Right to Quiet Society Noiseletter
Winter 2016, page 4

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In quest for more stillness, researchers make lots of noise

By Tom Banse

Boise, Idaho - How important is natural quiet? In southwestern Idaho, biologists are purposefully making a racket to find out. An invisible road - heard but not seen, thanks to a half kilometre long string of outdoor speakers - created the sonic illusion of cars racing through the Boise National Forest. The two year experiment demonstrated that road noise alone causes migratory birds to flee and fail to gain weight, according to Boise State University Professor Jesse Barber.

Now, in a continuing effort to discover how wildlife and humans respond to noise pollution, his research team has set up a phantom natural gas field. "This study is replicating compressor station noise from natural gas extraction fields on a much larger scale than the phantom road," Barber explained. "We have six noise sites and six control sites." The sound is an irritating reality in oil and gas basins throughout the American West. Barber wants to test the idea that as the soundscape gets louder, it's not just the wildlife that suffers. "That also feeds back on to how much people get out of that experience, how much they value it, and thus how willing they are to protect that same place."

Barber's research team will temporarily relocate to Northern California and other parks about how they perceive noise. Muir Woods is next year to survey visitors at Muir Woods National Monument home to the park systems' first permanent quiet zone, at its Cathedral Grove. Once it was established, "Visitor sound level dropped as though half as many visitors were there," said Kurt Fristrup, branch chief for science and technology in the Natural Sounds and Night Skies Division of the park service.

He said Glacier National Park in Montana and Crater Lake National Park in Oregon are among the parks investigating "quieter pavement". Another strategy getting traction at some park units is to shift visitors from private cars onto shuttle buses during peak season. Congestion relief is main impetus behind that, but it has additional benefits. Fristrup said acoustic monitoring at Utah’s Zion National Park found the shuttles certainly leave a noise footprint, but their use reduces vehicle traffic so much that natural quiet noticeably increased.

And there is more. A new partnership between the park service and a non-profit called Powering Imagination headed by aviator Charles Lindbergh's grandson Erik Lindergh aims to develop quiet, electric aircraft that could someday greatly reduce the noise from air tours. As the second and final field season at the "phantom gas field" winds down in southwestern Idaho, Barber and his research team avoid anointing any favourite solution. "There is a lot of basic [science] work yet to be done," Barber said. The eventual findings could point to the best way to lessen our noisy footprint in the world.


How Germany's love of silence led to the first earplug

Germans have a difficult relationship with noise. They hate it and complain loudly,
writes Sean Williams, who has traced Germany's relationship with sound
and the invention of the first earplug.

The year 1907 was a pivotal one for German noise. In Hanover, philosopher Theodore Lessing created the country’s first Antilärmverein - anti-noise society - whose members met to debate how the noises of the modern world, from factories and cars to weapons of war, would impinge on the intellectual and cultural world. "Silence is noble," Lessing frequently told his fellow club members.

Meanwhile, in Berlin's Schöneberg district, pharmacist Max Negwer developed the first modern earplug, which he dubbed Ohropax, a combination of the German for "ear" and Latin for "peace". Negwer considered the invention a worthy medical aid. But for years he struggled to convince pharmacy owners to stock Ohropax. So he travelled around Germany, selling them to sanitariums and factories that were proliferating in the rapidly industrialising world his contemporary, Lessing, loathed.

The advent of war in 1914 would provide Negwer with a real opportunity to push Ohropax. Hundreds of thousands of deafened soldiers were returning from the front line. In 1917, Ohropax advertised its earplugs as protection "against the sound effects of the cannonade."

Howling dogs

A year later Germany was defeated on the battlefield. By that time Ohropax had carved a dominant place in the market and 10 years later was exporting to 42 countries. But the Great War - and the world war that followed it, over two decades later - are just one aspect of an attitude to noise and sound that is uniquely Teutonic. Its effects can be seen up and down modern Germany, from soundproofed parks and highways to powerful anti-noise laws introduced over 40 years ago. Even Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the country's eternal poet laureate, tried to stem the intrusion of noise into his life, from preventing a skittle alley being built near his home to despair at the howling of local street dogs. "Talent develops in quiet places," he once wrote.

Today, Germans are leading the way in creating those places in the chaotic, modern world. Nauerner Platz in Berlin's Wedding district is not the capital's greenest, grandest or most alluring public space. Set between a main road and a busy metro line, it nevertheless presented a fascinating problem for experts at Berlin's Technical University who, in 2012, wanted to make it a quieter spot for families. In came devices playing the sounds of running water and birdsong, and a 1.5 metre (4ft) stone-and-plants barrier. Playgrounds and benches were repositioned so as

continued on page 5...

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