Silencers and Noise

Last week, a friend sent me this news item in which a US politician says he wants to make it easier to buy silencers for guns in order to protect the hearing of the gun owner/shooter. (Yes, that is what he says – give it a read!)  My friend asked what the NC thought of it. Here is what I wrote back to him:

“oh my , oh my.

Well, yes, less noise is almost always good. In this case, however, I would suggest that now that we know what damage noise (and that obviously includes shooting firearms) does to peoples’ hearing, the NC would suggest high quality hearing protection – NOT silencers. And if there are going to be silencers available, then the NC supports the current rules re: the tax, and the complex background check. Yes, I am quite sure that many people in the US and Canada shoot for sport.  BUT – and that has to be a VERY BIG BUT –  guns are used in a horrifyingly high number of deaths, especially in the US. Silencers play  only a tiny part of that high number, but why make it easier when there are other options to deal with the noise? This politician seems to be ‘deaf’ to the perception of his stance – I see no suggestion that he ‘gets’ why his plan looks/is so wrong footed.”

The politician says he has no idea why someone would reject his idea: “I don’t know why [Obama] would be against protecting people’s hearing. I don’t know why anybody would.”  (This is a downright goofy argument. Maybe this will become a constitutional amendment?  Owning a silencer is your right as part of your package of inalienable rights as a US citizen?)


You can learn more about the history of silencers in this article about a recent law in Minnesota that makes buying a silencer legal. (It is interesting to know that even the NRA supported quite strict gun control laws back in the 1930s and was against the sale of silencers until recently. Now silencers are marketed as “sound suppressors”.)

Wrting today, two days after that inauguration event in Washington, D.C., I have to say that this thinking about silencers weaves too nicely into the apparent thinking of the new president of the USA. The “new normal” has to be challenged. Pushing for silencers ‘on demand’ to protect hearing damage is right up there with the idea that arming teachers in schools will decrease the number of deaths from school shootings. Can’t they see that this is NOT normal, or logical, or safe? Rather it is insane?

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Ancient Sounds

Ancient Sounds


Welcome to the Noise Curmudgeon in 2017!  Happy New Year!

This blog is primarily about noise and its impact on the world, especially on humans. Yet I also post about music/sound production, which may or may not be classified as “noise”. (As always, what is ‘noise’ to one person can be ‘music’ to another.)

Thanks to the sleuthing skills of my dear wife Mary, today’s post is about a bone flute that was made in China about 9,000 years ago. This recently discovered flute, made from a bird’s bone, has enough holes drilled in it to create an octave of notes.

Not only can you see pictures of it – you can hear how it sounded.  (I assume someone actually played it in order to make the recording you will hear – though I am not sure of that. I think one would want to be very cautious about mucking around with a 9,000 year bone flute?)


This link also mentions other ancient instruments and music:  the oldest instrument ever found (a 43,000 year old Neanderthal flute), a piece of music written by Euripedes, and a 3,400 year old Sumerian hymn , the “Seikilos Epitaph,”.  Follow the links and learn more!

I hope you are as fascinated as I was by these very old sounds. Humans have created music/sound for thousands of years, and we will continue to do so until the end.  (Will the end be a very loud bang, or just a raspy whisper/whimper?)

May you hear wonderful music and amazing sounds in 2017!




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Gone, gone, gone

Sounds that have disappeared

If you are a certain age – probably over 45 or so – I think  you will be quite struck by the links below.  You will find sounds that used to be very prevalent, and now are almost completely gone from our North American world.  And if you have children, it is almost guaranteed they have never heard these sounds.

Check them out:

Museum of Endangered Sounds

And let me know if you can come up with any other sounds that have disappeared.


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Nightingale Floors

Last week my wife sent me a short essay that she had found. In the essay is a reference to “nightingale floors”. (Many thanks to Mary for sending this to me!)

What is a “nightingale floor”, you ask?   It is a floor that sings like a nightingale. Apparently.

Tell me more, you say.  Indeed.

In various ancient palaces in Japan, these floors were built as security systems. When you walk on them, they “sing” (of squeak, depending on how you hear such things.)  The most famous such floor is in the Nijo Castle in Kyoto, built in the early 1600s.

Here you can see the floor, from above and below.




According to Wiki, the etymology of the name is as follows:

“The first character (鴬) is read as uguisu and refers to the Japanese bush-warbler. 張り is read as bari, which comes from 張る haru meaning to stretch. Together this means “the sound of a Nightingale from the stretching/swelling/straining [of the floor]”.”

You can hear one of the floors here. You will notice how they really do sound like chirping birds!

Here you can watch a video of people walking on one of the floors.

Here you can read more about the floors and see another video.

One site asked the question:

“If your security needs are high enough that you decide to put in nightingale floors, odds are you also have guards keeping an eye on your castle. So how do you tell if those chirping footsteps you’re hearing are coming from a trusted sentry or enemy ninja?

The answer?  Quite simple, really:

“The solution is, like the floors themselves, elegantly simple. In order to tell friend from foe, the lord of the castle or captain of the guards would designate a set rhythm for allies to adhere to when walking on the nightingale floors. If they heard their “nightingales” singing at a different speed, they knew they had an uninvited guest, and that it was time to sound the alarm.” (

If you would like to learn how to walk across such a floor, like a ninja, and perhaps not get caught, check out this link, which shows you a basic ninja walking technique.



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Dame Evelyn Glennie

Evelyn Glennie



Ms. Glennie’s story is very intriguing. She is a world famous, prize-winning percussionist. BUT she is almost totally deaf. So, her relationship to sound and music is deeply affected by her very limited ability to hear. Rather than using her ears, she connects to sound and music by feel.

She has thought long and hard about how music “works” in our lives, so today I am posting links to her talking about this topic. (She also has some very good things to say about musical expression – not just the ability to play an instrument, but the ability to express feelings/interpretations.)


Here is a TEDTalk she did on listening.



Some years ago she made a documentary, entitled “Touch the Sound”.  (You get to see her playing with Fred Frith, if I remember correctly. And she has the most amazing collection of percussion instruments!)


I hope you enjoy what she has to say.  (And her lilting Scots accent is a wonderful bonus!)



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Smart Phones and dB levels

Smartphones and Noise Level measuring apps

There are some of us who like to know how noisy a place is.  (Why would we care, since if we think it is noisy, then it is, right?)  But for some reason, we like to KNOW, to really know, how bad it is. In the old days, some of us carried around decibel meters.  But no longer, folks.  Now, you can just use your smart phone, assuming you have one.



You can now download apps that are quite good at measuring dB levels.  Here is a link to a 2014 article on an NIOSH report on smart phones sound meter apps.  And here is a link to the full NIOSH report. Soundmeter, for iOS phones, seems to be the one they found worked the best. From what I can see in the report, there were no apps for Android phones that they thought were very good. But the study was done four years ago, so I would think that there are now better apps for Androids. (If you want to get specific details, read the full report.)

When we were in NYC recently, I used the dB meter on my iPhone 5 to test the subway station. I had two apps, but just now, when I checked, I found I now only have one app – decibel 10th. My memory is that it was free (though with some ads).


Was it useful to have? Yes, for me.  When I found out how loud the subway station really was, I started wearing ear plugs when we were on the subway. (Of course, I could have just paid attention to my ears and brain, and I would have known how loud it was. But having a machine “prove” it to me was the icing on the noise cake.)

So, check out the apps and see what you think.  If you want really high end dB reading technology, I think you will need to stick to your old school meters. But one of these apps will also do the trick quite well. (You may be surprised by how loud your “quiet” home is – I certainly was!)



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Documentary: “In Pursuit of Silence”

In pursuit of silence

inpursuit of silence.jpg

If you are lucky, some day you will get to see this new documentary, In Pursuit of Silence. Director Patrick Shen made the film last year, and it is now making the rounds. You can see a list of places where it is showing here. You can also find out more about it at that link. And you can see the trailer.  There are also some interesting resources listed on the site. Take some time and check them out! (See Resources on the site’s main page.)

Here you can read The Telegraph’s piece on the film. They provide a lot of good background information on the issue of noise and silence.

And here you can read the Huffington Post article.

Here is an interview with the film’s director, Patrick Shen.

(The title of the film is the same as that of George Prochnik’s book, which I highly recommend. Here is a link to an excerpt from his book. And here is a link to a short review in the New Yorker.)

I am not sure when most of us in Canada will get a chance to see this film.  I think it has already shown in Vancouver?  But the site has a link you can use to host a screening. Maybe someone will do that?

If you do get to see it, let me know what you think. Now, let us all head off on our own pursuit of silence.



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