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Posts Tagged ‘noise

“I see by hearing”*…

 

Echolocation_1

Daniel Kish navigates the world like a bat does—and he does so without ever leaving the ground.

After losing his vision as an infant, Kish taught himself to move around with the help of echolocation. Like bats, Kish uses his mouth to produce a series of short, crisp clicking sounds, and then listens to how those sounds bounce off the surrounding landscape. (Our winged neighbors tend to emit these clicks at frequencies humans can’t hear, but Kish’s clicks are perfectly audible to human ears.) From there, Kish makes a mental map of his environment, considering everything from broad contours—like walls and doors—down to textural details.

Kish now teaches echolocation, mostly to students who are blind. For these students, Kish believes that an echolocation practice can buoy confidence and independence. Kish’s own experience is persuasive—he famously bikes along hilly, car-lined streets—and a growing body of scholarly research has begun to unpack exactly how expert echolocaters do their thing. This research has also backed up the idea that this skill is highly learnable. When researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, asked novice echolocators to use tongue clicks to determine which of the two objects in front of them was larger, the newbies were soon able to do so in a way that the scientists couldn’t attribute to chance.

Whatever your sightedness, there’s something to be said for learning to listen more attentively to sonic scenery. Kish believes that vision has a way of blunting the other senses unless people work to really flex them. Deft echolocators, he says, are able to perceive fine differences—distinguishing, say, between an oleander bush (“a million sharp returns”) and an evergreen (“wisps closely packed together, which sound like a bit like a sponge or a curtain”). They’re discovering sonic wonder wherever they go…

A beginner’s guide to navigating with sound: “Teach Yourself to Echolocate.”

* Darrin Lunde, Hello, Bumblebee Bat

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As we take sound advice, we might send closely-heard birthday greetings to Sir Frederic Charles Bartlett, FRS; he was born on this date in 1886.  A psychologist (and the first professor of experimental psychology at the University of Cambridge), he was one of the pioneers of both cognitive psychology and cultural psychology.  His 1932 book Remembering was hugely influential in its demonstration (via the experiments it reports) that memory is not a consultative process that retrieves facts from an immutable record, as most then believed; rather, it is reconstruction, open it a variety of influences that can shape what is recalled.

But relevantly here, he also studied sound and its impact on humans.  His 1934 book The Problem of Noise is a study of “sound that is a nuisance,” and its impact, both physiological and psychological, on hearers.  It was, though probably unintended, Bartlett’s contribution to “clearing the air” for echolation.

Bartlett source

 

Written by LW

October 20, 2018 at 1:01 am

“A volcano may be considered as a cannon of immense size”*…

 

On August 27, 1883, the Earth let out a noise louder than any it has made since.

It was 10:02 a.m. local time when the sound emerged from the island of Krakatoa, which sits between Java and Sumatra in Indonesia. It was heard 1,300 miles away in the Andaman and Nicobar islands (“extraordinary sounds were heard, as of guns firing”); 2,000 miles away in New Guinea and Western Australia (“a series of loud reports, resembling those of artillery in a north-westerly direction”); and even 3,000 miles away in the Indian Ocean island of Rodrigues, near Mauritius (“coming from the eastward, like the distant roar of heavy guns.”). In all, it was heard by people in over 50 different geographical locations, together spanning an area covering a thirteenth of the globe.

Think, for a moment, just how crazy this is. If you’re in Boston and someone tells you that they heard a sound coming from New York City, you’re probably going to give them a funny look. But Boston is a mere 200 miles from New York. What we’re talking about here is like being in Boston and clearly hearing a noise coming from Dublin, Ireland. Traveling at the speed of sound (766 miles or 1,233 kilometers per hour), it takes a noise about four hours to cover that distance. This is the most distant sound that has ever been heard in recorded history…

More at “The Sound So Loud That It Circled the Earth Four Times.”

(And for a consideration of “the noise beneath the noise,” check out “The Noise at the Bottom of the Universe.”)

Oliver GoldsmithGoldsmith’s Miscellaneous Works (1841), 90

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As we Bring the Noise, we might that it was on this date in 2013 that the eruption of Ecuador’s Tungurahua volcano sent a massive plume of ash, stones, and vapor soaring more than eight miles into the sky above the Andes.

Pyrocumulus clouds soaring high above the Andes due to the eruption of Ecuador’s Tungurahua volcano

source

 

Written by LW

July 19, 2016 at 1:01 am

“I’ve begun to realize that you can listen to silence and learn from it. It has a quality and a dimension all its own”*…

 

Olympic National Park: the stone marking the quietest square inch in the U.S. (stolen by vandals in 2009)

Reaching the quietest square inch of land in the U.S. is literally a walk in the park. Well, a rainforest, to be precise. To find it, you hike along the Hoh River in the heart of Olympic National Park, past bigleaf maples carpeted in spike-mosses and around epiphytic ferns sprouting out of the saturated Northwest soil. Eventually you pass through the split trunk of a Sitka spruce to enter an even muddier, mossier, more verdant nook of the forest. Look to your left and you may notice a tiny red pebble resting on a mossy nurse log, marking 47°51’57.5″N, 123°52’13.3″W. That’s America’s quietest wild place.

The quietest inch isn’t a sound vacuum. It represents a place with a minimum of human-made noise. The discipline of acoustic ecology, which is dedicated to understanding the natural sounds that come through loud and clear when we’re not around, outlines an important distinction between sound and noise. The blip of water droplets from a forest canopy? Sound. The tinny din of Taylor Swift through smartphone speakers? Noise. For example, the inch, as it’s often called, is exposed to flute-like bugling from Roosevelt elk, the Morse-code chirp of the American Dipper, and assertive hooting from the endangered Northern Spotted Owl. The steady rush of the Hoh River rounding the shoulder of Mount Olympus whooshes nearby, and summer snowmelt punctuates the setting with staccato droplets. In spite of the natural sound, dense forest engulfs the inch in a hush that is, at times, below 20 decibels—quieter than most recording studios…

Understand why silence is golden at “Welcome to the Quietest Square Inch in the U.S.“; dive more deeply at “The Unintended Consequences of Noise.”

* Chaim Potok, The Chosen

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As we keep it down, we might spare a thought for Oscar Hammerstein; he died on this date in 1919.  As a newly-arrived immigrant to the U.S., Hammerstein worked in a cigar factory, where he discovered ways to automate the rolling process.  He patented his innovation and made a fortune– which he promptly reinvested in his true passions, music and the arts.  Possessed of a sharp sense of design and an equally good acoustical sense, he built and ran theaters and concert halls, becoming one of Americas first great impressarios…  a fact worth honoring, as history tends to overlook “Oscar the First” in favor of his grandson, Oscar Hammerstein II, the gifted librettist/lyricist and partner of Richard Rodgers.

Hammerstein (on left, with cigar) and conductor Cleofonte Campagnini

 source

 

Written by LW

August 1, 2015 at 1:01 am

The City That Never Shuts Up…

 

For those with delicate ears, New York City in the 1930s was a 24-hour nightmare. The city rumbled, squeaked, mewed, and tooted thanks to the aural diarrhea of ice deliverers, cattle-car operators, jazz players, river dredgers, steam whistle-happy boat captains, cats, dogs, chickens, and construction workers shooting rivets into everything in sight.

The cacophony that thundered through New York in the Jazz Age has now received proper cartographic attention from Emily Thompson, a historian at Princeton who studies acoustic innovation and the historical “emergence of excessive noise,” according to her MacArthur “genius grant” bio. Back in 2002, Thompson penned a book about noise and architecture called The Soundscape of Modernity, which triggered a flood of people bugging her to work up a companion piece that you could actually, you know, hear. More than a decade later the result is here for all to savor: The Roaring ‘Twenties, an interactive map of roughly 600 peevish, outraged, and frequently hilarious noise complaints from 1926 to 1932.

Thompson delved into musty records boxes from the city’s municipal archives to create this fantastic minefield of misery and broken sleep. As to her motivation, she explains:

By offering a website dedicated to the sounds of New York City circa 1930, The Roaring ‘Twenties is following the lead of countless other individuals and organizations who have turned the web into a vast sonic archive, delivering a previously unimaginable wealth of historic sound recordings to anyone with a connection and a desire to listen in. With The Roaring ‘Twenties, I hope we not only add to that archive, but also set an example by doing so in an explicitly historically-minded way. The aim here is not just to present sonic content, but to evoke the original contexts of those sounds, to help us better understand that context as well as the sounds themselves. The goal is to recover the meaning of sound, to undertake a historicized mode of listening that tunes our modern ears to the pitch of the past. Simply clicking a “play” button will not do.

Head on over to the site and you’ll be confronted with this pigeon’s-eye view of the city. Each target represents one noise complaint, often accompanied by old news-reel footage offering the sights and sounds of those responsible for the rowdy decibels: grinning jackhammer operators, clacking elevated trains, boys racing homemade scooters, whanging blacksmiths, a particularly loud-mouthed preacher from the Salvation Army:

More of the story– and wonderful sample cases– at “Exploring the Hilarious Noise Complaints of 1930s New York.”

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As we cover our ears, we might recall that this is a resonant anniversary in the Big Apple’s sonic history:  on this date in 1904  New York City Mayor George McClellan took the controls on the inaugural run of the city’s innovative new rapid transit system: the subway.  London had the world’s first underground (opened in 1863); Boston, America’s first (1897).  But New York’s subway quickly became the largest in the U.S… and a significant contributor to the din that accompanies life in The City That Never Sleeps.

McClellan (center) at the controls

source

Written by LW

October 27, 2013 at 1:01 am

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