Noise, Contradiction, Choice and Christmas

If you follow this blog, you are probably one of those people who have a hard time dealing with noise. You probably don’t like loud noises, you probably don’t like loud gatherings, and you probably don’t like restaurants where there is loud music and too many voices. And the idea of living near an airport drives you crazy. (You may also have some form of hyper-sensitive hearing, which makes the items listed above even more upsetting.)

But – do you ever choose to be exposed to noise? Do you ever have loud music playing, even though, if you had NOT chosen it, that same loud music would bother you? Herein lies the contradiction that exists for many of us who say we don’t like noise.

Let me give you an example. The other day I had to go to my dentist to start the process of getting a crown on one of my old, decrepit molars. If you have a crown, you will know that this process requires a lot of drilling and grinding. And that drill is loud. And it reverberates inside your head, so many of my dentist’s patients bring headphones and music to block out the sound.


And if you know me, you would probably assume that I would do the same, that I would not want to hear that noise. But I don’t. I choose to listen to the sound, to the noise of the drill booming in my head. Why do I do this to myself, when I could have motets or jazz playing in my ears while the grinding is done? It is because in this instance, I want to know what is going on, to experience the process. I don’t want to pretend my dentist is not grinding down that molar. (Even if you did wear headphones, you would still smell the burning of protein in your mouth and you would know something was going on in there.) I want to have that ‘real’ experience, that visceral knowing that someone is doing something to me, something I have chosen to have done to me.

This is also the reason I don’t use headphones to listen to music when I am out walking. Even though the noise of traffic, etc. bothers me, I don’t want to dislocate myself from my environment by listening to music. Again, I want the physical experience of where I am.

And there is the key to this whole issue of ‘noise’ – the matter of choice. I choose to play loud music in my car. I choose to play music I like as loud as I like in my headphones. I choose to play my bass loudly, if I feel like it. (I actually like the sound and feel of old gas lawnmowers, if I am the one doing the mowing – though I now wear ear protection when I do it.)

I have a bad response to sound when I have not chosen it. It is then that I label that sound as “noise”, as annoying, as painful, as unwanted. And I suspect that that is what happens for most of us who are bothered by noise.

And now, of course, it is the Christmas season, which means stores and streets and malls are playing Christmas music non-stop for at least another couple of weeks. Does that bother you? Of course it does, even if you like Christmas music. Did you choose to hear it today in the grocery store? I doubt it. Did it bug you? I bet it did. Did you get grumpy about it? Let me guess. (To help you deal with the Christmas music problem, here is a NC post from 2013. )

This is the last posting for the Noise Curmudgeon for 2015. Have a quiet, peaceful, lovely holiday season. Hopefully someone will give you a new set of good earplugs, and you will all set for 2016.

Winter music  card vector illustration

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