Why do some of the songs sound sort of ... faint?

Well, that’s simply because all the tracks needs to play by the rules of the Reference Tone.

Before I add new tracks to the Broadcast Pool, I make sure that my listeners can sleep through the song, as long as their stereo is calibrated to the Reference Tone. Basically, S E B won’t go over the maximum volume.

And there’s   ahem   a little, you know,   uh, subjective judgement of the inflection / agressiveness (?)   of the sound that i choose as it’s “loudest point”. Would that piano note wake me up?

Also, it turns out that some ‘piercing’ frequencies have to be volumed down much lower than ‘richer’ ones, since they bring attention to themselves. The rest of the song goes quieter with them.

All of this equalization means there can be times when S E B just won’t seem like it’s there at all.

The Plain Facts

Look. There are tracks in the Broadcast Pool which are just plain quiet. Because, Ambient music. And like much of what S E B transmits, these tracks can go on for more than 30 minutes. Fine examples would be:

Then there’s there are the tracks that make S E B sad. Some tracks need a significant volume decrease in order to blend with other tracks. A perfect example is the rooster crowing in Reference Tone.

I mean, it is rather … startling. It’s sudden and high-pitched, as well as an archtypical ‘wake-up’ sound. Lovely song, but the opening? Not Ambient.

Listening to the song in full, you would find that Heavenly Music Corporation also layers the track with a deep undertone (towards the end). This is also sorta loud, but not nearly as striking. Different frequency range. Definitely Ambient.

So, you’ll hear that my station can get very rich in low frequencies… especially subwoofer-level stuff. I don’t imagine that folks will wake up to that. But those songs with abrupt high frequencies, or speaking voices, or lots of strong mid-frequency beats, or certain other sustained mid-to-high frequencies… human cognition is sensitive to them. I must make them quieter, so that you can sleep through them.

Unfortunately, this can ‘suck the life’ out of some of the tracks. That’s the part that S E B is sad about.

Take for example the ‘Hands of Light’ track from 2350 Broadway. It is rather long. Unfortunately, it has a very loud piercing rise in the middle which is disproportionate to the rest of the track. I’m kinda stuck making the whole thing quieter, or else you can’t sleep through it. The side-effect being that the actually quiet parts are even quieter.

Similarly, there are some Bacharach-ian tunes from Couples, which are stylistically produced with AM-radio quality sound. AM radio goes through serious compression, so there’s lots of mids and highs, and vocals, and lots of orchestral swells. These are beautiful songs – but they lose some of their substance when they have to limbo under the Reference Tone.


I believe there are three likely strategies here:

  1. S E B can feature this systemic equalizing … which it does, for the good of all mankind.
  2. I could choose to just equalize the disproportionate parts, bring them down to size as it were. It’s by no means impossible. However, I’m unwilling to take that approach (since I don’t want to violate the integrity of the composition †).
  3. Or, I could just trim out or cut off the parts that are excessive.

And … that last one? Why, yes, I actually do that.

†   So much for integrity, right?

There’s tracks on S E B where I felt that the best listener experience would be to slice a song into excerpts. That’s how artists like Talvin Singh and Burial make it into Broadcast Pool. The lead-ins, or interludes, in their songs make precious contributions to the continuity of Ambient music.

†   Well-intended or not, that practice is totally an ‘integrity vioation’. I do apologize to the those artists whose tracks I have altered thusly.


Someone has to lay down the law. And the Reference Tone is that law. There can be no exceptions allowed. It must be trustworthy.

For the good of all mankind.

So, whether you’re sleeping through drones, piano, torch songs, an iceberg, or a “numbers” station… remember:

S E B and its Reference Tone … it’s got your back.

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