Sound

Do new sound control products work as good as they look?

Photo courtesy of abstracta

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

It’s wonderful to see architects, designers and manufacturers developing attractive ways to address noisy homes and offices! But it’s important to note that architects and designers know little or nothing about acoustics at all—they’ve never been taught it. So the products they develop are often simply visual barriers that have very little acoustical effect.

Sound, like water, will leak through any hole on a surface, so no matter how thick a product is if you’re on one side and a noise-making person or piece of equipment
is on the other, you are definitely going to hear what’s going on!

You can also buy sound curtains–you can find a selection by running a simple internet search. Typically they’re made for industrial settings where exposure to loud noise is actually regulated by OSHA. So many sound curtains may not be very attractive, unless they are covered with a cosmetic treatment like another layer of fabric.

If you are interested in buying sound control products, be sure to ask what the sound rating is of any designer sound screen or curtain. Because if the designer and/or manufacturer haven’t bothered to have their product tested by a licensed testing lab, their product is probably not going to be very effective.

Please note that the European Union, where noise is regarded as a health hazard, puts noise level labels on 50 classes of products ranging from dishwashers and food blenders to power tools and construction equipment. But Americans never see those labels because they aren’t included on products entering the US. Why? There is staunch and powerful resistance among American manufacturers to making noise ratings available to the public. This is an old battle. In the 1980s, several major industries fought back against the EPA, which was required by the Noise Control Act of 1972 to publish noise ratings. Result: they’ve never done so.

In fact, that may be a good a reason to buy products that are manufactured by EU companies, because you can get noise ratings from their corporate websites.

Caveat emptor!

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.

American Institute of Physics celebrates the International Year of Sound

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

As we wrote a year ago, 2020 is the International Year of Sound (IYS) a “global initiative to highlight the importance of sound and related sciences and technologies for all in society.” Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the IYS has been extended into 2021.

The American Institute of Physics in the December 2020 issue of its journal Physics Today celebrates IYS with five articles and an insightful editorial by Charles Day, PhD. The AIP is the parent organization of a publication of the Acoustical Society of America and nine other scientific societies.

Along with Physics Today, the Acoustical Society’s journal Acoustics Today published a special issue celebrating IYS. Both sets of articles are a little wonky to a non-acoustician, but I liked the first article in Physics Today, “Exploring cultural heritage through acoustical reconstructions.” I didn’t know that it was possible to reconstruct sounds of historic buildings which have been damaged or destroyed.

Another ASA publication, Acoustics Today, also had a special issue celebrating IYS.

As 2020 comes to a close, if you have spare time during the recently imposed lockdowns, these special issues of Physics Today or Acoustics Today will give you a glance at some of the “hot topics” in acoustical science and noise control.

Best wishes for a joyful holiday season, perhaps with Zoom family get-togethers, and a healthy, happy, peaceful, and quiet New Year.

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.

Irish commuters to be serenaded by birdsong at train stations

Photo credit: William Murphy licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The Irish Examiner reports that the Irish train system, Iarnród Éireann, will be playing birdsong at train stations between 8:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. until November 29. The birdsong  recordings were made in Dublin during the lockdown quiet, which allowed people to hear birds instead of vehicle and train noise.

The newspaper reports that “On Chorus is a public art project by sound artist Christopher Steenson which aims to highlight the dramatic reduction in noise pollution in Ireland during the first Covid-19 lockdown.“ Steenson’s art work asks listeners to reflect on the relative quiet during the lockdown, and also is a gesture of appreciation to essential workers, who in Ireland were the only ones permitted to travel during the lockdown.

The birdsongs will be played from 8:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. Irish time here for anyone who wants to listen. Irish Standard Time is Greenwich Mean Time 0. In the United States, Eastern Standard Time is GMT -5, Pacific Standard Time is GMT -8. A series of photographs taken by Steenson will also be available on the site.

What a wonderful idea: making art from the silver lining to the terror and tragedy of the COVID-19 pandemic, as Steenson does, reminding us of the beauty of nature amidst man’s horrors.

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.

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.

The Soundproofist podcast looks at noise

Photo credit: Magda Ehlers from Pexels

David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coaliton

If you’re not already familiar with the Soundproofist podcast series based in San Francisco, we recommend tuning in. This well-produced podcast is exclusively focused on sound and noise. In two episodes podcast host Cary interviews our Quiet Coalition co-founder and colleague, Antonelle Radicchi, PhD, at the Technical University of Berlin, on soundwalks and her Hush City app. Dr. Radicchi spent part of last year here in the U.S., working with noise researchers at New York University. Her stay here culminated with her organizing a fascinating, day-long workshop at New York University on noise and the city.

“The Soundproofist” also recently interviewed our colleague Dr. Arline Bronzaft.

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.

In search of the world’s most interesting sounds

Photo credit: fauxels from Pexels

David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coaliton

Sonic Wonderland: A Scientific Odyssey of Sound” is a wonderful book by the UK sound researcher, Trevor Cox, about interesting, intriguing sounds he’s gathered around the world. To get a taste of the book and this researcher’s interests, you can listen to Twenty Thousand Hertz’s podcast about the book that includes sound samples from some of the author’s worldwide research adventures or watch Cox’s lecture at the University of Salford.

You may also enjoy some of the other episodes Dallas Taylor’s Twenty Thousand Hertz podcast. Taylor is a sound artist whose aim is to deliver “[t]he stories behind the world’s most recognizable and interesting sounds.” His podcasts are well worth a listen.

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.

The effect of noise and comforting sound on humans

Photo credit: Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

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

I am a regular reader of the New York Times Tuesday Science section and was delighted to see two references to sound in the In Brief Section by Nicholas Bakalar on November 3rd (print version). In his brief titled “Noise May Raise Dementia Risk” Bakalar cites a study linking noise to increased risk for Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia. The authors, conducting a study on aging, looked at residents living in communities, both quiet and noisy, and found that community noise level resulted in a higher likelihood of cognitive impairment, as well as a risk for Alzheimer’s disease. The lead author, Jennifer Weuve, could only hypothesize about the connection but she suggested that excessive noise can result in sleep deprivation, hearing loss and changes in blood pressure—“all of which are associated with an increased risk for dementia.”

With so many people living longer lives today, this study suggests further research into the potential impact of long-term noise on one’s mental health. However, as stated numerous times before, there is enough evidence on the hazards of noise to our mental and physical health to warrant lessening noise pollution NOW.

The second brief is titled “Children: Not Picky About Lullabies” and cites a study led by Bainbridge and Bertolo in which the researchers found that lullabies, sung in many different languages and from different cultures, relaxed young infants. That infants can be calmed by songs from different languages, different cultures and different voices may also indicate that humans at the start do not center on differences amongst groups but upon similarities, namely the comforting sounds emanating from their voices.

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.

The sound of cities before and during the pandemic

Photo credit: Jonathan licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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

Stuart Fowkes, a UK based artist, has been mapping out the sounds of cities since 2014. I would guess that he never imagined that a worldwide pandemic would provide him with the opportunity to hear “lost” sounds in a city that had been overtaken by increasing noise pollution. He comments about the return of the sounds of birds, insects, and other sounds of nature. His recordings of sounds during the past six years from cities around the world has resulted in a map featuring a wide variety of sounds. His recording project titled “Future Cities” features the sounds of several years ago but now includes the sounds during the pandemic.

In writing about the sounds of cities, Fowkes recognizes that the increased traffic and noise from construction sites, as well as the activities associated with tall buildings, has resulted in environmental stress which can adversely affect health. Furthermore, according to Fowkes, noise has also drowned out certain sounds that defined specific cities. For example, the sounds of the bells ringing at Westerkerk church in Amsterdam at one time played an important role in helping “people mark out kind of where they need to be at any given time.” He fears that these sounds that characterized specific cities will be lost after the pandemic passes.

Fowkes hopes that his project will bring attention to the important role auditory elements play in defining cities and as a result lead to noise reduction becoming a significant goal in future urban policy decisions. With noise having drowned out sounds that at one time were identified with specific cities, I wonder how many people can remember what these sounds were.

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.

NFL warns teams against “shady noise practices”

NY Giants before COVID  Photo credit: Fabienne Wassermann licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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

My family and I, as New York Giant Football fans, have been going to Giant games for many years. But we won’t be going this year because the Giant games will be played without attendees. The New York Giants have enrolled their ticket holders, which I am one, with exclusive benefits such as “live-out-of-market preseason games and replays of every game all season,” but these virtual experiences will not make up for the in-person attendance at the Giant games.

Thus, a recent article about the NFL warning teams about “shady noisy practices” caught my eye. With most of the National Football League’s 32 teams announcing that they will not start the season with fans in attendance, it had been decided to use “artificial crowd noise” to motivate the players. The NFL has cautioned teams, however, that “turning up the volume” at critical third downs for the home teams will not be permitted. Just as I believe in-person attendance brings a special joy to football fans, I wonder if football players will be as inspired with artificial crowd noise as they would be with real roars and shouts of fans in the stadiums.

I would like to address another issue with this article. As a long-term researcher and writer on the adverse effects of noise on health and well-being, I tend to be careful about distinguishing sound from noise. A noise is generally defined as a sound that is harmful to health. Not all sounds are noises. There are sounds that are welcoming and pleasant such as birdsong and raindrops falling on leaves. Music is also delightful, as are the sounds of children laughing on the playground or cheering on the characters at the Macy’s Day Parade. I tend to think of the supportive sounds we hear at baseball and football games as both exalting to players as well as fans. Yes, at times they may be too loud and should be toned down, but for the most part, the cheers at games are so essential to the experience of being a sports fan.

I would like to compliment the engineers in charge of introducing these crowd sounds–I prefer not to call these sounds noise–for not allowing them to be too loud, indicating an awareness of the dangers of loud sounds to our hearing and health. What did puzzle me, however, is that these crowd sounds will also be used in stadiums with fans. Yet, the article cited has noted that the league “will reevaluate that decision as the season progresses.”

This football fan is awaiting what this football season will look and sound like. One thing is for sure—I will be rooting for my home team, the New York Giants.

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.

Lockdowns drastically reduced seismic noise

Photo credit: Hrag Vartanian licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

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

How ironic that a pandemic that devastated the health and well-being of millions of people worldwide resulted in an opportunity to conduct research to monitor the earth’s movements in ways that may provide information to protect the earth and its inhabitants from here on.

New research from the Royal Observatory of Belgium, the Imperial College London, and other institutions has found that dampening of seismic noise caused by humans, especially in more densely populated areas, has dropped by as much as 50% in some places, allowing researchers to listen in to “previously concealed earthquake signals.” The quiet time brought on by the pandemic was the longest time that “human-caused seismic noise” had been lessened since researchers had been monitoring the earth’s sounds. Now that researchers were able to tune in to the natural sounds of the earth, they believe the information provided by these sounds will enable them to gain a greater understanding of potential earthquakes and volcanoes.

To those of us who have advocated for less noise and greater quiet in our environment, largely based on the growing body of literature that has demonstrated the adverse impact of noise on mental and physical health, we welcome these new studies that provide us with another avenue of research to support our efforts.

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.