Silencity

The Truth About Noise

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Let’s find out, shall we?

sports-car

Can electric sports cars be sporty without any engine noise?  The author of this piece, Jordan Golson, The Verge, suggests the answer is no, because he thinks noise = fun:

Not only does a noisy engine give a visceral thrill, knowing that there are thousands of tiny explosions happening to keep you going, but it just sounds awesome. It would be a shame to lose it, and carmakers know it. Bloomberg says Porsche has been looking at artificially inserting noise into the cabin, perhaps via the stereo like some other manufacturers have done, or amplifying the high-pitched hum of the electric motor.

I don’t know what the answer is, but a world without the roar of a Dodge Challenger Hellcat is a world that’s just a little less fun.

And so the rare opportunity to reduce the overall noise level in our soundscape will likely be ignored, as carmakers will rush to spend big bucks adding unnecessary noise to electric cars because engine noise “just sounds awesome.”  Sigh.

 

Queen’s guitarist, Brian May, complains to council

over noisy leaf-blowers.  Yes, it not just a U.S. problem, leaf blowers are fraying nerves in London, too.  The Telegraph writes that May, “[f]amed for his loud rock anthems, [] has used his blog to criticise Kensington And Chelsea Borough Council for dismissing his road sweeper and replacing him with six people armed with noisy leaf-blowers.”  We understand May’s frustration at dealing with ear-splitting noise, especially when he found, in the end, that “the state of the road was worse after the men had attempted to clear it.”  May laments “the awful noise of the blowers, dust and leaves being blown into my garden, and petrol fumes,” adding that |they are creating a horrible intrusion into our lives.”

The Telegraph notes that May isn’t the only celebrity who hates leaf blowers, writing:

In May, actor Tom Conti appeared on a television show to moan about the racket from the machines, insisting they were ruining his peace and quiet.

He said: “It’s very, very loud and unnecessary. If these people can’t stand the sight of a leaf then it’s not a leaf-blower they need, it’s a psychiatrist.”

Point, Conti.

It not just humans who can’t tolerate noise:

dogs

FDA approves first drug to help dogs deal with noise-related anxiety.  Anyone who has been around a dog when fireworks are going off know that loud noise frightens them.  According to the Daily Mail, the fear of loud noises is common “for the 70 million dogs in the U.S. and their owners.”  The fear is not insignificant, as “[d]ogs are sometimes so frightened they jump through windows, destroy doors while trying to escape a room or run into traffic and get hit by cars.”  So rather than require that people use silent fireworks as is being considered in one Italian province, the U.S. responds in typical fashion by focusing not on the source of the noise, but rather on the poor creatures who suffer because of it.  Introducing Sileo, a $30 syringe filled with doggy anti-anxiety drug that will calm your pooch for about two or three hours.

So why not mandate the use of silent fireworks or other noise control measures instead?   $30 X 70 million dogs = 2.1 billion reasons the market prefers Sileo to reasonable noise mandates.

The cause of this noise is not a mystery:

not-quite-whales

Whales Would Probably Like Us To Make Less Noise In The Ocean.  Alasdair Wilkins, Vacativ.com, writes:

Whales’ haunting songs already suggest a complex form of communication beyond our easy understanding. Now it turns out we only knew half the story, as whales might also communicate through low-frequency vibrations they send through the water. Biologists only recently discovered this ability, and it might mean all our shipping and undersea drilling have been making a ton of unwanted, vibration-heavy noise for whales.

xxx

Yet another mystery noise:

ice-sheet

Canadian military probes mysterious Arctic pinging noise.  The BBC reports that the “Canadian military has investigated a mysterious pinging sound coming from the sea floor in a remote region of the Arctic.”  The sound has also been described as a beep or hum.  Whatever the source, the noise is scaring away animals, which is a problem for the indigenous people who live and hunt in the area.  The Canadian press has put forth a number of explanations including the following:

  • It is a sonar survey conducted by a mining company

  • It is being generated on purpose by Greenpeace to scare wildlife away from the rich hunting ground

  • It is caused by military submarines

Deepening the mystery is that mining companies, Greenpeace, and the military have either denied responsibility or have claimed no presence in the area where the noise has been heard.

Given how quickly Arctic ice has been melting, one wonders if the sound could have a wholly natural source like deep ice splintering or calving.  Thoughts?

Disappointing news in the war on aviation noise:

airplanes-at-night

East Hampton Airport Noise Restrictions Blocked.  The East Hampton Star reports that a federal appeals court barred East Hampton Town from enforcing three 2015 laws aimed at addressing excessive aircraft noise at East Hampton Airport.  The court found that the town failed to comply with procedural requirements of the Airport Noise and Capacity Act when it enacted the noise laws.  The town’s attorney stated that, “[a]lthough today’s court decision places the solution to the aviation noise problem firmly at the feet of Congress and the F.A.A., the town will continue to explore every available option so that the residents of the East End won’t continue to be inflicted by an unrelenting din from the skies above.”

 

 

Yes, this is possible:

fireworks

Italian town to use silent fireworks as a way of “respecting their animals.”

We assume that noise is an inevitable part of many activities, but it doesn’t have to be.  Excite Travel writes about the town of Collecchio, in the province of Parma, Italy, where the local government has “introduced new legislation forcing citizens to use silent fireworks as a way of respecting the animals” by reducing the stress caused by noise from conventional fireworks.

Pet owners know that the sound of fireworks really disturbs their pets.  It’s only noise, the effect on pets can’t be that bad, right?  Wrong.  As Excite Travel writes:

The explosions caused by fireworks have been known to give some domestic pets heart problems, nausea, tremors, debilitating fears and light-headedness. We all know that animals have far more sensitive hearing so you won’t be surprised to read that firework displays can leave pets with “acoustic stress”.

Kudos to the town of Collecchio for showing that there are ways to enjoy traditional activities without the burden of unnecessary noise.

Top Democratic representative seeks study on effects of airplane cabin noise,

man-in-airplane-cabin

expresses concern about the long-term effects of airplane cabin noise on flight crews.  The Hill reports that Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), top Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has written a letter to the Government Accountability Office raising concern “regarding permanent hearing loss and damage that airline personnel may suffer from by being exposed to loud noises for long periods of time.”  Representative DeFazio “expressed frustration over the lack of comprehensive data about cabin noise levels even though the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has established noise decibel limits.”  To encourage the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to act on his request, The Hill reports that DeFazio “hinted that the results of the study may influence the next long-term reauthorization of the FAA, as the agency’s current legal authority expires next September, and urged “prompt and expedited completion” of the requested report.”

We will follow this story as well as others focusing on citizen complaints about the FAA’s NextGen program.  It looks like some accountability may finally be in the offing.

 

Hope (eventually) for New Yorkers:

20151207_141729_resized

To Create a Quieter City, They’re Recording the Sounds of New York.  Emily S. Rueb, The New York Times, reports on the Sounds of New York City, or Sonyc, a joint project by New York University and Ohio State University, which aims to create an aural map that “will help city agencies monitor and enforce noise pollution, and will empower citizens to assist in the process.”  Researchers from both universities “are training [their] microphones to recognize jackhammers, idling engines and street music, using technology originally developed to identify the flight calls of migrating birds.”  Ten-second snippets of audio will be collected, labeled, and categorized “using a machine-listening engine called UrbanEars.”  The researchers hope that the sensors “will eventually be smart enough to identify hundreds of sonic irritants reverberating across the city.”

The program, which is in the first phase of the five-year project, is primarily funded by a $4.6 milion grant from the National Science Foundation.  The article explains how the researchers are capturing the audio snippets, examines the problems inherent in placing the devices used to monitor noise (read: pigeon poop, among other things), and discusses the “antagonizing effects of noise.”  Rueb looks at how the data may be used to help address noise complaints, writing that eventually “an app called Urbane will allow users to interact with the data, while another app will complement 311 reporting and possibly help New Yorkers track how complaints are handled.”

One hopes the program is a success because, as Rueb tells us, the city has only 53 noise inspectors to serve all five boroughs.  It will be interesting to see if the city, armed with the program’s data, will make a serious attempt to enforce its noise ordinances.

 

The Devil’s Hair Dryer:

Quiet before the storm.....

Quiet before the storm…..

Hell is other people, with leaf blowers. David Dudley, The Atlantic City Lab, writes about “[t]he tragedy of the leaf blower,” a tool of doom that creates air and noise pollution with abandon yet is sadly beloved in the U.S.  Dudley explains that “[t]he crude little two-stroke engines used by most commercial backpack-style blowers are pollution bombs,” with a third of the gasoline spewing out, unburned, “in an aerosol mixed with oil in the exhaust.”   That aerosol mixes with the “fine-particulate crap” the blower stirs up, and blowers can exceed 100 decibels for the operator, with the sound carrying hundreds of feet away, disturbing everyone in its wake.  It’s an informative piece, but the best part is in the first paragraph where Dudley shares the story of an ex-neighbor from hell who is known around his block as: “The Asshole With the Leaf Blower.”  It’s a fun and informative read, so click the link to read the whole piece.

In his post, Dudley notes an article published days earlier by Adrian Higgins, the Washington Post’s Gardening columnist, titled: “We know you love your leaf blower, but it’s ruining the neighborhood.”  In it Higgins focuses on noise pollution created by leaf blowers, noting the odd phenomenon that noise is less irritating to its creator than to its recipient.  Higgins reaches out to Erica Walker, a doctoral student at Harvard University’s Chan School of Public Health, who explains that the reason for this is that “[r]ecipients of nuisance noise have no power over it.”  Walker, we are told, “spent a year recording noise levels at 400 locations” across Boston, where she found that the leaf blower was a major contributor to the aural assault inflicted on Bostonians throughout the city.

Why focus on leaf blowers?  Because the leaf blower is an effective distributor of unwanted sound.  Higgins writes:

In a recent paper written with Jamie Banks, of an organization named Quiet Communities in Lincoln, Mass., Walker measured the sound from a commercial-grade gasoline blower at various distances. Even from 800 feet away, the noise was above the 55-decibel threshold at which sound is considered harmful by the World Health Organization, she said. Another problem is that the machines emit a low-frequency sound that is not measured conventionally but which travels long distances and penetrates building walls.

Higgins states that most cities don’t specifically address leaf blowers in their noise ordinances, but even if they did effective enforcement of those ordinances is lacking.  Walker tells Higgins that there are two fallacies that fuel the ineffectiveness: one is the “mind-set that if you live in an urban environment, you put up with noise,” and the other is that noise is simply an annoyance.  Walker disagrees:

Cities don’t have to be cacophonous, she said, and noise isn’t just an irritant; it harms one’s health. Studies have shown that tens of millions of Americans are at risk of hypertension and heart disease from the effects of noise.

HIggins asks Walker what has to be done to make the world quieter.  She responds that “we need a fundamental shift in how we regard noise so that society sees it on the same plane as the environmental imperatives of recycling and reducing air pollution.”

We couldn’t agree more.  Click the link to Higgins’ article to read the entire thing.  It is well worth your time.

City Lab link via Antonella Radicchi.