Remembrance of Sounds Past

Our senses are highly interconnected. Something that is pleasurable to one sense becomes associated with pleasure to another. Beautiful food tastes better and diners who like the background music enjoy the flavours more. Crisp makers pack their nibbles in crinkly bags because we subconsciously associate the sound with freshness and crunchiness. Crisps that don’t crunch when you bite them simply do not taste as good.

This has proved a problem for winemakers. Most would love to ditch corks in favour of screw tops, which are cheaper and more reliable. But wine lovers so associate the sound of a cork popping with drinking good wine that without the pop the wine does not taste as fine. Luckily help is at hand in the form of the screw cork, which combines the best of both.

This may seem rather ridiculous. Surely we should just get over our nostalgia for the old technology and enthusiastically embrace the new. But the fact is we find abrupt changes difficult and manufacturers sometimes have to break us in gently, easing the transition to the new by retaining some of the sensual experiences of the old.

Electric clocks that ticked proved strangely popular. The sound used by smartphone makers to indicate a keystroke tends to be based on the noise of a typewriter. And there is undoubtedly something pleasing about moving to the next page on an electronic book when accompanied by the sound of a paper page turning. Some electric cars are designed to blast out traditional engine noise, though this has more to do with warning other road users than with the drivers’ nostalgia.

The truth is that we get used to things, even if they aren’t very pleasurable in themselves, and find comfort in the familiar. How else to explain that Black Sabbath are topping the album charts 43 years after their last hit?