A Book About Noise

10.26.2010 | HMMH |

by Nick Miller

In early 2007, I received an invite to the Noise Pollution Clearing House 10th Anniversary celebration.  Well, ok, no marketing possibility there, but Les Blomberg has been nice enough to me to keep me apprised of his latest projects, and send interesting people my way; plus, I noted that the celebration was to be held in Bill Moyer’s New York apartment.  Sign me up.  A real New York experience!

Arriving there via Acela through Penn Station and a cab uptown, the doorman directed me to the elevator and the operator who took me to the Moyers’ apartment.  Les led me through two crowed rooms and introduced me to a gentleman named Garret Keizer.  Garret told me he was writing a book about noise, and started asking me questions about what I do, while scribbling notes on a little pad.  That meeting translated into many phone calls, many emails, a visit to HMMH to interview a half dozen of us who have been in the noise business for many years, and dinner at my house with me, my wife Andrea, Doug Barrett and Diana Duffy. Garret’s book came out last spring and late this summer, Noise Control Engineering published a review I had written of the book:

  • The Unwanted Sound of Everything we Want, A Book about Noise
  • Garret Keizer
  • Public Affairs, Perseus Books Group, New York, 400pp, 27.95 USD – Hardcover, ISBN 978-1586485528

Garret Keizer’s first sentence gave me confidence that I was starting a book that would not be a straight polemic about the evils of noise and the wonders of quiet: “Noise is not the most important problem in the world.”  And so it is not, but with Garret’s relentless research into history, countless interviews with the makers, receivers and analyzers of noise, and synthesis of all, noise provides a window on culture, politics, power and weakness.  He goes on that noise is a “weak” issue in that it affects the weak, and if you complain about it, you’re often considered weak – a “complainer” who can’t deal with the way the world works.  But, he warns, “…be wary of drawing pat moral analogies between noise and evil, quiet and good.”  Ted Bundy was a “quiet and helpful tenant.”

Well, that last is a bit extreme, perhaps, but Garret throws out zingers from time to time and made me think – a lot.  In considering America’s influence on other cultures, has it ever occurred to you that a “…culture attempting to imitate America rarely grows quieter?”  And every few pages, I found myself stopping to reflect on a linkage he’d just made.  But don’t pigeon-hole Garret; he admits he loves midtown Manhattan, his chain saw, and the Rolling Stones.

I suspect a lot of us are like Garret.  We love our appliances, but want to get away from them once in a while.  Which leads to a sad truth that he raises in many ways: the poor and disadvantaged of the modern (industrialized or industrializing) world can’t get away from the noise.  My wife and I lived briefly in a rather noisy suburban apartment complex, but we could get away on weekends to the pastoral quiet of York County, PA.  I can imagine there are many people living in tight quarters where the noise never stops, and there’s no going up the country for a quiet vacation.