Every experience we have each day is affected by sound: when we flush a toilet, hear a commercial, or listen to a song off our iTunes, we are being affected by the tunes around us.
A book released by Joel Beckerman, titled The Sonic Boom: How Sound Transforms the Way We Think, Feel, and Buy, seeks to alert consumers about the awesome power of sound. While you might not recognize Beckerman's name on it's own, you should: he orchestrated the score for Super Bowl XLVI, which (at the time) was the most watched TV event in history. The "boom moments" that he coordinates are meant to resonate with listeners on a sensory and emotional level. You know the AT&T jingle? Yep, that's him.
According to research that Beckerman shares in his book, we react (on average) 40 milliseconds faster to sound than we do to light. What does this mean for us? This means that when audio and visuals are perfectly matched up in a horror movie, we aren't as frightened, because the sound puts us on edge before we register what action is happening.
Sound is faster than light. Beckerman has scored several science fiction and horror movies, and he says he learned early on that synching up the scary noises perfectly to the scenes on the screen ruins the surprise.
It's not just movies and television playing with our reaction through sounds: the sizzle of a burger on the grille, the sound of fajitas being cooked, and the clank of ice cubes in a class all elicit very real responses from our body that are associated with the sound of these activities.
And of course, there are synthetic sounds: Beckerman shares an interesting tale about Apple's signature start up sound. Back in the day, there was a "tritone" sound, known as "The Devil's Interval," that would play after the startup for the computer was successful. He hated it, and snuck in a beautiful, C major start up noise instead (yes, that jingle) instead. Instantly, users responded positively: when they heard the sound, they felt like things were going right. Why? Scientists are sure, but something about the C major cord triggers chemical reactions that the body associates with happiness.
Music, however, effects us differently than singular sounds. Simple sounds, it has been found through fMRI's, elicit quick, powerful responses in the brain, but music activates longer lasting, emotion-laden affects. Music, it seems from early research, stimulates neurons that the body remembers being fired together, which causes listeners to recall old mental images and emotions.
The next time you listen to a sound, a song, or the common every day chitter chatter of the office, take a moment to think about the emotional connection you are making with the moment. Have you felt it?