The Sounds of Childhood: Remixed

There is a sound that only comes from playing with LEGO® Bricks. And playing is possibly different to what most of us do when we are using those lumps of ABS to construct the model displayed on the cover of a box. Which, these days, is likely to be black, with a strip of elements in a solitary colour along the bottom. Bearing the nomenclature: 18+.

When I build LEGO sets these days, one of two things happens: I pour the elements onto a series of white dinner plates, one bag per plate. Alternatively, as you might have seen on our recent reviews, Mrs Rambling Brick knolls the elements out, only to have me knock a few out of place while I take the tray over to be photographed. We have recently obtained some trays explicitly for this purpose, and I hope the end result is helping you so search out the elements present in the sets that we are reviewing.

In this age of numbered bags, there are never too many elements to sort through at a time. In fact, I rarely find elements to be stacked more than one deep on the plate. Even if the parts have not been sorted for me, they are typically easily found, without disturbing the others. Building can proceed in an almost silent fashion: the only sounds being the ‘click’ as parts go together, and the clutch engages. Or the occasional curse as a small element leaps out of my hands and rolls across the floor.

And even if we are free building with a purpose. If we have our elements sorted (a mythical state, characterised by a few too many sets of small drawers against the walls in your build room, sticky labels specifying annual varients of an element and the ability to put your hands on any part you own within five seconds of starting to look for it), we rarely experience the wholesale tinkle of rummaging our hands through a box of unsorted bricks.

Compared with childhood play, the build is now a relatively silent activity.

For me, this is the sound of LEGO play:

Putting our hands into a box, layered about 5 bricks deep, and swirling them around. Searching for the next part for your build. You might be searching for something specific, as you rebuild a set long dismantled and repurposed. You might be free building, creating a masterpiece that others might or might not appreciate. Or you might just be looking for a little bit of tactile stimulation. In this era of social distancing, and minimising unnecessary physical contact between humans, the tangible feeling of bricks running between your fingers, is remarkably satisfying. Creating a sound with a remarkably complex rhythm, variable pitch, changing with a moments whim, as you continue to search for that elusive element, or just get lost in the moment can be quite relaxing.

Of course, nothing can provoke a feeling of high anxiety, quite like that box of over a thousand unsorted elements falling off a table, and spilling everything over the floor. At least they weren’t sorted.

But why am I writing about this today?

Today, the LEGO Group released an ‘album’ on Spotify, iTunes and a dozen or so other platforms called ‘LEGO® White Noise’ You can link to it on Spotify here. A collection of seven tracks, each running for around 30 minutes each, we have a collection of sounds, generated by shifting and manipulating LEGO Elements.

I will be the first to admit, this is not the typical soundtrack that I build or relax to: I am more likely to listen to music in some shape or form- the genre can vary, but i will probably relax better without lyrics. I can rarely hear them clearly, or remember them if I do. I come away feeling that I missed out on an important part of the experience! That said, I fired up my music player, and hit “Go”…

Is it white noise? To me, white nose for me implies no underlying structure or pattern: the background residual radiation from the origin of the Universe. Static. Continuous. I would however agree that the playlist does produce a a soundscape, based on different characteristics of moving and manipulating LEGO Bricks.

Different tracks certainly have different characteristics. The tracks are not designed to be listened to closely, but rather to play in the background while you take on another pursuit: reading, building, thinking. Any activity that might work better with the rest of the world excluded.

LEGO® White Noise: the rundown.

A quick search for ‘LEGO White Noise’ on Spotify helped me to rapidly locate the playlist. There are seven tracks, each around 30 minutes long (well, all but one are exactly 30 minutes long. Searching for the one (Brick) checks in at 29:47. Oh so close)

The opening track, Built for Two, gives us the sounds of a traditional building experience: pages turning, and elements being moved, and clicked into place. And then the process repeats at different speeds.

Wild as the Wind is almost devoid of any musical tone, and is possibly one of the tracks most closely resembling white noise. We hear a gentle stirring stirring of bricks, and then it is gone. Only to return a few seconds later. Removing the pitch from the bricks certainly bring the track inline with a more ‘white noise’ experience, such as running water or a gentle breeze. As wild as the wind? Perhaps as mild as the breeze.

Searching For the One (Brick) gies us the sound of a small collection of parts being moved around, with an element being removed and then placed on a pile. Each phrase starts with a rustling rhythm, to be followed by a pause and a ‘tink’ – will it be high or low? Musical or muted? Each phrase is just different enough , in length and in pitch to be able to drift into the background as you listen to it.

It All Clicks feels like a rhythmic, pulsating tapping of bricks, followed by the sound of two cllicking together. Rythm is not entirely regular, but I found it to be possibly the most musical track of them all.

The Waterfall sounds just like that: thousands of elements falling continuously onto one other: there is little rythm, although we sense an occasional pulse, as more and more elements are dropped. We have the feeling of a continuous flow of elements, yet there is little change in the sound of them landing, as you migh expect. Whilst not musical, I certainly found listening to this track gave me an increasing sense of peace.

Big Hearted Bricks gives us few, louder, more musical sounds, with an increasing random rythm and feel. I was distracted here by the fact that, to me, the elements sounded more like wooden blocks, or ceramic tiles being stacked. I suspect, in fact, that this is based on the sounds of Duplo bricks beng shofted around.

Finally, The Night Builder: we have all been that person: the person struggling to keep it quiet, while the lat night sounds surround you. this track features very quiet building, almost drowned out by ambient sounds: unnaturally high gain on the microphone helps us to detect other sounds in the background noice: distant traffic; the nocturnal chirps of cicadas, and over this, the sounds of gathering elements, occasioanlly dropping one or two, occasionally turning a page, clicking parts together and trying ever so hard to be quiet.

Are these tracks white noise? With the exception of a couple of tracks, I would describe them as background noise; a soundscape which you might find helpful to block out the ambient noises around you. Is this the soundtrack to build by? I will let you be the judge of that. I know that I often find my building gets distracted by someone else entering my space, and filling my world with distracting sounds. this may well help me out!

I do find that aspects of some tracks feel a little contrived, which perhaps makes it hard for me to lose myself in the moment while listening to them. They each have a different rythm and sound, and I found that I responded on a visceral level to some more than I did others.

In the meantime, here is the official word on them:

Today, the LEGO Group is launching LEGO® White Noise, a new playlist designed to help listeners find a moment of relaxation in their busy lives. The playlist is composed of a series of audio tracks created using nothing but the iconic sounds that the LEGO brick makes, sounds that are recognised by generations all over the world.

Each LEGO element makes a unique noise, which is why designers experimented with over 10,000 in their quest for the perfect soothing sounds. The result is a soundscape that includes tracks such as ‘It All Clicks’ which perfectly captures the joyous sound of two LEGO elements joining together, and ‘The Waterfall’ created by pouring thousands of LEGO bricks on top of each other.Lifestyle image og a woman building LEGO while listening the LEGO White Noise playlist

Like other white noise tracks, the playlist is designed to help listeners find a moment of zen in their day, making it the perfect audio accompaniment for falling asleep, unwinding, or relaxing through LEGO building.

The playlist can be accessed for free from over 15 different music streaming platforms including Spotify and iTunes.

The LEGO White Noise playlist has been released to accompany the immersive LEGO Botanical Collection building experience, following research that found that almost three quarters (73%) of adults are on the hunt for new ways to destress(1).Lifestyle image of LEGO pieces spred across a table and a hand looking for bricks to start building

The new LEGO Botanical Collection includes the LEGO Flower Bouquet and the LEGO Bonsai Tree that are designed to offer adults an immersive building experiences to help them express their creativity and destress as they build a beautiful model that can be proudly displayed when completed. Both sets are available now from LEGO.com, LEGO Stores and other retailers globally.

Overall, I found listening to this playlist an interesting experience. I can see people experimenting with it as the background soundtrack for their builds: I expect people will have a variable experience there. Personally, I have found it useful for masking out the other sounds around the house, as I type this post up.

I would recommend giving it a try: not every track will work well for you, either as a distraction, or as background noise. And I think thats OK. As we start entering the realms of mindfulness and relaxation, we all respond somewhat differently. However, the contrived nature of some of the rhythms experienced, as well as the audio post processing to either minimalist or accentuate the musicality of individual brick placements disctract from this feeling like an album of the ‘Sound of childhood’: Searching for the elements you need to build your model: the search for some will be over shortly, the search for others might take minutes, or ultimately be given up on, with the inner child left wondering if it has been lost forever, or merely used in last month’s MOCs, sitting on that shelf over there. Now, should I pull it apart and repurpose the elements?

I find that, for myself, rummaging in the LEGO box is an almost synaesthetic experience: sounds being experienced as touch (or vice versa), with instant feedback on how the quest is proceeding only enhances the experience, and that is something that this contemporary remix cannot achieve to the same level

I’d love to know what you think about the idea of listening to the sounds of LEGO Bricks, either while building or undertaking other mindful tasks. Do you just wear headphones so that other members of the household will think twice before disturbing you?

Why not leave your comments below, and until next time,

Play Well!

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