CreativityOn Vibrancy and Lautheit

On Vibrancy and Lautheit

Reading time: 3:00 min | Vibrancy and lautheit are words that describe certain impressions we might have or not have when watching media. Both words don’t have a corresponding word in German or English that nail their meaning. This article is a wonkish prequel to The music of my personal reality.

Vibrancy is by far more cited than Lautheit. That is because vibrancy is a buzzy marketing word in photography but lautheit only a terminus technicus in sound mixing. But both terms deal with psychological effects on our reception.

I want to start with lautheit since it needs some more explanation. From there, the meaning of the term vibrancy falls into place automatically.

Lautheit in English means perceived loudness. As the word perceived indicates, the amount of loudness or the softness of a sound sequence cannot be measured with physical devices but only be experienced and talked about. For Lautheit, we, the humans, are the metering tool.

That makes the phenomenon of perceived loudness in no way less real or put it in a realm of wishy-washy subjectiveness. On the contrary, there’s been long-going scientific research on perceived and measured effects on human perception. The keyword here is weighted perception.

We humans rarely linearly perceive the world (in a way, we do that with pain). We can distinguish in twilight the difference of doubling the amount of light but cannot do so when standing in the bright sun. There, the doubled amount of light is only perceived as a bit more light. Our human vision views the world weighted. There are many reasons for this; one is to bring down data in bright sunlight, another one is to keep our eye alert in darkness when the tiger looms around the corner. To corroborate that, try to switch from a dark environment (indoors, for example) to a bright environment (outdoor sun) quickly by panning your head. You’ll feel pronounced fatigue very soon. Watching consumes tons of resources. Anyone who experienced new glasses and their impact on losing tiredness knows what I’m talking about.

Gustav Theodor Fechner (1801-1887) is the big name behind such phenomenons. As a physicist, he developed physiologist Ernst Heinrich Weber’s (1795-1878) ideas further, stating the Weber-Fechner law. He found that we humans experience our environment with a stimulation threshold based on difference and depends on the stimulus’ amount. For example, you need 2% more weight in your hand to recognise a weight increase. Only a 3%-increase of pressure on your skin will be experienced as rising pressure on your tactile sense. Described as a percentage, the difference amount changes proportionally with the stimulus and is not a mere offset. Thus, much of our perception is non-linear.

A famous technology that is based on his findings is the screens of our digital devices. Although projecting linear information from a linearly thinking device, the computer, the screen has a transformation curve applied that conforms the computer’s idea of a picture to our human vision of an image we accept as “right”. That curve is called the gamma curve and has a value of 2.2 in the sRGB colour space, primarily used with digital screens. 2.2 is the log value of 3.4, close to the human vision’s gamma curve of 4, albeit a tad of the flat side contrast-wise.

Back to Lautheit. Knowing that there are frequencies that we perceive as “loud” and frequencies we don’t bother much, sound engineers take advantage of that phenomenon and push the boundaries of lautheit by the day without making the song or commercial louder in a technical sense. A pop song’s perceived loudness from the 80ies, if not remastered recently, sounds much softer than the latest and greatest of today. But when measured in decibel, both are in the same range.

Vibrancy is a similar phenomenon but put in the world of pictures. Colours are jumping at your eyes; the overall impression is loud and dominant, with no subtlety left. Modern mobile phones produce vibrant colours up to the point that a faint-hearted audience feels pain. But that can differ from manufacturer to manufacturer. Apple strives for a relatively decent experience with a fair nod to reality. At the same time, a certain Korean manufacturer loves to push colours to the almost impossible edge.

With vibrancy and lautheit brought to the limits and beyond, the world becomes a less decent and subtle place. Psychologically, this spills over to the political domain and elsewhere in society, as we can witness every day (Fechner’s stimulation threshold is often pushed as high as it possibly gets).