It’s almost nine p.m. and I’m sitting on the patio in the dark, writing my Tuesday post. It was warm today, in the eighties and inside the house, the temperature is still hovering in the high seventies. I find that as I get older, I like cooler temperatures. Perhaps it’s male menopause … perhaps it’s the extra layer of permafat I’ve accumulated in my sixties. One of the pleasures of California summers is cool evenings, so here I sit. I can hear the faint audio of the TV from several nearby houses and the ffft-ffft-ffft of the Rainbird sprinklers watering our back slope. My next door neighbor’s automatic pool cleaner periodically makes a sound that is a cross between a wildcat snarling and a walrus vomiting, which sets the rat-dog on the hill to yowling. It got me thinking … Thought Number One … how rarely I get to hear real silence here in Southern California, how often what passes for quiet is really a combination of ambient sounds I’ve become accustomed to. Like the sprinklers. The faint TV sounds. Even the pool sucker. The rat-dog yapping? That’s Noise. Yes, I know the sound of natural silence. I heard it once a few years back, when Muri and I took a cruise to Alaska … one of our excursions was a seaplane flight to an isolated mountain lake. Standing on the shore looking out over the glassy water, I heard it. Creepy (only kidding). Too bad it can’t be bottled. The closest thing to bottled silence I know of is a pair of Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones, and truth be told, there is a faint electronic hiss inside the ear cups.
Today I was writing in our park. The park is about a mile from the busy Riverside Freeway and if you take time to notice, there is a continual drone of tires on concrete. Most times, I don’t even hear it. The same is true of the screaming of kids on distant playgrounds (I make sure they are distant when I pick my picnic table) and the cawing of the crows that are always flying from tree to tree, looking for a scrap of food left in a parking lot or a hawk to harrass. But today, a solitary park maintenance man was trimming around the trees with a gas powered Weed-Whacker. Most definitely Noise. That got me thinking … Thought Number Two … What allows some sounds to slip into the background, while others are Noise? And why is it personal? I know dog-lovers for whom barking is ear-music … I love the sound of the birds chirping in the morning, it drives Muri crazy. And while I love jazz, much of it, Muri would call … well … Noise. If I’m near someone in a restaurant who’s chewing loudly, it takes all my willpower not to shout, Chew with your %$#(* mouth closed. Others don’t even notice.
We can probably come up with a Rogues Gallery of sounds we can all agree are Noise: Weed-Whackers; leaf blowers; finger nails on chalkboards (shiver). According to an article in Scientific American, certain frequencies between 2000 and 4000 Hz … right in the middle of the range of human speech … contribute most to making a sound unpleasant. Maybe that’s why certain voices drive me crazy. When these frequencies are removed from a sound, listeners report then as less unpleasant. They also found that rough sounds in which there are random variations in loudness contribute to unpleasantness of a sound. It is no surprise that our Rogues gallery of sounds fall into both these categories. However, an article in ScienceNow says that knowing the source of the sound contributes as well … people told a sound is part of a modern musical composition are more likely to call it pleasant, even though their physiological reactions to the sound don’t change. We are apparently a species for which everything is subjective. I like birds. Chirping is pleasant, regardless of frequencies. Go figure. Still, everyone oughta like jazz.
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