In every music project since, whenever I felt stuck, I’ve reminded myself of James’ cornucopia of musical solutions. To recognize that the world is literally brimming with music, and as long as I can be open, that the ideas would flood in. What a gift.
The CBS project required rapid turnaround—just a few days—an army of orchestrators to complete, and allowed little time for refinements in advance. In a few short days, when we got to the scoring stage with eighty musicians, it became clear that most of the pieces, except the theme (which James wrote first), were too densely orchestrated and that a lot of adjustments would need to be made live from the conductor’s stand. Throughout dozens of changes I suggested in a short six hour session, he never balked or protested. He let it all occur and he made just a few suggestions and adjustments as we went. But he was incredibly open. He trusted.
Needless to say, this was not at all how James was used to working—this creative giant was not only a remarkable film composer, but an accomplished and Grammy winning producer in his own right. He was not accustomed to being ‘produced’ in this way. He was used to being in his element and crafting his own vision. Yet he let it all flow. It was extraordinary. And the results were satisfying for us both.
What I learned from James that day was how—even under the greatest pressures—to trust your collaborators and the process. He had much on the line, but he quietly made space for the experimentation, again and again, letting go as we went. To allow things to unfold. To be quietly fearless.
James and I hadn’t spoken in the last few years before his passing, but nonetheless our work together had created some kind of residual bond, at least for me. I had always imagined that I might have the opportunity to work with him again one day. I am so sad to know now that day will never come. For me and millions of other fans his legacy is bittersweet. We are left to revel in wonderful music he wrote and be moved by the films he elevated and brought to life. We will always remember his incredible gifts and accomplishments and how he touched us all—but we are also left to mourn for all the music that is never to be written.
Good journey to you James. You’ve left us far too soon. But our lives are all richer because you were here.
This June in Los Angeles, PromaxBDA will once again present “The Conference” – a unique gathering of industry professionals to discuss innovative insights and ideas for excelling in the entertainment field.
365: What’s Next
Tuesday June 9th, 3:00pm
Who can resist a panel of established players and new media superstars weighing in on how to meet our audiences where they are, with entertainment and information they crave? I’m especially interested in hearing what they say about best practices today. Let the fireworks fly!
Hot Topics Roulette: Your Q’s Our A’s
Wednesday June 10th, 11:15am
I don’t think any of us are confident we’ve “heard it all” and know what’s on the horizon. I’m looking to learn what I might be missing, and the view from these trend insiders about what is just buzz, what really resonates and why. Fascinating stuff!
New Best Practices 2015
Wednesday June 10th, 3:30pm
Lee never disappoints in his brilliant synthesis of data, trends and creative executions that matter. I always learn something from him that I apply to how I think about connecting with our audiences in meaningful ways. He brings the what, where, when, why and how. Can’t wait.
Please join me on Thursday, June 11th at 9:00am in Room Platinum D for my talk on The Inescapable Influence of Sound. Learn more about it here.
By Joel Beckman with Tyler Gray
The death knell for shopping malls was right there in the name. No one called them buying malls, and in the end that wasn’t the allure. And yet, the buying was the backbone of the business model. What we’ve learned from the decline of shopping malls is that experience rules retail. Physical stores have to lead with it. And retailers have to understand that experience is the gateway to buying, even if that buying happens somewhere else, somewhere digital.
Apple gets this. Burberry gets this — they sponsor artists and host performances in their London stores. AT&T gets the idea, too. I helped them design a signature anthem, an Innovation store in Chicago, and a stadium in Dallas, where sound helps guide visitors through every experience and heightens emotions they naturally feel. Sound is the most effective way to lead off any experience, especially with a brand such as AT&T, whose magic often only gets noticed when it doesn’t work (think: dropped calls or failed connections). Sound is the allure and the maker of memories with a brand. It can even remind customers when to buy and reward them for having done so.
But you don’t have to be a giant retailer to appreciate the power of sound. It can help any size brand — or person — get credit for things it gets right. It can differentiate a brand or help earn it attention and a genuine, rewarding way (a tune that calls to mind positive experiences or relevant memories at just the right moment). It can turn a provider of essential goods or services into an entertainment venue. It can help a mom-and-pop grocery grow bigger than Walmart, and thrive in the shadow of surrounding superstores. In addition to pointing out how smart brands such as Audi, AT&T, and Apple use sound to get credit for experiences, this article also tells the story of Jungle Jim’s International Market, near Cincinnati, Ohio. Started as a produce stand in a parking lot in 1971 by James O. Bonaminio in Hamilton, Ohio, Jim’s is the paragon of a family business. The original store in Fairfield, which opened in 1974, now spans six acres. Produce alone takes up an acre.
How did Jungle Jim’s use sound and music to create a real shopping experience; one that entertains his customers while they shop, which in turn keeps them in the store longer?
- Even when you’re head-down digging for the perfect pepper or cantaloupe, you never really leave the upbeat, unique experience that is Jim’s. It’s entertainment injected into an otherwise mundane chore.
- Sound creates anticipation from the get-go. Before you set foot in Jungle Jim’s, you hear the noise of an outdoor jungle scene, including the sounds of animals and distant drums. You hear the splash of fountains — elephant sculptures spray water from their trunks in a crystal-blue pool.
- The sound keeps surprising shoppers. Inside, you might hear “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” by the Tokens on the overhead system. But there’s all different music playing throughout the store, from the sixties, seventies, and eighties stations on satellite radio.
- Sound creates a narrative arc of excitement and relief. The music is layered in a way that makes it crescendo or decrescendo in different sections, creating a dynamic sonic landscape, calling for your attention at times while leaving you alone at others.
- Sound makes shopping fun, gives shoppers something unexpected to talk about when they leave. In the produce section, you’re greeted by a human-size, talking, Yankee-accented animatronic ear of corn and a companion stick of butter who crack jokes. In the cereal section, robot versions of the Lucky Charms leprechaun, the Honey Nut Cheerios bee, and the Trix rabbit form a three-piece combo — the General Mills Cereal Bowl Band — and they serenade shoppers with pop rock. You also hear Elvis, the pompadoured animatronic lion from Chuck E. Cheese, now repurposed as a mascot in the candy section. And over flute music, robo–Robin Hood welcomes guests to the English foods section from his perch in a sculpted scene of Sherwood Forest.
Jim’s also carves out a few spaces that are meant to be perceived as quiet: the wine cellar and walk-in humidor are two of the quietest spots in the store. The sound there is the calming whoosh of air keeping things cool. Fifty thousand people a week shop at Jim’s. It reportedly pulls in almost ninety million dollars in annual revenue. And no one is worried about Walmart stealing Jungle Jim’s customers, even though there are eight of them within a ten-mile radius.
By Joel Beckman with Tyler Gray
Sounds that don’t ring true, benefit you, or help you understand how to get what you need in a particular moment are what I call sonic trash. They’re not only random noise or wrong sounds. They can also be the right sounds telling the wrong stories at the wrong times. Some blare at precisely the wrong moments, like candy wrappers at an opera. More often, sound is used to fill gaps when what’s needed most is silence. The identifying characteristic of sonic trash is that it always amounts to a missed opportunity — to tell a story, provide meaning, or make someone feel something.
Here are nine examples where brands added trash to the sonic environment.
1. SunChips: Snap, Crackle, Flop
In January 2010, Frito-Lay debuted a 100 percent biodegradable bag for its SunChips brand. The bag was designed to cut down on landfill waste, but it completely polluted the sonic landscape of customers and anyone within earshot. A Facebook group called Sorry But I Can’t Hear You Over This SunChips Bag sprang up and gathered more than forty-four thousand fans. In a report about the bag, an enterprising television reporter for CBS found that, when shaken, the bag registered one hundred decibels, louder than a lawn mower (ninety decibels), a motorcycle (ninety-five decibels) or a subway (ninety-four decibels) — the reporter even shook the bag on a subway platform, and it cut through really loud sounds there. SunChips sales dropped every month, in year-on-year measurements, from the moment the bag debuted. Frito-Lay tried to add an adhesive to the material to cut down the sound. But ten months after announcing the bag, Frito-Lay said it was scrapping the crinkly nightmare. At least we know all of those bags broke down quickly in landfills.
2. GE’s Jingle Hell
GE’s $1,799 Monogram dishwasher comes with a “sonic palette.” It plays piano, strings, timpani, harp and other sounds that at least one reviewer has compared to Penguin Cafe Orchestra’s Perpetuum Mobile. “Adding a complementary sound element can enhance everyday interactions with your appliances,” Lou Lenzi, director of GE’s industrial design, told reviewer Keith Barry. “The fit, feel, finish—and now sound—of the dishwasher evoke the luxury of the Monogram brand.” But a bolted-on jingle is neither enough to make you thankful for having spent $1,700 nor does it actually solve any real problem—very few people have a hard time figuring out when the dishwasher is done. It doesn’t satisfy an emotional need. It’s likely invasive. And if anything, we need motivation to unload the damn thing so we can fill it again with the next round of dirty dishes piling up in the sink. A plucky tune coming from a tiny speaker isn’t helping there.
3. Gravity’s Heavy-handed Score
Yes, the music in the stunning 2013 movie Gravity won an Oscar for best original score. The problem is with how it was used. The movie is a groundbreaking visual adventure about a chaotic accident in space. The film is painstakingly accurate about the way things work in orbit, including the fact that you can’t hear explosions or metal shredding or glass shattering because it all happens in a vacuum. One of the effects of losing sound in a situation where people have come to expect it is that they look for visual answers to what’s happening (next time you’re at an ATM that doesn’t beep, notice how much you lean in and pay attention to the screen). Instead of letting that disconcerting silence drive really violent scenes in Gravity, the filmmakers stuff the vacuum with strings and music meant to convey the emotions of Sandra Bullock’s character. Scoring to her emotions might make sense in a regular film, but this is not a regular film. Just as you start to wrap your head around the physics of a pivotal scene, the score rudely insists you pay attention to how it all makes Sandra Bullock feel.
4. A Trio of Awful Soundtrack Choices
Hammer rapping “Addams Groove” over the 1991 remake of The Addams Family; P. Diddy rhyming over Jimmy Page’s “Kashmir” riff on “Come with Me” for 1998’s Godzilla remake; Limp Bizkit rap-rocking “Take a Look Around” for 2000’s Mission: Impossible II. These films shoehorn in pop icons with their own stories, which don’t align with the stories the filmmakers are trying to tell.
5. Nike’s Beatles Battle
In 1987, Nike and its ad firm Wieden + Kennedy featured the Beatles’ “Revolution” in a sneaker ad. There might have been a time when Nike was an upstart rebel company, but that time was long gone by 1987. They paid $500,000 to license the song, but hard-core Beatles fans and the band’s remaining members themselves were incensed. Through their record company, Apple, the surviving Beatles sued the shoemaker for $15 million. George Harrison said in a statement: “Every Beatles song ever recorded is going to be advertising women’s underwear and sausages. We’ve got to put a stop to it in order to set a precedent. Otherwise it’s going to be a free-for-all.” The band and the brand later settled out of court — the terms were sealed. And Nike eventually stopped running the ads.
6. Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines’ Icky Iggy
Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines sought to highlight the more adventurous side of its family-friendly fun cruises in 2010. So the company, along with its ad agency Arnold Worldwide, used “Lust for Life,” a song originally written by Iggy Pop with David Bowie. “We were using a portion of the song that musically and lyrically fit with what we were doing,” Arnold’s managing partners and group creative director Jay Williams told the New York Times. The goal was to attract more young people to the cruises. “The energy, enthusiasm and raw feel was right,” Williams said. But if you recognize the song (it’s Iggy’s biggest hit, and was actually first released in 1977), you might know it as the opener of Trainspotting, a film about heroin-addicted Scots. If you dig deeper, you’ll discover that the song’s lyrics reference William S. Burroughs’s gender-bending liquor-and-drugs-peddling stripper Johnny Yen. (His name’s in the cruise-ship ads.) But to the best of anyone’s knowledge, Johnny’s never been the featured entertainer on the lido deck. And it’s a safe bet Iggy Pop won’t be doing the cruise circuit anytime soon. Bottom line: The music didn’t match the story. And to suggest that a Royal Caribbean Cruise is like vacation heroin is, well, a lie. To be fair, Royal Caribbean’s profits did surpass all expectations in 2010, but it also had just invested in shiny new ships.
7. Wrangler’s Unfortunate Son
Wrangler used Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son” in its campaign for jeans. The ad uses the first half of the opening verse, about folks being born to wave the flag. But gone is the second half: “And when the band plays ‘Hail to the Chief,’ / Ooh, they point the cannon at you, Lord.” So a song protesting sending the poor off to slaughter became a patriotic celebration of denim. Creedence singer John Fogerty doesn’t own the rights to his music and didn’t approve the ad. Explaining the intent of his lyrics in 2002, he told the New York Times, “I was protesting the fact that it seemed like the privileged children of the wealthy didn’t have to serve in the Army. I don’t get what the song has to do with pants.” Craig Errington, director for advertising and special events for Wrangler, told the Times the song was “written and produced more as an anti-privilege anthem, as an ode to the common man. We sell millions and millions of jeans to those kinds of people and always have.” So why lose the second part of the verse? (Slate readers also voted this one among the greatest misuses of music in ads.) The point is that the right song can help drive home a true story. But the wrong song can make it fall apart. You’ll tune out at best. At worst, you’ll get angry.
8. Dark Knight Rises The Bane of Filmgoers’ Existence
The voice of villain Bane in Christopher Nolan’s 2012 film The Dark Knight Rises became a problem when audiences watching early film footage couldn’t understand what the masked madman was saying. Instead of driving the experience, the sound demanded too much attention from viewers who just wanted to kick back and feel the story. Bane’s warble got in the way. (It should be noted that this is a rare misstep from Nolan, who has a keen understanding of how to use sound to tell stories.) The voice was cleaned up for the final film release, but not before parody videos depicting an inaudible Bane garnered hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube.
9. The Wilhelm Scream
Sonic trash can remind you you’re watching something fake. In the 1953 cowboy movie The Charge at Feather River, Ralph Brooks, playing the character Private Wilhelm, gets struck with an arrow while riding on horseback. He lets out a scream you’ve surely heard, whether or not you’ve actually seen the film. The Wilhelm scream, as it’s become known, was dubbed in by sound artists in two more places in the same movie. And it’s subsequently appeared in 1954’s Them!, the original Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, The Phantom Menace, plus Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Batman Returns, Reservoir Dogs, Aladdin, Toy Story, and many more. What surely began as a Foley artist’s joke has become sonic litter. Once you hear the Wilhelm scream, you won’t be able to ignore it in dozens of films you love.
By Joel Beckman with Tyler Gray
There’s a danger plaguing hospitals and clinics around the country: sound. It could be a powerful tool for healing, but it’s mostly used wrongly today. It causes stress in patients and alarm fatigue among health care workers, threatening recovery and, in some cases, lives.
Used without strategy, the very beeps, dings, and alarms intended to alert workers to emergencies become a nuisance they tune out.
According to a January 27, 2014 NPR story, a joint commission to address the problem of alarm fatigue “received 98 reports of alarm-related incidents — including 80 deaths — in the 3½-year period ending in June 2012.”1 In most of the cases, alarms were turned off or inaudible. For example, Mariah Edwards, a 17-year-old in Pennsylvania who went into a surgical center to have her tonsils removed, died after surgery when health care workers failed to hear a warning alarm on a machine monitoring her recovery. The commission estimates there were about 1,000 incidents in which patients died, were injured or faced unnecessary risks because of improper uses of sound. “The ECRI Institute, a Pennsylvania-based patient-safety organization listed alarm hazards as the No. 1 issue on its annual list of the top 10 health-technology dangers for 2012 and 2013.”1
Attempts at solutions have led to another layer of concern. Fixing the problem isn’t as simple as fewer or silenced alarms, as most hospitals and commissions suggest. Rather, researchers have suggested standardizing alarm sounds. A universal sonic vocabulary would simplify training for health care workers and limit the number of noises to which they must respond. But what’s actually needed is a deeper, holistic sonic strategy, one that takes advantage of the full power of sound to instantly convey emotion—tones or tunes that immediately make workers feel danger or urgency, for example.
Unique or unexpected tones could quickly convey specific direction and action. Sounds are already being used this way in other life-and-death situations. A Danish audio software company called AM3D uses sound in a helmet that allows firefighters in smoke-filled, nearly blind environments to know where their team members are. A similar apparatus in A-10 and F-16 fighter aircraft uses sound to tell pilots when missiles from enemy fighters are fired and, in an instant, what direction threats are coming from (including above, below, or behind them).
Sound could extend well beyond emergency situations, too. Some hospitals have begun to experiment with architecture as part of the healing equation, with sound as an important element in the design. Experiments at hospitals in Massachusetts, Maryland, and Minnesota have found that music affects blood pressure, heart rate, or blood flow through arteries.
Many of us get this, almost instinctively. We use sound as a pick-me-up all the time in everyday life. Somehow we forget the skill when we’re sick or visiting people in the hospital. Want to help a friend recover from an illness or help your wife through labor pains? Don’t tell her to push that painkiller plunger again; plug in a sound dock or speaker to a smartphone and dial up songs you know she likes. There are documented cases of sound working this way, even in extreme medical circumstances.
Melodic intonation therapy and music are proven forms of therapy for stroke victims. They help ameliorate the deteriorating effects on the brain. U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) used it to regain her ability to speak after being shot in the head by a would-be assassin. Roy Orbison’s “Crying” caused comatose Bee Gees member Robin Gibb to shed tears with his wife. And when his son played him the song they collaborated on, he awoke.
When you really start to think about it, ameliorating alarm fatigue is just the beginning of dealing with the sound problems in hospitals and fostering a better healing environment—one where patients could choose their own soundtracks in operating and recovery rooms; music could help signal “morning,” or “evening” and help give patients a better sense of circadian rhythms. What if music were part of living wills?
It’s time for a more holistic approach to the noise problem in health care. Better, more strategic sound is the prescription that could save lives.
1. Alice Crites. “Too much noise from hospital alarms poses risk for patients.” The Washington Post. 07 July 2013.