In which I lose the plot
I have a small problem.
No. Not that. There’s nothing wrong there. I’m talking about hearing.
Herself and I generally pass evenings watching a film or a series on television. My problem is that I am finding it increasingly difficult to hear what is being said on screen. Whole scenes pass me by and I haven’t a fucking clue what it was about as I couldn’t hear the conversation. Herself has the same problem and at the end of such scenes we just look at each other and shrug. “Do you know what that was about?” “Nope. Not a clue.” We have had to abandon whole series because of the inaudibility of the speech.
My hearing is pretty good in general apart from the old Tinnitus which I don’t even notice unless I deliberately tune into the whistle. For example, I can listen to ClassicFM at a very low volume and still hear the announcer between each piece. Even Herself can’t do that trick. Herself has the radio on most of the time and I can [unfortunately] hear every word that is said even though the radio isn’t that loud and is in a different room.
So is the problem with the actors? Has the concept of diction gone out the window, and any old muttering will do?
Is the problem with the balance between speech and background noise? Frequently the problem areas involve background sounds or music. I know my Tinnitus has this weird effect that a background noise such as a boiling kettle can drown any attempt at communication. Down at the coffee shop, the Lads have learned not to try speaking to me if there is a lorry, bus or motorbike going past. That is only a real-world problem though and didn’t crop up on television before.
Is the problem with the script? Have scriptwriters become very fond of the sotto voce and whispers? Last night we watched “Gentleman Jack” [Herself’s choice] and there was an entire lengthy scene that was sotto voce and neither of us had a fucking clue what was said despite turning the volume way up. It was a key scene too at the end of an eight part series and I’m sure it was supposed to be important.
Or is this just old age creeping in slowly?
While age may, or may not, be affecting your ears (and mine) there is a widespread view that television dialogue is becoming less clear. I thought that perhaps it was a consequence of the compression algorithms being used – but now I wonder if ‘the youth’ might be undergoing the equivalent of the Great Vowel Shift of the 15th and 16th centuries. Quiet mumbling may now be a vocal choice, not poor technology. If that seems too weird, might I also point out:
“Upspeak, also known as uptalk or high rising terminal (HRT), is a linguistic occurrence in which a speaker uses a rising inflection at the end of a declarative sentence. This rising intonation at the end of the sentence makes a statement sound like a question. In 1993, journalist James Gorman established the term “upspeak” in a New York Times article. In pop culture, upspeak is known as “valley girl speak,” a social class stereotype popularized in the ‘80s as a riff on the dialect of upper-middle-class young women from the valleys of Southern California.”
Me, I blame Neighbours? Where everything sounded like a question?
I’m glad I am not alone. There is a distinct change in speech patterns almost like an evolution of a new accent. One very noticeable trait in Ireland, particularly amongst “Millennials” is to pronounce T as D, so that “utter” or even “other” becomes “udder”. I find that very irritating but not as bad as Upspeak [which I hate with a vengeance]. They are pure affectations.
I experience the same symptoms. DVDs are especially difficult and I think it’s down to the limited bandwidth afforded speech vs video.
I don’t know enough about the various bandwidths on DVDs or satellite broadcasts to comment on that. It seems widespread on the various sources I use, be they MP4, MKV or whatever. I must try playing an older film to see if there’s a difference in production qualities.
My hearing is very bad so with movies on DVD we always enable subtitles. Took a little getting used to but I appreciate them no end. Even my wife has come to appreciate subtitles and her hearing is excellent.
My viewing is always either from satellite or media player so subtitles aren’t always available. Don’t you find though that they have an irritating habit of putting the subtitles up in white lettering, frequently backed by a very pale scene? It makes the subtitles illegible sometimes.
Slight hearing loss starts with the higher frequencies, so perhaps adjusting the relative levels of bass & treble on your TV might help with clarity.
I have tried that, tweaking the various frequencies but to no avail. In fact my high frequency hearing is quite good [for my age] or so I have been told by the experts. My only problem is a sharp drop-off at around 12,500 KHz which is the frequency of the Tinnitus whistle.
While redecorating recently we shifted the Sony Smart TV up the end of the room and temporarily removed the sound bar. Whilst cursing the TV menu system trying to redirect the sound to the onboard speakers I found a setting to ‘improve’ dialogue. That is now in place and seems to have improved matters. I believe it is not just a frequency adjustment but a shaping of voice frequencies to have a sharper leading edge.
The set in question here is a Sony. I don’t think it’s very smart though. I must check it again but Herself gets annoyed if I start flicking around menus. I have a newer Nordmende which may have a higher IQ. I’ll check.
Much modern TV is hopeless. The actors (so called) have obviously never been on stage or learned to project their voice – so they simply act, and if the scene calls for quiet private conversation while walking at the side of a busy road that’s what they do. Consequently the diction is indistinct, it’s quiet, and it’s drowned by background noise. Add accents and youngsters who speak much too quickly, sound recording and tech that places no emphasis on speech frequencies and hopelessness is fully achieved. You also have to contend with the modern fad of filming in the dark, or with actors silhouetted against windows so faces are as indistinct as the speech. The Mrs is fed up with me complaining and going off with a book rather than try and assimilate the TV output. Try classic programmes made over a decade ago, you will find most are well filmed, bright, clear and understandable.
I’m not worried about not hearing voices on the television, it’s not hearing voices in the classroom that is troubling me.
How about hearing voices when there’s no one around?
I am 74 years old, I have fine hearing and good sight. I have the misfortune to have to work alongside a number of very much younger people (17-18 year-olds). I have great difficulty in hearing what they are saying to me when we converse. There are no other intrusve sounds in the area where we are, it’s just that I cannot hear their speech. They speak very softly, they slur their words, they ‘upspeak’ all the time and the continued repetition of the word ‘like’ is very confusing. I have given up speaking with them all. I cannot understand them and they are all, without exception, almost completely ignorant of any subject you might choose to mention.
The schools today are simply NOT educating the young.
Consider University Challenge… Back in the day it was a display of difficult questions being answered by impressive individuals. Nowadays the teams seem ill prepared and there is often only one team member that seems ‘educated’. Returning teams of ‘mature’ students appear to have a broader outlook and knowledge.
Which reminds me of an incident from my youth – My now long departed, and very dear, Grandmother was a fan of University Challenge, but she once admitted that she couldn’t understand why Bamber Gascoigne commenced each round with the words ‘Your side of the Thames’.
Not only University Challenge, on BBC Radio 4 ‘Round Britain Quiz’ was an even more venerable institution, featuring cryptic and intellectual questions which, if you could fully solve one per programme, you would probably qualify as a genius.
Now it’s been deliberately over-populated by low-brow ‘modern’ questions and some even lower-brow contestants – from a broadsheet to a tabloid in an instant, but without the titivating Page 3 pictures. Another dumbed-down waste.
Watch an old movie or tv series like Poirot.
Those guys were actors, trained to project a voice to the back of a theatre without mikes and amplification.
Also no continuous noise – the low frequency hum, the violin note that goes on forever. Listen. You can hear the actors breathing, the gravel under the wheels.
Nowadays without the subtitles I am lost.
And the noise has crept into documentaries. Why, ffs. I want to hear the natural sounds. But no. They have to add a swooshing noise and bubble noise when the fish goes by. Even in space, where no one can hear you scream the asteroids go whoosh with full audio Doppler sweep. And who knew you could hear a super nova in the same second as seeing it.
And if I hear thunder before the lightning flash I switch off. If they can not get that right then the programme will be shite. I have only once heard thunder and simultaneous lightning. Near shit myself.I
End of rant.
All I can say is that I am delighted that it isn’t my imagination or a failing in my hearing. Indeed the standard of education these days is vastly inferior to times past. There is a distinct lack in basic spelling, grammar, elocution and mathematics which is sad. When I hear university students mumbling their repetitive “like” and making the most elementary grammatical errors I flinch.
Not so long ago, was told by elder daughter, who was watching the Aussie soap ‘Neighbours’ to be quiet as she wanted to know what would happen as Shane/Bruce/Digger/whoever, was in a coma. My reply was “How can you tell? They all act as if they are in a coma”.
Apparently, there are headphones one can wear while watching tv, but if you have to wear headphones, you can bet the programme is crap.