Engineering The Sound Of Our World

Technology reshaping our sound environment – from the car door to the washing machine to the street. Also: why is Apple really buying Beats?

In this Dec. 4, 2013 photo, a workman uses a generator-powered jackhammer in New York's Times Square in New York. Iconic Times Square can be a noisy place with car horns, aircraft flying overhead and construction. (AP)

In this Dec. 4, 2013 photo, a workman uses a generator-powered jackhammer in New York’s Times Square in New York. Iconic Times Square can be a noisy place with car horns, aircraft flying overhead and construction. (AP)

Most people are highly attuned to sound.  Make it beautiful, we’re happy.  Make it grating, we’re annoyed.  More and more, the sound around us is anything but random.  It is engineered, sculpted, designed.  The sound in your earbuds or headphones, of course.  But also the sound of your blender, your washing machine, your car door.  Designed.  Our digital tweets and hums are overtaking birds and crickets.  Acoustical engineers are reshaping the sound of amphitheaters, even streets.  This hour On Point: the sound of our lives, the world, in the age of sculpted sound.

— Tom Ashbrook


Megan Garber, staff writer at The Atlantic. (@megangarber)

Robert Berens, supervisory consultant at Acentech, an acoustics engineering firm.

Emily Thompson, professor of history at Princeton University. Author of “The Soundscape of Modernity: Architectural Acoustics and the Culture of Listening in America, 1900-1933.”

From Tom’s Reading List

The Atlantic: Sonic Boom — “Our ability to measure these sounds—our ability to understand them, mathematically as well as emotionally—is evolving, as well. The development of the decibel, spurred by the electrical-current work of Bell Telephone Laboratories in the 1920s, gave scientists the ability to quantify, via a single standard, the world’s noises. Noise regulation finally had numbers behind it. New York City established its Noise Abatement Commission in 1929. ”

Slate: The Deafening Sound of the Internet — “You may associate the sound of the Internet with the sound of a computer fan or the extinct song of dial-up. But the real sound of the information super highway is the whir of hard discs and fans spinning inside servers and creating a powerful white noise.”

New Orleans Times-Picayune: Bourbon Street noise ordinance proposal silenced by New Orleans City Council — “In the end, weeks of deliberations to curb excessive noise levels on one of the nation’s more boisterous strips became a zero-sum game: the present noise ordinance that the VCPORA has called ‘badly flawed’ remains in place, and an 8 p.m. to 9 a.m. curfew for the playing of musical instruments on city streets and sidewalks will continue to worry  musicians and artists.”

Hear The Sounds Of New York City in the 1920’s 

The Market Rationale On Apple’s Purchase Of Beats

James McQuivey, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research. (@jmcquivey)

Quartz: Beats might just be the best platform for Apple’s wearable tech — “What if Apple’s play for Beats is about taking a step toward wearable computing? One technology banker speculated as much to Quartz, arguing that Apple may see the hugely popular Beats headphones as an easy way to position itself more definitively into the growing realm of wearable gadgetry. “

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