Connectivity Pointers: Sound Masking and Psychoacoustics

By Nicole Courtemanche



Psycho shower scene circa 1960


There are very few sounds over the course of 131 years of cinema history that managed to linger in the minds of movie goers like Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. In the iconic shower murder, the lead female character, Marion Crane is stabbed to death in a hotel bathroom while she is on the lamb for stealing money. With each arm pullback of the psycho’s knife, a high-pitched and out-of-tune strings orchestra performs quick auditory sounds that stay in alignment with the visual on screen until she screams too late and to no one helpful and is ultimately no more in seconds.


The entire kill takes a mere 45 seconds of airtime yet influenced music and sound in extreme movie situations years later, including the very well-known New England great white killer whale movie, Jaws.



The power of sound and how psychoacoustics work


Hitchcock knew that sound is crucial in telling a story. In the most simplistic and non-medical terms, in psychoacoustics, one hears a sound via the ear organ, that sound travels to your brain, your brain interprets said sound and immediately your brain signals your body to take an action that is associated with the identified sound. So, whenever you hear the infamous symphony of Psycho’s shower scene, you more than likely cringe because you remember poor Marion being murdered in a toilette. You can thank Hitchcock for that memory.


Equally so, if a dad is swimming in water with his teens and starts screaming to the rhythm of “Da-dum, da-dum da-dum … ” you can bet that at least one teen will jump out of the water immediately after they see a plastic shark fin tied to a football. That is the power of sound into action or psychoacoustics. And, thanks, Dad for that memory!



How sound masking works


Psychoacoustics is the reason for our tribute today to sound masking, a CPDI discipline. Unlike the invasive approach of soundproofing or filler in a wall to block sound like in a theatre, sound masking is just as cunning as Alfred Hitchcock or your dad disguising a football-shark. Sound masking utilizes emitter devices that are connected to your building’s existing low-voltage infrastructure, usually via ceiling tiles. The emitters cover background noise with another sound thereby reducing distraction other than what is taking place in the room you are occupying.


To go to back to psychoacoustics, your ear organ hears a low “shhhhh” noise like airflow and immediately your body knows it can be at ease to listen to whomever is speaking and vice versa. Sound masking allows you to use your sense of sound to full capacity for memory and learning.


In an office or meeting room this is essential so everyone can pay attention to whomever has the talking stick, and not outside distractions. Example distractions include other meetings taking place in the rooms around you, open meeting spaces or training classrooms or various other high-volume places like in manufacturing plants or hospital environments.


Sound masking emitters increase the security per room, also an essential for departments like human resources or in school settings where conversation needs to remain private. The result is a more comforting, balanced, and productive environment.



In-the-Project-Know Questions


When we quote a proposal for sound masking, more than likely, Matt Janosco is your Estimator/Project Manager.


Matt will ask the following questions to make sure he is in-the-project-know:


  • Do you have drawings of the building where you would like us to install the sound masking?
  • Are the spaces in the drawing identified with the approximate scale and/or square footage?
  • Would you need black or white emitters to match your building colors?
  • What sound would you like the emitters to amplify? Soft music or a soft “shhhh” sound. (Matt loves when I describe it as this … because really, it is just the sound of airflow. Psychoacoustics!)


A Father’s Day Tribute to every dad who suffered through a teen playing drums in their basement … unnecessarily.


It is the month of June and Father’s Day. Since we know that sound enhances stories let us go back to CPDI history when our founder Doug Watt, was a member of a hair band playing drums before starting his company. True story! I am twenty-five percent positive that when Doug practiced drums back in his day, he practiced in his father’s basement. It could have happened!


As a Father’s Day tribute let us thank these two. For Doug, who decided to become a well-respected entrepreneur in the low-voltage technology industry when he learned he was becoming a father, and for Doug’s dad who had to put up with Doug’s drumming during rehearsal times. Although upon further reflection of this story, there are two more things, I am twenty-five to fifty percent sure of: 1.) if Doug’s dad had sound masking available in his residence back then, I am sure it would have come in handy for Doug’s band practices; and 2.) Doug could have given me a run for my money back then with his blonde hair band mullet versus my platinum pixie cut!


Call us. Email us. We are here to help you in your sound masking project with our expert staff.


Until next time, when we will cover: “Audiovisuals: It’s more than the yesteryear of projectors and slide decks”.