Types of Noise (Part 1): Community Noise

This is a multi-part article, that deals with individual scenarios of noise we face in our daily lives. I will only mention cases that I have experienced personally, and that I think can easily be solved with some expert technical advice.

The point I am making in this post, is about the irritating effect of daily whirrings and rumblings that we hear in the soundscapes surrounding us, and that these bring down the quality of our life by just that little much.  It could show up as general annoyance, or that slight headachy feeling, or general distractedness. Things can be done to fix those, but the starting point is to take that decision to do something to mitigate the irritation. Many of us don’t even think of these sources as causes of irritation. But let me not speak for anyone else.

Some common situations to start with, pertinent to the Indian scenario.

Community Spaces

 Earlier, a park came to my mind when I thought of community spaces. These days, it is usually a mall or a shopping complex. With those mushrooming in Bangalore, the issue most of them face is of speech intelligibility due to sleek interior finishes  (glass walls and doors, and gypsum ceilings).  The issue usually pops  up when there are public events in the open spaces on each floor of the malls. While the voice of the events guys is heard booming all over the mall, it is difficult to comprehend what they say because their voice is drowned out in multiple echoes. The generally reverberant environment is also heard in the often chaotic food court – the chaos just doesn’t die down.  There are many ways to provide some absorption without tearing down the gypsum or covering the glass. While nobody expects a mall to be a quiet place, annoyance can be a real physical entity.

Dog barking it’s head off: The dog next door had throat cancer. It had the most painful and harsh bark. And it used to bark non-stop to try and ease the pain in its throat. While we cursed it then, we all felt rather upset after we found out why it barked so much. The annoyance, the edginess, the frayed nerves, the irritability – all happened to us.

Construction noise: This is what one faces in growing cities.  For example, We moved into our house. Then our next door neighbour started constructing his house. Two years of structural noise when they were hammering away at their walls, and then irritating, high-pitched, grating noise while cutting tiles for a few months.

Children Playing Outside: In the Indian scenario, this could happen anywhere.  Especially with the dwindling number of parks, children hoot and play anywhere they can  – apartment corridors resound with and amplify the sharp clap of a plastic ball hitting a wooden/plastic cricket bat. I used to live in an apartment where the space for playing was limited to one badminton court, and a long corridor between two long rows of apartments. You won’t find a middle class Indian household that does not open their windows ( – it is almost a morning ritual, closed windows are considered a sign of disease), and the houses on the ground floor did too. As children, it was strange  for us to see adults coming out of these houses asking us to play elsewhere, and stop disturbing them, but things took a nasty turn when someone came out weeping – her migraine headache had just started because of the noise, and there was no place for her to go.

Neighbourhood Noise: Most Indians like to keep their windows open. Things are a little quieter in the apartments , with noise only on the lower floors close to where children play, or cars move.  However, a lot depends  on how your apartment is built.  As I write this, I can hear

  • A lady with an extremely shrill voice talking for the last half hour
  • Continuous talk  of a father playing cricket with his 4 year old son downstairs
  • The TV in the next room
  • Traffic Noise – horns, autorickshaws
  • Children singing the afternoon prayer in the college a 100 feet away.

Train Lines

These days, with real estate prices touching the sky, it is not uncommon to see houses and apartment complexes sharing walls with a railway station, or houses lined up along a railway line. The noise is limited to when the trains pass, which is currently around 20-25 times a day. But ask households with infants about how that much is enough to make their lives miserable by waking up their infants just when they’ve been coaxed and cajoled and lulled to sleep.  Ask insomniac, stressed out software engineers about sleep disturbances, or ask old people about the last time they had a good night’s sleep.

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