Thursday, September 6, 2007

702 Noise is in the ear of the beholder?

Message no. 702[Branch from no. 700] Posted by Thomas Culhane (1311520071) on Monday, March 26, 2007 8:31am Subject: Re: Relational Summary

HI Dawn,

Sorry to take so long to get to your summary, but I'm glad I waited because you seem to have sparked a really interesting thread of discussions that is fascinating to read. By the way, I second the kudos the others have given you on writing a really compelling summary, replete with heuristics (probing questions that lead to further insights and questions) and filled with poetic descriptions of your environment. It was a really pleasurable read!

Noise may well be in the ear of the beholder as you state, yet there must be physiological norms around which a range of responses must cluster. Thus, around certain thresholds, all people will experience trauma from the sheer amplitude of the pressure waves (beyond 140 db for example -- see page 143) and would have to call that noise. In fact, as you point out, such noises can indeed cause NAUSEA. As we know, the inner ear is responsible for our sense of balance, and if the pressure of sound waves damages the inner ear, it can upset our sense of balance and cause us to get dizzy and get motion sickness and vomit. The military has pulsed sound weapons that can focus a noise beam on opponents and knock out their eardrums.

This should not be confused with electromagnetic pulse weapons (now being field tested in Iraq, and apparently, Tennesse! see

As for noise below 90 db (which causes hearing damage after 8 hours), noise would be in the ear of the beholder, and we would have to ask ourselves what psychological associations make metallica played at 80 db more annoying to some people than Vivaldi played at 80 db. A case could be made that heavy metal music employs patterns of sound that mimic industrial and urban noises associated with anxiety and do so deliberately to provoke an emotion in the listener.

As a rock musician and, at one time, film score composer, having attended the Musicians Institute of Technology in Hollywood for a year and a half, I can tell you that we deliberately use a palette of sound designed to elicit certain responses in our listeners. I played in a college rock band at Harvard with Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine) and he could tell you that "Rage" uses sounds that can help define the emotional rage that the lyrics are about.

So it is no wonder that heavy metal and "hard rock" are considered "noise" by people who don't want to share the emotion the music inspires. Older people, who mostly no longer want to fight the world or rebel against society, seem to find the emotional manipulation the music creates to be uncomfortable. For youth, the music seems to speak to what they are already feeling, so it acts as a positive reinforcer.

In this model, noise becomes anything that pulls you into a psychological state that you did not want to be in. Thus, if I am angry at the world and you put "soothing music" on, I will call it noise. And if I am excited by feelings of disorder, because they celebrate my desire for freedom from a regimented society, I will call structured music (like a waltz with its easy 1-2-3 beat, or disco with its 4-on-the-floor simplicity) noise.

What do you think of this hypothesis? Does it resonate with you? Most importantly: CAN IT BE EMPIRICALLY TESTED?

How might you design an experiment to prove this?

Class: start thinking now about how you might test all your claims and observations! That is the big challenge that we all face (PROVING the way we see the world is the "optimal" way so we can convince others!), and that will form the basis of our "grand finale" (what you will call your "final exam".)

Thanks to all of you for this entertaining and informative relational summary and discussion thread!

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