Sunday, March 22, 2020

HSS Episode 047 - The McGurk Effect


New music is no longer a thing, thanks to a pair of lawyers who created an algorithm to write every single musical melody that can possibly exist. Rather than claiming all music as their personal property, however, the duo have released their entire catalog of tunes into the public domain, in the hope that this will bring an end to copyright lawsuits.

Lawyer, musician, and programmer Damien Riehl came up with the idea after realizing that all singer-songwriters are essentially walking on a “melodic minefield”, because there are only a finite number of melodies that can exist. As such, with each new song that gets written, the chances of creating something genuinely unique decreases, and the possibility of writing a melody that has already been recorded by someone else increases.

In a recent Tedx Talk, Riehl explains that this wouldn’t be a problem if it weren’t for the ridiculous nature of copyright laws, which state that a piece of music becomes copyrighted the moment it is recorded. Even worse, it is possible to be sued for “subconscious infringement”, whereby an artist may have to pay a settlement to another artist even if they claim to have never heard the song that they are accused of copying.
Riehl sites numerous such cases, revealing how George Harrison was found guilty of subconscious infringement after the chorus to his song My Sweet Lord was deemed to be too similar to a track called He’s So Fine by The Chiffons. In another example, Radiohead were forced to name a group called The Hollies as co-writers of their song Creep, which apparently included a melody that also appears in one of the latter band’s songs.

To try and bring an end to such cases, Riehl teamed up with Noah Rubin to create an algorithm that could produce every 12-note melody that has ever been written or can ever be written, using one octave of musical notes. The algorithm uses the same ‘brute force’ technique that hackers use when attempting to steal passwords, by essentially generating every possible combination of characters. A total of 68 billion melodies were generated, which are now all available at

The pair argue that their algorithm highlights how musical melodies are essentially just numbers arranged in a particular order, and that since numbers can’t be copyrighted, music should also not be constrained by infringement laws. "No song is new. Noah and I have exhausted the data set," explains Riehl. "Noah and I have made all the music to be able to allow future songwriters to make all of their music."

It’s becoming clear that the Covid-19 coronavirus is going to have a significant impact on all of our lives for the foreseeable future and, sadly, it’s likely that the music-making industry is going to suffer. 

Of course, there are still plenty of ways that you can indulge your passion - a period of self-isolation might actually help you to finish that album you’re been working on or even master a new instrument - but in the world of live events, the picture looks a little less rosy.
Around the world gigs, trade shows and other music-focused gatherings are being cancelled on a daily basis and, unfortunately, this is a trend that’s set to continue. 
To help you keep abreast of developments, and to make you aware if you need to change your plans in any way, I've included a link in the description of this podcast to an ongoing list that Music Radar has put together for live show updates. This guide shows the current impact that the coronavirus is having, and they're committed to keep it updated as news comes in. This might be a webpage you need to bookmark for future reference.
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The McGurk Effect

Have you ever tweaked a knob on a compressor or an EQ plugin while looking at it on screen and hear an audible difference, only to find that it was in fact bypassed the whole time?

Well, if you’ve been mixing for very long, I’m sure at one point in time (knowingly or unknowingly) you’ve done this. 

This audio/visual phenomenon is not only real, but it is scientifically proven. In fact it's got a rather Scottish name, it's called "The McGurk Effect" . 

In 1976, Chief psychologist McGurk and his partner MacDonald, reported a powerful multisensory illusion occurring with audiovisual speech. They recorded a voice articulating a consonant and dubbed it with a face articulating another consonant. Even though the acoustic speech signal was well recognized alone, it was heard as another consonant after dubbing with incongruent visual speech. The illusion has been termed the McGurk effect. It has been replicated many times, and it has sparked an abundance of research. The reason for the great impact is because it is a striking demonstration of multisensory integration. It shows that auditory and visual information is merged into a unified, integrated percept.

The McGurk effect, in laymen terms, is a perceptual phenomenon that demonstrates an interaction between hearing and vision in auditory perception. The illusion occurs when the auditory component of one sound is paired with the visual component of another sound, leading to the perception of a third sound. (See it for yourself here)

So, what can we learn from this? Well, it demonstrates our brains ability to marry the audio world to the visual and also shows us that we can be easily tricked into hearing things that are not there. Arguably, this is why some say that analog mixing is better musically speaking. Because, tactile knobs and low visibility to the specific ranges found on the mixing board or outboard gear, forces an engineer to use their ears more than their eyes to makes subtle adjustments. 

Because of this, some plug in companies have actually went as far as to create a sort of clean slate approach to audio alteration. For instance, one company (Audio Thing) released a FREE (yes FREE plugin), that you can download and try for yourself.  it's called the Blindfold EQ.
The Blindfold EQ is a freeware EQ plugin inspired by a quote from Matt Wallace, found in the book Recording Unhinged by Sylvia Massy. 
Matt states, “If I were King of the Universe, consoles would have no indication of frequency near the EQ knobs, because when you show the frequency, then most people EQ by eye. […]
But seriously, you should have no idea of what frequency you are boosting or cutting. It doesn’t matter what number is. It matters how it sounds and how it feels. That’s it!”
Matt Wallace

Ans so, the Blindfold EQ is created. The Blindfold EQ has 4 bands (LowShelf, LowMid, HighMid, HighShelf), but each knob is blind. Meaning, there are no indicators or numbers to show frequency values, gain values or Q values.
You have to use your ears, and in turn you nullify the need for specific values when making adjustments.

Now, although this doesn't completely eliminate the McGurk effect (due to the fact that one could still make changes in bypass and hear audible differences) it does at least minimize the need to have values for everything and quantify music into a little box. 

There you have it, a scientific explanation for the embarrassing moment when (Lord forbid) a client sees you adjust an EQ that is bypassed. But then, would they even notice it? Perhaps we could even utilize this as a means of not fiddling with the sound of something that we have painstakingly beat into submission at the artists request. Just simply duplicate the plugin, and then bypass the duplicate. Now show them your making a change and let the McGurk effect work for you instead of against you! 

Sources/Links:  - 2 - 3 - 4