Weaponized sound

Philadelphia deploys sonic weapons to harass loitering teenagers

“The Mosquito” | Photo credit: Sunmist dedicated this photograph to the public domain

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

According to this report on NPR, the city of Philadelphia is one of several cities that have been deploying “sonic weapons” in public parks to deter loitering by teenagers, who, because they’re young enough to have unimpaired hearing, are keenly sensitive to the high-frequency noise emitted by the devices.

The devices were developed by a Vancouver BC-based company called Moving Sound Technologies. The company’s president is quoted in the piece describing the product, which he calls “the Mosquito.” Also quoted are young people who say the noise is loud, and, in one instance, causes headaches.

There are quite a number of sonic weapons available on the market, often developed for military use, but now in the hands of police forces too. The 40-year-long refusal in the U.S. to understand that noise can—like second-hand smoke–be harmful to health has led many to assume that sonic weapons are harmless and merely annoying. That’s fundamentally wrong. In the meantime, city councils and neighborhood associations need to be vigilant about local police forces adopting such crowd-control methods that could be harmful to public health and just bad policy.  As Philadelphia councilwoman Helen Gym notes, “[i]n a city that is trying to address gun violence and safe spaces for young people, how dare we come up with ideas that are funded by taxpayer dollars that turn young people away from the very places that were created for them?”

We live in a noisy world—an unnecessarily noisy world—for the simple reason that most people, including our local and national leaders, have no idea that noise really is “the new second-hand smoke.” Until we get them to understand that the public is being harmed by environmental noise, we need to look after ourselves and our neighbors.

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S123-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.

Weaponized music

This photo is the work the U.S. federal government, so the image is in the public domain in the U.S.

The Noise Curmudgeon  sends us to this Literary Hub piece on the use of loud music as a torture device by the U.S. interrogators in Guantánamo and elsewhere.  Along with blasting music at a damaging 100 decibels, the torturers at Gitmo would play songs by female performers which were “chosen specifically to offend the religious sensibilities of Islamist prisoners,” among other things.

So what does one play to break the will of detainees?  Some Britney Spears (that would break us), Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Mason, and the Barney and Friends, “I Love You Song.”

And for those who dismiss this awful tactic as torture, consider that the interrogators used loud music as a tool because “[i]t provoked fear, distress, and disorientation, crowding out the thoughts of the detainee and bending their will to the interrogators.”

 

 

 

There must be a German word for this

Photo credit: tinyfroglet licensed under CC BY 2.0

We are going with the phrase “absichtlich nervig”–intentionally annoying: Dezeen reports that German’s national rail service, Deutsche Bahn, has come up with novel and offensive way to “deter crime” in a Berlin station: playing atonal music to drive away “loiterers.”

So how does this work? Dezeen writes that pyschological studies have shown that “to non-expert listeners, listening to atonal music can raise blood pressure, and increase agitation and anxiety.”

Deutsche Bahn hopes the annoying sound will “discourage people from lingering,” apparently unconcerned about travelers who have no option but to wait at the station for their train.

 

 

 

 

 

Sound waves might damage soldiers’ brains

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This NPR report discusses brain damage from concussive blasts when shoulder-fired rockets are launched. This isn’t surprising. An animal study reported structural, genetic, and biochemical changes in rat brains when they were exposed to loud noise.

Most civilians aren’t exposed to blast injuries, but we are exposed to lots of noise.

The Marines discussed in this study didn’t have a choice about noise exposure.

We do.

Remember: If it sounds too loud, it IS too loud

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.

Noise as a weapon

 

Twenty former and current tenants are suing their landlord for using “relentless, noisy construction that exposed them to cancer-causing dust as part of a campaign to get rent-stabilized tenants out and high-priced luxury condo buyers in.” The landlord in question? Kushner Companies. Yes, that Kushner.

Anyone living in New York City knows that certain unscrupulous landlords employ tactics to force rent stabilized tenants out of apartments that are then quickly renovated and rented out at much higher market rates.  Among the weapons used to drive tenants from the buildings is noise. In this case, tenants “described hammering and drilling so loud it drowned out normal conversation,” along with rats running through walls, and never-ending dust that covered everything. Unfortunately, these horrific practices are rote with certain landlords, as they do everything they can to make life so miserable for tenants living in rent stabilized apartments that the tenants see no other option but to leave.  Hence the dust, the commotion, and the soul-crushing noise.

We hope the tenants suing Kushner Co. win and are generously compensated for the hell they were put through.

Justice prevails: Federal court rules sound cannon can be excessive police force

Alex Pasternack, Fast Company, reports on a recent U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit decision that ruled “[a] powerful speaker that’s capable of causing hearing damage and is used by a growing number of police around the world isn’t merely a ‘communication device’ but, potentially, an instrument of excessive force.” The court was addressing the appeals of two New York City police officers who were seeking qualified immunity in a lawsuit that accused “them of using unconstitutionally excessive force when they deployed a Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) at a Black Lives Matter protest in 2014.”

The 2nd circuit affirmed a decision last June in which District Court Judge Robert Sweet, of the southern district of New York, ruled that the sound emitted by a long-range acoustic device (LRAD) used by the New York City Police Department to order protestors onto sidewalks “could be considered a form of force.”

Chief Judge Robert Katzmann, writiing for the 2nd circuit, found that “purposely using an LRAD in a way that can cause serious injury in order to move non-violent protesters violates the Fourteenth Amendment.” Judge Katzmann added that, “this Court’s longstanding test for excessive force claims teaches that force must be necessary and proportionate to the circumstances … [T]he problem posed by protesters in the street did not justify the use of force, much less force capable of causing serious injury, such as hearing loss.”

It is never acceptable for any police force to use sound cannons against non-violent protestors. Period.

After Cuba can the U.S. still claim noise is just an “annoyance”?

Photo credit: Stevenbedrick licensed under CC BY 3.0

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

Are you following the Cuba episode on “weaponized sound”? If so, here’s some additional reading.

Nobody’s certain what’s going on there. Is it a hoax? A Trumpian cover for pulling the U.S. embassy out of Havana?

No. It could be both real and very ironic….

What’s interesting to those of us who are concerned about the epidemic of noise in America and the effects of that noise on everyone’s health, is this:

The official posture of several intimidatingly large U.S. federal agencies—for example the Departments of Commerce and Transportation and the EPA—is that noise is nothing more than “annoyance.” That policy has been in place for over 35 years. But if noise is merely “annoyance” how has it been “weaponized” by some foreign adversary?

The latest speculation is that the “sonic attack” in Havana might have involved “infrasound.”

Fact is, In the U.S. infrasound is poorly understood precisely because there’s been so little funding to research it. Why? Because if noise doesn’t matter, if it’s merely “annoyance,” then just ignore it. And so the U.S. has ignored noise for decades, but that may be coming to an end.

Perhaps the decades of ignoring noise and its impact on health will now change and researchers will have to unscramble some wily adversary’s “secrets” because they appear to be in use against us. Ironically, by ignoring the importance of sound and noise for nearly four decades, the U.S. has fallen behind and will have to scramble to catch up.

But that’s an old story, isn’t it?

In addition to serving as vice chair of the The Quiet Coalition, David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: The Acoustics Research Council, American National Standards Institute Committee S12, Workgroup 44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group—a partner of the American Hospital Association. He is the lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), a contributor to the National Academy of Engineering report “Technology for a Quieter America,” and to the US-GSA guidance “Sound Matters”, and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He recently retired from the board of directors of the American Tinnitus Association. A graduate of the University of California/Berkeley with graduate degrees from Cornell University, he is a frequent organizer of and speaker at professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

Dear god, no!

It will be like this, but horrible | Photo credit: Cliff licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Noise Curmudgeon alerts us to the horribly misguided marketing idea–because it must be the marketing department that’s behind this–that is the Nissan Canto. You see, electric cars tend to be quiet, so some sound must be engineered so that they can be heard by blind people listening for aural clues, other pedestrians, animals, etc.  Rather than engineering a traditional car engine sound for the Canto, Nissan has decided to be clever and will torment us with a “singing car.”  And by singing they mean making a variable high pitched annoying drone that will drive poeple mad.

Hear it for yourself:

Oh, that’s not so bad, you may be thinking. Then imagine a street filled with “singing” cars.

My god.