Hearing in a relative world – perception bias

I’ve been reflecting on the process of hearing, a lot, lately, and most of all about how we hear  frequency response. When do we percieve a song or a mix to be flat spectrum, when do we think a song is “phat” and when is it just bass-heavy?

I think the human brain strives towards presenting perfection to it’s user. We all know, that when listening to a strange sounding mix, it can become more agreeable over time, and sometimes the new sound then is our new frame of reference.

I think we can use that. If I want to make a track “phat”, I actually make it quite light on bass frequencies and then have very few elements that break that rule. For example let’s say I have a piano, some percussion loops and a kick drum and bass. I could make everything quite bass-light, except the kick, and some bass notes.

The ear adjust its response to the bass-light rest as “normal” and then gets surprised by the onslaught of the heavy kick-drum. Thus percieving the track as “phat”. Although it’s actually not.

Conversely, if I make too many elements “phat” in listening solo, I now have a bass-heavy track, and the brain “deletes” the extra bass information in presenting the track to me and so I percieve it as wobbly and not-phat.

I think fascinating mixes are all about building expectations, sonically, dynamically and structurally, and then breaking them in interessting ways.