I recently stumbled onto an interesting article published by Newsweek, An Unquiet Nation. In short, the United States is losing places where there is natural quiet. Audio ecologist Gordon Hempton defines silence as “the complete absence of all audible mechanical vibrations, leaving only the sounds of nature at her most natural. Silence is the presence of everything, undisturbed.” Hempton travelled to remote and urban landscapes, measuring decibels and rude interruptions to the noises of nature.
In 1983 he found 21 places in Washington state with noise-free intervals of 15 minutes or more. By 2007 there were three. (One of them is Olympic National Park, which he is trying to save, and he will not reveal the names of the others, arguing that they are protected by their anonymity.) Whom can we blame? People, and planes. Hempton claims that, during daytime, the average noise-free interval in wilderness areas has shrunk to less than five minutes. Think of the snowmobiles roaring through Yellowstone, helicopters flying over Hawaii volcanoes, and air tours over the Grand Canyon. It is air traffic that Hempton seems to resent the most: in his book, he travels across the United States in a 1964 VW bus, recording sound as he goes, from Washington state to Washington, D.C., where he meets with politicians and officials to press his case for the preservation of natural silence.
I found this interesting because I believe that music is as much about silence as it is about sound. Some of the most effective song writers and composers understand how and when to use silence to propel music forward and keep the song/composition interesting.
This country is in constant motion. We never stop. In our homes, there is a constant influx of noise from the TV, computer, screaming children, kitchen gadgets and so much more. I need moments of quiet, but my concept of quiet is finding the least noisiest space, which is often still noisy. In Chicago, it is impossible to walk outside and drive to a park to avoid the constant chaos that surrounds me – even in forest preserves.
I keep thinking about what it will mean when no spaces will exist where the natural sounds of nature exist. How will the constant influx of noise impact our hearing?
Here is a link to the full story on Newsweek.