Posts tagged with decibels

One Square Inch of Silence: One Man’s Search for Natural Silence in a Noisy World
by Gordon Hempton
Free Press, 2009
368 pps., $26 ($4.20 used on

Sonic Warfare: Sound, Affect, and the Ecology of Fear
by Steve Goodman
The MIT Press, 2009
240 pps., $35 ($25.20 on Amazon)

“As for cost-benefit analysis,” Gordon Hempton begins a climactic soliloquy to an audience of frowning Federal Aviation Administration agents, “we have three million visitors to Olympic Park each year. We’ve had two timber mills close. I have seen the poverty in the town of Port Angeles. I live there at the park. To be designated the world’s first quiet place and to develop quiet tourism in that area – let me tell you, I do a lot of traveling and it is so noisy. There is a tourist need for this quiet place. It would be a tremendous benefit.” [1]

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This week, Weird Vibrations will review two new books together: Gordon Hempton’s 2009 “One Square Inch of Silence” and Steve Goodman’s 2010 “Sonic Warfare.” The books offer contrasting viewpoints on acoustic ecology – the first is a naturalist’s travelogue, the second a philosophical critique of military-industrial soundscapes. Both call for increased attention to our planet’s sonic environment, but they take radically different stands on where to go from there.

Before publishing the review, I want to poll you on a couple of questions. First, is understanding sound as an ecosystem practical? In other words, can this formulation help us deal with noise in a just fashion? How does the ecological metaphor sit with you?

Second, does acoustic ecology’s focus on “natural” preservation make it essentially conservative? This is a charge that’s latent (if not explicit) in some recent Sound Studies work that foregrounds technology. What do you think?

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts. (I have ESP, but type them out for others’ sake, please.)

From 1955 through 1963, the Acoustical Society of America published NOISE Control, a bimonthly journal dedicated to noise abatement. Focused mostly on technical solutions, NOISE Control was scientifically serious, though vexed by the subjective nature of listening for its entire life. It also ran amazing ads. (Interspersed here.)

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Above: “Soundshape Frame,” from the blog of the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia

Above: Thomas Ashcraft’s recording of the invasion of Baghdad, 2003. From

This is a follow-up to the previous post, which was a general typology of sound maps. Many readers wrote in with more maps that, in one way or another, extend the format. Ten of them are listed here.

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Few frustrations match the one that involves lying in bed, dead-eyed in the night, as the neighbor dog’s ten-billionth bark pierces the thin psychic veil between sanity and bloodlust.

People kill other people distressingly often over noise.

Plenty of evidence implies that the planet is noisier than at any other time in human history. What now?


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Increased CO2 emissions caused by marine shipping have made the ocean less acoustically absorbent. As a result, animal sounds travel further, creating an underwater cacophony that may affect marine life.

The journal Nature Geoscience published a letter online yesterday suggesting these findings.

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An Appeals Court judge in my home state ruled this month that police officers cannot give out speeding tickets based solely on the sound of a passing vehicle, unless they have some kind of specialist’s credentials as listeners. The ruling overturned two previous decisions against Daniel Freitag, who got a ticket in 2007 while driving on business in his Navigator SUV. The full ruling is here.

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One of the buzz safety issues this holiday shopping season is toy volume.

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Greater quiet has long been a major focus of consumer product engineering. Cars, computers, air conditioners, and almost any other gadget imaginable has been analyzed and refined in the name of drawing less attention to its operation.

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The city of Pattaya, Thailand, closish to Bangkok, hosts an annual laughing contest.

The winner of the 2008 contest, who laughed for more than 12 minutes and reached 110 decibels

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