Sound - Are You Talking To Me?

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If a tree falls in the forest – does it make a sound?

And, … the answer is … No.

In order for sound to occur, it requires a source and a receptor.  Something that makes noise and our ears to hear.

From birth our hearing is very mature and develops within the 1st year of life.

As it relates to our built environment I would like to explore 3 areas:

  1. The nature of sound,
  2. Concerns about recent trends, and
  3. Solutions to those concerns.

1.  The Nature Of Sound

Sound itself is not negative, but rather it is the ‘distortion’ of sound that is negative.  Distortion puts a strain on our ears.

Today,  we have many sound sources such as machines, ventilation systems, music and  voices that compete for our attention.  Sounds that bounce around on many hard surfaces is not acoustically clean sound.

It is the quality of space that produces the quality of sound.  Acoustically pure space, quiet, produces a pure sound.  Concert halls, are a prime example of an ideal environments that produce pure sound.  They create cavities, walls and spaces required for sound to be absorbed and reflected.  These spaces create beautiful sound.

2.  Concerns Around Recent Trends

True lofts are:  bricks and mortar, wood floors, and usually wood ceilings with exposed mechanical services.  Soft lofts, fake lofts, have concrete ceilings, concrete floors and walls and sheer glass windows with exposed mechanical systems.

True lofts have the natural cavities and spaces that absorb sounds.  But, fake lofts have hard, shiny surfaces that bounce noise and amplifies sound.

We’ve removed acoustical ceilings, carpets and walls both from our offices and living spaces.  All of which used to absorb sounds.

Open plan offices often add “white noise” to mask ambient noise which adds another layer of stress to our senses.

No wonder we’re tired – our ears are straining to hear and straining to filter through our already noisy environment.

The other trend, is the prevailing use of MP3 players with constant loud noise ‘in' our receptors, even in the presence of other loud sounds.  This eventually destroys hair cells in your ears.

As a result there is an increase in hearing problems.  Hearing loss can be sudden – such as an explosion that can damage your inner ear.  Or – you can develop tinnitus.   Imagine a chain saw , a wasp and fire alarm – all rolled into one.  With no escape.  Ever!  It cannot be cured.

How loud is loud?  If you can’t understand someone speaking to you in a normal speaking voice when they are an arm’s length away… it is too loud.

3.  Solutions

So….what can we do about this?

Quite simply:  Nature and Silence … and… a few other ideas.

  • Design using soft sensual materials that absorb sound such as wood, carpets and drapery.  The more natural the better,
  • Introduce 'real' natural sounds such as water rippling, wind, birds, 
  • And, ... For those of you who like to go clubbing, rock concerts or casinos:  a)  minimize alcohol intake,  alcohol fools you into thinking you can handle more noise than you actually can physically handle;  b)  insert ear plugs like the musicians do, clear and discreet, to limit sound intake;  and c)  try to take time out, go somewhere quiet, to give your ears a rest.
  • For MP3s - No more than 90 minutes at the 80% volume. 
  • Rest, especially when sleeping, in complete silence, away from the fridge and air conditioner. 

 In the end – Sound – is about balance.

Remember to:

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what
peace there may be in silence.     Desiderata

Disclaimer:   The views expressed on Spaces Custom Interiors Blog are solely those of the blog post author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the persons or organizations with which the author has described or is associated.