Saturday morning quotes 2.11: More noise
Our weekly series of quotes aims to report on the convergence of really old things and the very new, and to shine an acceptably diffuse beam of light on the bits of flotsam and jetsam we observe from this crashing together of historical eras.
Today, we quote from a current news article that has no small relevance to our musical mission. The topic at hand hearkens back to our discussion of background noise levels, and how a constant competing hiss-hum-crash-rattle-buzz not only interferes with our ability to hear nuance in quiet music circa 500 years ago but also, in a broad and sweeping sense, destructively degrades our overall ability to concentrate.
From an Op-Ed contribution titled “Sound Bites” by Katherine Bouton, published in the New York Times and dated August 2, 2012:
Noise causes hearing loss, and hearing loss itself is bad for your health. There are 48 million hearing-impaired Americans, over 15 percent of the population. Those affected include teenagers (nearly 20 percent of whom experience some level of hearing loss), people ages 19 to 44 (the most common period for the onset of hearing loss), and the elderly. Hearing loss is itself associated with depression, dementia and even heart disease.
Some researchers speculate that what we think of as age-related hearing loss is merely the accumulated damage of a lifetime of noise. Studies in Sudan and Easter Island in the ’60s and ’80s, respectively, have found populations where age-related hearing loss seemed nonexistent or limited. Though there may be genetic explanations, there was a marked difference between the hearing of Easter Islanders who had lived only on the island and those who had spent some years on the industrialized mainland.
Ms. Bouton’s article concentrates on how hearing loss affects one’s ability to function in public. But by extrapolation, we note how degraded hearing limits the full appreciation of very quiet music. However, we also see how audiences adapt over the span of a concert, and have been treated to observations such as the following from an organist who hosted a performance by our duo:
“We had a related experience this evening at our small late Victorian parish church with admirable acoustics, and our organ wasn’t even involved. A couple who are wonderfully skilled in late-medieval and Renaissance music for lute and voice offered a well-attended program of works for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany.”
“Several in the audience said they thought it was clever of the musicians to sing and play gradually louder as the program went on. In truth, no such “crescendo” happened; what *did* happen was that we all began to enter the delicate and subtle tonal world offered to us.”