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Ritualizing a sensory experience


esldude

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Placebo-philes

 

A warning, the title of this piece is Placebo-philes. But it most likely isn't the little blog you think it is being posted by someone like me. Nothing new, just some thoughts and reports of a guy's experience. Along with a little conjecture of its importance.

 

The next to last paragraph:

 

Maybe each of these activities (listening to high end audio gear, drinking high end wine, having needles inserted into your chakras) is really about ritualizing a sensory experience. By putting on headphones you know are high quality, or drinking expensive wine, or entering the chiropractor's office, you are telling yourself, "I am going to focus on this moment. I am going to savor this." It's the act of savoring, rather than the savoring tool, that results in both happiness and a longer life.

 

I think there is something to what he is saying here. Especially the ritualizing of things.

 

I have said elsewhere when you perceive something as better, whether from it being better or just being convinced it is, your brain gets a little bit more turned on. It increases your actual perceived enjoyment, it reinforces what you were doing at the time, and it trains your brain to feel good. There is a lot right about that.

And always keep in mind: Cognitive biases, like seeing optical illusions are a sign of a normally functioning brain. We all have them, it’s nothing to be ashamed about, but it is something that affects our objective evaluation of reality. 

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Very nice post…thank you for this.

 

I found myself in Dallas, TX back in the 2000's and went to opera and symphony in both Dallas and Fort Worth. This was before Dallas had made the investment in a decent set of music halls…we all went to the Dallas Music Hall at Fair Park, not the best audio experience, in fact one of the worst I've been to if you weren't careful with your seat selection. Bass Hall opened in Ft. Worth and the sound was a real step up from Dallas (at the time). So I had season tickets at both for a while. Which did I enjoy more? I want to say Ft. Worth with the better sound. I want to but I can't say that is the case. I was very happy with Dallas where I would wear a dark suit and if it was a special night a tux, as would everyone else. And we would mingle in the large lobby with drinks long before the curtain. A real pleasure. I saw Wagner's ring cycle over four seasons…strong memories! But in Ft. Worth it was the sweater and jeans/khakis crowd. It was rare to see a dark suit and the sports coat was often the best folks would dress. I hate to say that the ritual of going someplace special was enhanced or detracted by the culture of the two towns. I finally settled into Bass Hall because the sound was so much better but I lost some of the enjoyment. I stayed with Dallas for the opera that was more suited for the Music Hall experience.

 

So do we have a listening chair? Do we have special lighting? A favorite glass to pour a favorite beverage into? I do…the ritual is reserved for special times. But it is a ritual.

 

This is one of the things I like about the Episcopal service (I'm not Episcopalian but attend service a few times a year at a Cathedral for the joy of their ritual).

 

I love my morning coffee. I hand press espresso in the mornings…the feel changes with the weather and bean and it takes more time and it is special every time.

 

So it doesn't surprise me that audio can be a "ritualizing sensory experience" and that it adds to the value. Wedding meals, drinks, and cake are "more" special because they are part of a ritual. Have the exact same food, wine, cake in a busy lunch room with strangers and they won't taste as good or create such positive emotions.

 

We are a people of ritual and that makes us special…it creates connections with others and ourselves in the present and over time. We love to say, "remember how good that desert we had together at _________ was?" These things are part of how we truly connect with other human beings emotionally. They are essential to our beings…

 

Best,

John

Positive emotions enhance our musical experiences.

 

Synology DS213+ NAS -> Auralic Vega w/Linear Power Supply -> Auralic Vega DAC (Symposium Jr rollerball isolation) -> XLR -> Auralic Taurus Pre -> XLR -> Pass Labs XA-30.5 power amplifier (on 4" maple and 4 Stillpoints) -> Hawthorne Audio Reference K2 Speakers in MTM configuration (Symposium Jr HD rollerball isolation) and Hawthorne Audio Bass Augmentation Baffles (Symposium Jr rollerball isolation) -> Bi-amped w/ two Rythmic OB plate amps) -> Extensive Room Treatments (x2 SRL Acoustics Prime 37 diffusion plus key absorption and extensive bass trapping) and Pi Audio Uberbuss' for the front end and amplification

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Yes, I think you are onto something. Let me use wine to explain: I have been to occasions where a really special bottle of wine was called for, it was opened and it met all of our expectations, making the event truly memorable. But I have also been to the same kind of event, had someone open that "special bottle" and discovered it tasted very ordinary -- moment ruined. And I have been to events that were not supposed to be special, had someone open a great bottle and even though the wine technically met expectations, the moment fizzled. Lastly, there is the moment where you aren't expecting anything great, but someone opens a bottle that you have never heard of that pairs so wonderfully with the food that the magical moment appears (unfortunately that same bottle, a week later, with a less appropriate food pairing, creates no magic whatsoever).

 

I think we can do the same thing with music in both a positive and negative way. A great performance or a great system, heard in a manner that allows your senses to fully absorb it, can be really memorable. A great system in a horrible room...not so much. But, an unknown singer in an unknown bar in an unknown town can catch you in a way you'll never forget, even if you can't really tell whether it was the singer or the moment that made it so special.

Synology NAS>i7-6700/32GB/NVIDIA QUADRO P4000 Win10>Qobuz+Tidal>Roon>HQPlayer>DSD512> Fiber Switch>Ultrarendu (NAA)>Holo Audio May KTE DAC> Bryston SP3 pre>Levinson No. 432 amps>Magnepan (MG20.1x2, CCR and MMC2x6)

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Gentlefolks,

 

You have expressed my own feelings better than I could.

 

I have one thing to add:

For me, the acts of audio tweaking in search of "better sound" is actually the process of seeking to recreate a remembered "magic moment". I compare it to the way I enjoy driving my car more after I've just given it a thorough clean.

"People hear what they see." - Doris Day

The forum would be a much better place if everyone were less convinced of how right they were.

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If I hadn't been surprised so many times I would tend to agree more heartily with this.

But, I have been surprised. In food, wine, hifi, you name it, it's happened. In fact I would have to say that some of the very best hifi experiences that have happened have completely taken me by surprise and the same with wine.

 

I do agree with the OP though in that ritualized activities can do as he suggested in bringing things into a tighter and higher focus and in turn opening one up to more and deeper pleasure.

David

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I am not sure that ritual and surprise are exclusive. I believe, instead, that each has a place that is very special.

 

The best example I can think of would be date nights: the ritual of a regular date night is pleasurable, while the surprise of finding a new restaurant or a new menu item at a regular restaurant is a joy.

 

Perhaps the ritual allows the higher focus to elevate the base level of enjoyment and surprises create a spontaneity and sense of adventure that is more enjoyable because it is framed up with proper boundaries and one is more able to appreciate their special nature?

 

One thing about the article is that the idea that enjoyment of something fine is a placebo effect. I find the word "placebo" to be incorrect. We are not taking a generic "placebo" drug and assuming it is the real thing (well, perhaps on some of our remasters and 24 bit downloads that IS true…). Ideally, we are actually taking the real thing and appreciating it more. It is more like a halo effect that a placebo effect.

 

I have found that we can learn to see/hear greater detail with effort. That leads to greater appreciation that is very real. We simple have learned to capture and conceptualize more information (that was always present but didn't stand out). How many yellow cars did you see on your way home? No idea, right? If I had asked you ask you left your office, you could tell me. Not that the number was any different but your focus and awareness increased. Just a simple example…but let's not call increased awareness a placebo.

 

Best,

John

Positive emotions enhance our musical experiences.

 

Synology DS213+ NAS -> Auralic Vega w/Linear Power Supply -> Auralic Vega DAC (Symposium Jr rollerball isolation) -> XLR -> Auralic Taurus Pre -> XLR -> Pass Labs XA-30.5 power amplifier (on 4" maple and 4 Stillpoints) -> Hawthorne Audio Reference K2 Speakers in MTM configuration (Symposium Jr HD rollerball isolation) and Hawthorne Audio Bass Augmentation Baffles (Symposium Jr rollerball isolation) -> Bi-amped w/ two Rythmic OB plate amps) -> Extensive Room Treatments (x2 SRL Acoustics Prime 37 diffusion plus key absorption and extensive bass trapping) and Pi Audio Uberbuss' for the front end and amplification

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very nice post and a thought provoking blog post. thank you for sharing.

 

the article touches on some aspects of Buddhism and the principles of Zen. pursuing any hobby brings an immense deal of satisfaction and can even be compared to a form of meditation.

 

however, fuelled by the wealth of knowledge & opinions on Internet forums, websites, trade shows & print media etc, combined with the subjective nature of some aspects of ‘audiophilia’, the same ritual can sometimes lead to a sense of dissatisfaction leading to the all too familiar disease - ‘upgraditis’.

 

it is between these two extremes that we need to practise the balancing act, which eventually becomes the key to reduced stress levels and the overall feelings of happiness.

 

the blog post also reminded me of an excellent article written by Srajan Ebaen of 6Moons fame for Soundstage a while back. sharing it for everyone’s reading pleasure and further comments.

 

Audiophilism: Why Some of it Smacks of Religion

_________________________________________________________________________

Mac OSX / Pure Music 1.8x / AudioGD NFB 10WM / Jeff Rowland Model 10 / Totem Mani 2

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One thing about the article is that the idea that enjoyment of something fine is a placebo effect. I find the word "placebo" to be incorrect. We are not taking a generic "placebo" drug and assuming it is the real thing (well, perhaps on some of our remasters and 24 bit downloads that IS true…). Ideally, we are actually taking the real thing and appreciating it more. It is more like a halo effect that a placebo effect.

 

Best,

John

 

Well put.

David

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By putting on headphones you know are high quality, or drinking expensive wine, or entering the chiropractor's office, you are telling yourself, "I am going to focus on this moment. I am going to savor this." It's the act of savoring, rather than the savoring tool, that results in both happiness and a longer life.

For me, it's the act of discovering that results in happiness and a long life - and the savoring is sweeter when delight was unexpected. So I seek my treats in unexplored areas. Any fool can savor finery when it's been touted by the finery press and has a label and price tag that say "FINERY!" (or Audio Research or La Tache or Fray). For me, the biggest joys are in finding top quality and joy in unlabeled things and places unheralded by pundits. I actually bought a new 240D with stick in 1982 because it was great fun to be able to push a car to its limits every day on every road, and it wasn't a bad driver at all once you got over the fact that it had 12 horsepower (yes, I exaggerate a bit for effect..)

 

Sdolezalek's observations are spot on. But I don't think it's placebo effect, I think it's context that makes the same wine or music or movie a wonderful experience one time and a dud the next. So an unknown and inexpensive wine can be fabulous one night and disappointing the next because of your mood at the time and the people, setting and circumstances of each encounter. A simple $8 red like Cuvée de Peña will delight you with friends, pasta, salad and a good attitude, although it too may fail when opened to fanfare and anticipation. This kind of letdown has certainly happened to me enough over the years when bringing home a new piece of audio equipment with heavy hype and heritage after loving it in a demo or a friend's home.

 

Trying new things that seem great to me despite a lack of widespread reinforcement has been rewarding and educational beyond words. We've enjoyed fine, lasting quality in our home, clothing, furnishings, food, wine, cars, music, travels, businesses with whom we deal regularly etc - and most of it came to us without labels. If you look forwad to every new encounter and can learn from the negative ones without being disappointed, you'll have life-long joy. I was elated to discover the greatness in Focal and PrimaLuna and BeagleBone Black - I'd love a 6 figure system, but my mid-4 figure system comes mighty close and is new enough to delight me for many years with little maintenance cost.

 

We've been fortunate enough to have experienced many great pleasures. But as I face retirement, I've begun to think carefully about the fact that I could be around for another 3 decades - and I don't want to compromise our security and the ability to travel and enjoy ourselves within reason without earned income by drinking DRC, wearing bespoke suits, and driving a 911. So we've redoubled our efforts to find the best for less. Searching is great fun, and the magic seems to last when something clicks.

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Placebo-philes

 

 

Maybe each of these activities (listening to high end audio gear, drinking high end wine, having needles inserted into your chakras) is really about ritualizing a sensory experience. By putting on headphones you know are high quality, or drinking expensive wine, or entering the chiropractor's office, you are telling yourself, "I am going to focus on this moment. I am going to savor this." It's the act of savoring, rather than the savoring tool, that results in both happiness and a longer life.

 

I think there is something to what he is saying here. Especially the ritualizing of things.

 

I have said elsewhere when you perceive something as better, whether from it being better or just being convinced it is, your brain gets a little bit more turned on. It increases your actual perceived enjoyment, it reinforces what you were doing at the time, and it trains your brain to feel good. There is a lot right about that.

 

This is very convincing. In this regard, if fancy cables start a positive feedback loop between our ears and our brains, they have real benefits.

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This is very convincing. In this regard, if fancy cables start a positive feedback loop between our ears and our brains, they have real benefits.

 

Yes, and that would perhaps explain why placebo produces results in medical trials also.

 

The trick is to use it beneficially without being the guy who buys $20,000 per meter cables bathed in special light. (yes those were made at one time).

 

Or one could say the placebo benefit is real, the money is needed to kick start the process for someone with the spare cash, and the purveyor of placebo is beneficially reimbursed. Win-win all the way around.

And always keep in mind: Cognitive biases, like seeing optical illusions are a sign of a normally functioning brain. We all have them, it’s nothing to be ashamed about, but it is something that affects our objective evaluation of reality. 

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Ritual is very important. The FT wrote about the resergance of vinyl a while back. No one said it sounded better, but they liked the ritual.

 

Read the full article

 

Still, for pop/rock music, vinyls often sound better nowadays because they are often mastered with more dynamic range, even if CDs can accommodate even greater dynamic range (and did even for pop/rock in the 80s).

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