A friend told me once that living in Los Angeles directly leads to a significant amount of hearing loss over the course of one’s lifetime. Now that I think about it, I have never been able to find a statistic that verifies that claim, but more importantly I have never felt the need to research it. Living in Los Angeles, this gradual loss of hearing is something that one instinctively understands, that perhaps even sounds logical. The din of traffic noise is available everywhere, so much so that, for a time, I stopped making field recordings because I felt unable to escape the traffic sounds that permeate all such works made in the area. Combine that with the densely (over-)populated parts of the city, helicopters, fire engines, and various other city-sounds, and one can easily imagine why prolonged exposure to all of these things, all the time, simultaneously, could impact one’s hearing negatively.
On Tuesday nights, KRCW broadcasts the Santa Monica city meetings, which I strangely enjoy (FYI, I do not live in Santa Monica). While the topic of conversation is frequently oriented around various rich people non-problems (“there is nowhere to park on my street,” “it bothers me seeing homeless people outside my beach-side mansion,” etc.), invariably someone brings up the issue of the John Wayne airport and re-routed flight paths. Various residents in Mar Vista, or other neighboring parts of Santa Monica, report a near-constant presence of planes in the process of taking off or landing over their homes. As one can imagine, the decibel level is extremely high, and it certainly sounds terrible.
When the City meetings get mired in discussions regarding the airport, and flight-paths, suggested solutions normally stay within the bounds of trying to excise the airport from Santa Monica (surely impossible), or apply further restrictions to flight-paths. My question, though, is why cannot these things co-exist? Isn’t there a way to design, or build, some sort of filtering system that could at least bring down the amplitude level of these planes, if not eradicate them from the aural landscape? This line of thinking is extremely interesting to me right now, as the John Wayne airport is simply indicative of a broader issue in Los Angeles: constant noise pollution throughout the city. While it is easy to imagine the negative impacts of having airplanes constantly fly over one’s home, how can it be that different than constantly hearing helicopters, fire engines, and street traffic outside at all hours of the day? Shouldn’t we be more concerned with the regular exposure to harsh noises, over long period of time, that we simply take as normal? Is that actually normal?
A few years ago I participated in a residency that was partially lead by Alvin Lucier, but later was taken over by David Dunn. While David was presenting various components of his work to us, he played two recordings utilizing augmented microphones to record the general sounds various consumer products (laptops, phones, electrical systems) produce during normal operation. Transposed into our ear’s frequency range, we were privy to a beautiful sounding, full spectrum of chordal drones and electronic noises. One of these recordings was made in a classroom, the other in a room in a hospital that David’s dying father was occupying. His point was something along the lines of the following: if we are constantly being bombarded with ambient sounds, outside or inside our audible frequency range, is it possible that this type of pollution is having a negative impact (or simply an impact) on our lives?
I am becoming very interested in the relationship between city-wide noise pollution and home-wide noise pollution. I wonder if the constant presence of various electronic devices, all emitting tones/noises of various sorts all the time, has some impact on our everyday lives. Is it actually healthy to constantly be bombarded by human-made sounds?