Tag Archive: acoustics

Silence, please! Is it really possible to mute the world?

Photo credit: Kat Jayne from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

In a word, no. But this fascinating essay mentions a 1957 science fiction story by Arthur C. Clarke predicting a machine that does that, and now scientists are working on actualizing that idea.

We’ll see how successful they are, and of course how much the new technology costs. But it seems to me that it’s much simpler to use existing technologies, or even just to enforce existing noise ordinances, than to try to develop a whole new technology. Acoustic technology is highly developed. Reduce noise at the source by design and material choices, and if that can’t be done, insulate, isolate, reflect, or contain the sound. And laws to reduce harmful and unwanted noise have long existed, including building codes, zoning codes, federal laws about vehicle mufflers, local laws about horn use, etc.

As noise pioneer Arline Bronzaft PhD wrote many years ago, it’s a matter of will, not of way, to make the world a quieter and more enjoyable place for all.

I sent these remarks to Dr. Bronzaft as a courtesy, to make sure she wanted to be quoted and to make sure I got it right. She replied with a wonderful insight: people don’t want silence, they want quiet so they can hear others talk, hear the raindrops fall, hear birds singing.

Of course, she’s right!

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.

Is your home too noisy? Here’s a useful guide to help make your space more peaceful:

How to solve common sound problems in your home. Kate Wagner, a graduate student in Acoustics writing for Curbed.com, has written an interesting piece on room acoustics that is very accessible for the layperson.  She describes basic acoustic principles and examines common sound problems and solutions.  Whether the issue is your entertainment system or an open plan space, Wagner offers straight forward suggestions you can use to make your home as aurally comfortable as possible.

If you want to learn more about about sound absorption, reflection, diffusion, and transmission to see how they affect the sound quality of a room, watch this short and informative video Wagner linked to in her piece:

 

Remember when you could enjoy a meal with friends without screaming through your meal?

Those days could be coming back: Why quiet restaurants are having a moment.

Debora Robertson, writing for The Telegraph, reports about the efforts by Svante Borjesson, director of the hearing charity Oir es Clave (“Hearing is Key”), who has launched an initiative called “Eating Without Noise.”  Borjesson signed up 22 restaurants to join the initiative, though most seem on the higher end.  Which is a shame, because a comfortable restaurant should be available for everyonthe rich. That said, when you consider the effect noise has on the dining experience, it’s foolhardy for any restaurateur to ignore the acoustics of their restaurants.  As Robertson notes:

Restaurateurs who pay more attention to the art on their walls than acoustics might want to rethink. The quiet restaurant movement is backed up science. A recent Cornell University study found that decibels definitely have an impact on deliciousness.

Yep, noise affects flavor.  And it’s important is to remember that a visit to a restaurant, especially with family or friends, is about much more than the food.  Robertson writes:

Most of us go to restaurants not just for the food, but also to enjoy the company of our friends. If we can’t hear what they’re saying, we might as well stay at home with Netflix and a bowl of pasta. But there are few things more enjoyable than sitting in a beautiful restaurant, eating something wonderful, catching up on the latest scandals and (possibly) watching other diners creating scandals of their own. Is it too much to ask for the gentle, sound-absorbing comfort of a well-insulated floor, the odd soft banquette, perhaps – whisper it – a tiny swathe of curtain?

Short answer: No, it’s not too much to ask.

And this is the perfect opportunity to introduce our sister site, Quiet City Maps, where we review restaurants, coffee shops, bars, parks, and privately owned public spaces based on how loud they are (or, one hopes, aren’t).  The focus at Quiet City Maps is comfort, i.e., whether the space allows for easy conversation.  We have started in Manhattan and hope to launch an app before very long.  And then?  Onward to Brooklyn, Queens, and points beyond!

Link via @QuietMark.

Architecture and sound

In Dear Architects: Sound Matters, Michael Kimmelman has written a fascinating article on sound as a component of architecture.  The article uses multimedia elements that allow the reader to hear the images, which makes the piece all the more powerful.  Kimmelman believes that sound is an element that adds texture to a space, for example the ambient noise in Grand Central which “rises upward and outward, toward the hall’s immense ceiling, embodying the impression of the terminal as a soaring gateway to a great metropolis, promising adventure.”   He also acknowledges how noisy cities have become, noting that:

During the Middle Ages, smell was the unspoken plague of cities. Today it is sound. Streets, public spaces, bars, offices, even apartments and private houses can be painfully noisy, grim and enervating.

It is the failure to consider sound when designing spaces, particularly public spaces, that allows sound to become overwhelming, to become noise.  This failure of design can be heard in almost every new “it” restaurant (and the wannabes) where the only consideration appears to be the space’s visual impact.  This is disconcerting because “[a]coustics can act in deep, visceral ways, not unlike music (think of the sound of an empty house).”   And there is no respite from the sounds of the city when your attempt to escape the crowded and noisy streets leads you to a crowded and noisy restaurant, bar, or enclosed public space.

One hopes that architects and designers consider how the design of a space and the materials used allow the people who will use the space to appreciate the sound of their footsteps as they cross the floor or, as Kimmelman observed, the reassuring “heavy clunk” of a solid wood door over a hollow one.  He adds that “we don’t talk nearly enough about how sound in these buildings, and in all the other spaces we design, make us feel.”  No argument here.  It is the failure to consider the affect of competing, discordant, and uncomfortably loud sounds that has made city living more difficult over the last few decades.  So let’s hope that architects and designers consider how unnerving and uncomfortable spaces become when they are designed only for their visual impact and without a thought towards how they sound.

Thanks to Daniel Fink, M.D., a noise pollution activist in the Los Angeles area, for the link.  Dr. Fink serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association.