The Unwanted Sound of Everything We Want

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Garret Keizer takes a look at noise—all the unwanted sounds we’re bombarded by every day, from barking dogs to wailing sirens to thumping music coming from next door. He explores the class issues and political ramifications of noise, from Tanzania to New York, and the environmental sustainability of a quieter world. In The Unwanted Sound of Everything We Want, he shows that noise is as much about what we want as about what we’re trying to avoid.


Garret Keizer

Comments [49]

Forgive me but... you know what's really noisy? When you listen to this show on line and Leonard's voice blasts out the program break at the beginning and end of each segment ("HI!!!! THIS IS LEONARD LOPATE!!!). It seems like it is twice as loud as the actual pieces. No other program on WNYC, that I have heard, has this problem. Do the producers never proof their own work by listening through someone else's computer? Humph.

Jul. 06 2010 07:42 PM
Rob from Brooklyn

You know what's really noisy? When you listen to this show on line and Leonard's voice blasts out the program break at the beginning and end of each segment ("HI!!!! THIS IS LEONARD LOPATE!!!). It seems like it is twice as loud as the actual pieces. No other program on WNYC, that I have heard, has this problem. Do the producers never proof their own work by listening through someone else's computer? Humph.

Jul. 06 2010 07:37 PM
Rob from Brooklyn

You know what's really noisy? When you listen to this show on line and Leonard's voice blasts out the program break at the beginning and end of each segment ("HI!!!! THIS IS LEONARD LOPATE!!!). It seems like it is twice as loud as the actual pieces. No other program on WNYC, that I have heard, has this problem. Do the producers never proof their own work by listening through someone else's computer? Humph.

Jul. 06 2010 07:36 PM
ellenb from nyc

My apt lease says that no musical instrument are allowed to be played in the apts. Period. Also if a tenant complains of noise above on wood floors, the person above must put donw rugs over 80 percent of their floors.
ISn't this standard in apt leases? Do other listeners also have this in their leases? This should be normal law in a civilized city.

Jul. 06 2010 02:02 PM
joe from manhattan

I am grateful for people like Garet Keizer and George Prochnik (In Pursuit of Silence) for bringing attention to the issue of noise pollution, the need to control it and the ill effects noise can have on us physically and mentally.
As a music producer, engineer and musician, I cannot overstate the importance of all of these issues.

With this in mind, we must also not to undermine the practicality of the argument with reasoning that can sometimes be rightfully reduced to being reactionary.
The world evolves and rather than dwelling on how much quieter it once was, we need to reconcile that controlling noise is not at odds with modern life.
Prochnik's suggestion of "spontaneous group meditation," while harmlessly esoteric, does makes it easier for or those indifferent to controlling noise pollution to turn a deaf ear.
The noisy status quo can also not be challenged without addressing the economic circumstance that contribute to its perpetuation.
If we want the world at large to understand what they won't be missing, so to speak, we need to focus on the everyday occurrences of excessive noise on which there can be no dispute.
Before we extol the virtues of the poetry of silence, we all need to agree that the seriously loud refrigeration noise generated by a Fresh Direct truck, making a delivery at 7:30 on a Sunday morning is something that none of us should have to wake up to.

Jul. 06 2010 01:54 PM
Barbara from 10024

2 comments: first, Some restaurateurs I've spoken to say that the music is for the sake of staff (to keep them active and motivated) rather than customers. Second: noise pollution can be protected against only with great difficulty; I think of it as aural garbage. You can protect against real garbage being thrown at you, but not very easily against noise garbage.

Jul. 06 2010 01:31 PM
sarah from manhattan

is there evidence of violence regarding the transfer of land as depicted in the recent BBC documentary, Mugabe and the White African?

Jul. 06 2010 01:15 PM
Jenn from Washington Heights

There is an assumption that as long as noisy activities are done during the standard business hours it is okay. Parties on friday, leaf blowers at 9am monday, robo calls at 6pm but when you work a counter schedule to the standard hours these things are disrupting your sleep.

Jul. 06 2010 12:45 PM
Hope from Brooklyn

I've got an upstairs neighbor with a 5 yr old who runs back and forth across the wooden brownstone floor, creating the loudest sound that I have ever heard in 10 yrs of Brooklyn apartment living. I'm interested in this idea of the things behind the noise that irritate us even more than the crashing and thudding from above (the lack of reciprocity, inconsideration) I find that my annoyance lasts way longer than the child's actual running and is more about the lack of consideration from the parents who don't recognize the impact of this on the downstairs neighbors. A cellist above sounds like a delight..but perhaps that's just the grass is greener

Jul. 06 2010 12:41 PM
The Truth from Becky

Every place I travel outside of NY they tell me I speak to loudly! It's a bad habit that I am having a hard time breaking.

Jul. 06 2010 12:41 PM
Siouxie921 from Bronx.

This is in response to the arrogant cellist who just spoke on the air. An apartment dwelling is NOT a rehearsal hall. Your downstairs neighbor was totally justified in his/her complaints.

Your attitude that your rehearsal sessions are something positive for your neighbors is totally out of wack.

Glad I don't live in your building!

Jul. 06 2010 12:40 PM
Hugh Sansom from Brooklyn

I recall an incident from college. The university was putting up a new building with construction beginning each weekday morning at 8am.

A student I knew complained to the university about the noise. His comment: "I have to turn up my music to tune out the construction noise."

As for rural noise -- anybody who has lived near somebody with chickens knows that rural noise can be really annoying.

Jul. 06 2010 12:40 PM

Thank you for reading my comment. It would be great if you would post the name of the device the guest mentioned--I'd like to pass it on to the bar I have a particular problem with.

Jul. 06 2010 12:39 PM
Sarah from Long Beach

what do you think of auditory processing programs like "the listening program"? I am using this with my 4 year old son who has always been very sensitive to and distracted by various noises.

Jul. 06 2010 12:37 PM
The Truth from Becky

My dentist plays jazz - uh I love jazz, but I am not sure I want this mixed with the sound of the drill though.

Jul. 06 2010 12:36 PM
Noises from Hell

HOw about loud talkers on the bus or those annoying clique people on the express buses what is it conveying

Jul. 06 2010 12:36 PM
Hugh Sansom

I've lost a significant percentage of my hearing (just bad luck, not noise related) and one of my audiologists told me he was deeply concerned about younger generations suffering widespread, permanent decline in hearing because so many venues now blast audio at very high volumes.

I went to an outdoor event in Fort Greene a little over a week ago. The band noise was deafening -- rib-shaking. Well over 120 decibels.

I live on Eastern Parkway where, in the warm weather, there is a contingent of motorcyclists that race up and down Eastern Parkway on weekend nights.

Our minds are not built for endless loud noise -- it is psychologically and physically jarring.

Jul. 06 2010 12:35 PM
Peter Hayn

What can be done to reduce the noise level of power gardening tools such as mowers and leaf blowers?

Jul. 06 2010 12:35 PM
tom from New Jersey/New York

Machines that are for public use Bus trains garbage trucks. Why are they not regulated. the Subway air brakes are a great example of excessive noise.

Jul. 06 2010 12:34 PM
Marnis from nyc

The city puts up these signs about honking fines, but could care less if you complain.

Jul. 06 2010 12:34 PM
Marsha Andrews from UWS

In Singapore you can't even hear the subway trains entering the stations. Why can't we implement the same with our subways? It is so noisy ... especially in some stations.

Jul. 06 2010 12:34 PM
Victor from Ramsey, NJ

Lenny, don't be too harsh on ipods. I always listen to your show on one of them

Jul. 06 2010 12:34 PM
Steph from Prospect Heights, Brooklyn

Sometimes on the subway the public service announcements are played one after the other, making me feel like I'm going to loose my mind. And these announcements aren't relevant ones like delay up ahead, these are more like, "Attention ladies and gentlemen, eating is prohibited on the NYC subways," then, half a second later, "Attention ladies and gentlemen, it is a crime to move between cars on the NYC subway" and then, which is think is hysterical, "Attention ladies and gentlemen, if you see an elderly rider, please give up your seat, courtesy is contagious. Thank you for riding the NYC subway." It's a great reminder, but after 7 other announcements and a day of listening to NYC noise, I feel like courteousness could start with not torturing everyone with unnecessary announcements.

Jul. 06 2010 12:33 PM
branca from nyc

Doesn't the army use noise and music to torture theenemy

Jul. 06 2010 12:33 PM

I am a huge fan of mass transit...however, it is simply amazing (and galling) to me how loud NJ Transit and DeCamp busses along our main thouroughfare are. They are diesel and make stops every couple of blocks. Aren't there cleaner and quieter busses currently running in NYC? Replacing these obnoxious behemoths would be worth the cost. (and passengers could benefit by getting off the bus a block or two away from their destination too. less stopping and stopping for the bus and more calories burned by the riders!)

Jul. 06 2010 12:33 PM
joey from nyc

compare obnoxioius noise to acrid smell

Jul. 06 2010 12:33 PM
The Truth from Becky

You can really tell how much noise surrounds us in a blackout, when all that is mechanical is quiet...if this heat wave keeps up you will soon see.

Jul. 06 2010 12:30 PM
Sarah from NYC

Worst noise in the city: the earsplitting beeping of descending city bus stairways. What could possibly be the justification for this sound? And if I can hear your iPod, it's hurting you and annoying the @!#$ out of me.

Jul. 06 2010 12:30 PM
veronique from Manhattan

Latest trend in NYC bars is wall-less structure where the wall is replaced by ceiling to floor windows, like French doors. These "windows" are left open thus removing any barrier to the blasting TVs and shouting drinkers.

Jul. 06 2010 12:30 PM

A hidden cost of living in the suburbs is the noise of the landscaping crews who descend on nearly every property with mowers, weed cutters, and blowers, from early spring to late fall. I wonder what the impact is, especially as it affects birds who depend primarily on hearing for communication. My community has a ban on blowers, but they continue to be used, as the police cannot keep up, and the penalty is not effective.

Jul. 06 2010 12:29 PM
Karen from Brooklyn

"The amount of noise which anyone can bear undisturbed stands in inverse proportion to his mental capacity." -Schopenhauer

Jul. 06 2010 12:28 PM

Isn't noise the price you pay for living in a lively happening city or neighborhood. If you want peace and quiet, go live in the country. It seems that city dwellers want to have their cake and eat it too.

Jul. 06 2010 12:27 PM

call 311 if you have a problem with noice in NYC

Jul. 06 2010 12:27 PM
Liam from East Elmhurst

We don't enforce because politicians find it negative to re-election campaigns-especially since the all night party crowd moved in.
But, "it's OKAY!"
They can write tickets and do a campaign against it-someday, they will.

Jul. 06 2010 12:26 PM
Laura from Port Washington, NY

I am moving from the suburbs to the city, where ironically I believe it will be quieter.
Some 25years ago or so, an influx of cheap labor made suburban "landscaping" a service even a modest income could afford. Hence lawns manicured by the worst noise imaginable. A constant din in the once quiet suburbs. Any ordinances routinely flouted. City noise from the 19th floor won't come close.

Jul. 06 2010 12:25 PM
paris from Manhattan

Sirens from fire trucks and police cars in Paris seem to me to be less disturbing. Is that perception or fact? If it's fact, why can't NYC change their sirens?

Jul. 06 2010 12:25 PM
Elizabeth from Sunset Park, Brooklyn

My neighbourhood is extremely noisy -a fact I neglected to notice before I moved here. The excessive noise here is the primary reason why I desire to move to a new apartment.
Inconsiderately loud and sensitive car alarms are in abundance, shops employ people to literally shout out specials, sales and deals -sometimes amplified, sometimes not, neighbours turn their stereos on and -I kid you not- turn the speakers so that the street is amplified rather than their own apartments (can someone explain this practice to me, please?), car stereos blare out music so loud that the sound becomes garbled and invariably sets off the car alarms on the block, and the BID on 5th Avenue, in their infinite wisdom, pipe holiday music onto the streets in the weeks preceding Christmas. No amount of cajoling, pleading, asking, begging or complaining helps. I need to move.

If you appreciate quiet moments, do NOT move to Sunset Park Brooklyn.

Jul. 06 2010 12:25 PM
Austin Hennelly from New Brunswick, New Jersey

I live by a traffic light and gas station on a busy street and the music from the cars at the light is so loud that I need to shout in my own apartment or close the windows and turn the radio up.

Jul. 06 2010 12:24 PM
RJ from Prospect Hts

I have lived in Prospect Hts in Brooklyn for a long time, and Vanderbilt Avenue has become a restaurant row. Generally, that is fine--the diversity of options and busyness (even though much of it is a significant symbol of gentrification) is lovely. However, the addition of bars with outdoor areas has become a major disruption. It's one thing to hear music, talking, or loud sports cheers when the doors open and close; it's another when there's no provision for enclosing those areas--especially for big events--say, the year-round sports events.

In winter, the sound is contained behind closed doors, but during the other 3 seasons--it's day in, day out, because there's always a game of some sort.

I'm generally tolerant of noise--the neighbor who occasionally wants to play it loud or have a party (one neighbor even lets me know in advance!)--but ongoing loudness damages the neighborhood; at least one tenant in my building has left because of it.

Jul. 06 2010 12:23 PM
Melinda from Jersey City, NJ

A comment regarding the timing of sound:
I am a classical musician. Perhaps it is because of how much of my life is spent making music, but I find that I crave silence the way I crave music. To me it feels like I need both to have balance in my life. If there is music on, I can't fall asleep - and if there is music on when I am needing silence, I find that music itself - this amazingly pleasurable and fulfilling thing in my life - can actually turn into a somewhat unpleasant distraction instead.

Jul. 06 2010 12:22 PM
Jay F. from manhattan

Vuvuzelas and the new low frequency sirens on police cars... Can't stand either.

Jul. 06 2010 12:21 PM
Mike from Tribeca

The State Insurance Fund building across the street from our apartment building runs its air conditioning system seemingly non-stop during the late spring and summer months, so there's a constant droning in the air. Very obnoxious.

Jul. 06 2010 12:21 PM
bill from nyc

Dr. Mack's foam earplugs. You will love the city.

Jul. 06 2010 12:19 PM
jo from bklyn

calles police last nibght m80s set off on schoolyard police don't care didn't know what an m80 was!

Jul. 06 2010 12:19 PM
liam from East Elmhurst

I organized complaints against noise at the beginning of the QUALITY OF LIFE program. Most of the complaints were for loud stereos especially in passing cars. Then add the abusive offensive language of the music and you have it.
Still, I found the powers that be, don't focus on this enough and still talk about (as your host has) subways and airplanes etc. We CAN control these loud car stereos-it's called ticket blitz. I hope the city is listening.

Jul. 06 2010 12:18 PM

I was in Utah in a BLM area where I literally heard nothing. I have never had that sensation and it was a bit unnerving.

Jul. 06 2010 12:15 PM
dfs from bk

Local police and 311 are totally useless for noise complaints. They might as well answer the phone and say, "We will be totally ingoring anything you are about to say." Schoolyards in urban areas are not just filled with regular sounds of play, but ridiculous ear shattering screaming, perhaps most akin to the savage scream of an NBA dunker. They all do it and it is earsplitting. The teachers don't care, probably because better outside than in their class. But it's obnoxious and way above the normal noise of play.

Jul. 06 2010 11:53 AM
Ronald Bourque from Brooklyn, NY

In my part of the city, the Marine Park area of Brooklyn, much of the loud intrusive noise is purely gatuitous. Above all, are the motorcycles with straight pipes - no mufflers - that can be heard five blocks away. Now there is a new phenomon/craze, that I call motorcycle envy: attachments to exhaust pipes of cars and pickup trucks tha produce a loud buzzing or guttural sound especially when accelerating. I often hear large long-bed dump trucks gearing down instead of using their brakes alone to slow and stop.

All of this gatuitous noise-making is in clear violation of the NYC Noise code but the NYPD does not enforce the code pertaining to to the type of vehicle-generated noise that I have described. I am certain the the NYPD has not issued one summons for noise from vehicles in the past 25 years. They have chosen not to enforce the NYC noise code.

Jul. 06 2010 10:44 AM
Stephen Grover from Washington Heights

I love the significant noises of the city, and hate the insignificant. Sirens, birdsongs, horns, shouts, fireworks, music, brakes: these carry information. Air-conditioners and choppers do not.

I have discovered it is useless to protest about helicopter noise.

Jul. 05 2010 09:25 PM

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