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Craig Anderton’s Open Channel: A Perspective on Perspectives

Maybe people just have a hard time reconciling that two opposing viewpoints can both be correct....

craig anderton
Craig Anderton.

In George Orwell’s novel 1984, the Two Minutes Hate was a daily ritual practiced by the citizens of Oceania. As they watched a giant video screen projecting the Party’s enemy, they were expected to shout, curse, spit and show intense loyalty by exhibiting intense hatred for the enemy.

And speaking of online comments sections….

We’re all aware of social media’s toxic potential. Even within our generally friendly little industry, sometimes the exchanges about gear, artists and so on border on the Two Minutes Hate zone. Take the latest Taylor Swift double-album. Some were thrilled to have so much music, of such a personal nature, in their collection. It broke all streaming records upon its release. Reviews have called it “ambitious,” “audacious” and “irresistible.”

Then the Two Minutes Hate kicked in. “It’s just a money grab,” “I guess she got a thesaurus for Christmas,” “sounds the same as her last album,” and (ouch) “this is an era you endure, not enjoy.”

But…they’re talking about the same album. The album doesn’t shapeshift into something horrible for some people and transcendent for others. Perhaps their comments relate less to the album than to Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle.

Say what? Well, simply stated, the Uncertainty Principle asserts that the more accurately we measure one property of a pair of properties, the less accurately we can measure the other property. Although Heisenberg was talking about a pair of properties like a particle’s position and momentum, it may go beyond that. In the Taylor Swift example, the haters measured what they didn’t like about the album, so any measurement of what they might like was already influenced by what they didn’t like. Conversely, those who measured what they liked about the album probably didn’t think about measuring a potential cash grab aspect.

Maybe people just have a hard time reconciling that two opposing viewpoints can both be correct. Mention Behringer, and some will opine that they’re Made in China ripped-off designs with questionable (at best) quality. Others will talk in rapturous tones about their X32 mixer and the surprisingly good performance of their inexpensive audio interfaces.

Perhaps what really shapes someone’s perspective is “what’s in it for me.” Many years ago, I reviewed Native Instruments’ Kore. One friend said, “Wow, that review was so negative. Did NI cancel their advertising?” Later, a composer thanked me for the positive review, saying that because of it, he immediately bought Kore and couldn’t have been happier. They were talking about the same review, of the same product.

The bottom line is that one person thought the review was negative because he felt the product had nothing to offer him. Therefore, it couldn’t possibly be any good. The person who thought the review was positive found that it provided functionality he needed, so therefore it was a good product. Both thought they had made up their minds about a product—but they hadn’t. They’d made up their minds about how they saw the product. Each person measured one of the product’s properties accurately, but not the other one.

Now, it might seem that this column’s conclusion would be “don’t do hate-filled screeds online, tolerance is good, all you need is love, blah blah blah.” But there’s a more important point.

Certainty can be slippery, so we need to remember that whatever we think could very well be wrong. At any moment, an experience could change our perspective—because it forces us to measure something we hadn’t considered.

Craig Anderton’s Open Channel: I’m Just Asking Questions…

Take vinyl. I grew up with vinyl, and I didn’t like the surface noise, crackles, inner groove distortion, inevitable deterioration, constant cleaning and so on. When people who hadn’t been raised on vinyl started telling me how “warm” it sounded, and how the sound was so much better than CDs, I was dismissive. Are you kidding? By any standard of measurement, digital audio has superior fidelity. Case closed.

So, I asked a vinyl junkie friend to play me some vinyl that he thought sounded better than a CD. He played a bunch of records from the ’60s and ’70s, and then gave me a look like, “See? It’s clearly better!”

Then it hit me: Heisenberg. Music and sound quality are fine examples of a pair of physical quantities that describe a system. I was measuring the sound quality. He was measuring the music. Listening from his perspective, I understood: The music had dynamic range, it wasn’t harsh, and hadn’t been remastered to unleash a “modern” too loud/too bright sonic assault. He loved the sound of the music. He didn’t need to love the sound of the vinyl. That’s not what he was measuring.

You may think Taylor Swift is doing a cash grab, but still appreciate her music. You can think Behringer makes some garbage gear, yet still be happy about taking your X32 to gigs. You might feel that Kore has nothing to offer you, but still understand NI is taking significant steps toward product integration.

Do we truly know all the perspectives needed to accurately measure and describe a system? If not, then what we know is probably wrong. And actually, that’s kinda great. Because at some point, you’ll find out what you didn’t know, revise how you think, change your perspective, and be that much the wiser for it.