A Problem With Noise, Radio 4
Soundscape of 1969, Radio 2

Keep that infernal racket down – you're drowning out the whales

As the Buzzcocks so sagely observed, noise annoys. The world is getting too loud. I SAID, THE WORLD IS GETTING TOO LOUD! And as the sound recordist Chris Watson found out in A Problem with Noise, studies show that noise raises our blood pressure, even when we're asleep. Still, at least we're not birds or whales, the very fabric of whose society is under threat from man's acoustic pollution.

When male great tits are on the pull, for example, their voices slip seductively down the register. (Some even don medallions and chest wigs, apparently.) But traffic noise means they're drowned out, so they have to sing higher, which is a turn-off for the girls. Result? Fewer great tits.

It's a similar story for the whales, whose infrasonic communications should be counted as one of the wonders of the world. As Chris Clark of the Bioacoustic Research Program at Cornell University said, "I can hear a blue whale singing off Newfoundland, off the Grand Banks of Canada, 1,600 miles away."

Whale sounds have such a staggering range because they're so low. But it's like cars and great tits (see how I've resisted all those cheap jokes? I'm quite proud of myself): ships and planes emanate what Clark calls "acoustic smog", which the whales counteract by going higher up the register. But then their voices don't carry for thousands of miles. So they shut up.

If we're deafening the birds and whales, it might come as some consolation to them that we're doing the same to ourselves. A rise of three decibels in a sound reduces by half the daily recommended time we should be exposed to that sound. The RDA of an average rock concert is about 30 seconds. At 100 per cent volume we should listen to our personal stereos for five minutes a day; reduce it to 60 or 70 per cent and that goes up to five or six hours. Turn that music down!

Behind the voices, A Problem with Noise was awash with the stuff: birdsong and whale chatter, waves crashing, traffic humming, jets roaring (one omission: people bellowing into their mobiles, the greatest aural irritant of modern times). There was more sound-collage action yesterday in Soundscape of 1969. It was essentially a glorified Sounds of the 60s, with records and news reports juxtaposed – you know the kind of thing: "Street Fighting Man" and riots in Ulster; "Space Oddity" and the Moon landing; The Beatles' "The End" and Altamont. Its strongest point was the news pieces, relics even more prehistoric than the music. One story concerned a squat in a house on Hyde Park Corner which was letting in anyone who said they needed somewhere to live. The plan was to house homeless families, but the exceedingly posh reporter wasn't convinced. "Some are obviously deserving cases," he sniffed. "Others, I thought, needed a good spanking." Down with the oiks!

Arts and Entertainment

Film Leonardo DiCaprio hunts Tom Hardy

Arts and Entertainment
And now for something completely different: the ‘Sin City’ episode of ‘Casualty’
TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

    Bettany Hughes interview

    The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

    Vegetarian food gets a makeover

    Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
    The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

    The haunting of Shirley Jackson

    Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
    Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

    Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

    These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
    Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

    Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
    HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
    Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

    'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

    Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
    Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

    The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

    Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen