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Someone Gave a TED Talk About the Science Behind Dubstep

Even if that wobble isn't your favorite sound, this introduction to its mechanics is pretty interesting.

by Alexander Iadarola
Aug 22 2016, 6:35pm

Back in February, the TED organization partnered with Oxford University to present a program of talks centered around theme "find X." They left the prompt pretty open-ended, which was probably a pretty good idea, because it gave composer and music educator James Humberstone the creative freedom to do a twenty-minute presentation on a pressing topic: "The Science of Dubstep."

He begins by saying that humans are drawn to patterns in their experience of the world, noting in particular our affinity for complex patterns of sound. From there he explains how barely-perceptible combinations of harmonic overtones affect the timbre of individual sounds, illustrating that what we think of as a single note is in fact made up of a whole range of sonic frequencies. It's our knowledge of tones' component parts that lets us play with them as a compositional device, which is the exact kind of thing we're hearing in the wobbling filter of a dubstep bassline. The demonstration wouldn't be complete, of course, unless he made a track onstage in collaboration with screaming members of the audience, and that's exactly what he does.

All in all, it's a pretty informative introduction to the study of sound perception, also making the valuable point that music education has to remain a central part of school curriculums for children. On that subject, Humberstone has released a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) via the University of Sydney called "The Place of Music in 21st Century Education."

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