Adultness, Aliveness, Holy Crap: JUMP FACTOR!

"Is there someone in your living room, Stephen? I hear voices in there."

I like it when my mom visits me. Something about it makes me feel very adult. I get to ask her if she wants anything to drink, I get to show her my new Jonathan Adler placemats, I get to introduce her to the hi-fi. Stuff like that. I realize that I'm not so very young anymore, but I'm still young enough to stop and marvel at exactly how old I am. Every now and then I'll just be walking down the street and:

"Holy crap,

years old.
an adult."

I imagine there'll come a time when I'm no longer impressed by my age; no longer impressed by my adultness.

My mom and I were sitting in the kitchen. In the living room, Feist's Let it Die was playing at a very low volume. It was barely audible, but it existed with an uncanny realism. There were voices in there. (I wish it was really Feist. I would've walked right in there, put my arms around her, and you know what.)

"No, ma," I told her, "that's just the hi-fi. Sometimes it freaks me out."

Yes, sometimes it freaks me out. This usually happens when I'm not paying full attention to the music. Sounds enter my apartment with a startling truth. My head whips around to the origin of the sound, my eyes wide and searching for evidence.

Today, I learned that there is a term for this weirdness: "jump factor."

I discovered it in J. Gordon Holt's 1985 article, "What I Mean," recently added to the Stereophile website.

Mr. Holt writes:

"Realism," "presence," and "aliveness" are three overworked terms which baffle many readers, and for good reason — they have no definitions, except in terms of "the real thing." And to someone who doesn't remember the sound of live, unamplified instruments or voices, [How can one forget? Aren't these sounds around all the time?] "the real thing" is an equally meaningless term. To one (like myself) whose reference is live sound, realism, presence, and aliveness (interchangeable terms) describe the feeling that I am listening to actual, in-the-flesh instruments rather than their reproduction. This feeling — and it is only that — is brought on by a certain combination of aural cues which my perceptions identify as characteristic of live music.

And, then, the stuff that usually catches me off-guard and totally freaks me out:

But aliveness does not pertain exclusively to music reproduction; it includes the reproduction of such incidental sounds as page turnings, chair squeakings, and, during a quiet passage, the muted clearing of a performer's throat.

And, finally, "jump factor" — what me and me mum experienced from the kitchen:

The most apt description of aliveness that I have heard — attributed to Sheffield Records' Doug Sax — is "jump factor": Listening to music with only half your attention, you hear a noise from the speakers that sounds so much like it's in the room with you that you jump with surprise.

I don't really like the term "jump factor," though. It just sounds dorky. Once this entry's done, I don't think I'll be using it anymore. I'll have to think of something else. No offense to Doug Sax or J. Gordon.


From Absolute Phase to Zippy
If you follow the links from the Jump Factor article, you'll find a glossary of almost 2000 audio-related terms, which is really damn awesome.

I bet you were wondering what the vertical-Venetian-blind effect was all about.

Al Marcy's picture

Don't forget that bootleg recording made with a stereo mic hidden in the wooden leg of a woman sitting in a lawn chair in the TB section ...koff, rattle, thud, koff, koff, squeak, koff

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