Silencity

The Truth About Noise

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Enjoying the sounds of nature

 

Photo credit: Bruce Tremper licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Josh Wennergreen, a recent graduate from the University of Utah’s Environmental Humanities Graduate Program, pens an ode to the joys of nature. Wennergreen is an inveterate hiker who spends weekends hiking and camping in nearby canyons and national parks.  He asks us to “[t]hink of all the human-made noise we hear in a single day: car engines, helicopters, computer pings, phone chirps, pounding construction, cash drawers closing,” lamenting that “It’s endless.”

And he examines the effect of all that noise on the human body, finding, unsurprisingly, that it’s not good for human health. Wennergreen cites a German study of one million people who live near airports that found a whole host of horribles that befalls those “plagued by background noise (jet engines, leaf blowers, cars)….[like] an increased risk of kidney failure, cardiovascular diseases, and dementia compared to people who lived in quitter settings.”

His advice is simple. “Never has it been more vital to re-charge in the mountains, to hear the wild soundscape,” he writes, adding that “[t]his is not some new-age plea, this is an urgent public health crisis.”

So find some time to get away to the mountains or the nearest national park. Just make sure to follow Wennergreen’s advice to “not be the loudest thing around” as you enjoy nature, because “[j]ust as a candy wrapper clinging to branches of a trail-side oak is litter on the natural landscape, loud and boisterous behavior is litter on the natural soundscape.”

What does making money sound like?

Photo credit: BalticServers.com licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Not very good, apparently, as the Missoulian reports that noise from a Bitcoin data center is disturbing neighbors. Surely it can’t be that loud, can it? Yes, yes it can. According to the data centers exasperated neighbors, it sounds feels like you are “sitting on a tarmac when a jet engine is winding up to take off, but the plane never leaves.”

And so we learn about the unintended consequences of chasing a dollar bitcoin.

A lowly fly may offer hope to hearing loss sufferers

Photo credit: Jpaur licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

And Michelle Pucci, TVO, tells us how in her article, “How a tiny fly on a treadmill could lead to better hearing aids.” Pucci introduces us to the research team studying the ormia ochracea, a small fly that is drawn to “crickets’ singing, but no one quite knows how it manages to pick out that sound amid the cacophony of the natural world and locate it so precisely.” Why is this important?  Because if researchers can determine how the fly “pinpoints individual sounds in a noisy setting,” writes Pucci, “it could help solve the so-called cocktail party problem — the one that makes it tough for your grandmother to hear what you’re saying at family functions (and causes her to shout at you), because her hearing aid picks up too much background noise.”

Andrew Mason, a biologist at the University of Toronto explains that the fly’s “eardrums work like a scale, and incoming noises tip the balance.” Unlike humans, the fly’s “eardrums are connected — which Mason says could explain why the fly tries to interpret the different levels of sound it receives in both ears.”  Humans, on the other hand, can “locate and isolate the sounds they want to listen to, even in noisy environments, if the sources are far enough away from one another.”

The problem hearing aid wearers experience is that “it’s impossible to focus on a single conversation in a noisy room…because hearing aids trick the ear into thinking all those sounds are the same distance away.” That is, the hearing aid amplifies everything, making the task of concentrating on one conversation among many impossible. As researchers learn more about the ormia ochracea’s excellent sound-location abilities, engineers have used that knowledge.  Today, mics in some hearing aid design “mimic the fly’s ear structure,” and “research groups around the world are working on hearing aids that would allow the wearer to home in on different frequencies.”

So why do ormia ochracea search for crickets?  The answer is pretty grim:

[T]he female deposits its spawn inside the crickets, who sing when looking for a mate. Black-striped larvae then hatch inside the doomed cricket and scrape at its innards for 10 days…before “bursting out of the side like in Alien.”

The perils of the “sharing economy”?

 

Party at the neighbor’s place?

Airbnb “all-night rave” drives neighbors mad. The Sun (yes, we know) reports that “[more] than 100 party-goers held a noisy ‘all-night rave’ at an Airbnb flat in a posh London street – even bringing their own sound system and a bouncer to guard the door.” The neighbors, unsurprisingly, were unhappy. In the end, the neighbors won’t likely have to deal with regular raves at the address in question, as both the landlord and Airbnb were contacted. The Airbnb spokesperson stated that Airbnb has “zero tolerance for this kind of behaviour” and that they had “removed the guest from Airbnb,” adding that “[t]here have been over 180 million guest arrivals in Airbnb listings and negative incidents like this are incredibly rare.”

We wonder how the spokesperson defines “incredibly rare,” because while these sort of abuses of Airbnb rentals probably are not common, a Dallas startup exists to address this very situation. NoiseAware came to being because one of the founders, Dave Krauss, was engaged in the (sketchy) business of reletting apartments for short-term rentals on Airbnb. One Airbnb guest threw a loud party that resulted in Krauss getting a cease and desist letter from an apartment manager, which ultimately caused him to lose $30,000 on the apartment. In response, Krauss developed a noise monitor that alerts an owner when the noise in his or her apartment passes a certain level. Apparently investors liked what they saw, because NoiseAware received $1 million in funding.

Perhaps the better way to deter loud raves in residential buildings is to ban short-term rentals via Airbnb and its competitors? After all, it’s easy for people to engage in anti-social behavior when then are only staying the night.

Is man-made noise making desert insects disappear?

Photo credit: Ferran Pestaña licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Veronique Greenwood, The Atlantic, writes about the gas compressors in the San Juan Basin of New Mexico and the effect they are having on desert insects. The San Juan Basin is “the nation’s second-largest natural gas field, [where] for miles in every direction, gas compressors are running more or less constantly, filling the desert with their eerie, broadband roar.” When compressors are near people, Greenwood reports, efforts are made to dampen the sound, but not so when the only thing that can hear them are the creatures that live in the desert.

What do the compressors sound like? Greenwood says that they “create a curiously oppressive noise, with both high and low frequencies at very high volume, running 24 hours a day, seven days a week, nearly 52 weeks a year.” Sounds hellish. And apparently desert insects agree, as ecologists have discovered that many insect groups are disturbed by the compressors “and by high decibel levels of noise in general.” How disturbed? Although some insects groups showed no change, “[t]here were 24-percent fewer grasshoppers in compressor plots, 52-percent fewer froghoppers, and a whopping 95-percent fewer cave, camel, and spider crickets.”

The long-term effects aren’t exactly known–one researcher noted that the study was “is just the very tip of the iceberg”–but as insects avoid the sound of man-made noise, their altered behavior will likely affect the bats and birds that eat them.

Click the link above to read the entire piece.

 

 

The high cost of hearing aids might be coming down

Photo credit: ReSound licensed under CC BY 3.0

Paula Span, the New York Times, writes about legislation making its way through Congress that could make hearing aids cheaper and more accessible. Currently, people needing hearing aids must spend at least $1,500 to $2,000 per hearing aid–double that for a pair–because the price includes bundled audiology services. But under the Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act of 2017, the Food and Drug Administration would be charged with creating “a regulatory category for [over-the-counter] devices and to establish standards for safety, effectiveness and labeling.”

One reason hearing aids would be significantly cheaper if this bill is enacted is that consumers would not have to go to an audiologist to get them, as they are required to do today. Rather, consumers could opt to purchase audiology services to help adjust each device, but they wouldn’t be required to do so.

And lowering the cost is important as hearing aid wearers tend to be older and “Medicare coverage of hearing aids [is] prohibited by law.” But can consumers adequately adjust their own hearing aids? Swan reports on an Indiana University double-blind clinical trial where researchers worked with participants who never wore hearing aids before. The researchers “compared the experiences of those randomly assigned to full-bore audiology services and those making over-the-counter selections,” and determined that “[i]t didn’t matter whether the audiologist fitted them or the consumer made his own choice…[t]hey both were effective, and they didn’t differ.” Given that hearing loss has a profound effect on overall health and not just hearing health, providing a low-cost option to seniors makes a lot of sense.

But Daniel Fink, MD, Chair of The Quiet Coalition, says that hearing aids do not work as well as people may suspect, which is why many people who have them rarely use them. Rather than focusing all of our attention and resources on treating hearing loss after it occurs, Dr. Fink believes we should also be focusing our efforts on preventing hearing loss in the first instance. As Dr. Fink notes, noise causes hearing loss, tinnitus, and hyperacusis, and we could greatly diminish the instances of these disorders by reasonably regulating noise and making people aware that loud sound today means hearing loss tomorrow.

State: New York City needs to improve response to noise complaints

Photo credit: Keng-Yu Lin licensed under CC BY 2.0

New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli has released an audit showing a “growing number of noise complaints related to nightlife establishments in New York City,” with noise complaints more than doubling between 2010 and 2015. DiNapoli says that the audit “highlights the need for the New York State Liquor Authority (SLA) and the New York City Police Department (NYPD) to better communicate and crack down on bars and clubs with persistent noise problems.” Despite the doubling of complaints, “including tens of thousands involving nightlife,” DiNapoli’s auditors “found limited communication between the SLA and NYPD to address the grievances.” Incredibly, bars and nightclubs with “hundreds of complaints lodged against them faced little or no repercussions.”

Residents of the Lower East Side, an area hit particularly hard by nightlife noise, won’t be surprised by the report, as that neighborhood has become increasingly popular as a nightlife destination. In fact, residents there are working together to stop a force they see destroying their quality of life. Stacey Delikat, Fox5NY, writes about the residents’ efforts, and reports that party buses pull up at 2:00 a.m., the streets are clogged with drunks, and there is vomit on the sidewalks, something the residents call “just an average weekend on the Lower East Side.”

So now that the state and city are aware of the increase in complaints and the failure to address them, what’s the plan? DiNapoli recommends that the SLA “develop a formal process to access and analyze 311 noise complaint data….and develop and implement a formal communication protocol with the NYPD” and other public oversight authorities responsible for addressing noise matters that “pertain to SLA-licensed establishments.” DiNapoli also suggests that the NYPD enhance record keeping of noise complaints to improve “management analysis of response times and the effectiveness of the actions taken” and develop “system-wide procedures to follow up on establishments with high volumes of noise complaints” that include “periodic communications with the SLA.”

While better communication between the NYPD and SLA can’t hurt, the report states that although the SLA took actions against establishments with a high level of complaints, “actions were rarely taken (if ever) against certain establishments with comparatively high levels of noise complaints.” Rather, the report notes, “officials usually do not open cases based solely on noise complaints, such complaints are coupled with other issues (such as alcohol sales to minors or non-compliance with building codes) that officials believe are of greater importance.” Perhaps the report should simply have recommended that the SLA make noise complaints a higher priority.

In any event, within 90 days of the Comptroller’s report the SLA is obligated to report to the governor, comptroller, and various legislative leaders to tell them what steps were taken to implement recommendations, which recommendations were not taken, and why; the NYPD is requested to do the same.

Next up? The press release ends with a note that the Comptroller “is currently conducting an audit on construction noise in the city.”

 

“In Pursuit of Silence” opens in NYC and LA

In Pursuit of Silence opens in New York City on June 23rd, and in Los Angeles on June 30th. So, what’s the film about?  The producers explain:

In Pursuit of Silence is a meditative exploration of our relationship with silence, sound and the impact of noise on our lives. Beginning with an ode to John Cage’s ground-breaking composition 4’33”, In Pursuit of Silence takes us on an immersive cinematic journey around the globe– from a traditional tea ceremony in Kyoto, to the streets of the loudest city on the planet, Mumbai during the wild festival season – and inspires us to experience silence and celebrate the wonders of our world.

The film made the rounds of the film festival circuit last year–the upcoming New York City opening is its theatrical premier.  If you’re not near New York City or Los Angeles, click this link for a current listing of screenings or sign up for the mailing list to be notified of upcoming events in your area.

Here’s a preview:

 

The disappearing soundscape

Photo credit: David Berry licensed under CC BY 2.0

Livia Albeck-Ripka, Vice, writes about Bernie Krause, soundscape ecologist, and his lilfe’s work in “This is what extinction sounds like.” Albeck-Ripka tells use about how Krause came to spend a lifetime recording the sounds of our natural world:

He might have guessed where his career was heading, having scored Apocalypse Now and been an early adopter of the plastic sound of 80s synth. Back then, Krause thought of the natural world as mere ambience. Earlier, he had been a violinist, a guitarist, and part of the folk band the Weavers. But in 1968, commissioned by Warner Bros. to make an album that included some samples from nature, he ventured just north of San Francisco into the Muir Woods one October afternoon and had an epiphany.

“The moment I switched on the recorder and heard the incredible impact of the outdoor space,” Krause told me recently, “I made the decision then and there to find a way to do that for the remainder of my life.”

But now, Albeck-Ropka writes, “he has become an expert in the sound of extinction.”

Although our planet is under a lot of stress, it’s not entirely grim–there are signs that the natural world finds a way to continue on. Click the link above to read the entire article.

Link via @QuietMark.

Quiz: Who invented the first sound recording device?

Nope, not this guy.

by David Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

If you’re recently downloaded a sound-meter app onto your smartphone, or purchased a handheld sound-level meter, so that you can begin gathering data on unnecessary noise in the places you care about, then this bit of history may interest you. Here’s the quiz question: Who invented the first device for recording sound? If you guessed Thomas Alva Edison (who was famously deaf), you’re wrong. Edison didn’t (re)-invent the sound-recording device until 20 years after the first guy, a Frenchman named Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinsville, patented his invention in 1857.

Unfortunately, M. de Martinville didn’t know what to do with his invention, so he never pursued it. That didn’t stop him from being annoyed when Edison showed up in Paris 20 years later with his own sound recording device covered by American patents. But then Edison didn’t know what to do with it either—he thought he was perfecting Alexander Bell’s work. Only later did Edison decide to market his discovery as the “phonograph”—i.e., a device for recording and playing back sounds, thereby inventing the recording industry as well as the sound-level meter and a whole profession devoted to measuring noise.

Interested in history? Then you’ll definitely want to follow the Princeton researcher and MacArthur Fellow who re-discovered M. de Martinsville, Emily Thomson PhD. And if you’re reading this column you’re probably interested in urban noise and what can be done about it. Well, Dr. Thompson has written a fascinating book about urban noise and its history titled,“The Soundscape of Modernity: Architectural Acoustics and the Culture of Listening in America, 1900-1933” (MIT Press, 2002).

Dr. Thompson is definitely worth knowing about, and her work is a pleasure to read.

Originally posted at The Quiet Coalition.

David Sykes chairs/co-chairs four national professional groups in acoustical science: The Acoustics Research Council, ANSI S12 WG44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group. He is also a board member of the American Tinnitus Association, co-founder of the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), and a contributor to “Technology for a Quieter America” (2011, National Academy of Engineering). A graduate of the University of California/Berkeley with graduate degrees from Cornell University, he is a frequent organizer of and speaker at professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.