Air shows and noise
In his great book The Soundscape, R. Murray Shafer argues that noise is about power:
“The association of noise and power has never really been broken in the human imagination. It descends from God, to the priest, to the industrialist, and more recently to the broadcaster and the aviator. The important thing to realize is this: to have the Sacred Noise is not merely to make the biggest noise; rather it is a matter of having the authority to make it without censure.” (76)
And what more obvious display of such authority than an air show, where jets that break the sound barrier are the highlight event?
In his book Zero Decibels, George Foy writes about the sound of jets: “A jet engine, at 120 dB, is one trillion times more intense than the softest possible whisper at near zero decibels.”(9) Later he describes a conversation he had with a doctor who had worked with Medecins San Frontieres. This doctor had been subjected to a bombardment by Soviet warplanes when he was in Afghanistan. “It was, he said, so loud that it seemed to take over the world. Nothing else was left. Sound squeezed out every other sense impression.” (128) Again, the making of noise without censure.
And yet there are also people who love the huge sound. (And I have to admit that it is quite thrilling, even in a video.) Check this out!
There is something about how immense the sound is. It is deeply visceral. It is scary, and yet sort of awe-inspiring, a “Sacred Noise”, just like Schafer says.
And of course there is the spectacle of jets doing synchronized fly-bys. For example: Vulcan jets; or the USN’s Blue Angels; or the Canadian Snowbird jets. These are really amazing examples of complex planning and execution in the air, along with incredible noise.
Not everyone likes these shows. Here is an article about different responses to the Blue Angels’ appearance in SF in 2010. Most of the problems people have with air shows are due to the noise levels. Those who live near air bases are the most voluble in their complaints.
Here is an interesting little bit about a scientist who has found a way to dampen the noise of jets – and thus annoyed those who love that blast! And yet his idea makes sense and would be very useful.
More and more people are suggesting that airshows need to go. There are many reasons for this position. Here is a video from KGUN (a TV news station in Tuscon, Arizona). Watch it and see what happened in the aftermath of an airshow.
And here is a list of 6 reasons not to have airshows, from someone in Rochester. An interesting list, especially for those of us who have a hard time with noise.
Conclusion? I think I would have to say no to airshows, especially after reading the list above. And yet, like listening to a large choir sing in a cathedral, the sound of a huge jet engine screaming across the sky is truly amazing and moving. “Sacred Noise” anyone?