08 May, 2013
Noise [Annie, Central City Library]
It’s New Zealand Music Month, and I tried my best to review something related. Plan A resulted in me requesting a book about my kiwi music icons, but it didn’t live up to my hopes. Plan B was me reviewing a book about the same people, that I’d read when it was first released. Alas, it didn’t live up to my memories…
So, on to Plan C! A brand new book about noise (which I’d seen reviewed in my magazine of choice) arrived at the perfect time. Surely, it’s vaguely music-related, isn’t it?
But, what is noise? Is it sounds ‘all mixed up and as it were tumbled about in confusion’ – or sound ‘out of place’ (both definitions referenced in the introduction)?
This is a social history of sound – its uses and abuses. The power behind it – who makes it and who hears it. From the acoustic possibilities of ancient caves and Neolithic monuments to the perceived noise pollution of the modern world. Not just the topic is fascinating, but also the ways used to uncover the soundscapes of the past. Sound, by its pre-technological nature (ie most of history), is transitory and elusive. Sound is also a very public matter – it is hard to contain and keep private.
Sound both connects us and divides us. There’s the powerful feeling of being part of crowd, singing the same song – whether at a concert, or the national anthem at a sporting event. Then there’s the cacophony that surrounds us and can become overwhelming. When the sound ‘they’ make is referred to as ‘noise’ – the noise coming out of the teens’ headphones; the loudness of ‘them’ talking in their first language – noise becomes is a loaded concept. Silence, the antithesis of noise, is also socially and politically loaded. Soundproofed workspaces are often available only to companies with money. Personal space that allows us to be surrounded by silence, is elusive but easiest found by people with money, who can afford a room of their own.
With sound, comes listening - part of the subtitle. Listening is not to be ignored. It is not always a passive reaction. When listening to a great speech, we become emotionally engaged. As someone who performs preschool sessions, I know that listening is a learnt activity. Children learn how to become attentive listeners, when to respond, when to be silent. How we interpret sound - whether it becomes 'noise' - is a personal response. Listening is just as important as the sound itself.
This is a beguiling and stimulating exploration of a topic not often researched.
Based on a BBC4 Radio series.
Title: Noise: A Human History of Sound and Listening
Author: David Hendy
- Annie, Central City Library