Monday, 19 April 2010

This world sounds different to you and me

I have been reading about the lives of illegal immigrants in Britain recently. Lives dictated by fear, entrapment and exploitation. This got me thinking a lot about how even though we share the same space and hear the same sounds as each other; the meaning and experience can be vastly different.

To me a siren may be startling, but it tells me that someone else is in danger or trouble. To someone working and living illegally without papers, a siren means 'is it me this time?' A knock on the door to me tells me that someone has come to visit, it is a positive and pleasant sound. To people living illegally it is a sound of fear. 'Who can this be, and what do they want?'

Living in cramped, overcrowded houses, sharing bedrooms and often beds with several people, all working different shifts throughout the day and night means that the wonderful sounds of company and humanity are also difficult to appreciate, as there is no break or reflection. Sleep is sporadic and broken by the lack of quiet time and space.

From crowded house onto crowded minibus into crowded, brutally loud workplace and back again. No peace in which to process events. Language barriers closing down the opportunity and stimulation of words, compressing them to unintelligible noises, harsh tones and fear.

This world sounds different to you and me.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

The mysterious silence of the volcano

The sudden eruption of Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull volcano on Wednesday morning after nearly 200 dormant years, has had an interesting affect on our soundscape here in the UK and across much of Europe too.

Anyone who has heard my recordings or read earlier posts will be well aware of the low pitched rumble that creeps into even the most beautifully peaceful sounding places. The boom of the aircraft fighting to be heard amongst the birds and the breeze.

Well no aircrafts have left or arrived in British airspace for three days now as the ash clouds from the volcano have made it too dangerous to fly. The roar overhead has left us.

I would love to say that I've really noticed the quiet in the sky, but to be honest I haven't, because day to day there are so many other industrial and traffic related noises around the city that clarity hasn't exactly been restored. For people living closer to airports and flight paths, or for those out in the country where it's a bit quieter though, there is a real difference.

I rode out into the countryside today and must admit that it was strange to sit and listen without the bassy wobble above. I actually felt a little unnerved hearing the trees creak. I'm not used to it being so quiet. Something familiar was missing.

It made me realise that normally, even when I think I am only hearing one plane overhead, the sound of all those planes in the sky must be merging together and dispersing infrasonics (frequencies too low to hear) all around us. Adding a hidden depth to our soundscape which has gradually become the norm.

This deep bass bubble which engulfs us has been popped, giving us the clarity and freedom to hear nature unspoiled, but we are so used to it being there that the countryside sounds tinny and empty without it.

It would take longer than we're going to be allowed to get used to a world outside the bubble, as the planes will surely be back in the sky within the week. I hope though that this experience enables me to hear, feel and understand more clearly, the often unnoticed affect of the sonics of airtraffic on my environment.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

She's Electric

Another great story from the world of sound. Now that electric cars are on the verge of mass production in the west, car companies are debating over what to do about their sound.

Some are developing ways of recreating existing engine sounds for their supercars' so as not to lose the roar of driving, whilst others are looking at amplifying the unique sound of the electric engine, even going as far as to fit speakers to pump the sound out.

Nissan appear to have even gone one better that this though and developed a futuristic melodic chime to alert people that the near noiseless electric runaround is approaching. You couldn't make it up.

See the full article here

Monday, 15 March 2010

Acoustic Engineering Boosts Productivity?

Anyone who has struggled with stress and concentration in the office should have a look at this article. There is definitely not enough thought put into making workplaces sonically comfortable, but with greater emphasis on acoustic architecture many of the distractions and annoyances in noisy offices can be greatly reduced.

I like the way this article sells it as a way to increase productivity, telling the boss that we are costing them thousands of pounds a year through sonic distraction. But then I guess that is the language of business and if it makes them listen that's fine by me.

I'd just settle for a few less headaches.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Survival of the Fittest

Interesting article here discussing the effects of human noise on animal behaviour and how we are disrupting their ability to mate, hunt, forage and avoid predators. The full report is available from the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution.

The most common effect is known as masking, whereby a human constructed sound such as that of a railway or road impedes an animals ability to hear a mating call or the scuttling of its next meal.

Animals and birds do adapt to a degree though. Studies have found that inner city birds often sing louder or at a different pitch to their country companions in order to be heard over the traffic and commotion.

But not all species have the ability to adapt to the ever changing human environment, and the speed at which things change in the modern world means that even the ones that do are having to evolve at a pace that will surely leave some behind.

Maybe it's just survival of the fittest in the animal kingdom, but it doesn't seem fair that humans get to play such a part in it.