In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise
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A brilliant, far-reaching exploration of the frontiers of noise and silence, and the growing war between them.
Between iPods, music-blasting restaurants, earsplitting sports stadiums, and endless air and road traffic, the place for quiet in our lives grows smaller by the day. In Pursuit of Silence gives context to our increasingly desperate sense that noise pollution is, in a very real way, an environmental catastrophe. Traveling across the country and meeting and listening to a host of incredible characters, including doctors, neuroscientists, acoustical engineers, monks, activists, educators, marketers, and aggrieved citizens, George Prochnik examines why we began to be so loud as a society, and what it is that gets lost when we can no longer find quiet.
International Space Station Robotic Arm, she listed her hobbies as including “running, swimming, biking, triathlons, windsurfing, snowboarding and bow hunting.” Whatever Williams said about anything was not to be taken lightly. Quickly and unassumingly Williams shot down 90 percent of my suppositions. The noise of takeoff these days was nothing really to speak of—hardly louder than what you’d hear being on an airplane. In fact, for years NASA had been involved in some of the most advanced
Westinghouse discovered the acoustical secret to raising energy levels at work by accident, when the manager of the company’s Newark plant began playing records to test radio receivers. After the project was completed and the receivers were turned off on the plant floor, workers began complaining that they felt more fatigued than when listening to “I Do, Do You?” and “Let’s Get Away from It All,” and asked that the practice be reinstated. In response to lingering criticism by labor advocates,
“audio-related,” and a giant black T-shirt airbrushed with a skull. From the other side of the cab hopped a petite woman with plush red hair and a soft, lilting Southern accent (“Big Red’s Lady,” MP3 Pimp joked, as he somewhat sheepishly explained that they all went by nicknames). Big Red immediately broke into an anecdote in a surprising, twittery voice. “She watched me put that duct tape on the windshield,” he laughed. “Inside?” MP3 Pimp asked. “No, not inside. She don’t like it loud inside.
quest for the one all-purpose, ideal soundproofing technique: the elixir of noiselessness. At the close of the nineteenth century, Samuel Cabot, a Boston manufacturer, had discovered the power of cured eelgrass packed between thick paper sheets to stop sound by creating a “thick, elastic cushion of dead-air spaces.” Using the trademark name Cabot’s Quilt, he was soon boasting of the substance as the Green Glue of its day. “Every Hotel, Flat, Lodge, Hospital, School, Auditorium or similar
Gregory, “The Silence and the History,” in Jonty Semper, Kenotaphion (Charm, 2001). This is an official recording of silent remembrances. “Its impressiveness is intensified”: Ibid. But an oral history: Benedict Julian Hussman, “Voices from the Cloister; Oral Perspectives on the Recent History of New Melleray Abbey,” master’s thesis (University of Northern Iowa, August 1989). 75 percent of farmworkers: “Listen to the Warnings,” Missouri Soybean Farmer (January 2004). “Let us sacrifice”: Pieter