This spring, the music department borrowed a professional sound level meter from a company that sells them. I spent a day walking around and talking to people about noise in the city, using the reader to show them how loud their environments were. This brief interview was with two teenage girls on the Manhattan-bound Q train.

WV: Hey guys, sorry to bother you, I wonder if I could ask you a couple of questions for a project I’m doing.


WV: Cool, thank you. Do you know what this is? Have you ever seen one of these before?

Noise meter

Uh, no.

WV: Can you guess based on …

It looks like a microphone.

WV: Yeah, it has a microphone. Can you guess what that’s reading right there?

Hz or something?

WV: Yeah, it’s the Hz of the sound, actually. It’s a decibel-level meter. This is what police and people from the Department of Environmental Protection in New York use to read sound, like to respond to noise complaints in the city.

Oh, that’s cool. Like how high it goes over?

WV: Yeah, exactly, yeah. Have you ever worried about getting arrested for having your headphones on too loud or anything like that?

Noise note

Not yet!

WV: Oh, ok. Did you know that there’s laws about that?

Well, yeah. I didn’t know they … People go around with the little thing … people have those, like, secret …

WV: Well, they come out if somebody makes a complaint.

Oh, oh, ok.

WV: Have you had problems with noise in New York?

Yeah! There’s this annoying car outside my apartment, oh my god. Loud-ass brown music, just like … yeah.

Loud car

WV: Loud-ass what?

Brown music.

WV: What do you mean?

Like, my culture. Non-American music. Yeah. Random languages.

WV: Do you ever complain?

No. I don’t know, I would feel like a herb if I complained.

WV: Feel like a what?

Like, I don’t know, like one of those people who get annoyed for no reason. Yeah.

WV: But you know you could call 311, try to get somebody to come out or something like that.

I guess.

WV (Speaking to other interviewee) What do you think about noise?

Sometimes there’s like … I dunno, my neighborhood’s pretty like suburban like kind of quiet and everything, so it’s like sometimes maybe like one or two neighbors will have like a party or something, but normally …

WV: Do you know that … so this is at like, (pointing to noise meter) it’s kind of pushing 80 right now, the decibels. You know sustained exposure to 80 decibels can damage your hearing?

Really? Really? What’s the standard level that’s like healthy?

WV: Well, there’s nor really a standard, but most reasonably quiet places in New York it would be like 40, maybe 50. But on the train there’s so much noise.

So it’s like, that’s bad, right? What is it on now …

WV: Well, it’s a high level, yeah.

Do you have your iPod on you (to friend)? Let’s see how many decibels it gets.

iPod on seat

WV: Try it out, yeah. What do you think could be done about noise? Or can anything be done?

Well, random trains always are gonna make noise. But how about other places of the city, like how much would they be?

WV: Well, it depends, but it can get pretty loud. If you’re standing on the platform while the train’s coming in it can get over 100. It’s already up in the mid-80s now.

What about those trains that are like, covered or whatever? I don’t think those make as much noise. The new E Train. No noise man!

E Train

WV: The E train is loud?

The new E train that they made, that one doesn’t have that much noise as before. This one’s pretty loud though.

WV: Any other …

We have to shout over each other just to hear each other.

WV: Any other random thoughts about noise you want to share?

Uh, no.

WV: Thanks for your time, and sorry to interrupt you guys.

It’s OK. Thanks for enlightening us.

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