Archive for the ‘Articles’ Category

Too much noise? No, too little silence

In a recent op-ed piece for the New York Times, author and silence activist George Prochnik eschews ranting about noise in favor of cultivating “a passionate case for silence.”  Prochnik (whose recent book “In Pursuit of Silence” further explores this theme) suggests that doom-and-gloom about noise and its well-documented health effects may be losing traction with a public weary of “self-compassion”.  Indeed, despite noise being the number one environmental complaint in New York City year after year, last week’s International Noise Awareness Day offered its hometown little more than free hearing tests behind City Hall.

Prochnik’s perspective is an intriguing one, and he finds promise in efforts to integrate “oases of quiet” into the urban soundscape.  Referencing Swedish research on urban environmental noise (to which we have directly contributed), he reminds us that noise control efforts that are nearly futile along busy urban streets can rather create truly quiet, healthful “quiet sides” in backyards and courtyards between buildings.

Of course, this approach is neither Swedish nor new— pre-war neighborhoods in Manhattan are chock full of residential buildings boasting sheltered courtyards—but Prochnik reminds us that this luxury is not often afforded to residents of disadvantaged areas.  Not to mention, courtyards that may have provided a quiet oasis in pre-air-conditioning days now carry the modern acoustical burden of concealing scores of unsightly air-conditioning units—often giving these New York City courtyards the irony of being as noisy as the streets they defend against.

Who is Emily Howell?

This article may have sparked my interest because we share a name but nonetheless it is interesting.  Whether you love her or hate her, Emily Howell is composing music in a whole new way.  Miller-McCune recently highlighted her work along with David Cope in their article Triumph of the Cyborg Composer.  Have a listen…

Emily Howell – Track 1

Emily Howell – Track 2

Emily Howell has a musical conversation that includes “words” (white nodes) and the connections between them.

Emily Howell Composition

Miller McCune

Tiny ears, big concern

As professional listeners, acousticians are trained in the dangers of noise-induced hearing loss, which is both cumulative over the years and basically irreversible.  Still, nearly anyone with ears understands that loud noise is bad for hearing, and has probably felt the after-effects of noise exposure after a rock concert or a night out.  But what about people too young to understand, or to recognize the physical sensations caused by overexposure?

This week, the New York Times examines the need to protect babies and young children from overexposure to noise.  Noise that is uncomfortable to an adult can be physically damaging to a child, whose smaller ears receive sound pressure with greater impact and sensitivity.  Protecting young ears usually requires earmuff-style protectors, since earplugs are ill-fitted to small ears (not to mention a choking hazard).

The article overlooks the danger of noise exposure from mass transit (including the hometown New York City Subway).  Subway noise levels at the platform can exceed 100 decibels near a curved track or express train—a level that will damage even adult hearing with frequent exposure.  Parents that frequently use the subway with their children should take steps to protect them from noise, since even slight hearing damage as a child will be carried for a lifetime.

Noise-reducing city canyons

After a nearly two-year editorial process, we are happy to announce that we’ve recently published a technical paper in the peer-reviewed acoustics journal Applied Acoustics.  Performed in cooperation with our acoustic colleagues at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden, the research explores what happens to noise as it travels over the city canyons formed by streets and backyards between rows of buildings—such as those common in New York City.

Although the details are rather technical, the bottom line is that these canyons reduce noise—so the more street canyons between you and that noisy highway, and the wider these canyons are, the quieter the noise will become.

This field of acoustics research helps to improve the acoustic models that acousticians and city planners use to predict noise.  Implemented in software, these models can map out how traffic and new development will impact the soundscape of a property, a neighborhood, or even an entire city.

An amphitheater grows in Brooklyn

Brooklyn borough president Marty Markowitz is promoting plans for an expanded 8,000-seat amphitheater at Coney Island’s beachfront Asser Levy Park, but yesterday’s New York Times highlights the ongoing community opposition to the project—on the grounds of traffic, crowding, and of course, noise.

Neighbors are concerned that the existing “quiet oasis with a modest bandshell” will be disturbed by what would become the city’s largest amphitheater in a public park.  The 9-acre park’s location as a buffer between Coney Island’s famous boardwalk and nearby residential neighborhoods pits the locals’ need for peace and quiet against a broad desire for “a Coney Island entertainment district that will restore the wider area to glory.”

Although the recently-updated NYC Noise Control Code does not itself restrict amplified sound at public, non-commercial performances, opponents of the project may have found a weapon in the city’s permitting rules—which may prohibit permits for sound devices within 500′ of a church during services.  With a synagogue across the street from the park, this could preclude use of the amphitheater during Friday night and Saturday service—a potentially prohibitive restriction for a facility that aims to draw top entertainers.

(Via Brooklyn real estate blog Brownstoner)

Restaurants: the newer the noisier

Today’s Wall Street Journal features an article on noisy restaurants, and specifically why newer restaurants are noisier than ever.  Although the physical causes are nothing new—open kitchens, loud music, and hard finishes that provide little acoustic absorption—the article associates recent noise increases with the current economic downturn.  Interior style elements that traditionally absorb sound—heavy curtains, carpeting, linens, and upholstery— “telegraph a fine-dining message out of sync with today’s cost-conscious, informal diner.”

Of course, the clean, modern aesthetic sought by today’s upscale restaurant needn’t necessarily be a noisy one.  Acoustical treatments that absorb sound and reduce din don’t always take the form of plush carpet, soft upholstery, or heavy drapes; modern treatments can match almost any aesthetic conceivable, hiding behind smooth plaster, wood veneer, metal, transparent plastic, and even artwork.  Beyond matching acoustic performance to visual appearance, an acoustical consultant can  also ensure that these treatments don’t go overboard—unnecessarily deadening the lively, energetic feel that many popular restaurants thrive upon.