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« Heading to the Highlands -- Again | Main | Life In Close Quarters »

What Does Your House Sing? or Two Audio Geeks and a Microwave

A few years ago I heard a story on This American Life about a guy named Toby Lester, who identified all the electronic devices in his house according to the musical tones they emitted. For instance, in his kitchen, the refrigerator, which was always on and droning, was a b flat. Anything else that he turned on in the kitchen; his laptop, the toaster, the microwave, emitted another tone, which played against the fridge.

Immediately my mind started composing. It seemed obvious that the impact of having a fridge in b flat, and an often-used oven or computer in a discordant note, would put someone in a funk. Right? And conversely, if all appliances hummed along in perfect thirds and fifths, with a sixth thrown in from time to time to alleviate boredom, it would make such a happy sound. It makes wonderful sense. Feng Shui be damned! I'd found the answer to everlasting peace and tranquility in the household. Perfectly tuned appliances!

Here, as I write this, there is a droning hum in our little cottage somewhere, perhaps the fridge, perhaps the heater. The computer I'm using is a fourth above, and actually a little sharp. It's not a bad combination - I'm a fan of fourths, although I try to block out the sharp. (I find myself willing it down.)

I don't hear all of this consciously of course. I only notice it when I think about it -- or when I realize that I'm relieved after a particularly noisy appliance shuts off.

My favorite appliance in this house, and one that I do notice every time I turn it on, is the microwave. It has two tones, a seventh apart, and the higher tone swoops up from the bottom when you press start. It even has a kind of bombastic attack when you turn it on. I don't even have to say it - do I? You've already got the song playing in your head! That's right - our microwave plays Sabotage - by the Beastie Boys! Bob and I start head banging and singing the guitar riff every time we nuke the leftovers. Ah - such fun!

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Reader Comments (3)

Sounds like our musical toaster!

Nov 9, 2009 at 11:22 AM | Unregistered CommenterDora

My house is full of Tritones ... augmented 4th's, diminished 5ths, discord EVERYWHERE! Harmonic help wanted! Does anyone sell TONIC tonic? We could use some.

Seriously ... you guys crack me up ... your observations make me smile .. and not that creepy "hey, want some candy" smile either! Keep it up!


Nov 9, 2009 at 12:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterYo Lama

OK, I wanna see a video of you guys rockin' out to your microwave! & I wanna do the drums on Sabotage when I come visit!!

Nov 10, 2009 at 7:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterIris

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