Tag Archive: soundscape

The pandemic’s changing soundscape

Photo credit: Sanaan Mazhar from Pexels

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

Bridget Read, The Cut, identifies the past eight months of the COVID-19 pandemic in terms of the dimmed and heightened sounds in her environment. She associates the start of the pandemic with the silencing of many of the customary sounds in the environment, e.g. less horn honking, no din from restaurants, the absence of the voices and shouts of children as they leave school at three p.m. On the other hand, the increase in ambulance sirens reminded her, as it did many of us, of the people who had fallen victim to COVID-19. This thought also brought us greater fear.

April brought on the sounds of clapping in the evenings to say “Thank you” to our hospital workers, postal workers and grocery store employees. In late May, Read writes that there was the explosion of sounds that accompanied the marches and demonstrations after the death of George Floyd at the hands of police. July 4th is generally recognized with fireworks, but July 4, 2020, brought about many more localized fireworks that actually started before the 4th and went on for weeks afterwards. But as the summer ended and autumn approached, Read writes that there was a quieter period as if people were holding their breath as they reflected on a potential second wave of the pandemic.

November was ushered in by long lines of people waiting to vote and quietly reflecting on who would be elected the next president. Then, on a warm Saturday in early November, Read was overwhelmed by cheers, clapping, car honking, and loud talking from the streets. Everyone seemed to be making lots of noise. What brought about all these sounds–Donald Trump had lost the election.

More excitement followed for the next few days with people rushing out into the streets to celebrate the election of Joseph Biden. Music seemed to be everywhere as people danced in the streets. These sounds that accompanied joy may have been brief, according to Read, but the joy was real.

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.

What does your city sound like?

Photo credit: Thomas licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

DW.com columnist Gero Schliess writes about the sound of Berlin. He invites the reader to “[c]lose your eyes” and “[i]magine a stroll through your city, with your eyes closed, but open ears.” As he meanders through his tour of Berlin, he tells us what he hears and how it reflects the city’s current state of being. His ramble veers off occasionally, as he mentions that the Berlin state government has published a “strategic noise map,” but notes that although noise pollution is a deadly problem, “the city doesn’t lift a finger except for printing pretty noise maps.”

Another interesting fact Schliess tells us is Berlin’s state government’s approach to dealing with noisy nightclubs.  Rather than fining them, the government “has set up a €1-million ($1.24-million) fund to help night clubs pay for extra noise insulation measure.”  While Schliess applauds the program, he laments the loss of what he calls “heavenly sounds”–“[t]he booming bass, the shrieking exalted party people–due to the heavy hand of the law, which has turned “former party miles like Prenzlauer Berg into quiet bedroom suburbs.”

Whether you agree or disagree with his appreciation of all of Berlins sounds (except the traffic noise), we think you’ll agree that Schliess’ piece is a unique observation of a city. And it makes you consider how odd it is that a city’s soundscape is so important to its character, yet it is mostly ignored by those who attempt to describe it.

 

 

Please, god, no:

If you want a picture of the future, imagine every billboard screaming for your attention — forever

The sound of the Internet of Things (and why it matters for brands). Yes, yet another article about using sound for branding.  Apparently we aren’t spending enough money so branding gurus–or whatever they are calling themselves these days–are trying to figure out how to make their brands stand out from competing products and services through the use of sound.  And in an attempt to appear thoughtful as they invade public and private space with invasive sound, they write stuff like this:

Brands need to start creating a sound ecology that differentiates them whilst supporting their consumers. As we interact with a product, watch a commercial or experience a retail environment, it is only the brands of the future that have a fully considered, cohesive and familiar sonic identity that will stop us reaching for the mute button.

How about no?  We are already assaulted by layers of noise whenever we enter the public sphere, do we really need to have even more layers of competing sound added to our increasingly chaotic soundscape?  As if that’s not offensive enough, these branding fiends want to use sound for alerts for our now connected home appliances, leaving us not a moment of silence in our homes as our dishwashers and refrigerators beep and pop, competing for our attention. Because reasons!

At some point, if business refuses to show restraint, someone must step in to stop this anti-social behavior.  No matter how convenient it may be for some people to have their devices scream at them for attention, what of the innocent bystanders who are simply attempting to go from Point A to Point B?  Will no one think about our right to be left alone?

Link via @QuietMark.

If you are interested in personal sound control, check out

Nuheara’s IQbuds

this Fast Company review of Nuheara’s IQbuds. Sean Captain reviews Nuheara’s IQbuds, another player in the personal sound control market. Captain states that he has good hearing, but finds stepping into a loud bar or restaurant disconcerting.  Says Captain, “[n]ot only does the noise frazzle my nerves, I get exhausted trying to discern voices from background clatter.”  Oh, we understand.

Enter Nuheara’s IQbuds, a new class of smart Bluetooth wireless earbuds priced at $299 a pair, that allows users to control their immediate soundscape. So, how do the IQbuds work?  Captain writes:

Equipped with built-in microphones, the IQbuds process ambient audio in real time before feeding it to your ears. That allows you to customize how you hear, such as muting background noise, boosting the voices of people you’re talking to, or layering streaming music with ambient sounds so that both come through clearly.

While Captain notes that the sound quality isn’t quite there yet, his test run of the IQbuds in a loud restaurant convinces him of their value.  Captain writes that “[n]o matter what Cannington (Nuheara’s co-founder) sounds like through the IQbuds, it’s so much better than straining to hear him without them.”

Click this link to read Captain’s review of Doppler Lab’s HERE One, a competing earbud manufactured by Nuheara’s “well-funded rival.”  Reading both reviews, it’s clear that there is room for improvement, but with each iteration HERE One and IQbuds have and should continue to get better, more intuitive, and easier to use.  It’s an exciting product for people who find it increasingly difficult to navigate noisy environments, and may offer some reasonable self-help to people with hearing loss who can’t afford hearing aids.

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.

 

Part sound survey, part sound art, and completely compelling:

The Next Station.  A collaborative work by Cities and Memories and London Sound Survey, the Next Station is a sound map of the London Underground and, “by remixing and reimagining every sound it creates[,] an alternative sound world based on the experience and memory of the iconic Tube.”

 

 

City noise pollution

Harvard student mapped Boston’s noise pollution by neighborhood.

Bostom.com reports:

Erica Walker, a student at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, is trying to figure out how all that noise might be affecting its residents. In doing so, she’s discovered that not all sounds in Boston are created equal. Nor are all neighborhoods.

In order to better determine the Boston soundscape, she “started exploring the city at large with a boom mic and a mission: to better understand the distribution of noise in Boston.”  In the process, Walker also learned that “each neighborhood revealed its own unique noise structure.”

Walker will be issuing report cards detailing the soundscape of each neighborhood in September, giving Boston residents “the opportunity to find out precisely what might be keeping them up at night, or causing that perpetual migraine, or making them restless.”   And that, Walker hopes, is when change may come.   “I don’t think these cities will ever be [completely] quiet,” she said. “But they can be less loud.”