Posts Tagged: ‘noise’

Sensory Postcard: The Sound of Coffee

June 28, 2014 Posted by Milena D

I came by an interesting post today on Facebook, from the Creative Post about a study (I am yet to read, but very curious) which suggests that coffee shop ambience fosters creative intellectual labour. The story goes as so – as more and more independent creative contracts are moved to the cafe instead of to the (home) office there is a new ‘normal’ for creative workflow. Apparently ambient cafe noise at around 70dB is optimally productive, while levels pushing the 80dB are distracting (not to mention harmful, given the average laptop worker spends over 3 hours in a cafe).

I’m reading this in a cafe called The Bean in Mid-town Manhattan NYU, right across the Strand bookstore, and below we see the sound levels, which are in the mid-70s. So even according to the author of the original article this is a bit high. The problem is it’s hard to find a place that hovers at the flat 70dB mark. In my, now over four-year long extensive ‘study’ of North American coffee shops, it is quite rare to find a place that comes in at any less than high-60s dB. In fact, a popular ‘working’ cafe with all the ‘fixin’s’ – constant coffee machine turnover, steam, dishes, lots of voices, shuffling of chairs, background music – typically measures at mid-70s to 80dB. According to worksafe regulations, regular working exposure to sound at a magnitude of 85dB or over causes hearing loss over time. If we spend more and more working time in cafes, I ask then, why don’t we care more about the levels of sound we expose ourselves to? And what about those who work in cafes and restaurants? Restaurants are even louder than cafes, in my experience, based on past measurements.

In fact, not only isn’t anyone bothered (ok, I know that’s an overstatement) but people seem to like loud-ish environments to do creative work in. The article also pointed to a website called Coffitivity, which showcases an app, or rather a ‘revolution’ I think in productivity apps. Coffitivity offers the light ambience of a cafe for the creative worker who is getting writer’s block or coming up dry in the creativity department in the silence of their home. In fact, Coffitivity cite a paper that suggests some levels of noise is positive and productive for creative pursuits. The Creative Post article actually rallies against cafe noise, however, instead advocating ‘rain’ apps. That’s right, apps that play you an ambient rainscape that you can control in terms of intensity and type of rain. I am writing about this today because I’m just caught totally incredulous and open-mouth about this. It reminds me of the time I first heard about white noise machines for sleeping. The idea of adding undifferentiated constant sound when I need silence to sleep seemed like the strangest idea.

So, having grown up in a ‘keep-silence’ type of educational environments I cringe at the idea of adding ambient noise to my workflow in order to squeeze more creativity out of myself. Especially given that I hate the sound of North American cafes and whenever I am there I work ‘despite’ the noise, not because of it (or at least that’s what I tell myself). But I am starting to think there is something to the idea of sound levels and intellectual labour. In the past six months I’ve been intensively writing my dissertation at a work group on one of the SFU campuses. A public space, which albeit quiet, is still distracting. I’ve been listening to music on headphones while I work, and over time I noticed, when I turn it down I am much more distracted by it then when I turn it up past a certain level. Past that level my brain somehow puts it in a different category and it functions concurrently with thinking/writing instead of competing with my brainwaves. Very strange for me, because I am so fundamentally uncomfortable with the idea of pumping noise into my ears in order to drown out distractions. It’s like a metaphor for urban noise – because the idea of eliminating it seems impossible, we instead focus on managing and counteracting it with other noise. And then again, maybe we haven’t eliminated city noise because we do in fact function better with it somehow.

A Little Bit of Noise

August 23, 2011 Posted by Milena D

I feel like noise is implicit in a lot of my posts, especially the aural postcards posts, but I often won’t feature it directly or elaborate on particular offending instances. Where I live is a fairly noisy location. Even during the night, the road is a thoroughfare for cars, ambulances (close to major hospitals) and various sirens and engine noise. To add to that, last summer there was construction for at least a couple of months fixing the outside envelope of my building, which essentially involved a lot of drilling into the outside concrete, and sounded like (sound 1). Now that that’s done this summer, the mall across the street has decided to do roof repairs or something rather, which involves them using a truck generator that has a large hose protrusion into the roof either sucking up or dispensing gravel. The sound is a combination of loud machine humming drone and the sound of millions of sharp pebbles shooting up and down a tube. It conveniently starts at 7:30 in the mornings, including weekends. The picture is the generator truck with its hose.

Noise not Noise

March 31, 2010 Posted by Milena D

noise2Just a little note to showcase an event that Western Front organized this past weekend – Noise not Noise. The event featured “noise music” performances for three nights called the Fake Jazz festival (I wasn’t able to attend any of them) some keynote addresses and a day of public lectures. I was able to attend the public lectures part, which were two 2-hour panels. They were advertised as conversations about the role of noise in society, however, they were more like artist talks about the way they use noise in their work – visually, as well as sonically, interspersed with a couple of academic talks about noise as infinity vs. signal (?) as information (Dr. Laura Marks) and noise poetry as the semiotics of noise. I found myself trying desperately to pull something, anything out of these talks as significant to my own studies and work, but alas, there was very little for me. Great for the artists perhaps as it was artist-centric, but even so, I think the relationship of their topics to noise was at best arbitrary and at worst – ridiculous, such as the “noise” of psychopathy – delivered by a young UBC psychologist, I suppose meaning that psychopaths are so good at being socially appropriate that they leave this noise of confusion in their interactions with other people that is incoherent with the viciousness and severity of the crimes they commit. Sigh. Snore. Alas. I was somewhat more awoken in the second half as the preppy looking redheaded man in the panel (above) began performing a “noise poem” by a queer San Fransisco poet called Cunt Up. He actually had the most to say that was interesting and insightful about social and historical dimensions of what constitutes “noise”, however, too bad I already knew everything he said so I didn’t really learn anything new.

Noise not Noise has an ongoing artist website for showcasing noise art and noise music: