NoiseSounds Make Waves

5stars

By David Hendy
ECCO, $27.99, 382 pages

A heady, profuse, but never esoteric book by David Hendy, who breaks down the profound and multiple meanings of noise and sound and how it gets used by the world. Hendy explores the cultural meaning of sound from preliterate cultures until present time, exploring: music, speech, echoes, chanting, drumbeats, bells, thunder, sounds of war, crowds, machine made sounds, music, sound recordings, and gives them new meaning.

Ancient caves once inhabited first by Neanderthals then Middle to Upper Paleolithic groups, used their voices in caves not only as sonar, and listening for a resonant response as a way to navigate through them, but more importantly, archeologists discovered that “where there is a cave with up to seven echoes, there are several paintings of mamas, moths, bears, rhinoceros, salmon, a cat, and ibexes.”

“Many an invalid dies of insomnia here…The endless traffic in narrow twisting streets, and the swearing at stranded cattle…I am forever trampled by mighty feet from from  every side…The impudent drunk’s annoyed if there’s no one to set upon, spending the whole night grieving, like Achilles for his friend.”

The first literate culture, the Greeks, transitioned from an auditory-based culture to progressively more visual cultures that we have today. Rome, was renown, not only for its historical accounts of the writer Juvenal as one of the noisiest cities, “Many an invalid dies of insomnia here…The endless traffic in narrow twisting streets, and the swearing at stranded cattle…I am forever trampled by mighty feet from every side…The impudent drunk’s annoyed if there’s no one to set upon, spending the whole night grieving, like Achilles for his friend.”

And in more recent times, Hendy describes noise since the 1960’s as an excess – a form of pollution. In the Internet age, noise is seen as too much electronic information. Noise, says Hendy, stands for, “disruptive fog of junk data.”

Reviewed by Sheila Erwin

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