Author Archive: GMB

What does your city sound like?

Photo credit: Thomas licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

DW.com columnist Gero Schliess writes about the sound of Berlin. He invites the reader to “[c]lose your eyes” and “[i]magine a stroll through your city, with your eyes closed, but open ears.” As he meanders through his tour of Berlin, he tells us what he hears and how it reflects the city’s current state of being. His ramble veers off occasionally, as he mentions that the Berlin state government has published a “strategic noise map,” but notes that although noise pollution is a deadly problem, “the city doesn’t lift a finger except for printing pretty noise maps.”

Another interesting fact Schliess tells us is Berlin’s state government’s approach to dealing with noisy nightclubs.  Rather than fining them, the government “has set up a €1-million ($1.24-million) fund to help night clubs pay for extra noise insulation measure.”  While Schliess applauds the program, he laments the loss of what he calls “heavenly sounds”–“[t]he booming bass, the shrieking exalted party people–due to the heavy hand of the law, which has turned “former party miles like Prenzlauer Berg into quiet bedroom suburbs.”

Whether you agree or disagree with his appreciation of all of Berlins sounds (except the traffic noise), we think you’ll agree that Schliess’ piece is a unique observation of a city. And it makes you consider how odd it is that a city’s soundscape is so important to its character, yet it is mostly ignored by those who attempt to describe it.

 

 

Is there universality in music?

Photo credit: shankar s. licensed under CC BY 2.0

By Antonella Radicchi, PhD, Steering Committee Member, The Quiet Coalition

Despite its inherently subjective nature, music appears to be universal across different cultures around the globe, according to the findings of a hot-off-the-press Harvard study published January in Current Biology.

This interdisciplinary study, run by an international team of scientists from Harvard University and the Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse, produced significant findings that suggest people can infer song function on the basis of song form alone, regardless of the song’s cultural origin.

The scientists were committed to filling the gap of knowledge regarding the lack of empirical evidence for whether or not different types of music share common features across cultures. To address this issue they designed a study based on two experiments.

In the first experiment, 750 online participants in 60 countries were asked to listen to 14-second long excerpts of songs collected from nearly 90 small societies around the globe. The songs were drawn from the collection of the Natural History of Song–a Harvard-based project investigating the world’s vocal music–and focused on three types: dance, healing, and lullaby. Participants were then asked to rate the association between the vocal songs and their potential functions, on a scale composed of six prevalent functions, such as dancing, soothing a baby, healing illness, expressing love, mourning a death, and telling a story.

Data collected through first experiment showed that people were able to infer the song function only on the basis of the song form, despite the random sampling of the songs, the short duration of the excerpts, and the unfamiliarity of the online participants with the cultures were the songs originated. This finding contradicted academic expert projections–when ethnomusicologists were asked by the scientists whether people could deduct the song function from the song from or not, they were skeptical and expressed doubt. But they were wrong.

The scientists continued with a second experiment that evaluated potential commonalities in music making across cultures by asking the online participants to rate contextual and musical features, such as the number and gender of the singers, the melodic complexity of the songs, etc. Again, the results were very consistent, and by comparing the results form both the experiments scientists were able to argue that common musical features exist across cultural boundaries.

Despite the promising results, a significant weakness affects the study, as highlighted by the lead scientist: the participants were people who have had access to Internet and probably were familiar with vocal songs from different cultures. In this regard, it remains unclear whether the results reveal the structure of the human mind or they tell us how and what the contemporary listeners hear in world music.

This bias will be addressed in a follow-up study in which the survey will be translated in 24 languages so the scientists can extend the number of countries involved. Furthermore–and this sounds very exciting!–the scientists aim to bring the study into the field and play in real time songs excerpts for members of small societies based in Indonesia, Ethiopia, and elsewhere.

Stay tuned for further amazing results!

Dr. Radicchi’s main area of expertise encompasses innovative urban design and planning, soundscape research, citizen science, and mobile technology. Her ultimate goal is to design environmentally just and human scale cities. Dr. Radicchi is a registered architect, and she holds a Ph.D. in Urban Design and Territorial Planning, with doctoral studies conducted at MIT and at the University of Firenze. She is currently an Ipodi-Marie Curie Fellow at TU Berlin Institute of City & Regional Planning, where she has created and run two innovative soundscape projects, including the Hush City app, a citizen science tool for empowering people to identify, map, and evaluate quiet areas worldwide.  Dr. Radicchi is a steering committee member of The Quiet Coalition.

Looking for a quiet place?

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This review of a science fiction horror movie, A Quiet Place, discusses the movie’s basic premise, namely: “Living an isolated existence, the onscreen duo are trying to protect their children from an unseen menace. As the trailer tells us, if they hear you, they’ll hunt you.“

That’s a very interesting premise for a movie, regardless of what the menace is. The hearing sense evolved from a primitive vibration sense, which developed in primitive one-celled organisms to help them either find food or avoid becoming another organism’s food. Humans and our invertebrate, vertebrate, and primate ancestors evolved in quiet, as shown by the National Park Service noise map. And there was no selective advantage to any protective mechanisms from loud noise; in fact, from the external ear to the auditory canal to middle ear and inner ear adaptations, everything possible was done for the human ear to amplify sound.

This is why noise is so bad for humans. And all parents would be wise to protect their children from the unseen menace of noise causing hearing loss.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America.

 

It’s noisy out there!

Photo credit: Marc Smith licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This piece by author Teddy Wayne in the New York Times discusses “the cacophony produced by today’s mobile phone or tablet” and how we have somehow become inured to it. I’m not sure I understand all the points made, but I agree with this statement: “It’s noisy as heck out there.”

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America.

 

Join us and others in measuring noise

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

There are now at least two apps to measure and report restaurant noise, and two apps to measure and report outdoor noise or urban soundscapes.

Anyone concerned about noise, as we are, should install one or more of these apps on his or her smart phone and start reporting noise levels.

All of these apps are free and rely on crowdsourcing to get city wide data. So down load one–or all of them–and help gather data to make your city or town a more tolerable place. Data from SoundPrint was used in a study presented at the 174th meeting of the Acoustical Society of America documenting excessive noise levels in restaurants and bars in New York City.

The apps are listed alphabetically in each category:

For restaurant noise:

iHearU

SoundPrint

For urban soundscapes:

Hush City App

NoiseScore

DISCLOSURE: I serve as Medical Advisor for SoundPrint.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America.

Nick Foles may have won Most Valuable Player at the Super Bowl last week

Photo credit: Matthew Straubmuller licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

But his daughter stole the Super Bowl limelight in this wonderful picture.

So what does Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles know about protecting his daughter’s ears that most parents and most pediatricians don’t know?

He knows that noise is bad for children’s ears, causing auditory damage including hearing loss.

Football stadiums are among the noisiest places in the U.S., with the noise record exceeding allowable occupational exposure levels, so Nick Foles absolutely did the right thing.

We hope all parents will follow his example.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America.

Winter’s unique silence

Jaymee Squires, Vail Daily, writes about sound and quiet on a winter’s day. Says Squires:

[W]inter is noisier than other seasons in some ways, as our snowshoes crunch through layers of crusty snow, or our skis swish along. But when you stop in winter, you really do notice sound. It might be snow falling from a branch, as the light fluffy snow crystals slowly turn to heavy droplets of water in the heat of the rising sun, or the chirping of a chickadee, but sound seems to stand out against the backdrop of winter.

Click the link above to read the entire post.