Air Conditioners and George Michelsen Foy’s book

Air conditioners and George Michelsen Foy’s book

I am away from home this week, which means I have been in airplanes and am staying in a hotel room.

Ever noticed how loud airplanes are when you are inside them?  You can hear the dull roar of the engines, especially if you are sitting near the wings. (In his book George Foy discusses his concerns about using his dB meter on a plane, since it looks like some sort of triggering device! So he keeps it hidden in his carry-on bag, which of course makes it even more suspicious!) Some people hear the engine noise as ‘good’ white noise –  – but I just find it annoying and close to painful. In some future blog, I will write about jets and noise and cities that have tried to modify/diminish airport noise levels.


Just now I used my dB level on my iPod to test my hotel room.At the window, the air conditioner hits 72 dB.  And the ceiling fan in the bathroom registers 65dB. And of course right now, my laptop is humming away happily. I am not even going to dB test it. It is not really loud, it just hums annoyingly.

And of course, there are all those motors running central air conditioning systems in homes. Ever noticed how loud they are?  Here is a video of one; or listen to this one!

Anyhow – if you have central air conditioning, think of your neighbours. And think of your own ears and hearing if you have a loud window unit.


George Foy’s book Zero Decibels is a good read.  I will say more about it when I have finished reading it. But for now, a few bits and pieces I have found so far:

On page 62 he writes: “I understand, once again, that the vital factor here is one of control. Assuming the sounds I hear are below the threshold of actual physical or psychological discomfort, I can tolerate noises that I have no way of stopping. There’s not much you can do about an Atlantic storm, for example. Nor can I ask the management of the café I’m frequenting to turn off their espresso steam, kill the Vivaldi loop and tell the NYU profs around me to shut up already about Michel Foucault. … But let a passenger carry on a cellphone conversation in a nearby seat and Thomas Carlyle has nothing on me.”

On page 63 he goes in search of the anechoic chamber at Harvard where John Cage was inspired to compose 4’33”.(watch a performance here –

The chamber has been removed, and the space where it was is now occupied by an equipment bay, and a ventilating room, the vents of which register between73 and 80 dBs on Foy’s meter. Irony, anyone?

And one last snippet from this very interesting book: Clarence Barlow composed a piece in the 1970s called “Stochroma”, written in computer language. It includes 300 pages of coding with random combinations of piano notes, plus an alrogithm between ‘events’ four and five which, if you work out the math, calls for a ‘pause’ lasting 109 billion years.”  Wow, I say!  (You can read an article about minimalist music here, where Barlow’s piece is discussed.

That is all for this week. But again, I recommend Foy’s book.

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1 Response to Air Conditioners and George Michelsen Foy’s book

  1. Is nothing sacred? John Cage’s place of inspiration and subsequent influence in the modern arts being overrun by an equipment bay? Very sad.

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