The Signal of Noise

Hoh Rainforest in Olympic National Park, in the state of Washington, home of One Square Inch of Silence.  Photo: Gordon Hempton

Hoh Rainforest in Olympic National Park, in the state of Washington, home of One Square Inch of Silence. Photo: Gordon Hempton


Once long past, listening gave clues for survival. Now we listen unconsciously, blocking noise and tuning in to what we want to hear. Yet the unwanted sounds we filter out tell us a lot about our environment and our lives. Broadcaster Teresa Goff listens for the messages in our walls of sound.

As civilization has become more mechanized, more urbanized and more digitized, the amount of noise has increased in tandem.  This noise, according to Garrett Keizer, author of The Unwanted Sound of Everything We Want: A Book about Noise , "is a window for understanding some of the paradoxes and contradictions of being human."  If you take the sum total of all sounds within any area, what you have is an intimate reflection of the social, technological, and natural conditions of that place.  

Hildegard Westerkamp, a founding member of the World Forum for Acoustic Ecology, says that "Environmental sound is like a spoken word with each sound or soundscape having its own meanings and expressions."  So when you listen to the noise, what does it have to tell you? "Noise is a pit of interpretation," says noise musician Brian Chippendale. Broadcaster Teresa Goff goes into the pit with her documentary, The Signal of Noise.


Reading List

Jonathan Sterne, MP3: The Meaning of a Format, Duke University Press 2012.

Garrett Keizer, The Unwanted Sound of Everything We Want, PublicAffairs 2010.

Karin Bijsterveld, Mechanical Sound: Technology, Culture, and Public Problems of Noise in the Twentieth Century, MIT Press 2008.

Emily Thompson, The Soundscape of Modernity, The MIT Press 2004.

Jacques Attali, Noise: The Political Economy of Music, University Of Minnesota Press; 1st edition (June 30, 1985).

Hillel Schwartz, Making Noise from Babel to the Big Bang, MIT Press 2011.

Murray Schaffer, The Tuning of The World, Random House Inc (T); First Canadian Edition edition (June 1977).

Claudette Michelle Murphy, Sick Building Syndrome and the Problem of Uncertainty, Duke University Press 2006

Douglas Kahn, Noise Water Meat: A History of Sound in the Arts, MIT  Press 1999

Steve Goodman, Sonic Warfare: Sound, Affect, and the Ecology of Fear, MIT Press 2010

Barb Stuckey, The Taste of Sound, article in SALON.

Stopping the Silent Invasion - The Coqui Frog

Lilian Radovac, The 'War on Noise': Sound and Space in La Guardia's New York, in Sound Clash: Listening to American Studies, ed. Kara Keeling and Josh Kun (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012), 289-316.

Related Links:

One Square Inch of Silence

The World Soundscape Project

Composer Hildegard Westerkamp

Sound Artist Kristen Roos, (Beneath the Surface Sound Walk)

Noise Musician Brian Chippendale and band Lightning Bolt

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