Tag Archive: sounds

Why do certain sounds bother some people?

Photo credit: LuAnn Snawder Photography licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Some people are bothered by common sounds that don’t bother others, such as noise from chewing. The technical name for this disorder is “misophonia.”

For many years, misophonia has been thought to be a psychological problem, but new research shows that the problem may be neurological in origin. People with misophonia have differences seen on brain scans from those without misophonia.

Medical science is replete with examples of diseases thought initially to be due to psychological causes, but later found to have biological bases. For example, stomach ulcers were long thought to be caused by stress, with a contribution from spicy food or alcohol, but then they were found to be caused by bacteria.

In the auditory field, hyperacusis–a sensitivity to sound, in which noises that don’t bother others are perceived as painful by those with this condition–was also long thought to be psychological. Then researchers found pain fibers in the auditory nerves, and the biological basis of this condition was better understood.

So kudos to the researchers studying misophonia. For those who suffer from this disorder, having the science world focus on identifying the biological basis for the problem may be the first step to treating it.

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.

A nice way to spend a lazy afternoon

Photo credit: Christopher Michel licensed under CC BY 2.0

Drop in and listen to the orcas. Matthew Taub, Atlas Obscura, writes about OrcaSound, an internet app that “allows citizen scientists to livestream the ocean sounds of the Pacific Northwest from anywhere in the world, to help gather data about the resident killer whales and their environs.” OrcaSound has a library of recordings that let you explore various ocean sounds.  Perfect for a leisurely holiday.

Sounds that soothe in life and near death

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition

My research and writings have focused on the effects of noise on mental and physical health. If we are to lessen the adverse impacts of noise on hearing and well-being it would be wise to start by educating children to the dangers of noise. But what about the wonderful sounds around us that we want children to tune into? Shouldn’t we also teach children about the “good” sounds as well as the “bad ones,” named noises?

It was with these thoughts in mind that my children’s book “Listen to the Raindrops” was written and beautifully illustrated by Steven Parton. The title draws children to sounds that are pleasant, as do the lines within the book. But the book also describes the bad sounds that might hurt the delicate ear. The book ends by asking moms, dads, girls, and boys to join together to stop the noise, so that we can forever hear the raindrops fall.

Environmental sounds such as birds singing, breezes, and waves hitting the shore are sounds that individuals seek out to feel relaxed. Quiet areas within cities are being identified by researchers such as Dr. Antonella Radicchi, who believe such areas will be sought out and protected by people who look to these “urban oases” of quiet so that they can listen to the natural sounds they enjoy to hear. She also conducts soundwalks through these areas.

Thus, it was my background in trying to protect our natural sounds and to lessen the din in our environment that drew me to the New York Times piece “In Life’s Last Moments, Open the Window.” Rachel Clarke, a British physician, wrote the article to describe how much comfort patients close to the end of life get from the “sheer vitality” of nature. Dr. Clarke learned that a blackbird’s song can’t stop disease but it can offer comfort. In life I long knew that natural sounds bring us contentment, but after reading this article I now know that near death we seek the peace these sounds bring to us.

But just as we are fighting the intrusion of noises that are robbing us of our ability to tune into natural sounds, I fear that these same noises will rob us of the comfort of these natural sounds as we lay dying. How many urban hospitals can open up windows to allow the gentle breezes and the chirping birds to be heard? I would hope that Dr. Clarke’s article reaches the attention of architects and designers who may be able to bring small gardens to urban hospitals and to public officials who will use their offices to lessen overall outdoor noises so that these will not drown out the natural sounds so desired by those hoping to open a window as they lie in bed facing the end of life.

Dr. Arline Bronzaft is a researcher, writer, and consultant on the adverse effects of noise on mental and physical health. She is co-author of “Why Noise Matters,” author of “Listen to the Raindrops” (children’s book illustrated by Steven Parton), and has written extensively about noise in books, encyclopedias, academic journals, and the popular press.  In addition, she is a Professor Emerita of the City University of New York and Board member of GrowNYC.

The Sounds of Protest

Photo credit: John Hilliard licensed under CC BY 2.0

are getting louder. Alastair Boone, City Lab, writes about Stuart Fowkes, the founder of a new project called Protest and Politics, “a sound map that documents the sounds of protest, as they grow louder in cities around the world.” Boone reports that “from Brexit to Trump’s election, the past year has known more protests than many before it,” but he adds that Fowkes’ project includes sound from as early as the Gulf War in 1991.

Protest and Politics is part of a larger program founded by Fowkes, Cities and Memory, which is essentially a world sound map. What makes his new project different is that it is “the first to document the sounds of history.” “What’s great about this project is that it’s little slices of history,” Fowkes explains.

Listening to his recordings of protests in the United States, one can hear the same chants across the country. The “same sort of unity is present abroad,” where “casserole protesting, for example, using pots and pans to make noise in lieu of voice,” which originated in Latin America, is also heard in recordings from Europe and Canada.

Taken together, Fowkes hears “something of a unified voice that’s becoming stronger, becoming louder.” He concludes that “[m]ore and more, people feel like they’re part of something.” And that is what Fowkes hopes people take away from listening to his project. Says Fowkes, “I think there’s a general feeling that we need to rise up and make our voices heard.”


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.

If you are in DC this week and want to find a quiet space,

Photo credit: Studio Simon Heijdens

head over to the Royal Netherlands Embassy and you’ll find the “Silent Room.” The Silent Room is an art installation by Simon Heijdens that he originally designed for the 2016 SXSW Festival. Heijdens said that during the festival there is too much noise and smells and people and sight, so he wanted to create a “black hole,” “somewhere where people could people can go inside, almost like a cold shower of silence.”  From the outside, his piece looks like an ordinary black shipping container, but inside “it’s a different world, devoid of sound and color.”  And he means completely.  Heijdens worked with a team of acoustic engineers to make “the padded, anechoic chamber that absorbs noise from the outside world. The result is complete, dead silence.”

“Silent Room” is open from noon to 2:00 p.m. through February 1st.  Click the link if you are interested in seeing it as you must RSVP for an invite.


Listen to the symphony of the natural world:

The Great Animal Orchestra, by Bernie Krause, musician, ecologist, soundscape recordist, and founder of Wild Sanctuary, an organization dedicated to recording and archiving natural soundscapes.

Thanks to London Sound Survey for the link.