Blocked content

A Netflix history series caught our eye, and we watched nearly an entire episode, but I decided to quit because of issues related to narration style.

A Social Justice Week lecture by a nationally recognized speaker had much to offer, but I left in the middle—with acute ear pain.  Again, I had to quit because of peripheral issues.

For me, the sound of things can get in the way.  A lot.  Another way to say this is that the content of things can be blocked by side factors.

It can be difficult for me to concentrate on important material when there is a lot of hubbub.

The hum of a machine can drive me up a wall.

I have a tough time listening to voices that speak in grating tones (e.g., overly nasal, very scratchy-sounding, a lot of high overtones) or with monotone pitch, uninteresting declamation, halting/agitated bursts, or unvaried tempo.

At most contemporary-style churches, sound gets in the way for me, too:  maybe it’s bad sound, poorly mixed sound, or just way-too-loud sound (or all three).

When I play an instrument in a group, I sometimes choose to stop playing because of intonation issues.  When I’m distracted and it seems impossible to tune well with the sounds around me, it is better to stop than to add to the problem, I figure.

Various sound factors are distracting, and I can become almost claustrophobic (soniphobic?).  Above, I referred to the history series titled Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States.  I didn’t really even know who Oliver Stone was (still don’t know much), but he has a national reputation, which makes his terrible narration habits all the more surprising.  Someone should have taught him how to read aloud!  The narration is so sonically distracting to me that I have trouble concentrating on the information he’s relaying.  He routinely pauses between word-pairs  that are inherently connected:

  • a preposition and its object
  • a verb and its complement
  • an article and the word it attempts to specify
  • the “to” and the other component of an infinitive

90% of the time, he mispronounces “a” as “aye” (never correct) and “the” as “thee” (only correct when the next word begins with a vowel sound).  Arrgghh.  Here are sample extracts with intentional misspellings, forced punctuation, and line-ends that I hope will somehow visually demonstrate the sonic effect:

This went on in . . .

far greater proportion than has ever ||

been officially admitted.


Such was their pride:  many refused to || 

evacuate thee ||

city when given thee | 



Stalin now began thee | greatest forced evacuation in …

human history, evacuating some 10 million people to the | east of the || Ural Mountains in Central Asia and | 

Siberia and to thee | South and to |


… to rebuild thee | U.S.S.R in a second Industrial Revolution that matched that of thee |

1920s and 30s 

The transfer of thee || greatest part of thee |

Soviet economy was accomplished in two incredible years and by ||

1943, thee |

USSR was the equal of |

any industrial power in Europe.

If the problem wasn’t clear, it could be because you’re used to seeing PowerPoint slides poorly laid out, so try reading a few of the above lines aloud, observing the indicated breaks.  Oliver Stone’s hiccup-infused style blocked a lot of the content for me, raising my blood pressure a couple of points, because I was actually trying to learn something and couldn’t.

John Leonard Harris

Content can become obscured by other sound factors involved in transmission.  Just this afternoon, I intentionally cleared some time so I could go hear a speaker during the local college’s observance of Social Justice Week.  I figured I could use more education and personal connection around civil rights and just treatment of people of color in this country.  The lecture was free and student-organized, and those factors were plusses for me, too.  The speaker’s content turned out to be strong, and he certainly knew how to present, both dramatically and persuasively . . . but whoever was running (or not running) the sound mixer was asleep, deaf, or missing.  My eardrums were bursting, and I simply had to leave.  I could speculate that the rest of the (mostly younger) crowd was more polite or tolerant than I, and that may be true, but it’s equally likely that their ears are simply more damaged than mine since they’ve been using .mp3 players and earbuds since they were this high.  In this case, the sound didn’t entirely obscure the content, but it surely made it difficult to listen to.

Some of my problem with sound (and other peripherals) getting in my way, I’ve come to know, is that my ears are extra sensitive—because of (1) anatomy and (2) musical training.  I’m actually kind of tired of having non-central things get in the way of my experiences, but I can’t change the ear pain, and I wouldn’t trade being a musician for anything . . . so I think I’ll carry earplugs with me more often.  I wish the content weren’t blocked so often, but I can probably also work to become even more adept and comfortable with leaving sonic crime scenes when I need to.

B. Casey, Friday, 2/17/17

4 thoughts on “Blocked content

  1. Anne 03/08/2017 / 8:12 pm

    Ohhhh, YES! Lest I get on my soap box, I’ll just say, “AMEN,” to your article. I do not think my ears are as sensitive as yours, but much of what you said could have been written by me. Public speakers who have poor to bad delivery are oblivious to the fact! One year in Toastmaster’s Club, or 1 semester in Speech class, or 6 private lessons from a speech coach would help! 😉 ~~ Anne B.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Brian Casey 03/09/2017 / 8:26 am

      Thanks, dear friend. This aspect of my “ear problem” affects every Sunday foray. At one point, there were basically five churches “in the running,” and two of them had serious sonic or speech delivery issues. Those are out now. One that’s still in the running has a couple of old-timers coming in to teach every other week. One has a wonderful voice but is near 80 and slowing down. Maybe I can take his place, but I could probably use a Toastmaster’s Club refresher myself. 🙂


  2. Brian Casey 03/09/2017 / 8:32 am

    Via FB:
    David Dorrell My aunt has some of the same elements of this problem. It always manifests itself if the car radio is playing. And is especially intrusive if it’s classical music. More than a few times, my uncle has been ordered to turn off the radio. When asked why, my aunt mutters something about the musicians working too hard on the piece. I’ve always found these instances to be humorous, but I’m sure her complaints are due to considerable pain of the sort you describe here, Brian.

    Me: It is kind of an affliction — at least in some measure. There are some eardrum issues, probably. Yet, there are parts of this “blockage” problem that are more science and common sense. I mean, if the person speaking is piercing through all the speakers at 110 dB to the point that two football stadiums could hear him, yet the actual, 80-person audience is in a resonant lecture hall, turn it down at least 50%, or take the mic off the guy. Then there’s that narration problem. Like many others, I hate hearing myself on a recording. But I know when I’m smooth or halting. Wish Oliver Stone had had a coach.

    David Dorrell FUNNY!
    I know the internal dialog problem well enough. That’s the part that reminds me of my aunt. The music teacher inside her can’t help critiquing every performance. The sound engineering is another story. One of my old classmates used to always refer to “beating the Baptists”. This meant beating them to wherever she was having Sunday lunch. But the Baptists at the big church that met in downtown Beaumont had Bob Brock as a member and Bob was an audio engineer. He tuned the acoustics of their sanctuary and installed the sound system. So, on this issue, I guess the Baptists beat us.

    Me: Ha. The very idea of tuning acoustics is so unfamiliar to most. I think sound engineering also can be over-considered — and have experienced that with a couple people who know far more than I, but I have learned some things from them, as well.

    Me — I think of simpler things like turning down the volume and turning down the mids and turning up the highs a bit when you can’t understand a person’s declamation. As a conductor and hornist, I also think about the placement of the horns in an ensemble. The fact that the bells face nearly backwards means you have to think about that if you want them to sound like part of an acoustic ensemble….


  3. Brian Casey 03/09/2017 / 8:37 am

    By e-mail (excerpted):
    WGC: Actually this is one of the best things I’ve seen written anywhere by anybody in a long time. Although I don’t have anywhere near the propensity for the same type of “acute ear pain” you have, my pain coming from a couple of the other sources/types is probably greater than yours. …

    Have never thought much about why I suppose I feel exactly the same way you mentioned for not wanting to play (paragraph 8), but my guess is that you nailed it here. Of course, I don’t have the background or brainpower to figure why I simply don’t wanna sing at times. . . . adding to all the other non-unified sounds bandying about.

    Gotta keep this piece. Really good & understandable. I’m sure you’re considering your next book: Ponderings or Peripherals or some such moniker—with the content’s coming (see that possessive case before the gerund?) from your blogs.


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