Subjectivity In Sound

The sound which weaves the tapestry of a city can be as much cultural spine and voice as repulsion. While some thrive on the noises of city others find them obtrusive and unnecessary. Noise can be described as unwanted sound yet at the same time to be noisy can also means to be rich and descriptive.
The megaphones shown here are common in Beijing shops along main streets, through which people play pre-recorded messages from walkmans to lure customers.

The following are extracts from the recordings:

1: Let us introduce G.S.M., a new telecommunications system in China since 1994…

2: Hello Customers, welcome to JinTan Supermarket, we have roast duck, dried fruit, cigarettes, alcohol and other consumer products, you are welcome to choose and shop.

3: Ladies jerseys only ten yen each, you are welcome to purchase.

4: Hello customer, in our shop everything is cheap. We have a sale of diverse stock. Toys, different bags and chests



Also shown is a sound stamp circuit intended for the inside of a greeting card. Purchased from a German company this card arrived with a test recording by someone at the factory. In playback the recording appears as a depressed ‘Yes Sir’ followed by the hoot of a car.

(this isn't the actual stamp, - serves purpose of reconstruction)



invited writer: Prof Dr. Jan Pieter Stallen

Most Western international and regional airports and their policy makers struggle with noise complaints. These are accompanied by protests from residents and environmental groups, with the latter’s concerns typically expressing much wider than local issues.
Managers and authorities find it difficult to understand why they are not rewarded for their efforts to control, and sometimes reduce, the decibel-load effectively. This, to some extent, signifies the unnoticed change in the source of irritation in such situations.
Q: Who is the deaf person here, the noise regulator or the surrounding community and its “representative” groups?
A: Both are, with those at the steering wheel slightly more hard of hearing.
Although you may not agree with this latter judgement, I do not have the space here to argue about it at length. Nevertheless, insight may be gained by a brief, abstract entry into the subject of noise annoyance.
All perception is the result of largely biologically encoded hypotheses about the outside world. No perception is the simple representation of reality. A century ago the German psychiatrist Franz Muller-Lyer discovered that our perception of length of lines is dependent upon the context of the lines (see figure 1). Many other illusions exist by J. Fraser (figure 2)), and they are still very helpful in modern visual research. But let us stay with the perhaps best known one. First, substitute ‘distance’ (as measured by length in meters) by ‘sound’ (as measured by
sound pressure level in dB(A).




Fig 1 Muller Lyer illusion (1889)



Fig.2 Fraser illusion (1908)

Then, let the short lines at the ends represent some quality of the source of the sound: e.g., a source with an open mind to its environment versus an inaccessible source. Now it should be easy to see that individuals exposed to physically the same sound pressure levels will create strongly different impressions of the deciBel to which they are exposed. “Unbelievable, horrifying!” versus “Hey, man, what’s the problem?” So many examples there are. Meaningless sounds of equal acoustic intensity are considered less loud than meaningful sounds. Just look at how mothers respond to even the faintest cry of their baby. Meaning matters, and in a very fundamental way! Long live the illusionist!
If we’d begin to look at sound exposure and perception in this humorous but serious manner, wouldn’t noise conflicts around airports become much more manageable? We already know much about which non-acoustic factors play a determining role in generating annoyance, or a sensitising role in awakening responses. And they are robust factors, too. There is no reason to be afraid of a sea of subjectivities, in which each individual requires his own non-acoustic understanding to stay afloat. There are asymmetries, indeed, but biological evolution and history needed but a few to become suitably diverse