The Sound of Silence – The New York Times


Many co-ops and condominiums are now requiring, he said, that an acoustical consultant like himself attest that a proposed renovation, “with its media rooms and central air-conditioning, and apartment combinations that put his fancy new kitchen over your son’s bedroom,” will not produce any undue noises.

Mr. Fierstein can design noise programs that are perfectly tuned to block the pure tones, as he put it, of outside irritants, like bus noises or building mechanicals, that can be played on any speaker system. (He described a pure tone as any sound that has a specific and constant musical pitch, and then demonstrated by making a high beeping noise into the phone.)

“The way to block a noise is not to be as loud or louder” than the offending sound, he said. “You also have to produce sound that’s on the same frequency. One of the things that makes noise so unreasonable is the lack of control. You can’t stand your neighbor’s loud music even if it’s your favorite artist. One benefit of masking noise is that you can call it your own.”

Recently Mr. Fierstein was called in to mediate a dispute between two neighbors, one of whom was so irked by the sound of the other’s air-conditioner that he positioned eight white-noise machines throughout his studio apartment, the noise of which then annoyed the air-conditioner man.

It was the noise-machine man who sent for Mr. Fierstein. His report noted that the air-conditioner, a window unit, was emitting “audible pure tones,” he said, and may have been improperly mounted, shaking the framing of the building. That would be a win for noise-machine man, though the building’s management has yet to weigh in.

Mr. Suarez, the technician whose recipe for a roughed-up box fan appeared on Reddit, suggested that the increased racket we hear is more often living in our heads. The noises we use to “quiet” them are a kind of placebo, he said. Mr. Suarez noted the constant commotions of the news cycle and social media, and made the point that we don’t do enough physical activities during the day to dissipate our energies.

“Even if you turn off the pings on your phone and turn away from your devices,” he said, speaking from his van as he drove to a job, “you’re still thinking, ‘What’s happening with Facebook? With Congress?’ There is so much going on, and so little resolution. When was the last time you heard the end of a story?”


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