Producing Dissonant Sounds for Write or Die

I'm really pleased to say that I've developed a gride sample for Dr Wicked, creator of the hugely popular web app Write or Die. It uses recent advances in understanding why nails on a blackboard or polystyrene sounds so uncomfortable to hear. The discomforting I have created makes it a perfect 'punishment' in Write or Die. Here is more information for those who are interested.

What are 'Gride' sounds?

The mysterious Gride sounds, the family of sounds which cause seemingly inexplicable distress in a listener, were given definition by the lexicographer Blowler in 1982. Surprisingly, there had been almost no research into these sound apart from a brief study in 1986 by Halpern et al, which gave no plausible theories. This year, with the University of Huddersfield, I completed a comprehensive study into gride sounds which can be found here.

A spectrograph of a gride sound - notice the almost overlapping frequency content in the central portion of each sound

It is essentially hyper-dissonance on many micro levels, causing discomfort in the basilar membrane. We have evolved to find this unpleasant because it alerts us to our babies crying and raising an urgent feeling (seemingly due to a release of adrenaline).The side effect is that other 'scratchy' sounds trigger the urgency or unpleasantness, and can often crated gride factors many times greater than a baby cry.

Why is it useful in Write or Die?

With my experience in researching and developing use of gride sounds (psychologically unpleasant sounds), I wanted the knowledge to become useful rather doing nothing. It is hard to find a use for something which is designed to be unpleasant, and although there are a number of potential uses, they aren't usually beneficial to society.

Write or Die is an application where if you don't write as much as you intended to, you are punished - for example, it will play a Hanson track or in kamikaze mode, it will actually start deleting your work. The fear of this punishment keeps you writing, and has been an asset to thousands of writers worldwide. The gride sample I have provided is another in the set of Write or Die punishments.

Here was an opportunity for my hard work to be of benefit, because  - I guarantee you won't want this loop to be stuck on. Hence, you will avoid that consequence and write more. Society benefits.

How did you make this sample?

I used a selection of sounds and processing techniques from the groups discussed in my paper. It is mostly layering and pitch-shifting by small intervals, <3 semi-tones.

 Isn't there drawbacks to it being an MP3?

Yes, unfortunately a significant portion of the unpleasant content is removed. In WAV format there is an extra element of dissonance, but the MP3 is undoubtedly annoying.

Will there be more like this?

Consider this sample a beta test. It was somewhat 'knocked together' but my research is continuing, and there are more theories that need testing. Synthesis techniques are also being investigated. When complete, people will be able to design for themselves the most technically unpleasant sounds in the world, which could have interesting impacts on alternative music styles.

How can I find out more about making my own gride sounds?

You can download my paper 'Analysis and Discussion of Extreme Dissonance' from my iDisk, or contact me to find out more.

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