Feedback Loop

It is always times like these that drive us to overestimate the scope of our reach and importance. Online and in discussions—though principally online—we can all observe the poverty of interpersonal relationships and communication. It seems each of us have become convinced that our opinions are truth, and that, well, everyone should know them.

As we enter deeply into this year’s political cycle (if only it were a cycle that had an end), we’re largely captive audiences, confined to our homes in a way that is unlike anything we have experienced in any of our lifetimes. In a way, we’re trapped in small echo chambers with those closest to us, who most often share our views, and with those media inputs we choose, based on how closely they align with our views.

These behaviors reinforce our opinions and re-resonate in our homes in a way that begins to damage something or someone.

One of the most common malfunctions in dealing with sound equipment is feedback. A “feedback loop” is always caused by sounds coming out of the speakers and regenerating by going back into a live microphone, back out the speakers, and in again through the microphone, and the cycle persists until a change is made to stop it. In a way, it’s the very worst kind of recycling, in which the system seizes on the most prominent frequency and amplifies it over and over again.

That most prominent frequency quickly becomes the only thing anyone can hear, and it saturates the speakers and assaults the ears with a focused, intense insistence.

There are two ways of stopping that feedback loop. One is by limiting the speaker output to a level that doesn’t feed sound back into the microphone(s). The other is by attenuating the sensitivity of the microphone to where it does not accept so much input from sound sources—instruments, voices, or even the ambient sound of the room.

Think of the microphones as the ears of the room, and the speakers as the mouths. A sound system needs ears sensitive enough to add input that adds beauty and depth and fullness to the mix. Likewise, a sound system needs mouths that are wellregulated to accentuate and communicate what is valuable, beautiful, and fruitful to the listener.

Perhaps we ought to make efforts to make our homes more like that welltuned sound system. We need to have ears that are keen to what adds value and beauty—perhaps especially if it doesn’t match our own thoughts precisely. We need mouths that speak of truth and beauty and goodness. How would your home life be different if what resonated within its walls were truth, beauty, and goodness?

As I read the readings for this Sunday’s Mass, the words that struck me were from the (oft overlooked) second reading. “Who has known the mind of God or who has been his counselor (Romans 11:34)?” I am struck by how little personal (or rather the non-personal, anonymous, online) interactions reflect the mind of God, as revealed by Scripture and the Church. Surely, we are not so fool-headed as to believe we could perfect the Christian example of the Lord himself.

Maybe we ought to quiet our speakers until our microphones are picking up on the voice of God in our hearts. Maybe we need to mute our microphones to input that conflict with the Word of God and what it calls us to do and speak and believe both externally and internally.

David Dunst
Director of Music and Liturgy

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