March 2004

In A Silent Way
Why is Everything so *&!@%# LOUD?!?

By Paul D. Lehrman

“Beautiful, isn't it?” Gomez said. She seemed to sense that he was uneasy.

“Yes, beautiful,” he answered. But he didn't feel that way at all; something about this forest struck him as sinister. He turned round and round, trying to understand why he had the distinct feeling that something was wrong with what he was seeing. Something was missing or out of place. Finally, he said, “What's wrong?”

She laughed. “Oh, that,” she said. “Listen.”

I knew the movie version of Timeline, Michael Crichton's latest Cassandrian sci-fi tome to get the Hollywood treatment, was going to be a stinker when I saw the preview. It came on before School of Rock, and it was way, way louder than anything Jack Black could coax out of those precocious kids and his van full of amps. It featured stampeding horses, clashing armor, and various and sundry explosions, all of which had precious little to do with the 14th-century world that Crichton, in his usual convincing fashion, had constructed in his novel.

Chris stood silently for a moment, listening. There was the chirp of birds, the soft rustle of a faint breeze in the trees. But other than that…

“I don't hear anything.”

“That's right,” Gomez said. “It upsets some people when they first arrive. There's no ambient noise here: no radio or TV, no airplanes, no machinery, no passing cars. In the twentieth century, we're so accustomed to hearing sound all the time, the silence feels creepy.”

And not only do we hear sound all of the time, but it's loud sound, and it's getting louder. The amount of noise that we put up with in our average existence is, when you think about it, pretty awful. So I thought I'd talk this month about noise, environmental and otherwise.

The rest of this column, along with 56 more, is now available in The Insider Audio Bathroom Reader, published by Thomson Course Technology PTR.

Copyright ©2006 by Paul D. Lehrman

Julian HirschJulian Hirsch, 1922-2003

Julian Hirsch effectively invented the field of testing commercial audio products. For more than four-and-a-half decades, he wrote some 4,000 reviews and test reports for many magazines, most notably HiFi/Stereo Review (later just Stereo Review and now called Sound & Vision).

He was fanatical about accurate lab reports, but he didn't just measure stuff: He explained why he was making the measurements and what they meant to anyone who was going to be using the thing to listen to music. While he was a strict adherent to the scientific method, he also explored in his reviews more subjective areas like construction quality and usability, the area that has since evolved into the fashionable academic subject known as “human factors.” His monthly column, “Technical Talk,” was a shining example to anyone considering technical writing as a career of how engineers should talk to non-engineers.

When Hirsch retired in 1998, his publisher established a scholarship in his name at his alma mater, the Cooper Union School of Engineering.

Copyright ©2004 by Paul D. Lehrman