Coming: A Quieter World

This article by Roy Rivenburg in the LA Times suggests that digital technology is gradually making the world quieter, to an extent that makes movie sound effects engineers rethink the way they give audio cues in soundtracks:

Electronic cash registers eliminated the ka-ching of their ancestors; digital cameras erased the traditional shutter-click and advancing-film noises of their predecessors; PowerPoint presentations chased away the clunks and whirs of slide projectors.

The lifespan of sounds seems to be shrinking, Valentino said: “We sent our engineers to Ft. Bragg 25 years ago to record military tanks. All those sounds are now totally historical.”

So are old pinball machines, car horns and pull-chain toilet flushes. Even the scratch of chalk on a blackboard is being exiled by the squeak of markers on dry-erase boards….

Right now, sounds such as creaking doors help create drama on the screen, he said. But the day is coming when door technology, which hasn’t changed in centuries, will switch to an airtight, silent mechanism like something out of “Star Trek,” he said….

It’s happening with shoes. Although the clip-clop of leather soles against sidewalks is still a movie staple, in real life the sound of walking has largely been anesthetized by rubber soles.

To a musician, this sounds delightful. There’s a wonderful little book no longer in print (naturally), The Third Ear by German jazz entrepreneur Joachim-Ernst Berendt, that I used to use in teaching, all about how we relate through the world through hearing. He wrote that the technology exists to create silent vacuum cleaners and even silent motorcycles, but that people doubted that silent vacuum cleaners were really picking up dirt, while motorcycle riders didn’t get the feeling of power they wanted from silent engines. (Yeah, power to impose their own brand of noise on an entire neighborhood.) I hate the unnecessarily shrill beep that ATMs make to alert you that your card is coming out, and I could eagerly look forward to the day when all of our appliances are silent, and the foreground of our audio life is occupied primarily by… music.

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