Greg Milner, the New York Times, discusses the changes in audio technology that make the average sound of popular songs louder. The piece is a fascinating look at how modern music is engineered to be loud–“loudness as a measure of sound within a particular recording.”
Milner states that “[m]any audio pros maintain that excessive loudness creates aural fatigue.”
I would add, “and doctors and audiologists also maintain that excessive loudness causes noise-induced hearing loss.”
Remember: if it sounds too loud, it is too loud. Protect your hearing before it’s too late.
Thanks to Arnold Gordon for bringing this article to our attention.
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.
We would say yes, but no to singing washing machines. While we appreciate sound artist and designer Yuri Suzuki’s desire to “‘propose ways for sound to not turn into noise but rather help enhance harmony and comfort” in our surrounds,” can we suggest that designers consider reducing the whirrs and rumbles of domestic appliances, allowing us to enjoy our homes in quiet?
by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition
Noise is not simply an annoyance: noise is hazardous to mental and physical health and well-being. The research literature supporting this statement is plentiful. Recognizing that the research linking noise to poor health was growing, New York City decided to update its noise code ten years ago. While many citizens supported this effort, there was a great deal of opposition from the nightlife community who feared more stringent limits on sound levels would impede the business of bars, music venues, dance clubs, cafes, and late-night restaurants. Then Mayor Michael Bloomberg, believing that an updated noise code was essential for the health of New Yorkers, asked that the supporters and opponents of the noise code sit down and work together to bring about a code that would work for all its citizens. They did and the City’s updated noise code was passed.
In January 2018, the Comptroller of the State of New York decided to assess the strength of the noise code in responding to the many noise complaints received by 311, the New York City Complaint Center. The DiNapoli report found that between 2010 and 2015, “New Yorkers made 1.6 million complaints via 311.” Nightlife noise complaints were identified as music, party or people noise coming from a commercial establishment. Between 2010 and 2015, the report noted there were 154,587 such complaints with concentrations in the Lower East Side and Chinatown. The New York City Police Department confirmed about 1/3 of these complaints and most were resolved by actions taken to “fix the condition.”
A separate survey of residents was also conducted, and respondents offered suggestions as to how to lower the number of nightlife complaints, e.g. better management of people socializing in front of the establishment, enforcement of volume levels of music.
It is interesting that shortly after this DiNapoli report was released, we learn that New York has decided to appoint for the first time a Nightlife Mayor to “ …promote the industry and soothe the strained relations between the city’s night spots and the neighborhoods that complain about their merriment.” New Yorker Ariel Palitz, the former owner of Sutra, a club that she managed for ten years until it closed several years ago, was named Nightlife Mayor.
Following the announcement of Ms. Palitz as Nightlife Mayor, the NY Post ran an article that informed readers that Ms. Palitz’ club, Sutra, topped the list of “loudest gin joints for seven years running according to an interview she gave to a Lower East Side blog six years ago.” Ms. Palitz blamed the noise complaints on one relentless caller to 311.
According to the DiNapoli report, however, there are many New York City residents who are disturbed by the sounds that emanate from nearby clubs, bars, and music venues. In the New York Times article, Ms. Palitz states that she wants to listen to the residents who complain about the noise. She then goes on to say that she believes both sides feel that things are unfair but so far there have been “no practical solutions to address them.”
Accepting Ms. Palitz’ desire to resolve the disputes between the two sides, residents and owners of nightlife establishments, I would hope that the Advisory Committee that has already been named to assist her has members who are knowledgeable about the laws pertaining to noise control, as well as the impacts of noise on health and well-being. There should be someone on this committee that can assess the needs of both the owners and residents with appropriate surveys. I would also suggest that the committee members and Ms. Palitz read the most recent DiNapoli report on noise as well as his earlier report on nightlife noise reports.
For the past thirty years as a member of the Board of GrowNYC where I oversee its anti-noise activities, many New Yorkers have called on me to assist with their noise complaints, including residents who have been impacted by noise from nearby nightlife establishments. In addition, I have worked with community groups in New York City and elsewhere on noise issues and write extensively on the health impacts of noise pollution. I offer my long-term experience to Ms. Palitz as she moves forward to promote the nightlife industry in New York City while maintaining the requisite quiet for their nearby neighbors.
By Antonella Radicchi, PhD, Steering Committee Member, The Quiet Coalition
Despite its inherently subjective nature, music appears to be universal across different cultures around the globe, according to the findings of a hot-off-the-press Harvard study published January in Current Biology.
This interdisciplinary study, run by an international team of scientists from Harvard University and the Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse, produced significant findings that suggest people can infer song function on the basis of song form alone, regardless of the song’s cultural origin.
The scientists were committed to filling the gap of knowledge regarding the lack of empirical evidence for whether or not different types of music share common features across cultures. To address this issue they designed a study based on two experiments.
In the first experiment, 750 online participants in 60 countries were asked to listen to 14-second long excerpts of songs collected from nearly 90 small societies around the globe. The songs were drawn from the collection of the Natural History of Song–a Harvard-based project investigating the world’s vocal music–and focused on three types: dance, healing, and lullaby. Participants were then asked to rate the association between the vocal songs and their potential functions, on a scale composed of six prevalent functions, such as dancing, soothing a baby, healing illness, expressing love, mourning a death, and telling a story.
Data collected through first experiment showed that people were able to infer the song function only on the basis of the song form, despite the random sampling of the songs, the short duration of the excerpts, and the unfamiliarity of the online participants with the cultures were the songs originated. This finding contradicted academic expert projections–when ethnomusicologists were asked by the scientists whether people could deduct the song function from the song from or not, they were skeptical and expressed doubt. But they were wrong.
The scientists continued with a second experiment that evaluated potential commonalities in music making across cultures by asking the online participants to rate contextual and musical features, such as the number and gender of the singers, the melodic complexity of the songs, etc. Again, the results were very consistent, and by comparing the results form both the experiments scientists were able to argue that common musical features exist across cultural boundaries.
Despite the promising results, a significant weakness affects the study, as highlighted by the lead scientist: the participants were people who have had access to Internet and probably were familiar with vocal songs from different cultures. In this regard, it remains unclear whether the results reveal the structure of the human mind or they tell us how and what the contemporary listeners hear in world music.
This bias will be addressed in a follow-up study in which the survey will be translated in 24 languages so the scientists can extend the number of countries involved. Furthermore–and this sounds very exciting!–the scientists aim to bring the study into the field and play in real time songs excerpts for members of small societies based in Indonesia, Ethiopia, and elsewhere.
Stay tuned for further amazing results!
Dr. Radicchi’s main area of expertise encompasses innovative urban design and planning, soundscape research, citizen science, and mobile technology. Her ultimate goal is to design environmentally just and human scale cities. Dr. Radicchi is a registered architect, and she holds a Ph.D. in Urban Design and Territorial Planning, with doctoral studies conducted at MIT and at the University of Firenze. She is currently an Ipodi-Marie Curie Fellow at TU Berlin Institute of City & Regional Planning, where she has created and run two innovative soundscape projects, including the Hush City app, a citizen science tool for empowering people to identify, map, and evaluate quiet areas worldwide. Dr. Radicchi is a steering committee member of The Quiet Coalition.
My father used to say that people don’t know how important some things are until we don’t have them. He wasn’t talking about physical things, but about health, love, and security. Well, money and food, too.
The same is true of music. Those of use born with normal hearing don’t appreciate how wonderful it is to enjoy music, whatever type of music we like to listen to.
But for someone born with profound hearing loss, cochlear implants offered her the opportunity to hear music for the first time.
Dr. Daniel 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 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.
CanadaSound aims to make library of Canadian noises.Haydn Watters, CBC News, reports that a “new project is hoping to round up Canadian noises like these to make a soundscape of the country.” So, what iconic sounds are on the short list? “The roar of a snowblower. An orca’s breath underwater. Bed sheets on a laundry line, snapping in the Newfoundland wind.” Watters writes that the project, The CanadaSound, wants people to submit “their Canadian noises” online with the aim of making those sounds accessible by musicians “making new music.”
We think this is an excellent project and would actively encourage a similar one for the U.S. What iconic U.S. sounds would you include? The cruel and relentless drone of the Mr. Softee jingle? The ear-blasting screech of New York City subway cars braking as they enter Union Square Station? The loudest stadium crowd roar encouraged in a sadistic display of bravado by sports team franchises? Or perhaps the unconscionably loud scream of a motorcycle with an after market tail pipe racing down a residential street, setting off car alarms in its wake. Oh….never mind.
Adding that the sound of the wind blowing through a wheat field or waves lapping up on a beach–any beach–at dawn would be pretty fabulous. Your suggestions?
Study finds that dogs are happier listening to soft rock and reggae. Of course, like humans, the preferences weren’t universal, with some pooches preferring other music genres. But researchers at the University of Glasgow and the Scottish SPCA found that “[r]eggae music and soft rock were found to provoke the most positive changes in [doggie] behaviour.” This study followed an earlier “2015 study by the same institutions that found classical music had a calming effect on dogs.” Now that researchers have determined the absolute favorite canine music genres, the Scottish SPCA is planning to “install sound systems in all its kennels to play Bob Marley and Jon Bon Jovi [Ed.: Really?] to their unsuspecting charges.”
Proving once and for all that your dog is cooler than you are.
From the book The Human Body and Health Revised by Alvin Davison, 1908 / Public Domain
And Experts Say Earphones Are Part Of The Problem. Lori Mack, WNPR, reports on hearing experts’ growing concern about the potential health hazard earbuds and headphones pose to children. Mack states that “[s]tudies show hearing loss among kids and teens is up about 30 percent higher than it was in the ’80s and ’90s,” adding that “[e]xperts believe earphones are part of the problem.” A problem that turns on volume and time exposure. Simply put, the louder the sound, the less time it takes to damage your hearing.
Mack interviews audiologist Michele Abrams who spoke about limiting exposure to damaging sound:
When we think about decibel levels, when we think of loudness levels, it’s really incremental. It’s a logarithmic scale. It’s not a linear scale. So we know that 85 db is that critical level. Eighty-five db, eight hours a day, that’s your maximum. If it’s 90 db — five db greater — you have to cut your time in half.
While generally informative, Abrams’ comment unfortunately identifies 85 db, eight hours a day as the “critical level.” But this noise exposure level is too high. It was developed solely as an occupational noise exposure standard and should never be applied to the general public, certainly not to children. As Dr. Daniel Fink, a noted noise activist, wrote in, “What Is A Safe Noise Level For The Public?”:
In the absence of a federal standard, an occupational standard meant to prevent hearing loss appears to have become the de facto safe level for all public noise exposures. This is demonstrated by the use of 85 decibels as a safe sound level by hearing health professionals and their organizations, in media reports, and in publications, most often without time limits; by its use as a volume limit for children’s headphones marketed to prevent hearing loss, again without exposure times; and by general acceptance of higher indoor and outdoor noise levels in the United States.
* * *
Eighty-five decibels is not a safe noise exposure level for the public. In 1972, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health developed an 85 A-weighted decibel recommended exposure level to reduce the risk of hearing loss from occupational noise exposure. … Even with strict time limits, this standard does not protect all workers from hearing loss.
So what is a safe noise level for the public? Dr. Fink states:
In 1974 the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Office of Noise Abatement and Control (ONAC) adjusted the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommendation for additional exposure time: 24 instead of 8 hours daily and 365 instead of 240 days annually. The EPA calculated the safe noise level for the public to prevent hearing loss to be a 70-decibel time-weighted average for a 24-hour period… The EPA did not adjust for lifetime noise exposure, now almost 80 years versus 40 work-years, so the real average safe noise level to prevent hearing loss is probably lower.
One thing is clear, allowing children to use earbuds or headphones without limiting volume and time exposure is a recipe for hearing loss. Since the federal government has abdicated its authority to regulate noise, and manufacturers are unlikely to design products that limit the user’s ability to deliver as many decibels as he or she wants, parents must step in to protect their children’s hearing. Here’s something that will help: Don’t allow your children to wear earbuds and headphones. Tell them that if they want to listen to music they must play it through a speaker. While this may be unpopular, know that you will be giving your children an important gift–the ability to listen to and enjoy music throughout their lifetimes.