Information Loss Creates Illusion of Slowness

September 27th, 2007 by Editor B

So, I was listening to Kenny G’s Intelligent Design show on WFMU yesterday, and he starts playing a piece by Steve McLaughlin called “Run for Your Life.” The piece consists of all of the Beatles albums, from Please Please Me to Let It Be, played at eight times normal speed. The whole thing is just over an hour long.

About the time it got to the White Album, I decided to hijack a little of the audio and see what it sounded like if it was slowed back down. I used Peak DV to slow it down 800%. Hmm, that’s odd, I thought, it sounds too slow. I concluded that the 8x figure must have been (at least slightly) inaccurate. But when I tried other speeds, I realized my ears were playing tricks on me. After having been sped up and then slowed back down, the music just sounds slower. A lot of information has been discarded in that process, and the result seems to be a psychoacoustic illusion of slowness.

For your listening “enjoyment,” and I use the term loosely, here are three tracks:

  • Revolution 1 – If you’re familiar with the original, I think you’ll agree this sounds as if it’s slowed down. But it’s not. It’s four minutes and fifteen seconds long, just like the original.
  • I Will – Which has the advantage of being shorter.
  • Julia – I think the effect is actually kind of beautiful on this song.

Kenny G said he’s going to play these on his show next week. I am going to be famous at last.

Update: Kenny G posted on the WFMU blog, and here’s one more mp3: Happiness Is a Warm Gun. The great thing about this one is that each part of the song gives a markedly different effect.

3 Responses to “Information Loss Creates Illusion of Slowness”

  1. Varg Says:

    I just listened to a great podcast called Radio Lab that talked about something similar to this. In the episode they talked about some folks up in New York who sit in a gallery and listen to Beethoven’s 9th stretched out to 24-hours.

    Here is a link to the streaming version of the music.

    http://www.park.nl/park_cms/public/index.php?thisarticle=118

    Here is a link to the show I first heard it on that talks about lots of other neat stuff in regards to our perception of time. Good to listen to if you have some meaningless task to perform…

    http://www.wnyc.org/shows/radiolab/episodes/2005/02/25

  2. Jon Konrath Says:

    I think it has to do with the song dropping so many frames during the speedup, and then when you slow it down, it doesn’t have enough frames to hold the right time/pitch. Or something. I know back in the old days, if you tried to hijack audio on a really shitty PC, you’d end up with an MP3 that was the same length but would either sound like this (but not this bad) or the pitch sounded a little off.

  3. Sean P. Clark Says:

    Jon, I pretty sure that’s what b was saying… i put the original julia track on top of the slowed track and the timing matched up fine, the result was pretty eerie. I guess you could kinda compare the dropped audio to the effect you get when you sing into moving fan blades or fake trilling with your hand instead of tongue.

    I have the illusion of slowness when I wake up in the morning – the clock is going faster than I am. What’s the name for that so when I call in late for work I’ll know what to call it?

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