Silence

How Much Silence Is Too Much?

Photo credit: Brian Oslinker

Daniel McDermon found out when he went to see a work by the artist Doug Wheeler entitled “PSAD Synthetic Desert III.”  What is this installation? It’s “a dead-silent room at the top of the Guggenheim Museum.” How did Wheeler creat a “dead-silent room?” According to McDermon, the inside of the room contains “enough noise-canceling material to make it probably the quietest place you’ll ever go, unless you’re an astronaut or a sound engineer.”

We think this sounds delightful, but McDermon states that too much hush can be unsettling.  He writes that Wheeler told his colleague that “[i]n a supersilent anechoic chamber, the most that most people can endure is about 40 minutes before they start going batty.”  But no worries about losing your composure in Wheeler’s installation, as McDermon writes that “Synthetic Desert” is not “going batty” quiet. Wheeler estimates that his piece may reach as low as 10 decibels, whereas an anechoic chamber can reach “noise levels below the threshold of human hearing.”

McDermon vivdly describes his visit to Synthetic Desert, and it is fascinating. Do click the link above to read his review.

If you are interested in experiencing it yourself, PSAD Synthetic Desert III will be available through August 2nd at the Guggenheim Museum. A timed ticket is required.

Feeling a bit stressed? Maybe this will help.

It’s true: The sound of nature helps us relax.  Researchers at the Brighton and Sussex Medical School (BSMS) have “found that playing ‘natural sounds’ affected the bodily systems that control the flight-or-fright and rest-digest autonomic nervous systems, with associated effects in the resting activity of the brain.” Science Daily reports that “[w]hile naturalistic sounds and ‘green’ environments have frequently been linked with promoting relaxation and wellbeing, until now there has been no scientific consensus as to how these effects come about.”

The researchers “conducted an experiment where participants listened to sounds recorded from natural and artificial environments,” during which their brain activity was measured and autonomic nervous system activity was monitored. The research team found that activity in the “default mode network of the brain (a collection of areas which are active when we are resting) was different depending on the sounds playing in the background.” Long and short, when listening to natural sounds “the brain connectivity reflected an outward-directed focus of attention,” whereas artificial sounds caused the brain connectivity to reflect “an inward-directed focus of attention, similar to states observed in anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.”  Interestingly, the change in brain activity depended on the participant’s stress level–those showing the greatest stress before the experiment “showed the greatest bodily relaxation when listening to natural sounds,” but those who were already relaxed showed “a slight increase in stress” when “listening to natural compared with artificial sounds.”

While helpful for treating people with anxiety, the study results will have a much greater reach. Science Daily notes that “the study of environmental exposure effects is of growing interest in physical and mental health settings, and greatly influences issues of public health and town planning.” Could a restful natural spot will be coming to your town?

Link via UK Noise Association.

Let’s hope this UK project comes to the U.S.:

Silence is golden in woodland for quiet reflection. Emily Flanagan, The Northern Echo, writes about Thorp Perrow Arboretum, a historic country estate, that is “the first garden in the north of England to take part in the Silent Space project, which invites public gardens to reserve an area where visitors can wander, or reflect silently away from phones and the distractions of modern life.” Flanagan tells us that Silent Space was the brainchild of garden writer Liz Ware, who felt that “[o]ur lives are very hectic and we rarely allow ourselves time to be quiet.”  Silent Spaces was established as a not-for-profit project in 2016, and a “handful of gardens that open to the public agreed to take part and to reserve an area where people could be silent.”

Click this link to learn more, including the rules governing silent spaces:

Once inside a Silent Space, we stop talking, turn off our phones and cameras, and switch off from social media. There are no other rules.

 

Noise, the “ignored pollutant.”

“The sonic backdrop to our lives is increasingly one of unwanted technospheric noise,” writes Paul Mobbs for the Ecologist.  Mobbs, an independent environmental researcher and author, explores the sounds of nature and the toll that noise takes “on our health, wellbeing and quality of life.”  He writes about a ritual he has engaged in from since before his teens, where a few times a year he goes for a walk “well before the dawn, in order to listen to the ‘dawn chorus.'” “Over that period,” notes Mobbs, “there’s been one inescapable change in the countryside around my home town of Banbury – noise.”

On his recent walk, Mobbs’ objective was to reach Salt Way, an old Roman salt route fringing the south-western quadrant of Banbury. “Due to its age Salt Way has exceptionally dense, wide and species-rich ancient hedgerows which demarcate it from the surrounding fields,” which Mobbs asserts is “[p]erfect for listening to birds.” Except that morning a slight breeze was wafting the sound of a large motorway that was over 2 1/2 miles away.  Reflecting on this walk, Mobbs examines lost tranquility and noise as a nuisance, and introduces us to ecopsychology as he ponders “the fundamental psychological human dependence upon the natural environment.”  It’s a fascinating piece that really should be read in its entirety.  Click the first link to do that.

 

Walden, the video game?

Photo credit: Sarah Nichols

David Sykes, the vice-chair of The Quiet Coalition, muses about Walden, the video game, and how trying times compel us to seek stillness and tranquility.  So how exactly does Walden the video game differ from Grand Theft Auto? Like this:

Instead of offering the thrills of stealing, violence and copious cursing, the new video game, based on Thoreau’s 19th-century retreat in Massachusetts, will urge players to collect arrowheads, cast their fishing poles into a tranquil pond, buy penny candies and perhaps even jot notes in a journal — all while listening to music, nature sounds and excerpts from the author’s meditations.

And if you don’t leave enough “time for contemplation, or work too hard, the game cautions: ‘Your inspiration has become low, but can be regained by reading, attending to sounds of life in the distance, enjoying solitude and interacting with visitors, animal and human.’”

Kudos and best of luck to lead designer, Tracy J. Fullerton, the director of the Game Innovation Lab at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts, and her team.

Looking For A Quieter Car?

By Daniel Fink, MD

As automobile makers have focused on fuel efficiency to meet federally mandated fuel efficiency standards, interior quiet has suffered.  But it is still possible to find quieter, more comfortable cars.

GM’s Buick Division might be a good place to start.  And these four links offer some other possibilities:

Dr. 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 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.

If you are in DC this week and want to find a quiet space,

Photo credit: Studio Simon Heijdens

head over to the Royal Netherlands Embassy and you’ll find the “Silent Room.” The Silent Room is an art installation by Simon Heijdens that he originally designed for the 2016 SXSW Festival. Heijdens said that during the festival there is too much noise and smells and people and sight, so he wanted to create a “black hole,” “somewhere where people could people can go inside, almost like a cold shower of silence.”  From the outside, his piece looks like an ordinary black shipping container, but inside “it’s a different world, devoid of sound and color.”  And he means completely.  Heijdens worked with a team of acoustic engineers to make “the padded, anechoic chamber that absorbs noise from the outside world. The result is complete, dead silence.”

“Silent Room” is open from noon to 2:00 p.m. through February 1st.  Click the link if you are interested in seeing it as you must RSVP for an invite.

 

We know the feeling:

In “Why I hate my fellow commuters in the quiet carriage.” Brian Yatman, The Sidney Morning Herald, writes about commuting by train and how the quiet car is abused by the rude and ignorant.  We’ve been there, although unlike Mr. Yatman we may have asked someone to keep it down once (or three times).  In any event, his suggestion for maintaining quiet car decorum is spot on:

What we need is some kind of official presence authorised to apply the shushing finger of the law. These marshals would glide about in comfy shoes, separating chatty couples, handing out Reader’s Digests, keeping the peace. They would issue warnings in the form of aphorisms. “Let us be silent, that we may hear the whispers of the gods,” they would intone, invoking the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Repeat offenders would be escorted off the train.

Or offenders could be thrown off, literally, to save time (and quickly escape the sound of their screams).  Do not violate the sanctity of the quiet car.

Link via @QuietMark.

Quiet Mornings at MoMa

Civility on display at The Museum of Modern Art:

Start your day quietly at The Museum of Modern Art, the first Wednesday of every month. See your favorite works from MoMA’s collection and take in select new exhibitions, all without the crowds. For these specially priced early hours, we encourage visitors to take time to look slowly, clear your head, silence your phones, and get inspiration for the day and week ahead.

As if a quiet visit at MoMa wasn’t enough, the museum includes “a drop-in meditation space… with guided meditation sessions closing out each morning from 8:30 to 9:00 a.m.”  Quiet Mornings begin at 7:30 a.m.  Admission is free for members and (quiet) children, $12 for adults, and reduced pricing for seniors and students.  Only a limited number of tickets will be available in advance online, with the rest sold on the morning of the event, first come, first sold.

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse….

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

How to have a quiet Christmas.

This Telegraph article is less about quiet at Christmas and more about quiet as a cultural phenomenon.  Reporter Louisa Pritchard writes that we are “in the throes of a quiet revolution that could impact every area of our lives: a move towards (whisper it) cultivating the sound of silence.”  We believe she’s right and that 2016 marks the beginning of a movement in which quiet is seen as something that is valuable.  Here’s to a quieter world.

Thanks to @QuietMark for the link.