Noise Is a Drug and New York Is Full of Addicts

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Susie Neilson in Nautilus:

What am I detoxing from? Noise. I live in the East Village, which is very noisy—illegally noisy. Last year, Jackie Le and Matthew Palmer, acoustics engineering students at Cooper Union, decided to investigate the noise levels of the area near their school for their senior project. Le and Palmer went to various apartments around this neighborhood and, using a decibel meter, calculated the average level of volume coming in through the open windows of multiple apartments, and compared them with “safe” levels defined by New York City’s recently-revised noise code. “In every instance, we found the noise coming into these people’s apartments was above code,” Le says.

I can vouch for this. I’ve spent this whole year telling anyone who will listen that the hundreds of nights I’ve spent trying to fall asleep in my apartment constitute a Sisyphean Hell of endurance: the iterating, irritating garbage trucks, the construction that starts at promptly 6 a.m. and continues into evening. I make a lot of noise about the noise, and I’m not the only one. Noise is the single greatest quality-of-life complaint New Yorkers have (we lodged 18,000 phone complaints with the Department of Environmental Protection last July alone). We all love to hate the noise. And yet sitting in silence, I do not feel as if I’ve found an escape from pain: I have simply traded it for a new variety. Shockingly, I realize I want to trade back.

In this city of complainers, who could admit to loving something so easy to complain about? Lewis Black, a comedian, couches his praise of noise in a cynical one-liner, noting dryly, “The reason I live in New York City is because it’s the loudest city on the planet Earth. It’s so loud I never have to listen to any of the shit that’s going on in my own head.”

Black might be on to something. Noise can cause us distress and pain, but it can also help us think, perceive, remember, and be more creative. It turns out that it’s even necessary for our physiological and mental functioning. If it’s a drug, then it’s a performance drug. And New York is full of addicts.

More here.

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