Sound

What’s the difference between noise and sound?

By Daniel Fink, MD

One of the heated discussions that sometimes occurs among those of us concerned about noise is the use of the terms “noise” and “sound.” Some people insist that we hear noise but measure sound. Others say the terms can be used interchangeably.

The word “noise” means “unwanted sound,” with an implication of being bothersome. One dictionary definition of noise is, “a sound, especially one that is loud or unpleasant or that causes disturbance.”   “Sound,” on the other hand, implies meaning, “a particular auditory impression.”

Nina Kraus, Professor of Communication Sciences, Neurobiology, and Otolaryngology at Northwestern University, has written an intriguing article for Scientific American that discusses new research that shows that our brains can actually tell the difference between noise and sound. Studies of brain waves, done at Northwestern, show that sound is understood by the brain while noise merely disrupts it.  And noise not only interferes with function, it can actually damage the brain:

Noise is more pernicious than an in-the-moment nuisance. Even a modest level of noise, over a long enough period of time (e.g. beeping garbage trucks, hair dryers, air conditioners), can cause damage to the brain networks that extract meaning from sound. Many of us don’t even realize our brains are being blunted and our thinking impeded by this invisible force.

So what can we do to protect our brains from damaging noise?  We can’t shut out all sound, because “the absence of meaningful sound also leaves a mark on the ability to process sound.”  Dr. Kraus adds that “there are distinct ways to tone and hone your listening brain.”  Namely:

You can learn a second language. The challenge of juggling two languages bolsters the auditory system and redounds to improvements in cognitive functions such as attention.

Another way to exercise your auditory brain is to play a musical instrument. This has a huge payoff cognitively and emotionally for children and adults alike. A few years of playing an instrument while in school sharpens the auditory system and can benefit language development in children. And this benefit lasts a lifetime.

Fascinating!  Even more supporting evidence for the goal of The Quiet Coalition: to make the world quieter, one decibel at a time.

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.

Originally posted at The Quiet Coalition.

Here’s an interesting podcast worth checking out:

Twenty Thousand Hertz is a podcast hosted by Dallas Taylor, the founder and creative director of Defacto Sound, a sound design studio. The podcast explores “[t]he stories behind the world’s most recognizable and interesting sounds.” Not sure which episode you should listen to first? Try this one, The Sound of Extinction. Just be ready to stiffle a sob as futurist Madeline Ashby answers Taylor’s question: “What’s the biggest loss in terms of sound that we’ve experienced?”  Without pausing to think Ashby responds, “the sound of silence.”

Does the sun make a sound?

Jillian Scudder, Forbes, asks What Does The Sun Sound Like?  Scudder, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Astrophysics, notes that a major problem with recording sounds in space is that “there’s no atmosphere for sound waves to travel through, so any pressure waves an object may be producing will be instantly silenced without a medium to compress.”  But, she adds, “there are other ways of recording information which can be translated into a sound; the easiest one is vibrations.”  Enter sonification,”a booming area of data manipulation — it’s another face of the data visualization scene; instead of presenting the information visually, you can code it audibly, and listen to it over time.”

Click the link above to hear examples of sonification of the sun.

The world sounds different than it did a century ago

and it’s not for a good reason. Claire Asher, BBC, reports on how climate change and animal extinctions have altered the way our world sounds.  Asher writes that human activity is changing our natural soundscape irreversibly:

In 2015, a US team of scientists and engineers reported that the loudest sound in some waters now comes from millions of tiny bubbles, which are released by melting glaciers and icebergs. In the fjords of Alaska and Antarctica, the average noise level is now over 100 decibels – louder than any ocean environment recorded before.

And it is more than our oceans that are affected.  Asher notes that “natural spaces are now polluted with human-made noises. As we change forests into farms and drive species to extinction, we are fundamentally changing how our world sounds.”

Click the first link to read this interesting, if depressing, article.

Link via @jeaninebotta.

This is fascinating:

Plants Have an “Ear” for Music. Matthew Sedacca, Nautilus, writes about Dan Carlson, Sr., who, after his experience in the Korean demilitarized zone in the 1960s, dedicated himself to “increase plant growth and help reduce, or even eliminate, world hunger.”  Carlson studied at the University of Minnesota, trying to learn everything he could about how plants grow.  What he discovered was interesting:

Years later, Carlson believed he found part of his answer. He maintained that “green music”—sounds akin to, or recorded from, those found in nature, like birds singing or crickets stridulating—possesses frequencies that boost plant growth and yield rates. He claimed that when exposed to synthesized birdsong, a plant’s stomata—the mouth-like pores on the underside of leaves that absorb water and nutrients and expel oxygen—widen. Before he died in 2012, he listed growing a Purple Passion (Gynura aurantiaca)—a houseplant that usually grows up to a foot—1,300 feet high to the sound of green music as one of his lifetime achievements. It earned him a Guinness World Record.

Yes, it sounds kind of nutty, and some people in the past relied on pseudoscience, but today “plant bioacoustics is a growing field of interest in science.”  In fact, in “a recent study published in Scientific Reports, a team of researchers from Yeungnam University in Gyeongsan, South Korea, found, just as Carlson did over 30 years ago, that “green music” can cause plants to undergo biological transformations.”

Click the first link to read the entire article.  It’s well worth your time.

Need something to distract you from a noisy co-worker?

This ASMR of vegetables defrosting may make you shudder with delight.  Ok.  So, what exactly is an ASMR?  According to knowyourmeme.com, an ASMR, or Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, is:

[A] term used to describe a sensory experience characterized by a pleasant tingling sensation in the head and scalp, which can be triggered by sounds like whispering or brushing, and visual stimulus like painting or drawing. On YouTube, the phenomenon inspired the creation of “whisperer” videos, in which people attempt to trigger the viewer’s ASMR by speaking in a soft voice and making various sounds with inanimate objects.

Personally, we thought the ASMR would make an excellent white noise loop.  Enjoy!

Nature is remarkable:

This is what a frozen lake sounds like.  , The Verge, writes about “one of the coolest sounds you can hear. A frozen lake that looks like it’s been stopped in time, but in fact keeps shifting and moaning sounding like a Star Wars blaster.”  Sadly, she didn’t have equipment to record the sound, but she found a good example online:

Amazing natural ice pressure sounds of the Gun Lake in British Columbia, recorded by @Mesmerizingsounds.

Enjoy!