Loud music

The pandemic’s changing soundscape

Photo credit: Sanaan Mazhar from Pexels

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition

Bridget Read, The Cut, identifies the past eight months of the COVID-19 pandemic in terms of the dimmed and heightened sounds in her environment. She associates the start of the pandemic with the silencing of many of the customary sounds in the environment, e.g. less horn honking, no din from restaurants, the absence of the voices and shouts of children as they leave school at three p.m. On the other hand, the increase in ambulance sirens reminded her, as it did many of us, of the people who had fallen victim to COVID-19. This thought also brought us greater fear.

April brought on the sounds of clapping in the evenings to say “Thank you” to our hospital workers, postal workers and grocery store employees. In late May, Read writes that there was the explosion of sounds that accompanied the marches and demonstrations after the death of George Floyd at the hands of police. July 4th is generally recognized with fireworks, but July 4, 2020, brought about many more localized fireworks that actually started before the 4th and went on for weeks afterwards. But as the summer ended and autumn approached, Read writes that there was a quieter period as if people were holding their breath as they reflected on a potential second wave of the pandemic.

November was ushered in by long lines of people waiting to vote and quietly reflecting on who would be elected the next president. Then, on a warm Saturday in early November, Read was overwhelmed by cheers, clapping, car honking, and loud talking from the streets. Everyone seemed to be making lots of noise. What brought about all these sounds–Donald Trump had lost the election.

More excitement followed for the next few days with people rushing out into the streets to celebrate the election of Joseph Biden. Music seemed to be everywhere as people danced in the streets. These sounds that accompanied joy may have been brief, according to Read, but the joy was real.

Dr. Arline Bronzaft is a researcher, writer, and consultant on the adverse effects of noise on mental and physical health. She is co-author of “Why Noise Matters,” author of “Listen to the Raindrops” (children’s book illustrated by Steven Parton), and has written extensively about noise in books, encyclopedias, academic journals, and the popular press.  In addition, she is a Professor Emerita of the City University of New York and Board member of GrowNYC.

Pets suffer from noise exposure, too

Photo credit: Charles from Pexels

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This piece from the UK is a reminder that pets suffer from noise exposure, too. Susan C. Kahler, writing for the American Veterinary Medical Association, reported that ecent research from Harris Polls showed that a whopping 44% of dog owners they surveyed said their pets suffer from noise exposure.

Kahler interviewed veterinary researcher Sharon L. Campbell, DVM, MS, DACVIM, who says that “[c]anine noise aversion—also known as noise anxiety or phobia—affects 67% of dogs in the United States.” Dr. Campbell lists triggers like fireworks, thunder, construction, sirens, street noise, sporting events, lawnmowers and landscape maintenance equipment, snowplows and garbage trucks as the most frequent outdoor noises that cause problems for pets. But she also lists the following indoor noises that can also trigger noise anxiety: doorbells, vacuum cleaners, construction, electronics (cell phones, microwaves), sporting events on TV, celebrations (family, friends), and smoke detectors.

What about treatment? Dr Campbell discusses three approaches: environmental management, behavioral modification, and pharmacologic agents—all of which can be very helpful. But the best first step is to get your pet’s anxiety or phobia diagnosed by a caring professional and then consider which treatment option to try. Dr. Campbell doesn’t talk about hearing damage or whether pets can suffer from tinnitus or hyperacusis, but that too is something to consider.

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Staying at home with noisy neighbors

Photo credit: Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition

While complaints about outdoor noises such as those from construction and neighborhood pubs and bars have declined in New York City, neighbor-to-neighbor complaints have increased. In their article “Lockdown: Noisy neighbours are ruining my life,” Manish Pandey and Will Chalk similarly report that since the UK went into lockdown, individuals are complaining about their neighbors’ noises not giving them any “peace and quiet.” Pandey and Chalk queried 103 councils in the UK and those who responded reported a rise in neighbor-to-neighbor complaints.

Dan Sanders, the head of the Association of Noise Consultants in the UK, believes the rise in complaints is related to the fact that “so many people are spending a lot more time at home.” He could add that in many cases individuals are now working from home and noise intrusions could be especially disruptive. He goes on to suggest that talking to a neighbor should be the first step before filing a noise complaint. Under normal circumstances resolving noise complaints, through complaints to appropriate agencies, takes time and under the present circumstances, it would probably take longer.

However, we must not forget that neighbor-to-neighbor noise complaints have been a problem before the pandemic. “Neighbour/Neighbourhood Noise” is a chapter written by Val Weedon of the UK, a long-term advocate for a less noisy environment, in the book “Why Noise Matters.” In her chapter of the book, published in 2011, Weedon cites studies that show that neighbor noise has been a problem in the UK for decades.

This is also true in New York City and elsewhere. While neighbor to neighbor noise can be resolved through conversations amongst neighbors, as Sanders suggests, this does not happen that frequently. Such resolutions depend on people respecting the right of others. And while Blanche DuBois in “A Streetcar Named Desire” stated that she “…always depended on the kindness of strangers,” I would have to say that individuals exposed to noisy neighbors will too frequently have to depend on the law to protect their right to some quiet.

In New York City and the UK, too often one finds that very few violations are issued in response to noise complaints to the appropriate authorities charged with enforcing noise ordinances. Thus, many individuals have to seek other means to resolve noise complaints. Remember, noise is a hazard to one’s mental and physical health.

In New York City, as a member of GrowNYC overseeing its noise activities, I have been asked many times to help with noise complaints as have the city’s public officials. I assume we will continue coping with neighbor-to-neighbor noise complaints after this horrific pandemic but, maybe after the difficulties we have all experienced these past few months, urban dwellers will express some of the kindness towards others in line with Blanche DuBois’ frequently quoted words.

Dr. Arline Bronzaft is a researcher, writer, and consultant on the adverse effects of noise on mental and physical health. She is co-author of “Why Noise Matters,” author of “Listen to the Raindrops” (children’s book illustrated by Steven Parton), and has written extensively about noise in books, encyclopedias, academic journals, and the popular press.  In addition, she is a Professor Emerita of the City University of New York and Board member of GrowNYC.

How classical music got louder

Photo credit: Liam Keane licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This wonderful piece in the New York Times discusses how classical music evolved from quiet to loud. The article discusses both how composers wrote generally quiet music until Beethoven started writing louder music, with those who followed him writing even louder music. Then orchestras started playing more loudly, to the point where audiences put their fingers in their ears during the loudest passages.

My wife and I attend concerts of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. When Essa-Pekka Salonen was music director, his specialty was conducting Mahler’s works. The sound levels were tolerable.

I developed tinnitus and hyperacusis at the end of 2007, after a one-time exposure to loud noise at a New Year’s Eve dinner in a restaurant.

The current music director, the wonderful Gustavo Dudamel, replaced Maestro Salonen in 2009. Gustavo–everybody in LA just calls him Gustavo–conducts the orchestra at a greater sound level. Especially for works like Stravinsky’s Firebird, I find the sound painfully loud.

I just insert my earplugs and enjoy the concert comfortably.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He 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. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.