General Motors’ building 104 at Milford Proving Grounds is pretty mundane, except for one thing. At the back, behind the offices lined with cabins and in several corridors, there is a room that never existed at GM until last year.
It’s GM’s Sound Design Studio and its only occupant is Jigar Kapadia, known as Jay. He is a 36-year-old classical musician with an engineering degree. He worked with rock stars and royalty flows in his blood. But more on that later.
In the studio, Kapadia types some chords on an electric keyboard and records them. A yoga guru, Kapadia briefly closes her eyes, takes a deep breath, exhales and listens to the recorded sounds. It awaits a sensitive internal response.
“I like to take a break, artistic freedom and think about how something translates from recording to feeling,” said Kapadia. “Sound is very close to the divine energy in us. It must first resonate with the creator.”
In this case, Kapadia East the creator. He is a senior performance engineer and sound director at GM. GM commissioned him to design the separate sounds that Cadillac vehicles will emit to warn of a head-on collision, a ajar door, low tire pressure, a turn signal, an unbuckled seat belt and 15 other notifications.
It also creates pedestrian-friendly external alert sounds for GM’s future electric vehicles, which without an internal combustion engine are silent when idling or moving.
“Sound is a very, very important and totally underestimated pillar,” said Kapadia. “But according to our research, sound evokes emotion and that is why sound becomes one of the most critical aspects of a car purchase.”
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It is fair to say that no car enthusiast would want to start a muscle car and not hear the thunderous reverberation of the V8 engine. This roar at full speed is sex on wheels and sex sells.
For this reason, many car manufacturers have been playing with the sound of vehicles for decades. About 20 years ago, Aston Martin began refining the exhaust sounds, said Karl Brauer, executive editor of Kelley Blue Book in Irvine, California.
Ford Motor Co. produced specific exhaust tones for the 2001 Bullitt Mustang, said Brauer. Ford wanted the car to sound like a bullet and remind the driver of the movie that made it famous. Ford engineers gave it a high-pitched exhaust tone, said Brauer.
But the exhaust tone was the extent to which engineers could manipulate the sound of the vehicle, so far, said Brauer. Car engines are increasingly suffocated by hybrid and start / stop technology. In addition, there is more technology in cars to alert drivers to dangers. This means that the sounds coming out of cars have gone from internal combustion to synthetically improved sounds made by humans, he said.
“If I get in my car and don’t think about sound, it’s probably because a group of sound engineers fact think a lot about the sound and make sure it doesn’t bother me, “said Brauer.” And if a driver hears sound, it should now be something that improves the experience. “
Engineer known as prince
Kapadia’s journey to GM’s sound laboratory began in Mumbai, India, where he was born and raised. His parents came from Indian royalty, which was part of the Rajput clan, originally from the city of Gujarat, just north of Mumbai, on the west coast of India, he said.
His great-grandfather was king until the British occupation in the mid-1800s removed the title. Kapadia says that people in his hometown still consider him a prince when he visits.
“It’s embarrassing,” said Kapadia. “I’m just an engineer at General Motors.”
Fascinated by healing at a young age, Kapadia spent each summer as a teenager in the Himalayan mountains studying yoga and Marma therapy, which is similar to acupuncture. He also learned how sound affects health.
“Any problem with your thyroid or problem with your throat, there is a frequency associated with it and if you play these frequencies for a few days it will help ease the symptoms,” said Kapadia.
At 18, Kapadia invented the app for Ektara, an app that presents a string instrument at a particular frequency used to relieve throat, heart or gallbladder problems, said Kapadia. He continues to treat people suffering from insomnia, depression and anxiety in a healthy way with his company Sparsh Healing in Bingham Farms, Michigan.
Rock star work
In search of self-sufficiency, Kapadia left India for New York at the age of 22. He enrolled at New York University and obtained a master’s degree in music technology in addition to his bachelor of science in electronics and telecommunications engineering from the Swami Vivekananda Institute of Technology. in Mumbai.
At NYU, Kapadia rubbed shoulders in show business. A close classmate was Stefani Germanotta, better known now as Lady Gaga. He also set up sound equipment for the mayor of New York at the time and now Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg.
“We would make jokes,” said Kapadia. “He’s an amazing guy.”
Kapadia learned the logistics of studio work at NYU. He also performed as a singer and musician and was able to merge his musical skills and keen studio sense to work for artists such as Alicia Keys, Busta Rhymes, Beyoncé, Jennifer Lopez and Shakira, to name a few. – some, both in the studio and in live shows.
But in 2014, he married a woman from Ann Arbor and they fled the Big Apple to Bloomfield Hills. Soon he was hanging out at a Starbucks across the street from GM’s Warren Tech Center where he sat and wondered if he could work for the automaker.
Right brain, left brain
In 2016, Kapadia was lucky.
GM hired him to work on vehicle speakers and amplifiers. But his boss saw potential for more Kapadia and soon he was creating car sounds.
Vehicles with the 20 new Kapadia sounds for Cadillac include the 2020 CT4 and CT5 SUV and the full-size Cadillac Escalade 2021 SUV. All new Cadillac deployments in the coming months will have the sounds of the Kapadia designed “library” he said.
The process of creating and choosing a single sound to signal something in a car takes about a year, said Kapadia. The job also requires him to use both his engineering skills and his artistic senses – a real effort on the right brain, the left brain, he said.
First, Kapadia must understand the design and engineering of the vehicle. Here, Kapadia often works at GM’s technical center in Warren with other engineers to understand the hardware capabilities of the vehicle.
As a luxury brand of GM, Cadillac speakers have a bandwidth of 100 to 10,000 hertz, he said, giving Kapadia a broad spectrum of frequencies for sound creation. The poor quality speakers have a bandwidth of 500 to 5,000 hertz, he said. The advantage of having a lower frequency available, he said, is that it can provide more subtle and relaxing sounds.
“A hip-hop song is a lower frequency because it is lower,” said Kapadia. “So a larger speaker can play that kind of sound, and a lower frequency gives you a better feeling of luxury.”
Next, Kapadia draws on its musical and curative experience to select tones that resonate with it to alert without annoying the consumer. The work requires an early shift.
“I make sounds between 4 and 6 am. It’s my energy booster, we call it the divine time of day,” said Kapadia. By “we”, he is referring to his 93-year-old guru, A. Parthasarathy, who teaches philosophy in India. “We all wake up at 4 am and continue our spiritual study. Between 4 and 6 hours, the intellect is available to work in a concentrated manner.”
And when he creates sound, he thinks of what a customer would like to hear.
“We want to differentiate Cadillac. How can this sound help the well-being of customers?” said Kapadia. “Sound is nothing but information and we want to make it enjoyable and if it can contribute even better to the well-being of the client.”
Once Kapadia has several sounds he likes, he presents them to “healthy juries” made up of 10 to 50 GM leaders. They winnow it with a few sounds. Then, the client clinics make the final selection.
But even then, it is not done.
Kapadia steps out of her studio, through longer corridors inside Building 104, into a room the size of a football field. This is called an anechoic chamber – anechoic means without echo.
The massive piece is designed to absorb all sound reflections. The walls line around 50 microphones to record any sound, even a falling pin. In fact, the human ear pulsates with a slight pressure that has just entered the room.
GM has about 10 other anechoic chambers on its campuses, but this one is the largest. Kapadia spends several minutes closing the heavy padded and padded doors of the bedroom.
Then, he climbs into an Escalade 2021 to test his sound creations, such as the seat belt indicator or the flashing light. He is happy.
“Do you hear it? It’s subtle and elegant. Sound must convey information, but be subtle,” said Kapadia.
If it was a prototype and the sound was not subtle or elegant enough, Kapadia would record it in the bedroom, then go back down the corridor to GM’s Sound Design Studio to modify it to perfection before final production.
On this day, Kapadia’s work is finished. He opens the massive doors to the bedroom and returns to the studio.
As part of its merged work process, Kapadia maintains a book of inspirational quotes, compiled by her guru in India. He also keeps in mind the words of his other gurus, GM CEO Mary Barra and GM president Mark Reuss, who is that the customer is at the center.
Then it does what it always does, it combines the two ideas.
“My philosophy teaches us how to act in the world and it’s not for paychecks, not for vacations, but how you can give back to this beautiful world in a good way,” said Kapadia. “I chose music, engineering and well-being. That’s what I do.”