Posts Tagged ‘keizer’

A Book About Noise

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

by Nick Miller

In early 2007, I received an invite to the Noise Pollution Clearing House 10th Anniversary celebration.  Well, ok, no marketing possibility there, but Les Blomberg has been nice enough to me to keep me apprised of his latest projects, and send interesting people my way; plus, I noted that the celebration was to be held in Bill Moyer’s New York apartment.  Sign me up.  A real New York experience!

Arriving there via Acela through Penn Station and a cab uptown, the doorman directed me to the elevator and the operator who took me to the Moyers’ apartment.  Les led me through two crowed rooms and introduced me to a gentleman named Garret Keizer.  Garret told me he was writing a book about noise, and started asking me questions about what I do, while scribbling notes on a little pad.  That meeting translated into many phone calls, many emails, a visit to HMMH to interview a half dozen of us who have been in the noise business for many years, and dinner at my house with me, my wife Andrea, Doug Barrett and Diana Duffy. Garret’s book came out last spring and late this summer, Noise Control Engineering published a review I had written of the book:

  • The Unwanted Sound of Everything we Want, A Book about Noise
  • Garret Keizer
  • Public Affairs, Perseus Books Group, New York, 400pp, 27.95 USD – Hardcover, ISBN 978-1586485528

Garret Keizer’s first sentence gave me confidence that I was starting a book that would not be a straight polemic about the evils of noise and the wonders of quiet: “Noise is not the most important problem in the world.”  And so it is not, but with Garret’s relentless research into history, countless interviews with the makers, receivers and analyzers of noise, and synthesis of all, noise provides a window on culture, politics, power and weakness.  He goes on that noise is a “weak” issue in that it affects the weak, and if you complain about it, you’re often considered weak – a “complainer” who can’t deal with the way the world works.  But, he warns, “…be wary of drawing pat moral analogies between noise and evil, quiet and good.”  Ted Bundy was a “quiet and helpful tenant.”

Well, that last is a bit extreme, perhaps, but Garret throws out zingers from time to time and made me think – a lot.  In considering America’s influence on other cultures, has it ever occurred to you that a “…culture attempting to imitate America rarely grows quieter?”  And every few pages, I found myself stopping to reflect on a linkage he’d just made.  But don’t pigeon-hole Garret; he admits he loves midtown Manhattan, his chain saw, and the Rolling Stones.

I suspect a lot of us are like Garret.  We love our appliances, but want to get away from them once in a while.  Which leads to a sad truth that he raises in many ways: the poor and disadvantaged of the modern (industrialized or industrializing) world can’t get away from the noise.  My wife and I lived briefly in a rather noisy suburban apartment complex, but we could get away on weekends to the pastoral quiet of York County, PA.  I can imagine there are many people living in tight quarters where the noise never stops, and there’s no going up the country for a quiet vacation.

An uncanny convergence: three new books on noise

Friday, May 21st, 2010

by Mary Ellen Eagan

That’s right – three new books that explore noise and its impact on society:  The Unwanted Sound of Everything We Want: A Book About Noise (PublicAffairs) by Garrett Keizer, Zero Decibels: The Quest for Absolute Silence(Scribner), by George Michelsen Foy; and In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise(Doubleday), by George Prochnik.  We at HMMH have agreed to read and review all three, but I’ve just read a review in the New York Times – no doubt a more authoritative source.

I read the Prochnik book last week – ironically, on an airplane, with my Bosenoise-cancelling headphones masking the interior cabin noise.  Prochnik’s goal seems not to be to educate us about how noisy the world is, but to advocate for more places of silence.  He’s got a great blog, too, that explores all kinds of issues related to noise and silence – historical campaigns against noise, videos, poetry, and one of my favorite authors, Anaïs Nin

Prochnik’s work reminds me of a story my grandmother once told at a public meeting on noise in the neighborhood where she lived her entire 90 years.  It goes something like this:  “When I was a little girl, the street was cobbled, and the horses and milk trucks would clomp up and down all day.  Then came the cars and the coal trucks, with no mufflers.  And “the Elevated” was only a few blocks away, not to mention the noise from the brewery around the corner (Haffenreffers, now the home of Sam Adams).  Eventually, cars got rubber tires, and the El went underground.  If you ask me, things are just getting quieter all the time.”


But I digress – and thanks for indulging me this week after Mother’s Day.

I’m now halfway through the Keizer book, and find I agree with Dwight Garner of the Times – Keizer is ruthless in his examination of the cultural baggage around noisy places, and uses noise as a metaphor for many of society’s larger problems.  He interviewed several of us at HMMH while he was researching the book, and we found it to be a fascinating way to spend an afternoon – for us noise geeks, anyway.  As Andrew Sullivan would say, here’s the ‘money quote’:  “whenever you have ten noise experts in a room you have something like a renaissance”.  Love it!  But then, I’m biased.  And here’s where I’ll sign off, as Nick Miller plans to wax much more poetically on this book. 

I’ll check back in when I’ve finished all three.