Sound

The origins of soundscape ecology

Photo credit: Alex Braidwood licensed under CC BY 2.0

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

A wonderful, recent NPR podcast delves into the career and field recordings of Bernie Krause, PhD, who pioneered the emerging discipline of soundscape ecology. This podcast is great listening for the pandemic-induced “great silence” that we’re all currently living through.

Krause’ best known book appeared in 2012, “The Great Animal Orchestra,” which has been described as “the story of one man’s pursuit of natural music in it’s purest form, and an impassioned case for the conservation of one of our most overlooked natural resources, the music of the wild.” But Krause has just recently finished his 8th book—on top of hundreds of discographies. And, if you’re interested, his TED talk is a good listen.

Krause, who was born in Detroit in 1938, spent his early years promoting and performing on the then revolutionary Moog Synthesizer with leading 60s rock groups like The Doors and others. Having moved from the University of Michigan to Mills College in the San Francisco Bay area during the 1960s, he quit the drug-soaked music business and started recording natural sounds all over the world and working for museums and recording studios. From that deep immersion in the natural soundscape, he began developing original theories about sound that have gained him great respect. He’s best known for three core descriptive concepts: “Biophony” (sound from natural, biological sources); Geophony (sound from non-biological,natural sources); and Anthropophony (sound from human sources, including electro-mechanical noise).

Back in 1968, Krause founded his own organization, Wild Sanctuary. Now in his 80’s, he continues to be active in the field. Unfortunately, his home and virtually all of his belongings were destroyed several years ago when one of California’s wildfires swept through his neighborhood. Fortunately, his recorded archives were stored electronically off site, but everything else was gone. Still, he marshalls on, alerting the rest of the world to the concerning sounds he hears–or doesn’t hear.

The Quiet Coalition honors Krause’s pioneering work and his persistence and commitment to connecting our experience of soundscapes to the greatest issue of our time,climate change. The connections between the climate issue, the current pandemic, and the growing global problem of noise are not clear to many people, but Krause clearly understands how they are related.

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.

Buildings are noisy because architects don’t study sound

Photo credit: Graeme Maclean licensed under CC BY 2.0

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

Most of us assume when we walk into a very noisy building that it must be ok, because if it weren’t, wouldn’t somebody have thought of a solution to the problem? But it’s a simple fact that planners and architects spend little to no time thinking about noise and sound, unless they are designing a theater or performance space.

Architects don’t inhabit the spaces they design. And they can’t show clients pictures of what their projects will sound like, unless they spend some money on modeling sound conditions.

This fairly sparse article at least touches on this vast area of ignorance about sound among architects, planners, and grad school faculty.

The foundations of acoustical science are well over a century old and well respected, but they are embedded in physics, not art and architecture. Not every architect and planner is ignorant of the subject—there are some exceptions–but the plain fact is architects do not know how to design for good sound quality. They rely on specialists from physics, and those people cost money. As a result, noise is typically not recognized as a problem until after a building has been built and the planners, architects, designers, and contractors have all gone home and deposited their checks.  And then it is often too late.

So next time you’re in a nicely designed space that you find is too noisy, remember that it’s very likely no one thought about the soundscape until it was too late and hoped you wouldn’t notice. Be sure to tell them that you do.

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.

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.

The sound of a COVID-19 cough

Photo credit: GabboT licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Throughout history, physicians have used sounds to diagnose respiratory illness. Sometimes one doesn’t need a stethoscope. The barking cough of croup in a child, the ominous upper airway wheeze of epiglottitis, and the wheezes of someone with an asthma attack, can all be heard when walking into the patient’s room.

The stethoscope helps, though. Rene Laennec invented the stethoscope in 1816.

We listen for the wheeze of asthma, the bronchial breath sounds of pneumonia, the rales of congestive heart failure, or the diminished or absent breath sounds of pneumothorax.

I once even diagnosed lung cancer in a smoker when I heard the telltale “wheeze that doesn’t clear with a cough.” I had read about this in medical school, but had never heard it in practice until I did. I ordered a chest x-ray which confirmed the diagnosis and the patient was able to have curative surgery.

COVID-19 patients often have a dry cough. Until the U.S. develops sufficient testing capability to test every person needing a COVID test, perhaps sounds can help.

This NPR report discusses possibly using artificial intelligence to analyze the sounds of COVID coughs to develop a diagnostic test. This would also be useful in resource-poor environments around the world. I hope the efforts described are successful.

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.

Coronavirus is changing NYC’s soundscape

This photo is in the public domain

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

I have been writing about sound and noise for the past forty years but I never envisioned that a virus pandemic in New York City would elicit a flurry of newspaper and magazine articles focused on sounds and noise. One example is Lindsay Zoladz’s piece, “Learning to Listen to, and Beyond, the Siren Call.” She notes that although she has lived near a hospital for the past five years, she “moved through life with breezy ignorance of the nearest hospital’s location.” But now she is overwhelmed by the “howl, yelp and bleat at all hours” of ambulance sirens. “I feel their presence in my body as an ever-increasing tightness in my shoulders and neck.”

Zoladz tells us about the group of Morningside Heights community residents who, subjected to the constant barrage of ambulance sirens, have been advocating for years to alter the present siren level to a less offensive sound used in Europe. Yet, New York City continued to use the more intrusive siren. With the coronavirus bringing more New Yorkers to hospitals in ambulances, and more people hearing these sirens, possibly after the pandemic these “new listeners,” including Ms. Zoladz, will join the Morningside Heights residents in their quest for the European “hi-lo siren.”

Though Zoladz admits that she has now tuned in to the sounds of the city that she had formerly not been as attentive to, she says that she misses “the comfort of the noise.”

I very well understand this comment because the sounds to which she was tuned in to before the virus struck reflected a much more “normal New York” for Zoladz and her fellow New Yorkers. Yet, I have to point out that some of these sounds adversely impacted on our health and well-being: rail, road and aircraft noises and nearby loud bar music in the early morning hours. On the other hand, we enjoyed the roars at our New York sports arenas and the laughter of children playing in our city’s parks.

And every evening at 7:00 p.m., I join in with my fellow New Yorkers to cheer and thank our City’s health care workers who are risking their lives to tend to the needs of their fellow New Yorkers but, unlike Zoladz, I do not consider these sounds “noise.” Noise is traditionally described as unwanted, intrusive, disruptive sounds but the sounds I hear from my terrace at 7:00 p.m. are welcoming and pleasant. They are sounds of thankfulness and appreciation.

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.

Coronavirus has people howling at the moon

Photo credit: Joonas kääriäinen from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The Napa Valley Register reports that coronavirus infection has people howling at the moon. No, this isn’t a bizarre neurological or psychological side-effect of this serious and often fatal viral disease. Rather, one night a local resident started howling, on a spur-of-the-moment whim, as the moon rose. Neighbors joined him. It is now a nightly ritual.

At 8 p.m., people isolated in their homes go outside and howl at each other for 5 minutes, to show their support for health care workers, to let off steam, and also to connect with their neighbors in an ancient and soulful way.

As the Register reports:

“It’s practically silent for 23 hours and 55 minutes a day,” said Amy Kalish, an artist who lives in the beautiful but quiet foothills of Mt. Tamalpais. But for five minutes starting at 8 every night, she said, “we get out there with our 14-year-old son and our weird little rescue dog, and we let loose.”

I usually don’t like noise, especially not nighttime noise, but I’ll make an exception in this case, at this stressful time, for the folks in Marin County. And for those in Italy who sing from their balconies, and any others around the world who find a few moments of relief by making a little bit of noise once a day.

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.

How to occupy your time while self-isolating

Photo credit: Eden, Janine and Jim licensed under CC BY 2.0

Cities and Memory, a global, collaborative sound project, has launched an intriguing project that will record sounds from the Covid-19 pandemic, entitled #StayHomeSounds:

We’re inviting anyone around the world to send us a sound recording from wherever YOU are, and tell us a little about how things are wherever you live. 

We’ll publish the results on a global sound map, so we can all share a little of our world as we go through these strange and unsettling times.

If you would like to participate, click on the second or third links above to learn more about the project and how you can become involved.

2020 is the International Year of Sound

Image by Education and Outreach Coordinator Acoustical Society of America, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

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

The profession of acoustical science and engineering is a branch of physics. In the U.S., the Acoustical Society of America, for example, is a member of the American Institute of Physics. Physicists don’t communicate with the public much, but a bunch of the world’s leading acoustical science societies have declared 2020 to be “The International Year of Sound.” a “global initiative to highlight the importance of sound and related sciences and technologies for all in society.”

Watch for events in your area. For those of us concerned about the effects of noise/sound (acoustical phenomena) on health and public health, this looks interesting—even significant.

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.

Cities and Memory launches NYC sound map

Photo credit: Lukas Kloeppel from Pexels

Cities and Memory has launched an interactive New York Sound Map. The map is sprinkled with markers that provide the original New York City sound recording for each site “accompanied by a reimagined version, in which an artist has remixed and recomposed the original recording to present a new perspective on the city.” Be prepared to spend some time wandering around the city.

Cities and Memory also offers sonic tourism guides to a dozen cities, including New York City.  Be sure to bookmark the site and sign up for their mailing list so you can be the first to learn about future projects.

Why do certain sounds bother some people?

Photo credit: LuAnn Snawder Photography licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Some people are bothered by common sounds that don’t bother others, such as noise from chewing. The technical name for this disorder is “misophonia.”

For many years, misophonia has been thought to be a psychological problem, but new research shows that the problem may be neurological in origin. People with misophonia have differences seen on brain scans from those without misophonia.

Medical science is replete with examples of diseases thought initially to be due to psychological causes, but later found to have biological bases. For example, stomach ulcers were long thought to be caused by stress, with a contribution from spicy food or alcohol, but then they were found to be caused by bacteria.

In the auditory field, hyperacusis–a sensitivity to sound, in which noises that don’t bother others are perceived as painful by those with this condition–was also long thought to be psychological. Then researchers found pain fibers in the auditory nerves, and the biological basis of this condition was better understood.

So kudos to the researchers studying misophonia. For those who suffer from this disorder, having the science world focus on identifying the biological basis for the problem may be the first step to treating it.

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.