Right to Quiet Society Noiseletter
Spring 2007 - page 4

Study of annoying noises' roots

By Roger Highfield

LONDON—British scientists have launched the BadVibes project, a quest to find the world's worst sound to help shed light on how Stone Age sonic likes and dislikes shaped modern sound preferences. They hope that ultimately the project will help to make the world a better- sounding and less stressful place. The project is backed by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and run by Prof. Trevor Cox of the University of Salford's Acoustics Research Centre.

BadVibes was launched by Cox at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester and around 30,000 people have voted for their least favourite sound. "People can log on to www.sound101.org and then listen and vote on a collection of awful sounds."

Among the website's offerings to offend people of taste and discretion are snores, flatulent outbursts, rows, and phlegmy coughs.

"The idea is to get people thinking about the complex way we listen to and interpret sounds," said Cox.


"We hope to learn about what is the worst sound in the world, and maybe why it is the worst sound. This is important be- cause noise significantly affects our quality of life."

Cox said that it is not always easy to predict whether someone will be annoyed based on the physics of a sound wave alone. If you have control over the noise, it tends to be less annoying. But if you are fearful of the source, then it usually makes it worse, he said. A study conducted in the 1980s found the worst sound was a garden tool scraped across slate, similar to fingernails being scraped down a blackboard.

Some speculate that we react to squeaking chalk because it is like the warning cry of a primate ancestor. But cotton-top tamarins, a species of monkeys, react the same way to a screeching sound (comparable to finger-nails on a blackboard) as to amplitude-matched white noise (this sounds a bit like a de-tuned radio) which people can tolerate more. That means, said Prof. Cox, that the dislike of scraping sounds comes from some ancient reflex that doesn't seem to be present in the cotton-top tamarins.

—Daily Telegraph / The Vancouver Sun

The heat is on

One year ago, in February 2006, National Geographic magazine contained an article about the dramatic symptoms of climate change in the Alps—the shrinking glaciers. Below is a short part of that article pertaining to the problems with noise:

Seventy-seven million tons of cargo move through the mountains in an average year: furniture, chemicals, livestock, mineral water, automobiles. By 2020, some predict, trans-Alpine commercial transport will double.
The mountains concentrate the fumes and noise from all these vehicles. The emissions are trapped in narrow valleys where the wind doesn't reliably reach, and the upper layer of warmer air at night creates a cap to hold them down. Their carbon dioxide is a contributor to global warming.

As for noise, the same principle that makes the deep notes of the alphorn resonate up and down a valley works just as well for the engines of big trucks.


Their maddening buzz-saw whine can be muted horizontally by the sound barriers that have been added to many highways, but there is no way to block the sound that the valley walls echo and carry upward.

"Noise you'd barely hear on the flatland at a distance of 400 metres carries up to 2,000 metres in the mountains," said Dr. Klaus Rhomberg of Doctors for the Environment in Innsbruck. This constant under-noise raises blood pressure, shreds nerves, may increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes, and impairs children's ability to concentrate.

Standing on a bluff above Sauze d'Oulx, one of the Olympic skiing venues in Italy, gave me a great view of the valley—or rather two halves of a valley bisected by the motorway snaking toward France via the Fre'jus Tunnel. I was more than 1,100 feet above the highway, and the noise of the traffic was just as grating, and possibly louder, than it had been all night a hundred yards away from my hotel window in Bardonecchia.


By Shell Busey

Question: I live in a three-storey condominium. The neighbours above me have squeaky floor boards. Is there a way to fix squeaky floor boards or do I just buy earplugs?

Answer: Quiet Rock is 5/8-inch thick and is equivalent to eight sheets of 1/2-inch gypsum drywall. This product can be applied to walls or ceilings to give you the privacy and quiet comfort that you want without having to approach your upper-floor neighbour. The product requires application with recommended caulking sealants and screws, along with crown mouldings around the perimeter.


Please call 604-542-2236 (in the Greater Vancouver calling area), ext. 25 and have HouseSmart Renovators give you a quote.

Is Quiet Rock expensive? Yes, but it is nowhere near the cost of moving. Can you install it yourself? Yes, but only with proper instructions from the supplier.

Call Dryco at 1-866-443-7926 for further information. You can send questions to <askshell@housesmartcentre.com> .
Please include your name, city and phone number.

—The Province

Entire contents © 2007 Right to Quiet Society. Cartoon © 1996 Right to Quiet Society
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