How Low Can You Go?

Mr. Beatnick debunks the myth of the legendary "Brown Note". Is it possible? Or just a cautionary tale of too much bass?

It’s time to flush away the myths and wipe clean the slate of truth as we explore one of the most intriguing and legendary frequencies of all time – the mysterious “brown note”, also known by some incredulous folks as the “brown noise”. (Nonsense, of course, since that’s technically a whole other thing altogether; officially “noise” comes in three different colours: pink, brown and the old favourite, plain white — but I digress.)

The brown note we are talking about is the definitive sub-bass frequency that supposedly triggers an involuntary bowel movement or bowel mobility. Imagine the scene – you stand aloft on your DJ podium, one hand clutching the crossfader, the other the headphones, you drop the “brown” label dubplate in the dance, and ten seconds into the intro, your pants are entirely full of poo, while the audience run screaming for the lavatory and the club begins to smell like a barnyard. Not exactly my idea of a dream gig, nor yours, I’m sure. According to some scientists, though, it is theoretically possible to trigger a wayward motion in the colon via sound vibration, provided you get the physics just right.

No one knows exactly where the urban myth of the brown note originates from – the old wives’ tale is that Aphex Twin opened his infamous Glastonbury set in ’91 with a rendition of it that had the tightly-packed crowd simultaneously spewing and shitting across Micheal Eavis’s back garden. But then again, people will believe anything they read about Aphex, like the time he said he lived in a bank vault and had recently invested in a scale model of the Titanic moored somewhere off the Shetland Islands. If there is a brown note, it’s rumoured to reside somewhere between 5 and 9 hz, inaudibly low frequencies that aren’t exactly easy to deliver on your laptop speakers, your iPod earbuds or even your mate Dave’s souped-up Ford Escort with 25” subwoofer enclosure. (A speaker the size of a building would probably be easiest, given the enormous wavelength of the frequency involved.)

Weirdly enough, the only legitimate example of a brown note on record is that of the Serbian-American inventor Nikola Tesla, who on his way to perfecting the AC motor, knocked up a vibrating machine that was so powerful it could shake his house, and most of the surrounding neighbourhood. Tesla invited his pal, the novelist Mark Twain, round for a drink, switched on his machine and the resultant rumble nearly ended with the most embarrassing moment in literary history. You’ll be as relieved as he was to hear that Mark made it to the loo just in time.

By Mr Beatnick on November 13, 2011

On a different note