Singing and Sound

Singing and Sound

roomful of teeth

Today we turn again to looking at music as sound/noise.  What makes something “sound” as opposed to “noise”?  Both are created by some sort of process of moving sound waves, and then those waves being heard/experienced by us via our ears and our bodies.  Is it sound? Is it music?  Is it noise?  Usually, the definition is down to personal perception.  What is deemed “music” by one person has often been heard as “noise” by another.  (I am sure you have had this experience. This debate has happened most often when someone begins to introduce new sounds into music.  Think polyphony, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, John Coltrane, John Cage, Ornette Coleman, rock and roll, etc.)

This recent article in The New Yorker  is about vocal music, with a focus on the vocal group Roomful of Teeth, and associated composers and musicians. Here is a wonderful snippet from the article, describing the human voice:

“The human voice is the world’s most astonishing instrument, it’s often said. It’s capable of everything from a trill to a bark to an ear-splitting scream, from growling harmonics to liquid acrobatics, lofted on the breath like a lark on an updraft. Instrument is the wrong word, really. The voice is more like a chamber ensemble: winds and strings and blaring horns, strung together end to end. It’s a pump organ, a viola, an oboe, and the bell of a trumpet, each instrument passing the sound along to the next, adding volume and overtones at every step. Throw in the percussion of the lips and tongue, and the echoing amphitheatre of the skull, and you have a full orchestra playing inside you.”

This idea of the human voice and its possibilities is at the core of Roomful of Teeth. The article covers the origins of Roomful of Teeth, while also presenting interesting side trips into the history of singing and vocal music. The sound/noise issue arises from the discussion of the different and innovative ways Roomful of Teeth uses its voices – some would say they are not making music but noise. (e.g., using throat singing techniques rather than traditional choral techniques.)

 Listen to Roomful of Teeth and see what you think. Music? Noise?


roomful of teeth

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Noise in Toronto

Heads up to anyone living in Toronto. The city is asking citizens for feedback about noise!

See this article for more info.  If you know anyone in Toronto, let them know!

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Saving the Sound of Stradivarius

Saving the Sound of Stradivarius Instruments



A very interesting project is taking place in Cremona, Italy this month. (As we speak!)

Cremona was and still is home to some of the best violin makers. As you might guess, Stradivarius’ shop was in Cremona. And Cremona is also home to the Museo del Violino, where there is a collection of Stradivarius instruments.

But the instruments are aging (they date from the 1600’s.)  And this aging is changing their sound and thus the world is losing the opportunity to hear their unique sound. So a plan was hatched to record the sounds of four of these instruments, creating the “Stradivarius Sound Bank”.  This will be a  “database storing all the possible tones that four instruments selected from the Museo del Violino’s collection can produce.” (

What makes this story interesting to the Noise Curmudgeon?

NOISE!  Apparently the part of Cremona where the museum is located is very noisy. And because the museum won’t let the instruments out of the building,  the recording has to take place in the museum.

“The streets around the auditorium are all made of cobblestone, an auditory nightmare,” Mr. Tedeschi said. The sound of a car engine, or a woman walking in high heels, produces vibrations that run underground and reverberate in the microphones, making the recording worthless, he explained. “It was either shutting down the entire area or having the project not seeing the light of day,” Mr. Tedeschi said. (

So the city has cordoned off the streets, turned off the ventilation system, shut down the elevators, even taken the light bulbs out of their sockets.  And asked people in the neighbourhood to keep it down. The article starts with a story of a barista dropping and smashing a glass in a nearby cafe.  Read the article to find out what effect this had.

Here is the New York Times article for your perusal.

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The Sound Sitter

The Sound Sitter

OK – I have to say I think this new device from Honda is a very strange item.

Yes, young children often cry. They are tired, sad, scared, hungry, tired, hungry, tired. And they cry. What do they want?  Usually some hugging, some food, sleep, comforting.

Pretty natural. And parents respond with hugs, holding, food, humming, swaying, rocking, etc.

Honda has recently come up with a new toy as a way to soothe your upset baby.  This toy is a soft toy car that emits the sound of a car engine.  A Honda car engine.  Apparently their research found that young children were soothed by the sound of a car engine.  Who knew? (This is weird/wrong in so many ways: it is blunt advertising, it plays on parents’ anxiety about not being able to care for their babies, it promotes the idea of fossil fuel consumption as a fixture in our lives, etc., etc.)

sound sitter

Maybe this idea fits well with current Japanese culture?  I don’t know. (But Japan is the country that developed robotic  talking seals as therapeutic toys for seniors, as a replacement for family connections. See video here. )

See what you think of Honda`s new creation.

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Hi –  I just found this now.   Couldn’t pass it up!  Perhaps you know the feelings expressed by this parent.

Have a great holiday season!!! Perhaps a fairly quiet one to boot!

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wood frog

No, this post is not about how noisy frogs can be. (Which they can be!)

No, this is to connect you with a short article describing a study that looked at how wood frogs adapt to noise near their breeding ponds.  Yes, they adapt.  The wonders of nature!

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Noise and Restaurants


noisy resto1

Just the other day I was talking to my wife about where in town we could eat in a quiet setting.  And we came up with only two possibles – and neither ranked as really quiet.  This is a sad thing in a town with quite a few good restaurants. The appeal of the food pales in the face of the noise levels.

Then today I found this brief piece in a recent New Yorker issue, which is about a phone app called SoundPrint.

soundprint app

You use this app to check the decibel level in the restaurant.  Then you can post it to the SoundPrint app and let other people know about the noise level.  Apparently there is data from over 2700 restaurants and bars in NYC.  But.  More than 70% of the restaurants and more than 90% of the bars are rated as “loud” – meaning between 76 – 80 decibels, or “very loud”, which is 80 decibels or higher.

So the next time you are in NYC  (there are also lists for 8 other US cities – see the SoundPrint site) you might want to check with this app before you make reservations.

Or you might want to add a new place to the list.

Or, if you live somewhere where there is no list yet, you can approach SoundPrint to become an Ambassador!

Here’s hoping you find a lovely restaurant where you can eat in quiet, and actually hear your dinner partner(s).  Good luck!  And let us know what you find.

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