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Noise is usually defined as unwanted sound: loud music from a neighbor, the honk of a taxicab, the roar of a supersonic jet. But as Garret Keizer illustrates in this probing examination, noise is as much about what we want as about what we seek to avoid. It has been a byproduct of human striving since ancient times even as it has become a significant cause of disease in our own. At heart, noise provides a key for understanding some of our most pressing issues, from social inequality to climate change. In a journey that leads us from the Tanzanian veldt to the streets of New York, Keizer deftly explores the political ramifications of noise, America's central role in a loud world, and the environmental sustainability of a quieter one. The result is a deeply satisfying book—one guaranteed to change how we hear the world, and how we measure our own personal volume within it.
Noise is usually defined as unwanted sound: loud music from a neighbor, the honk of a taxicab, the roar of a supersonic jet. But as Garret Keizer illustrates in this probing examination, noise is as much about what we want as about what we seek to avoid. It has been a byproduct of human striving since ancient times even as it has become a significant cause of disease in our own. At heart, noise provides a key for understanding some of our most pressing issues, from social inequality to climate change. In a journey that leads us from the Tanzanian veldt to the streets of New York, Keizer deftly explores the political ramifications of noise, America's central role in a loud world, and the environmental sustainability of a quieter one. The result is a deeply satisfying book—one guaranteed to change how we hear the world, and how we measure our own personal volume within it.
American essayist and Harper's contributing editor Garret Keizer offers a brilliant, literate look at our strip-searched, over-shared, viral-videoed existence. Body scans at the airport, candid pics on Facebook, a Twitter account for your stray thoughts, and a surveillance camera on every street corner -- today we have an audience for all of the extraordinary and banal events of our lives. The threshold between privacy and exposure becomes more permeable by the minute. But what happens to our private selves when we cannot escape scrutiny, and to our public personas when they pass from our control? In this wide-ranging, penetrating addition to the Big Ideas//Small Books series, and in his own unmistakable voice, Garret Keizer considers the moral dimensions of privacy in relation to issues of social justice, economic inequality, and the increasing commoditization of the global marketplace. Though acutely aware of the digital threat to privacy rights, Keizer refuses to see privacy in purely technological terms or as an essentially legalistic value. Instead, he locates privacy in the human capacity for resistance and in the sustainable society "with liberty and justice for all."
Throughout history, hearing and sound perception have been typically framed in the context of how sound conveys information and how that information influences the listener. "Hear Where We Are" inverts this premise and examines how humans and other hearing animals use sound to establish acoustical relationships with their surroundings. This simple inversion reveals a panoply of possibilities by which we can re-evaluate how hearing animals use, produce, and perceive sound. Nuance in vocalizations become signals of enticement or boundary setting; silence becomes a field ripe in auditory possibilities; predator/prey relationships are infused with acoustic deception, and sounds that have been considered territorial cues become the fabric of cooperative acoustical communities. This inversion also expands the context of sound perception into a larger perspective that centers on biological adaptation within acoustic habitats. Here, the rapid synchronized flight patterns of flocking birds and the tight maneuvering of schooling fish becomes an acoustic engagement. Likewise, when stridulating crickets synchronize their summer evening chirrups, it has more to do with the ‘cricket community’ monitoring their collective boundaries rather than individual crickets establishing ‘personal’ territory or breeding fitness. In "Hear Where We Are" the author continuously challenges many of the bio-acoustic orthodoxies, reframing the entire inquiry into sound perception and communication. By moving beyond our common assumptions, many of the mysteries of acoustical behavior become revealed, exposing a fresh and fertile panorama of acoustical experience and adaptation.
Noise is so often a 'stench in the ear' Â? an unpleasant disturbance or an unwelcome distraction. But there is much more to noise than what greets the ear as unwanted sound. Beyond Unwanted Sound is about noise and how we talk about it. Weaving together affect theory with cybernetics, media histories, acoustic ecology, geo-politics, sonic art practices and a range of noises, Marie Thompson critiques both the conservative politics of silence and transgressive poetics of noise music, each of which position noise as a negative phenomenon. Beyond Unwanted Sound instead aims to account for a broader spectrum of noise, ranging from the exceptional to the banal; the overwhelming to the inaudible; and the destructive to the generative. What connects these various and variable manifestations of noise is not negativity but affectivity. Building on the Spinozist assertion that to exist is to be affected, Beyond Unwanted Sound asserts that to exist is to be affected by noise.
Have our noise-soaked lives driven us mad? And is absolute silence an impossible goal—or the one thing that can save us? A lively tale of one man’s quest to find the grail of total quiet.--- “ I don’t know at what point noise became intolerable for me,” George Michelsen Foy writes as he recalls standing on a subway platform in Manhattan, hands clamped firmly over his ears, face contorted in pain. But only then does Foy realize how overwhelmed he is by the city’s noise and vow to seek out absolute silence, if such an absence of sound can be discovered. Foy begins his quest by carrying a pocket-sized decibel meter to measure sound levels in the areas he frequents most—the subway, the local café, different rooms of his apartment—as well as the places he visits that inform his search, including the Parisian catacombs, Joseph Pulitzer’s “silent vault,” the snowy expanses of the Berkshires, and a giant nickel mine in Canada, where he travels more than a mile underground to escape all human-made sound. Along the way, Foy experiments with noise-canceling headphones, floatation tanks, and silent meditation before he finally tackles a Minnesota laboratory’s anechoic chamber that the Guinness Book of World Records calls “the quietest place on earth,” and where no one has ever endured even forty-five minutes alone in its pitch-black interior before finding the silence intolerable. Drawing on history, science, journalistic reportage, philosophy, religion, and personal memory, as well as conversations with experts in various fields whom he meets during his odyssey, Foy finds answers to his questions: How does one define silence? Did human beings ever experience silence in their early history? What is the relationship between noise and space? What are the implications of silence and our need for it—physically, mentally, emotionally, politically? Does absolute silence actually exist? If so, do we really want to hear it? And if we do hear it, what does it mean to us? According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 30 million Americans suffer from environment-related deafness in today’s digital age of pervasive sound and sensory overload. Roughly the same number suffer from tinnitus, a condition, also environmentally related, that makes silence impossible in even the quietest places. In this respect, Foy’s quest for silence represents more than a simple psychological inquiry; both his queries and his findings help to answer the question “How can we live saner, healthier lives today?” Innovative, perceptive, and delightfully written, Zero Decibels will surely change how we perceive and appreciate the soundscape of our lives.
A professor of acoustic engineering provides a tour of the world's most amazing sound phenomena, including creaking glaciers, whispering galleries, stalactite organs, musical roads, humming dunes, seals that sound like alien angels, and a Mayan pyramid that chirps like a bird.

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