Effectiveness of Crowd Noise

Have you ever sat in a crowd at a sports event and obnoxiously booed a visiting team, or even the referees, and given so much praise to the home team? How do you think this makes the athletes feel? The purpose of this research is to understand why home teams have an advantage when their home crowd is going berserk, how referees officiate the game and make suitable calls while the crowd is going berserk, and why the visiting team decreases or increases in play when the opposing fans are going wild. While the topic is spread into a various amount of questions, the answers are consistently explained the same way in different articles.

Various authors analyzed the atmosphere in different settings to observe the reasons why there is “home advantage” and why visiting teams decline or excel in performance during these times. Courneya and Carron, the authors of “The Influence of Crowd Noise and Experience Upon Refereeing Decisions in Football” quote that “the consistent finding that home teams in sports competitions win over 50% of the games played under a balanced home and away schedule”. The reasons behind the average percentile is because of either (1) crowd factors; (2) learning/familiarity factors; (3) travel factors; (4) rule factors (CC 261). Other authors from this article such as Schwartz and Barsky scrutinized and found that the home advantage in Major League baseball increased with crowd density. The trend in the home advantage increased from 48% in relatively empty stadia to 55% when the stadium were between 20 and 40% capacity and to 57% when crowd density was greater than 40% capacity (SB 262). Crowd noise can be very effective to an athlete when you’re in a very hostile environent and not focused or levelheaded. Not only will this ffect the athlete but also the referee’s or even the coaches.

Maybe the real question is how do coaches stay poised when the crowd is going berserk during a sports event in a large arena? Being a basketball player, I’ve been taught by a lot of great coaches and I’ve also observed a lot of different sports events. Head Coach, Mike Krzyzewski from Duke University shows tremendous maturity when facing adversity and playing in loud gyms day in and out. The winning percentage for Mike Krzyzewski really speaks for itself, winning over 1,000 games.

Blog post picture ( K and referee)

Cameron Indoor Stadium is known to be one of the loudest arenas in college basketball. ESPN has ranked Cameron Indoor to be the loudest arena in college basketball. Going into my 7th game game at Duke University I knew it would be one of the rowdiest games I’ve ever been in. However, heading into the game, playing a top ranked opponent, the crowd was sensational and it pushed our team to another level of play. We developed the momentum for the entire game and our players, coaches, and crowd gave us energy. The opposing team were getting hammered by the cameron crazies and Indiana were missing shots around the rim and not being themselves. It really helped us build and connect in the sports event. Also, referees were really consistent with officiating, calling obvious travel calls, fouls, etc.

Referees can change the entire flow of a sports event. Officiating is an unusual skill but an exceptional skill to have; you have to  know the game to become really superb at this job. You’re never going to be perfect at this job, but officiating repetitively really helps you become more focus when facing large density crowds. Referees, as researched, are part of the reasons why there is the term named “Home Advantage”. In the abstract of “Crowd influence on decisions in association football” the narrator quoted “A study by Nevill showed that not only do officials in English and Scottish football make more subjective refereeing decisions in favor of the home side, but the observed imbalance appears to be greater the larger the crowd” (Nevill 1). Experienced semi-professional footballers, qualified coaches, and referees were asked to assess the legality of 52 challenges recorded on videotape from the 1998 European Champions League match between Lens (home) and Panathinaikos (away) (Balmer 2). The observers only agreed on 27 incidents. There were 40,000 boisterous fans in the crowd, which caused an effect on the referees’ decision-making. Indecisive calls definitely don’t make coaches happy. Coming from a basketball family, I’ve learned a lot from my father Donald Ingram who is a referee. I’ve conducted an interview with my father and he provided very detailed information, which connects to the articles and chapters of research.

Brandon: What level of basketball do you officiate?

Donald: I officiate both high school and Junior College basketball contests for both boys and girls. These high school contests include level (1A-4A) Competition.

Brandon: How long have you been officiating?

Donald: Currently I am in my 16th year of officiating basketball. I started off calling recreation ball as well as Adult men’s league. From that point I advanced to middle school and high school after completing several camps.

Brandon: How was it when your first got into officiating?

Donald: When I first got into officiating it was confusing and challenging. What I knew as a basketball player was different as to how I understood it as an official due to learning the rules. I had to learn what to call and where to call based on my position on the court. Also learned that all 3 officials cannot be looking at the ball at the same time because activity may occur with the seven other players that may be missed.

Brandon: Have you ever officiated in tough crowds, if so what was that like?

Donald: During my career I have officiated numerous tough games in front of tough crowds. These games included rivalry games, Regional Championships, East/West All-star game etc. As an official I was just as excited and on my “A game” just as the players were. Games like this get very intense and as officials we have tendencies to blow early whistles to calm the team down and control the game early. The atmosphere is electric and as a team of 3 officials we must communicate as well to control the team as well as the crowd.

Brandon: When the officiating crew is unsure about a call, what normally happens?

Donald: When officials are unsure about a particular infraction they come together away from the players to discuss what they saw as well as the ruling on the call. Such offenses may include a block/charge where one official calls a charge and another calls a block at the same time. This brings both together to discuss what the final conclusion may be before reporting it to the table. Another example include one or more officials calling a technical foul etc. and the officiating crew makes sure the correct info is reported to the table by coming together once again.

Brandon: How hard is it to keep your confidence when the crowd doesn’t agree with your call?

Donald: It is very easy to keep your confidence when the crowd doesn’t agree for several reasons. One is because I know the rules based on the classes and clinics and certifications that I have. Next is because I am closer to the play and has a better angle than the fans in the stands.I am confident because I’ve played the game and understand all 4 sides of the game from past experiences. Being a coach, fan, player and referee of the game it makes it much easier to understand and apply the proper ruling to the situation of the game.

Brandon: Does noise affect your officiating at all?

Donald: I have been in some very loud facilities during games and it can affect your officiating. It doesn’t affect my perception on what I call but does have a bearing on play stoppage because players may not hear the whistle. Also certain noise makers and audio could be misinterpreted for a whistle sound that could and has stopped play in some of my games.

Brandon: What would you say a common problem for a referee is when the crowd is going wild?

Donald: The most common problem for referees of a wild crowd is an unruly fan or coach. The crowd can have an influence on players or coaches and can result in penalty and immediate removal from a contest. A crowd going wild can also impair the judgment of both present and future calls that could affect the outcome of the contest.

The information from the interview was very helpful. It showed the differences between a more experienced referee and a less experienced one.  After reading the literature reviews and the transcriptions of my father it helps me become a better and smarter player. It prepares me for crowd noise home and away, gives me insight on how the referee’s may officiate the game depending on how experienced they are and would help anyone else who’s never been through a game in a loud atmosphere. Crowd noise has put a positive and negative affect on everyone who has listened to it.

Ansorge, C. J., & Scheer, J. K. (1988). International Bias Detected in Judging Gymnastic Competition at the 1984 Olympic Games. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 59, 103–107.


Balmer, Nigel J., Alan M. Nevill, Andrew M. Lane, Paul Ward, A. Mark Williams, and Stephen H. Fairclough. 2007. “Influence of Crowd Noise On Soccer Refereeing Consistency in Soccer”. Journal of Sport Behavior 30 (2): 130.


Barnard, Andrew, Scott Porter, Jason Bostron, Ryan Termeulen, and Stephen Hambric. 2011. “Evaluation of Crowd Noise Levels During College Football Games”. Noise Control Engineering Journal 59 (6): 667-80.


Brown, Jim. 2001. “Acoustics Sound Systems for Baseball.” The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 109 (5): 2498.


Courneya, K. S., & Carron, A. V. (1992). The Home Advantage in Sport Competitions: A literature review. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 14, 13–27.


Greer, Donald L.. 1983. “Spectator Booing and the Home Advantage: A Study of Social Influence in the Basketball Arena”. Social Psychology Quarterly 46 (3). American Sociological Association: 252–61.


Nevill, A., Balmer, N., & Williams, M. (1999). Crowd influence on decisions in association football. The Lancet, 353, 1416.


Nevill, A. M., N. J. Balmer, and A. Mark Williams. 2002. “The Influence of Crowd Noise and Experience Upon Refereeing Decisions in Football.” Psychology of Sport & Exercise 3 (4): 261-72.


Shepherd, Micah, Stephen A. Hambric, Neal D. Evans, Daniel J. Domme, Andrew W. Christian, Bryan P. Cranage, Kieran Poulain, Andrew J. Orr, Andrew R. Barnard, and Michael D. Gardner. 2011. “Rating of the Loudest College Basketball Arenas for ESPN Magazine”. Proceedings of Meetings on Acoustics 12 (1).


Wiwanitkit, Viroj. 2010. Noise and Sports Events. South African Medical Journal = Suid-Afrikaanse Tydskrif Vir Geneeskunde 100 (6): 334-.



A Rare Genetic Disorder and What It Tells Us About Music


In this study, I investigate the intersection of the fields of music and neuroscience. This is a widely explored subject, but its incredible depth leaves much to be studied. Music has connections to intelligence, cognition, development, language, emotion, mental disorders, and many more neural processes, however, I focus on the relationship music has with mental disorders and related implications. Studying mental disorders, or pathology, is a very common method in neuroscience, as it simulates otherwise impossible experiments in which brain function is altered with observable results. Specifically, I investigate Williams syndrome, a genetic disorder characterized by increased sociability, cheerfulness, and strong language skills. Unfortunately, the syndrome also causes developmental delay and learning disabilities similar to those of Down Syndrome.  However, the most interesting aspect of this disorder is the perceived dramatic increase in musical interest and ability in those with Williams syndrome.  They also can be treated with music with considerable symptom and anxiety reduction. In this post, I research the implications of Williams syndrome and its symptoms to explore the relationship between emotion and music and, in the process, shed light on a potential treatment for this largely ignored disorder.

The amygdala, part of the brain’s limbic system, controls emotions.

The emotion center of the brain is the amygdala, a part of the limbic center located near the center of the brain in the temporal lobe. Emotions are generally caused by activity in either the sympathetic or parasympathetic nervous system through messages sent by the amygdala, However, cognitive identification of the cause of arousal also has a large effect in the perception of emotion. These stimulations are also caused by the release of hormones (blood-borne signaling molecules) and specific neurotransmitters. Music has a profound effect on emotion. It is generally accepted that the emotional effects of music are one of the primary reasons for humans’ innate desire to listen and create. Music may even stimulate opioid release in the brain in some people, those with Williams syndrome among them. Williams people, as they are sometimes to referred to, provide an unusual link between the two topics of emotion and music. Despite general intellectual disabilities, they have increased empathy, sociability, and cheerful demeanors, in addition to expressive language and unusual musical talent. Their limbic systems are generally preserved from abnormalities, though some studies suggest that their amygdalae are larger in volume.  Another key difference in the brains of Williams people is the increased activation of their amygdala when listening to music, an occurrence not seen in those without Williams disorder. This implies that they are more emotionally tied to the music they listen to, but does not explain why they are more musically talented.

Due to the genetic nature of Williams syndrome, many scientists write it off as untreatable. However, music may be the key to alleviating or even eliminating symptoms. Musical therapy has been found to reduce anxiety felt by Williams people, which would likely reduce the negative effects of their abnormal emotions, which include fear of exclusion, feelings of loneliness, and dramatic efforts to be included. Music is certainly beneficial, as many Williams people view it as a means of self expression. Creative therapy (a form of therapy that includes music therapy) has also been researched for other disorders and diseases, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and Alzheimer’s. A clearer understanding of how music aids the subjects of these disorders will contribute to better treatments and further knowledge about the disorders. This study will hopefully clarify how music is able to be used as a treatment to finally aid the largely ignored Williams people.

Music and Emotion

            Williams people struggle with many tasks, including arithmetic, reading, writing, and drawing (Lenhoff, Wang, Greenberg, & Bellugi, 1997). They generally have low IQs and are classified as having some level of intellectual disability.

A drawing of an elephant by a child with Williams Syndrome

However, they are blessed with a unique musical ability. This ability is expressed very specifically and is not to be generalized. Initially, Williams people were believed to possess exceptional musical ability, expressed through an overall talent for all aspects of music, including pitch discrimination, rhythm, and the playing of instruments (Lenhoff et al. 1997). However, as the disorder was studied further, the realization was made that Williams people are not exceptional, rather, their musical abilities are on par with peers within their mental age as measured by vocabulary (Schellenberg, Don, & Rourk 1999). This is true but for one feature: musical expressiveness (Hopyan, Maureen, Weksberg, & Cytrynbaum, 2001). This was a surprising finding, as the isolation of this single trait of musical ability was something not seen before. Despite the studies, however, many still suspect a deep level of connection between musical talent and Williams syndrome. A living example of this strange relationship is Gloria Lenhoff, a musical savant and Williams person. Lenhoff is a world renowned opera singer, having performed with “such diverse groups as the San Diego Master Chorale and members of Aerosmith,” and can reportedly “sing nearly 2,500 songs in more than 25 language… in a perfect accent” (Maher, 2001). In another example, a boy with Williams syndrome was able to quickly learn to play a 7/4 rhythm with one hand while playing a 4/4 rhythm in the other, an incredibly difficult task (Maher, 2001).

Additional studies were conducted to examine why and how Williams people were able to so well express themselves through music and take such strong expression from music. Lense, Gordon, Key, and Dykens (2014) examined this phenomenon by conducting EEG scans on Williams people while having them evaluate the emotion of a happy, sad, or neutral musical work. They found that not only did the Williams people express a much greater emotional attachment and interpretation of the piece, their brains also showed activation of different neural networks than the control. The researchers also observed that only the Williams people had an increase in neural activity when happy music was played vs. sad, and that only they showed significant differences in the interpretations of facial expressions after exposure to sad or happy music. Ultimately, the researchers suggest that there is a fundamental integration of the standard emotional response to music within other neural networks in Williams people. The EEG recorder gamma activity, a result associated with neural integration or the recruitment of multiple senses. Williams people’s music response networks may be integrated with their social and visual networks, as demonstrated by the findings related to facial processing. Another observation was made by the researchers as to explain the low attention spans of Williams people. In contrast to their typical ability to concentrate, the Williams people in the study were able to focus fully on the music and were not distracted. The obvious hypothesis is that Williams people are so easily distracted from tasks because they are very susceptible to auditory stimuli. This hypothesis is supported by the findings of Järvinen, Ng, Crivelli, Woo-Vonhoogenstyn, Lai, Trauner, and Bellugi (2015), who found that Williams people had heightened sensitivity to auditory stimuli, likely caused by decreased habituation. This also gives a potential mechanism to the increased interest in music seen in Williams people. Sounds command their attention. It may be their affinity for music is due to the fact that they simply cannot ignore it, and thus are exposed to it again and again. In a world of unavoidable noise that distracts, invades, and assaults the ears of the hypersensitive, Williams people may find solace in the beautiful arrangement of music. There is, however, another important factor. The emotional attachment to music is neurological. It can be observed through EEG that Williams people listen to music differently than those without the disorder (Lense et al. 2014). Additionally, one of the most significant features of Williams disorder is the significant alteration to emotion and interpretation. Williams people are consistently cheerful and extremely social, and tend to interpret other’s facial expressions as positive rather than negative. When they listen to music, they respond with increased brain activity to happy music, but do not respond more than the average person to sad music (Lense et al. 2014). These facts, taken together, support the theory that Williams people listen to music with their emotions. They likely play music with their emotions too, which could provide an explanation as to why they are so talented when it comes to performing. Emotion is among the most crucial features of performance. From this research, the question arises as to whether Williams people are born both with sensitive audition and with integrated musical pathways that tie music heavily to emotion, or if the sensitive audition gives rise to a rearrangement of the musical network because of repeated exposure and emphasis. This is a difficult question study, especially since music in general continues to puzzle neuroscientists. There is no one music network, as the large variety of music seems to be equaled by an equally large array of musical responses (Hopyan et al. 2001, Lense et al. 2014). However, the current research provides a network of possible connections to help explain this most unusual of disorders.


The advance of modern science has resulted in cures for hundreds of diseases and afflictions. However, genetic disorders remain a struggle for scientists, as a practical solution has yet to be found. Instead, with genetic disorders, the focus has been on therapy to improve the lives and potential of those living with genetic disorders. Many people with disorders are still able to lead normal lives with the help of therapy. Therapy is not a treatment, and generally does not result in the absolving of an affliction. However, with proper therapy, many symptoms can be reduced and even eliminated. For this reason, therapies have become a beacon of hope for progress in the field of genetic disorders.

For many, creative therapy, the use of art, dance, music, or other media to express oneself, is a calming outlet of a creative mind. However, others rely on creative therapy to alleviate the symptoms of an otherwise dictating mental disorder. Creative therapy is among the best treatments for many cognitive disorders. A study by Rylatt (2012) found significant improvement in dementia symptoms, including increased pleasure, communication, and engagement, after a creative therapy regimen. I personally analyzed the relationship between the default mode network, a brain region involved in future planning and memory recollection, and creativity, and found a correlation between the connectivity of the network and creativity. Creativity may therefore stimulate the connections of this network and other brain regions, thus reversing the impact of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Music therapy, a form of creative therapy, has proven to be an invaluable tool for Williams people. Music lessons were shown to increase verbal memory in those with Williams syndrome (Dunning, 2015). Additionally, the Williams Syndrome Association recommends music therapy as one of the most effective therapies (Associated Therapies). Despite many promising leads, little research has been conducted specifically evaluating music therapy’s effectiveness in Williams people. However, evidence points to the promising.


A rapid increase in research of Williams disorder has given hope to a group written off as incurable. While the genetic nature of Williams disorder and similar disorders like Down Syndrome makes them difficult problems to solve, for Williams people, a therapy has arisen from what most of them were doing anyway. It may not surprise many people that music is an incredible healer. With its use as a therapy, it is possible to study the deep connection people have with music through the kings of audiophiles, Williams people. If we can understand what makes Williams people so uniquely touched by music, we can uncover truths about the population as a whole. The importance of this is not to be underestimated. Music can be applied as a therapy for a variety of disorders. Additionally, our history with music may travel back to our origins, where it may shed light on our development and evolution. The music/language debate consistently results in findings about ancestors. Most important to the study of music, however, is the reason that we listen to it. There is some unknown aspect that compels us to play, listen and study, a drive that is almost irresistible. With further research, we can find insight into the fundamental origin, structure, and function of our brains.


Works Cited

“Additional Therapies.” Additional Therapies. Accessed November 17, 2015. https://williams-syndrome.org/parent/additional-therapies#1.

Dunning, BA, MA Martens, and MK Jungers. 2015. “Music lessons are associated with increased verbal memory in individuals with williams syndrome.” Research in Developmental Disabilities 36 : 565-78.

Ervaniemi, Mari and Minna Huotilainen. 2003. “The Promises of Change‐Related Brain Potentials in Cognitive Neuroscience of Music.” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 999 (1): 29-39.

Järvinen, Anna, Rowena Ng, Davide Crivelli, Dirk Neumann, Andrew J. Arnold, Nicholas Woo-Vonhoogenstyn, Philip Lai, Doris Trauner, and Ursula Bellugi. 2015. “Social functioning and autonomic nervous system sensitivity across vocal and musical emotion in williams syndrome and autism spectrum disorder.” Developmental Psychobiology. Accessed November 17, 2015.

Hopyan, Talar, Maureen Dennis, Rosanna Weksberg, and Cheryl Cytrynbaum. 2001. “Music Skills and the Expressive Interpretation of Music in Children with Williams-Beuren Syndrome: Pitch, Rhythm, Melodic imagery, Phrasing, and Musical Affect.” Child Neuropsychology 7 (1): 42-53.

Lenhoff, H.M., P.P. Wang, F. Greenberg, and U. Bellugi. 1997. “Williams Syndrome and the Brain.” Scientific American 277 (6): 6-132.

Lense, MD, RL Gordon, APF Key, and EM Dykens. 2014. “Neural Correlates of Cross-Modal Affective Priming by Music in Williams Syndrome.” Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience 9 (4): 529-37.

Levitin, Daniel J. 2006. This is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession. New York, N.Y: Dutton.

Levitin, Daniel J., and Vinod Menon. 2003. “Musical Structure is Processed in “Language” Areas of the Brain: A Possible Role for Brodmann Area 47 in Temporal Coherence.” Neuroimage 20 (4): 2142-52.

Levitin, Daniel J., and Anna K. Tirovolas. 2009. “Current Advances in the Cognitive Neuroscience of Music.” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1156 (1): 211-31.

Maher, Brendan. “Music, the Brain, and Williams Syndrome.” The Scientist, November 26, 2001.

Patel, Aniruddh D. 2003. “Language, Music, Syntax and the Brain.” Nature Neuroscience 6 (7): 674-81.

Rylatt, P. 2012. “The benefits of creative therapy for people with dementia.” Nursing Standard 26 (33) 42-47.

Schellenberg, G. E., Don, A. J., & Rourke, B. P. (1999). Music and language skills of children with williams syndrome. Child Neuropsychology, 5(3), 154-170. doi:10.1076/chin.

Sound Art: The Listening Experience

Sound Art

In the last few decades, the term sound art has arisen within both the musical and artistic communities through an avant-garde use of sound to incentivize its interpretation.

Components of Sound

The unsuspecting acoustic environment supplies the medium for sound art. As all sounds in an environment collectively compose a soundscape of the acoustic space, the sounds for a work of sound art must break the trend of the contemporary society’s audio perception. In order to comprehend this idea within the context of this page, a hierarchy of sound types must be established.

Background Noise and Mobile Sounds

In the simplest manner, noise is the common ground to any soundscape. Christoph Cox, a professor of philosophy with focus on sound at Hampshire College, refers to the term “noiseas encompassing all the sounds that actively “[fill] the auditory field,” or what we commonly note as background noise (Cox 2009, 20). In various instances, the ear interprets the background noise as silence, which permits the sounds within an acoustic environment to resonate. The quality of background noise then becomes critical in establishing a sense of silence within an environment. In this practice of silence, the listener is subjected “not [to] the absence of sound but the beginning of listening” (Voegelin 2010, 83).

A similar idea, based on the compositions of Luigi Nono, is that of mobile sound; in both instances of noise and mobile sound, the sounds that we focus on are those that are native to their respective acoustic environment (Pape 1999, 58). However, there remains a crucial distinction between the two ideas; noise serves as a significant component to the mobile sound, yet certain elements within the mobile sound do not constitute noise. This occurs because noise refers exclusively to the sounds produced under vibrations that are audible to the human ear. The term mobile sound covers a much broader field, including sounds that are inaudible at their respective frequency. In retrospect, the mobile sound essentially constitutes a non-theoretical interpretation of silence, referring to the sounds that lie partially undetected by our attention span and auditory perception.


In most instances, the first misconception may arise during the discussion of sound art is the confusion between sound art and music. This misinterpretation is understandable, for music generally refers to a composition of sounds produced by a musician, an accepted type of artist. The distinction between sound art and music becomes more definite through Cox’s establishment of a signal, a characteristic of particular sounds. According to his argument, “the distinction [between signal and noise] is relative rather than absolute,” such that a certain criteria within the social context must be met in order for a signal to surface from the noise (Cox 2009, 20). Through this development, it seems that each signal originates from the general noise of its surroundings. In this instance, purpose and meaning serve as determining factors that cause a signal to “come to the fore, temporarily drawing our attention to it and away from the background noise” (Cox 2009, 20). In other words, a signal is a type of sound that has successfully drawn one’s attention. Based on this information, a composed series of sound that simultaneously serve as a signal typically constitute what we identify as music. In sound art, however, the priority of sound as a signal becomes inverted; the conventional background becomes the foreground.

Artistic Compositions

Musical Silence and Dada

John Cage’s musical composition, 4’33”, demonstrates the sound art concept of inverting the sounds that serve as signals (Voegelin 2010, 80). The composition of this piece is situated around three different orchestral movements comprised of silence. In this situation, the audience recognizes the presence of the orchestra and likely expects to hear some sort of instrumental music –this represents the conventional form of a signal. Because this piece is composed entirely of silence, the social context of the scene, the visualization of the orchestra seemingly preparing to play, engages the audience to listen to the silence. The resulting effect is the inversion of the sounds that serve as signals, creating an atmosphere of “musical silence not a sonic silence,” urging the audience to listen to the noises within the acoustic space (Voegelin 2010, 80).

In addition, this piece serves to challenge the pre-established conventions of art in a manner reminiscent to the movement of Dada artworks. For instance, Marcel Duchamp’s sculpture, Fountain, features a “porcelain urinal inscribed ‘R. Mutt’ with the purpose of questioning the idea of art for the sake of art” (Voegelin 2010, 80). Both of these pieces serve to “[defy] conventions to contest what was artistically doable” (Voegelin 2010, 80). One particular notion embodied in Duchamp’s work, art for the sake of art, is prevalent within the Dada style of art and wrought to challenge the definition of art, stretching the boundaries of what classified as art. In order to accomplish this, Dada artists sought to create art out of seemingly ordinary objects and materials, often called “ready mades.” By taking this approach to art, Marcel Duchamp, in particular, instilled the idea that “art can be whatever the artist decides it is” (Wireless Imagination 1992, 105). Sound art applies a similar tactic within the field of sonic art. Furthermore, Voegelin extended the term “ready made” to encompass the work of John Cage, who brought the element of silence “into the concert hall, and thereby [asked] comparable questions of musical materiality and its conventions of performance” (Voegelin 2010, 80). Thus, the two pieces are once again similar to one another by the mundane nature of their mediums; John Cage brought the thin buzz of background noises within silence into the context of art just as Marcel Duchamp took an ordinary urinal and converted it into a sculpture.


Effect on Audial Perception

Unconscious Perception

One subject matter of sound art deals with a realm of unconsciously perceived elements. Cox explained this phenomenon as “a vast swarm of elements that do not reach conscious thought” (Cox 2009, 21). Within an unconscious perception of sound, the listener can not distinguish between the noise and a signal, yet the potential to recognize the signal remains present. In other words, the ear recognizes the audial environment but can not clearly determine the exact source of any given sound. Therefore, noise constitutes the foundation for unconscious perception: “noise [is] the ground, the condition of possibility for every significant sound…[to emerge] and to which it returns” (Cox 2009, 22).

The effect of unconscious perceptions serves as a key factor in Ælab’s installation L’espace du milieu. Within this piece, the body’s sensory perception becomes warped under three distinct simulations. In the first installment, the visitors enter a dark room where they sit on a bench that produces vibrations beneath them, confusing the body’s sense of orientation. Next, the visitors sit on an “illuminated sonic chair” where they listen to sounds but are unable to see past the light-source. Lastly, the visitors view a black screen projecting abstract patterns, warping the way the brain processes images (Ikoniadou 2014, 55). The purpose of this work explores the body’s ability to make sense out of the unconscious realm of perception, thus, permitting sound art to explore the body’s unconscious sensory perception.

Hypersonic Effect

In creating an alternative listening experience, sound art also delves into the effect of inaudible frequencies on the body. The hypersonic effect, for instance, occurs when the body engages in hypersonic sensation. Such an experience results from “a deeper look into a region of potential that adds a felt surplus to actual perception and experience” –a sensorial stimulant to the sounds that we hear (Ikoniadou 2014, 45). In other words, hypersonic sensation is the energy produced by the human body from engaging in a dense sonic environment, opening up a whole new realm of audial interpretation termed by Tsutomu Oohashi as the hypersonic effect (Ikoniadou 2014, 46). In his research, Oohashi discovered that the presence of low, audible frequencies paired with high, inaudible frequencies could maximize the body’s sensorial capacity. Instead of receiving these inaudible frequencies as sounds, the body collects the wavelengths as vibrations that produce no sound. This phenomenon supposedly results in the elevation of energy during hypersonic sensation. Furthermore, this idea draws upon Nono’s theory of mobile sound, which includes high-pitched sounds that are inaudible to the human ear alone. The discovery of the hypersonic effect brings into perspective the notion that certain elements within the mobile sounds can be perceived by the human body through vibrations if not solely through sound.

Technology in Practice

Technological aid can also simulate distinct listening experiences. For instance, certain properties of the mobile sound can only be interpreted with the aid of live electronic transformations, such as with sounds that possess frequencies too high for the human ear. With modern technology, the implementation of sound art allows for the exploration of an extended scope of sound perception. One work that accomplishes this effect is Nick Knouf’s Aestherspacea collar-like device that receives and transforms electromagnetic waves into sounds that humans can hear (Ikoniadou 2014, 56). While wearing this device, the listener becomes exposed to both the electrical and acoustical soundscape of a given environment. In this manner, the experience serves to simulate a rather evolutionary audial experience by introducing the question of how humans would perceive sounds if our hearing range increased.



Cox, Christoph. 2009. “Sound Art and the Sonic Unconscious”. Organised Sound 14 (1): 19-26.

Edwards, Jessica. 2014. “A Non-Linear History of Mobile Sound Systems in the Arts” In Booster: Kunst Sound Maschine = Art Sound Machine. edited by Marta Herford Friederike Fast, Nik Nowak, and Chris Abbey. translation, Chris Abbey, Friederike Fast, Marta Herford and Nik Nowak. Bielefeld, Germany: Kerber. 148–165.

Ikoniadou, Eleni. 2014. The Rhythmic Event: Art, Media, and the Sonic. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.

Kahn, Douglas, and Gregory Whitehead, eds. 1992. Wireless Imagination: Sound, Radio, and the Avant garde. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.

Licht, Alan. 2007. Sound Art: Beyond Music, Between Categories. New York, N.Y: Rizzoli International Publications.

London, Barbara J. 1946-. 2013. Soundings: A Contemporary Score, eds. Museum of Modern Art (New York, N.Y.), Anne Hilde Neset. New York: Museum of Modern Art.

Pape, Gerard. 1999. “Luigi Nono and His Fellow Travellers”. Contemporary Music Review 18(1): 57-65.

Voegelin, Salomé. 2010. Listening to Noise and Silence Electronic Resource: Towards a Philosophy of Sound Art. New York: Continuum. See esp. Chap. 3, “Silence.”

Noise Pollution: Causes, Consequences, and Prevention

What do people think of when they hear the term “noise?” Do they see it as a pollutant, or do they just overlook it and believe that it is an unavoidable part of everyday life? Environmental noise has traditionally been dismissed as being inevitable and has not been seen as potentially detrimental to human health (Murphy and King 2014, xi). History provides little research which shows the possible health effects of noise. This could be because noise pollution has only significantly increased in the last century. The increase in technology and man-made machines has contributed to this pollution. Such anthropogenic noise, which could be considered unnatural, can have significant effects on the health of humans and nature. It can lead to many physiological and psychological disorders. It can even impair the learning ability of many children. With all this in mind, there needs to be a way to limit noise pollution. How can humans continue to innovate and advance while also limiting negative effects?

Before I started my Soundscapes class, I had never thought about noise and what noise pollution really is. The noise and sounds around me seemed to just blend into the environment. I never gave the topic of noise pollution much thought. After all, what could be so important about noise? Throughout the semester, I began to gain a better understanding of noise pollution and the problems associated with it. Sounds in the environment were easier to recognize, and I noticed that I was beginning to pay more attention to any small sound that seemed foreign, therefore more easily recognizing noise pollution and its annoyance. The history of noise and noise pollution has been relatively short. People rarely gave much thought to it until R. Murray Schafer started working on a project called the World Soundscape Project. The goal of this project was to find the balance between the noise of human activity and the sonic environment so that both can exist in harmony. R. Murray Schafer believed that sounds could be classified in multiple ways. One is according to their physical properties, which is acoustics. Another is according to the way sounds are perceived, which is psychoacoustics. Using this term, he has tried to help people get a better grasp of the sounds that compose their environment. Learning about psychoacoustics is a very big part of understanding noise pollution. The way noise is perceived and how it has evolved is the key to recognizing noise pollution as a major problem throughout the world.

The increase in noise pollution has been significantly higher in the last century than ever before. It is estimated that noise levels in the United States have increased more than 11% over the last decade (Staples 1996, 143). One of the main reasons for this is anthropogenic noise, which is noise that comes from man-made machines. Advances in technology have allowed humans to build cars, planes, and other construction machinery that produce a lot of noise. Sounds created by these machines are annoying and unhealthy. Noise annoyance is considered any sound that people perceive as irritable, bothers them, or creates a feeling of stress. Annoyance continues to increase because people are in constant need of transportation and construction. Some authors suggest that “humans have drastically changed much of the world’s acoustic background with anthropogenic sounds that are markedly different in pitch and amplitude than sounds in most natural habitats” (Francis et al. 2009, 1415). The biggest increase in noise can be seen in large cities. New York City, for example, sounds extremely different today than it did in the early 1900s. The change in noise comes largely from urbanization and innovations in technology. It is predicted by some that noise levels would continue to rise at least as rapidly as the growth of the general population (Susan Staples 1996). Due to the great number of people that live in the city, the background noise heard seems to be inescapable. According to Murphy and King, “noise [is] being emitted from the very depths below the ground to the skies overhead and seemingly everywhere in between” (2014, 1). A huge difference can be seen in what New York sounded like in the 50s compared to now. Tony Schwartz, an American sound archivist and designer, made an album called New York 19, released in 1954. This album is full of recordings from New York City, and can be heard here. A recording made by a classmate, Brett Lardaro, can be compared to the ones made by Schwartz. The recording can be heard here:

This soundscape was recorded in 2015. The noise from traffic and human voices is much higher than it was in 1954, and the increase in noise pollution can easily be recognized. With an increase in noise pollution comes an increase in health effects.

The auditory senses are unique from all of our other senses. Unlike vision, sound cannot be shut out. People can always close their eyes to get away from an undesired sight, but they cannot shut off their hearing to stop listening to an unpleasant noise. This is what makes noise pollution so hard to deal with and why it causes so much annoyance. People are constantly hearing noise, and their only adaptation is to get used to it or try to ignore it. Constant exposure to noise can have some serious effects on our health. Many hearing impairments result from noise and the threshold of hearing can be greatly increased from noise exposure. Authors Stephen A. Stansfield and Mark P. Matheson suggest that “noise interferes in complex task performance, modifies social behaviour, and causes annoyance… hearing impairments due to noise are a direct consequence of the effects of sound energy on the inner ear” (2003, 243). Susan Staples’ s research seems to agree with this statement. She claims that “prolonged exposure to environmental noise has been related to impaired scholastic performance and learning ability, higher blood pressure, and lowered tolerance for frustration” (1996, 143). Task performance is greatly affected in children. When exposed to white noise for a long time, children may get used to the noise and their performance won’t be affected. However, once that noise is shut off, their task performance decreases and the effects of prolonged noise exposure are seen. Studies show that traffic is one of the biggest contributors to noise pollution, therefore having some serious effects on the task performance of humans.

Because of the constant need for humans to travel, traffic noise affects people throughout the world, especially in big cities. The large number of automobiles in cities creates a constant background noise. This noise has been shown to affect the health of many people. It is estimated that “at least one million healthy life years are lost every year from traffic related noise alone in Western Europe” (Murphy and King 2014, xi). Traffic noise leads to stress a majority of the time. Being constantly exposed to noise creates a feeling of uneasiness and irritates many people. Stress is extremely detrimental to human health, and can lead to many psychological disorders. Stress-causing annoyance from traffic noise is present both during the day and at night. Some studies show that one in three individuals in Europe are annoyed by noise during the daytime, and one in five experience a decrease in sleep quality because of noise (Murphy and King 2014, 52). Sleep cycles, in particular the REM cycle, can be greatly affected. People that are exposed to loud noise during the day can have worse nights of sleep and feel less rested the next day. Authors Murphy and King conclude, “if the disturbance is at a level that is severe enough, it can lead to sleep deprivation which can seriously affect the physical and mental health of an individual” (2014, 61). Noise during the night can also play a role in sleep cycles. Many people believe that white noise is good when sleeping because it blocks out all other noises. However, this has been proven to be incorrect. White noise may help people fall asleep, but it doesn’t actually contribute to a good night of rest. It can limit REM cycles which leads to feeling less rested. These effects of noise pollution on humans are vast, and some effects can even be seen on animals.

Noise pollution has been linked with declining populations of birds and other animals. Anthropogenic noise impairs the ability of birds to reproduce, communicate, and stay away from predators. There has been some research done that shows the relationship between loud environments and the population size of birds. The data shows that populations of birds are smaller in areas with more noise. Some authors suggest that “individuals that settle in noisy habitats may have reduced reproductive success because noise interferes with detection of approaching predators” (Francis et al. 2009, 1415). High levels of noise block out the sound of incoming predators, which affects the reproductive abilities of birds. Protecting the eggs and their young is very difficult for birds in loud environments. Loud habitats also cause birds to migrate. If the reproductive abilities are better in quieter surroundings, birds will migrate to those better suited for survival. This shows that noise can affect not only humans, but birds as well.

There have been some efforts to limit noise pollution, but many have been in vain. Countries all over the world, especially in Europe, have tried to place regulations to cut down noise, especially road traffic noise. Regulations that place a maximum limit on the level of noise have been useful to reduce some of the pollution, but have not been extremely effective. Many people would argue that the research that regulations are based on is very poor. Many research studies are considered inconclusive because they do not take into account psychological factors and effect modifiers. The studies are simply based on the loudness of noise. This has been shown to be a poor representation of what people actually think of the noise. There can be big differences between what a noise sounds like and what people actually perceive. Some noises may sound loud but people would not consider them pollution because they are not unwanted sounds, and do not create annoyance. For example, the sound of a waterfall may be significantly higher than that of a car engine, but most people would agree that the car engine is annoying while the waterfall is pleasant. Susan Staples states, “reviewers conclude that to identify and understand non-auditory health effects it is necessary to rigorously design studies and to take into account individual differences in reactions to noise and intervening psychological factors such as perceived control” (1996, 144). Not all people react the same to a noise, which means that the only way to get an accurate representation of noise pollution is to take into account how people individually perceive a noise. Staples believes that “an understanding of the factors responsible for individual differences in reactions to environmental noise may be necessary not only to accurately predict public response but also to determine what groups need protection from health effects” (1996, 145). Different groups of people may need more protection than other based on how noise will affect each group individually. This is why it is so important to take individual perception into account.

Many people believe that noise should not be completely eliminated. Instead, only some noise that people believe is truly detrimental to their health should be removed. Research studies that take into account individual perceptions of annoyance help set the boundaries between tolerable noise and intolerable noise.  Authors that have done research on such topics state “we have identified that the whole context of the noise, its source, distance from the noise, its longevity and perceived level of control over it, all play a part in a person’s response to it and whether they would want to see it eliminated from their soundscape” (Mags et al. 2006, 2394). Such authors believe that some noise is in fact good, and makes the environment sound more natural. If people were to remove all noise, the environment would sound very unnatural and unpleasant. Some people may like specific types of noise, which makes it crucial to use the opinions of individuals when placing regulations and creating public policy.

This last century has brought with it many advancements in technology and has helped people realize what noise is. The history of noise has been relatively short, but a lot has been achieved in the last 50 years. Most people are unaware of what noise really is and never really pay much attention to it, just like I first did at the beginning of this semester. I was able to grasp just a tiny portion of “soundscapes,” a very vast and virtually limitless topic. Soundscapes helped me get more connected with the environment through sounds, and helped me understand what noise means to the environment that I am a part of. Using this knowledge, I, and many others, have realized how many negative health effects can arise from noise pollution. Annoyance, mental disorders, and sleep deprivation are all negative effects that continue to increase with rising levels of noise. Limitations are needed so that it does not reach dangerous levels. Some legislation and public policy has been put into effect, but it is not nearly enough to stop the noise. Better research is required in order for the government to truly understand what the consequences of this pollution are, and to come up with better legislation. Many would argue that not all noise should be removed, because it would leave the environment sounding very unnatural. Instead, noise that is truly affecting health and performance should be the limited or removed completely. We cannot know whether better research will be conducted or not, but if limits are not set on some noise, it will get to an intolerable level for everyone. A balance between the sounds that people want to hear, and the ones that they don’t, has to be found so that everyone can live a healthy and happy life, free of unnatural, annoying sounds.


Works Cited

Adams, Mags, Trevor Cox, Gemma Moore, Ben Croxford, Mohamed Refaee, and Steve Sharples. 2006. “Sustainable soundscapes: Noise policy and the urban experience.” Urban Studies 43 (13): 2385-98.

Francis, Clinton D., Catherine P. Ortega, and Alexander Cruz. 2009. “Noise pollution changes avian communities and species interactions.” Current Biology 19 (16): 1415-9.

Murphy, Enda, Eoin A. King. 2014. “Environmental noise pollution: Noise mapping, public health, and policy.” Amsterdam: Elsevier.

Stansfeld, Stephen A. and Mark P. Matheson. 2003. “Noise pollution: Non-auditory effects on health.” British Medical Bulletin 68 (1): 243-57.

Staples, Susan L. 1996. “Human response to environmental noise: Psychological research and public policy.” American Psychologist 51 (2): 143-50.

“The World Soundscape Project.” World Soundscape Project. Accessed November 12, 2015. http://www.sfu.ca/~truax/wsp.html.

Noise: The Choice to Ignore the Logical Solution

Sounds surround us. Escaping them is nearly impossible, and the effects they have on us is shocking. Yet, so few people know the true toll that noise has on us. There exists a clear distinction between sound and noise. Noise is not just sound, but unnecessary sound, sound that annoys or distracts people from the things they attempt to do. While most will admit to the annoyance factor of noise, this is basically the full extent of their knowledge of its effects. However, noise can cause immense psychological and psychological destruction to the body, and no true plans exist to stop it. Noise pollution can cause severely altered sleep cycles, cardiovascular issues, hypertension, and poor task performance. The issue that plays into this lack of regulation is that most of these effects can be caused by myriad other sources. Identifying noise as the direct and only cause is practically impossible without eliminating all confounding variables. Even though noise constantly damages lives, it seems to be a minuscule issue to many because of the general lack of knowledge of the extent or source of the damage; because of this, the consequences it has are practically ignored, displaying the importance of government intervention in regulating noise pollution.

Noise is arguably one of the most important yet least regulated issues in modern society. With increases in population and city size, gone are the days of living in practical silence. Music blasts through the night, cars drive all day, subways and airplanes never cease to produce constant noises. But since no one has the ability to shut off their sense of hearing as they do with their eyes, mouth, or nose, essentially nothing controls the amount of noise constantly entering our ears. Goines and Hagler make the point that noise, “even at levels that are not harmful to hearing, is perceived subconsciously as a danger signal, even during sleep” (Goines and Hagler 2007, n.p.). The danger of noise is more than simply a signal however, as the possible ramifications it can have on the human body are immense—both physiologically and psychologically. Noise control is severely lacking in government regulation, but, unfortunately, efforts to control noise were practically dropped in the ‘80s when the federal government passed the responsibility onto state government without mandating any specific policies (Goines and Hagler 2007). Noise’s vast range of effects is nearly uncountable, but some of its specific destructive abilities provide enough reason for regulation.

Particularly known for altering sleep cycles, noise, in turn, affects productivity and day-to-day health; while studies continue to show this as a fact, hardly any governing bodies take any action to dampen the effects of noise pollution. One very common example of noise pollution changing sleep cycles is for people who live next to high noise-level areas like airports or train stations.

View an example here: (Crittenden 2012).

In these cases, the person subjected to the noise often grows “habituated” to the noise, meaning the noise no longer seems to distract them, and they learn to function with it constantly in the background. While habituation seems to be an excellent solution to unceasing noise, reality shows otherwise. Stansfeld and Matheson address this issue: “Studies on noise abatement show that, by reducing indoor noise level, the amount of REM [rapid eye movement] sleep and slow wave sleep can be increased. It thus seems that, although there may be some adaptation to sleep disturbance by noise, complete habituation does not occur” (Stansfeld & Matheson 2003, 244). While people may feel a sense of becoming used to the noises of their environment (particularly those who live near consistently loud areas), the physical harm to their body does not go away. They may fall asleep more easily, but noise can still limit REM sleep and cause hypertension. REM sleep (a deeper sleep, characterized by little muscle use and ability to dream) is key to feeling well-rested and able the next day. It seems habituation is actually more dangerous than a lack of habituation, as people believe the noise has lost its effect on them, when in reality it has not.

In my own research, using the App “Sleep Cycle,” I recorded sleep cycles with and without white noise present through the night. The semi-sinusoidal graphs display the various periods of “deep sleep” (REM sleep) and normal sleep. In the first chart, which represents sleep without white noise, I reached REM sleep four times and once partially. The second chart represents sleep in the presence of white noise. I reached REM sleep only twice fully and once partially throughout the night.  Thus the existence of white noise dramatically altered my sleep cycle. In reality, I noted that I did indeed fall asleep more easily with the presence of white noise, demonstrating the threat of habituation.

These two sleep cycles represent examples of sleep in near silence and sleep in the presence of white noise, respectively.

Noise, particularly white noise, causes a more profound effect on children than on adults by altering them in developing stages and inhibiting their full mental growth. The majority of research executed regarding white noise is based on children for two reasons: first, they generally have a stronger reaction to noise containing many frequencies or “white noise” (they fall asleep very easily in its presence), and second, white noise is far worse for children than for adults. In recent years, marketers have introduced parents to the use of white noise (created by white noise machines or phone applications), to help their infant children fall asleep more easily.

Listen a white noise machine here: (Millepassi 2013).

While this method does indeed prove to work well in most cases, doctors worry about the sound pressure associated with white noise-producers. Pediatric ear surgeon Blake Papsin grew concerned about this use of white noise machines after discovering that many of them reach sound pressures of 85 decibels (Sanders 2014). To put this into perspective, a loud hair dryer operates at a similar level, and workplaces are considered “safe” at a maximum of 85 decibels. While white noise brings about issues in young children, general noise pollution does as well. (Sanders 2014; Stansfeld and Matheson 2003). Gary Evans, in his 1992 study of the relocation of the Munich airport, showed a drastic change in long-term memory and reading comprehension ability among children in the area. The children who lived near the airport before 1992 showed a strong deficit in those fields, but after the relocation, they began to perform on average levels (World Health Organization 2011).

In reality, noise takes more of a toll on the body than the simple physiological effects mentioned already; noise psychologically impairs people far beyond common belief. R. Murray Schafer, creator of the word “soundscape” and renowned acoustic ecologist, brings about another key term to the idea of the mental effects of noise: “schizophonia.” Defined as “the split between an original sound and its electroacoustical transmission or reproduction,” (Schafer 2005, 34), this term refers to the re-creation of sound in a negative way. While many sounds today are reproduced in some new way, the modern-day re-creation of sound brings forth terror in the eyes of Schafer, as sound no longer links to its source, necessarily. Another phrase that stems from schizophonia is the CRESSON (Centre de recherché sur l’espace sonore et l’environment urbain) group’s term, “ubiquity effect,” or the “anxiety we experience in the presence of sounds whose source cannot be localized” (Johnson 2009, 181). Like schizophonia, the ubiquity effect is based upon “the uncertainty produced by a sound about its origin.” Thus it creates an issue of power between the listener and the source — the listener loses any sense of control over the source of noise, and this, in turn, causes the paranoia (Augoyard and Torgue 2005, 131). Though the ubiquity effect influences various people differently, it disturbs some to a great degree. In the worst cases, the horrendous attempt to localize the cause of the noise results in a belief that the noise is voluntarily attempting to harm the listener, in turn causing dramatically intense panic or possibly even damaging physical behavior in extreme cases. While the ubiquity effect is generally not taken to these extremities, architecture in large cities can cause episodic exposure to sounds lacking a source, allowing these issues to occur.

Noise can produce further psychological effects aside from the ubiquity effect, basically caused by a large amount of sound pressure. In a 2015 study on Pakistani traffic wardens, researchers measured psychological effects in areas of high sound pressure through interviews and quality of work checks. In general, the noise levels surrounding these traffic wardens ranged between 85 and 106 decibels, which, as mentioned before, is considered above “safe” levels for a working environment. The study produced stunning results: “Major psychological effects found in wardens were aggravated depression 58%, stress 65%, public conflict 71%, irritation and annoyance 54%, behavioral affects 59% and speech interference 56%” (Tabraiz 2015, 1). Thus, even though officials consider the noise above safe levels, strict regulation was not present and caused these massive psychological effects. It is clear that these outcomes would thoroughly inhibit a traffic warden from accurately performing his or her job and possibly result in putting the public in further danger.

In terms of general sound recognition, studies show the importance of low noise levels for developing humans. Melissa Caras and Dan Sanes of the NYU neuroscience program led an experiment on gerbils in order to determine the effect of auditory deprivation on ability to detect the presence of AM waves, a key factor of vocal communication. The gerbils used in the test were given bilateral earplugs for fifteen days, and after having the earplugs removed and returning to normal hearing thresholds, the gerbils were tested and compared to a control group. The group given earplugs for fifteen days showed a far larger detection threshold for AM waves compared to those in the same-age control group. However, at an older age, the earplug use showed hardly any difference. The test was then conducted on juvenile gerbils. In this case, it was made clear that the juvenile age was a far more crucial period for developing and being able to use auditory skills. The difference in the earplug group and the control group was far larger than the first group tested. In comparison to humans, this age period most nearly represents up until late toddlerhood (Caras and Sanes 2015).

Building on the concept of noise pollution, the government, according to accounts from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has failed to create funding for any legitimate regulation of noise pollution, particularly in terms of transportation. In a report in 1977, the EPA stressed the importance of bringing noise under control, mainly for sleep, communication, and hearing loss purposes. Five years prior, in 1972, the Noise Control Act attempted to combat noise pollution unsuccessfully, as the federal government kept it low on its list of priorities (United States 1977). Eventually, as mentioned previously, the federal government passed noise control regulation to the states, where it lost any priority whatsoever. Today, thirty-eight years later, hardly any more progress has been made in terms of true government regulation of noise control.

Researchers make clear the sheer amount of harm noise causes the human body in nearly every possible way. One could argue that the ignorance related to noise and noise pollution today puts us in further danger as noises continue to increase in their dominance of our senses, and we unknowingly or knowingly acquiesce. But the general population does not think of noise as something this capable of harm, and that is where the issue truly presents itself. Other issues, even issues that are far more difficult to solve, gain priority for reasons unknown. Noise, even with its surprisingly destructive ability, does not hold the power that other incurable diseases and world issues have. A solution exists, yet few feel the need to implement this remedy. Why? Perhaps it can be broken down into issues of human psychology. Why do humans feel the need to report every instance of a shark attack when vending machines account for more human deaths every year? Some issues simply gain the attraction of the media, the government, and the rest of society while others do not. However, when people spread awareness on subjects like this, sometimes an answer appears.

While researches have studied and measured the vast range of effects of noise pollution in nearly all cases, noise still continues to cause immense issues for people. Little has been done to limit noise, and little has been done to spread awareness of the matter. Goines and Hagler compare modern noise pollution to the issue of tobacco in recent years. Even after the consensus that tobacco was an incredibly dangerous product to consume or be around, it took decades for any progress to be made in seriously regulating it (Goines & Hagler). Noise pollution presents a similar issue—all studies show the immediate danger of noise on many scales, yet no action is being taken to control it. One possible reason for this lack of regulation is a lack of complaints; those who complain about noise generally refer to “noisy neighbors” or something similar, not general noise pollution (LaBelle 2010). Therefore, the government must take responsibility in regulating it just as they do with tobacco products. It seems perplexing that researchers have put so much effort into this field with very little to show as an end result. Noise in all its forms directly affects nearly every human being in some way. The answer to this question already exists, but, at this point in time, has not been implemented because of a lack of awareness. How long will this take? As population continues to rise and cities become more populated, noise’s toll on humans will rise with it. Perhaps then, when the effects present a clear, recognizable threat to all, will the government and the rest of society take a reasonable and responsible step forward.

Works Cited

Augoyard, Jean-Francois, and Henry Torgue. 2006. Sonic Experience: A Guide to Everyday Sounds. London: McGill-Queen’s University Press. 130-140.

Caras, Melissa L. and Dan H. Sanes. 2015. “Sustained Perceptual Deficits from Transient Sensory Deprivation.” The Journal of Neuroscience: The Official Journal of the Society for Neuroscience. 35 (30): 10831-42.

Crittenden, Peter. 2012. Living Near an Airport. YouTube video, 0:17. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pk2T5Y4tK7U

Goines, Lisa, and Louis Hagler. 2007. “Noise pollution: A modern plague.” The Southern Medical Journal. 100 (3):287-94.

Johnson, Bruce. 2009. “Low-Frequency Noise and Urban Space.” Popular Music History. 4 (2): 177-95.

LaBelle, Brandon. 2010. Acoustic Territories: Sound Culture and Everyday Life. London: Continuum International Publishing. 45-84.

Millepassi. 2013. The Virtual Fan Sleep Music White Noise 2 Hrs Babies Stop Crying. YouTube video, 1:57:05. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YM4jiWoe6hE.

Sanders, Laura. 2014. “Should You Hush That White Noise?” Science News, March 3.

Schafer, R. Murray. The Music of the Environment. 34-35. New York: The Continuum International, 2005.

Stansfeld, Stephen A. and Mark P. Matheson. 2003. “Noise pollution: Non-Auditory Effects on Health.” British Medical Bulletin. 68 (1): 243-57.

Tabraiz, Shamas, Saeed Ahmad, Iffat Shehzadi, and Muhammad Bilal Asif. 2015. “Study of Physio-Psychological Effects on Traffic Wardens due to Traffic Noise Pollution; Exposure-Effect Relation.” Journal of Environmental Health Science and Engineering. 13 (April 16): 30.

United States. 1977. Noise Pollution: Federal Program to Control it Has Been Slow and Ineffective, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Transportation: Report to the Congress. Washington: U.S. General Accounting Office.

World Health Organization, Regional Office for Europe. 2011. Burden of Disease from Environmental Noise: Quantification of Healthy Life Years Lost in Europe. Fritschi, Lin et al., eds. Copenhagen, Denmark; Brussels, Belgium: JRC European Commission.

Noise Pollution: The Silent Assassin

Many people in the modern-day era stress the prevention of pollution in order to protect the environment. The types of pollution that are widely known to society mainly consist of air, water, and land pollution. This list of commonly known pollutants, however, doesn’t include noise pollution. One may ask: what even is noise pollution? Asking this question is understandable, considering the fact that harmful noise has not been stressed as a prominent issue in Western civilization, yet unusual since noise pollution harms humans – both physically and psychologically. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated in 1981 that 100 million people in the United States were annually exposed to noise that could potentially harm one’s health (Hammer, Swimburn, and Neitzel 2014). Noise can indeed be harmful to human health, despite what others may presume, and the effects of high level noise span a large range: impaired hearing, sleep disruption, cardiovascular strain, and behavioral changes that alter one’s lifestyle. The increase in environmental noise has been allowed to grow excessively over the past few decades due to the progression of modern society as well as the government’s lackadaisical attitude in addressing the problem of noise pollution. The repercussions of excessive noise have taken a toll on human health, and these effects will continue to ensue unless noise pollution is recognized as a serious issue in every-day life and actions are taken to prevent it.

A few months ago, I was tasked with defining the term “noise pollution.” At first glance, I honestly believed the task was a hoax. How could noise pollute the environment? Pollutants are often viewed as matter that makes the environment grimy, but this connotation isn’t always correct. The meaning behind noise pollution can be found within the context of the term itself; the environment is polluted with an excess amount of noise. With the case of noise pollution, the environment doesn’t become physically filthier but the acoustic environment becomes cluttered. A busy acoustic environment is often found in urban settings, also known as Lo-Fi environments, where the sounds are close and compact.

In Fulton County, Georgia (containing almost a million inhabitants), the Georgia Department of Transportation and the Atlanta Regional Commission compiled traffic data and conducted noise level simulation to determine the noise-exposed population. The results revealed that 48% of the county population was exposed to noise levels of 55 dB or higher during the day, 32% was exposed to noise levels of 50 dB or higher at night, and 9% was exposed to noise levels of 67 dB or higher overall (Seong et al. 2011). The EPA considers noise levels above 55 dB to be potentially harmful to one’s health, and Fulton County is just one of many locations where noise pollution is prominent.

The image below is a noise map of London.

The noise levels are highest on roadways, exceeding 80 dB. Much of the surrounding area is engulfed in noise above 55 dB as well,  an unhealthy level of sound. The only places where the noise levels are below 35dB are inside any buildings. Once a person steps out into the open, where walls aren’t standing to block out any sound, the noise levels skyrocket. This confirms the idea that cityscapes are indeed cluttered with excessive noise.

R. Murray Schafer, a Canadian composer and theorist, believes that this sonic compression in cityscapes eats away at a listener’s aural space. “Cities, therefore, create impenetrable soundwalls isolating individuals from their acoustic environment” (Arkette 2004, 162). Although the idea of silence is relative, very rarely would someone immersed in a cityscape say the acoustic environment is silent. This makes sense considering hundreds of thousands of people are bustling about and high concentrations of traffic are dominating the streets in a cityscape. Schafer refers to silence as an endangered species in cityscapes and that it should be preserved just like society would treat a real endangered species (Arkette 2004). If silence is the species, then noise pollution is the disease that’s exterminating it.

Listen to the following audio recordings. The first recording is of my sister, Alexandra Lardaro, walking down a street in Greenwich Village, New York City and the second is of her standing in a subway station. She held the recorder, an iPhone 5, at her waist while making these recordings.

These are two common examples of high density noise and they are prevalent in the every-day lives of almost all city-dwellers. It’s been discovered that the noise levels of subway platforms and subway cars can reach 112dB in New York City (Goines and Hagler 2007). This constant exposure to high concentrated noise makes a person’s ability to hear distant sounds difficult, unlike the hearing abilities of a person living in a Hi-Fi environment. The sound ambiance is much lower in a Hi-Fi environment, allowing individuals to hear discrete and distant sounds. The contrast in hearing abilities due to differing sound levels demonstrates the basic idea that excessive noise comes with consequences.

Most people can relate to hearing a subtle ringing noise the day after attending a concert, a club, or a party. Eventually the ringing noise goes away and is quickly forgotten because the acoustic environment returns to a healthy balance of sounds. But what if one is constantly bombarded with an unhealthy amount of noise? Constant exposure to high levels of noise worsens one’s ability to hear, ultimately leading to hearing impairment. This often occurs within an individual’s occupational environment, whether it be those in the industry who work with loud machines on a daily basis, bartenders who are repeatedly exposed to loud music, or bands who are often surrounded by blaring music. In fact, it was discovered that almost a third of students who worked at a university entertainment event multiple times had permanent hearing loss of more than 30dB. Unhealthy amounts of noise can be found in a recreational environment as well.

80% of elementary school children possess music players that are often used at an unhealthy volume – this is a significant cause in the increased number of children that experience impaired hearing. It was estimated that 12.5% of children ranging from 6 years of age to 19 years of age in America had impaired hearing in either ears or both (Goines and Hagler 2007). One’s hearing was considered impaired if they were unable to hear certain frequencies that a human is normally capable of hearing. Impaired hearing in the youth can alter one’s communication skills, behavior, social/emotional development, and academic endeavors, making a loss in hearing even more dangerous to one’s lifestyle (Benfield et al. 2014). Other leisure activities that involve the emission of unhealthy noise include using firecrackers, riding snowmobiles, and firing guns. Although the sounds produced by these objects are temporary, one’s hearing can be affected permanently, even if the high level noise only lasts for a few milliseconds. These types of noise are barely regulated by the government which leads to many cases of hearing impairment across the country. Without regulations, it is difficult for people to understand the consequences of such excessive noise, which is primarily why noise pollution has been allowed to grow over recent years. People can’t take the necessary precautions if they don’t know they’re being harmed. A survey of young adults who had impaired hearing revealed that 66% of respondents “would be motivated to use ear protection if they were aware of the potential permanent hearing loss” (Goines and Hagler 2007, 289). However, certain individuals chronically exposed to loud noise may say they’ve gotten used to their noisy acoustic environment, but the truth is that their hearing doesn’t get used to it, it only deteriorates. Now of course I’m not saying that you should never engage in these recreational activities ever again, I just want people to be aware of the potential harm that can result from unhealthy noise. That being said, steps can be taken to prevent this hearing loss while still participating in activities involving high levels of noise. Proper ear protection should be used when surrounded by high levels of noise (no matter how short the sounds last), headphones should be used at an appropriate sound level, and individuals should be conscious of whether or not they’re frequently surrounded by harmful noise. This awareness would most likely make someone avoid exposure to what they deem as unnecessary noise and spread their knowledge regarding the effects of noise to others – the goal of my research.

The increased transportation usage in society over recent decades has been associated with increased air pollution, but this heavy transportation usage also produces high levels of noise pollution. 65% of the population within the European Market is exposed to harmful levels of transportation noise (Goines and Hagler 2007). Noise pollution usually stems from road traffic noise and aviation noise. In 2008, the Public Health Service of the Municipality of Amsterdam collected survey data from 1,967 participants. A questionnaire was distributed to the subjects in order to gauge their annoyance with traffic noise. The following question was asked: “‘Thinking of the last 12 months, when you are at home, which number on a scale from 0 to 10 best represents to what extent you are being annoyed or disturbed by noise from the following sources’, followed by: (a) traffic on roads with a maximum speed limit greater than 50 km/h, and (b) traffic on roads with a maximum speed limit of 50 km/h” (de Kluizenaar et al. 2013, 2260). Noise levels were determined for each subject’s “dwelling” in Amsterdam from the side most exposed to noise and the side least exposed to noise. The results revealed that those who resided in dwellings whose quieter side experienced higher noise levels than the quieter side of other subjects reported more noise-induced annoyance.

These participants complained about noise the most because they’re completely engulfed in noise; even the “quieter” side was still far from quiet. If the quieter side of a dwelling experienced high levels of sound, then the individual residing there has no sense of escape from the cluttered acoustic environment. Whereas the other subjects, although still exposed to a high concentration of traffic noise, possessed a safe haven within their truly quiet sides away from the bustling sounds about. You may be thinking that people complain about noise all the time and that no permanent harm comes from noise exposure. Unfortunately, that’s not the case with noise pollution. Chronic annoyance with noise indicates a probable chance that one’s health is being affected by it, and the damage could be perpetual. In fact, the 2000 United States Census discovered that 40% of people who complained about excessive noise moved from their original place of residence (Goines and Hagler 2007). This shows how the recent increase in noise pollution has affected the lives of many, and since noise-induced annoyance is correlated with health distress, noise pollution has specifically affected the health of many as well.

During an interview with my sister who lives in New York City, I asked her how she felt about the destructive ambient sound that’s always present in her environment. She stated that she’s gotten used to the constant buzz of traffic. This is commonplace for some people living in noisy environments to naturally become accustomed to the excessive noise. The cardiovascular system, however, does not grow accustomed to this.  The constant exposure to this type of noise has been associated with the acquisition of cardiovascular diseases such as hypertension, ischemic heart diseases and stroke. Cardiovascular diseases cause the most human deaths across the globe, and noise pollution is significantly contributing to the cause. But to what extent? A meta-analysis of 14 studies correlating an association between traffic noise and coronary heart diseases was conducted. This analysis discovered that the average risk of acquiring a coronary heart disease increased eight percent per 10dB increase in the acoustic environment. The noise levels at which the study was carried out ranged from 52dB to 77dB. Focusing directly on hypertension, a meta-analysis of 24 studies relating traffic noise to the existence of hypertension was conducted as well. The average risk increased by seven percent per 10dB increase in sound level within the range of 47dB and 77dB. Another meta-analysis of 5 studies demonstrating a connection between traffic noise and ischemic heart diseases was carried out. The average risk of obtaining this disease increased 17 percent per 10dB increase in the acoustic environment, and the noise levels ranged from 57dB to 77dB (Babisch 2014). All of these studies indicate that exposure to such traffic noise is in fact dangerous to an individual’s health and the damage can be permanent.

Growing up in a small suburbia, an airplane would fly overhead every once and a while and the souring sound could be heard for about thirty seconds. The noise did drown out other sounds within my acoustic environment but the noise was ephemeral and not bothersome to any extent. However, I never imagined the possibility of hearing the overbearing sounds of aircraft over and over again. Aviation noise, one of the key sources of noise pollution as mentioned before, has had negative consequences on human health as much as road traffic noise has in recent years. The HYENA project (Hypertension and Exposure to Noise near Airports) was carried out between 2004 and 2006 to find a potential relationship between cardiovascular disease and noise exposure, specifically in areas neighboring airports. 4,861 people participated in the survey that were between 45 and 70 years of age and had lived by a European airport for more than five years. The airports that participants resided near spanned six countries: Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Greece, and Sweden. Information about the health of all participants was gathered and noise mapping displayed how much noise each participant was exposed to. After performing the study, it was discovered that individuals residing near airports had experienced more cardiovascular distress than normal, and the participants exposed to higher levels of aviation noise suffered from this cardiovascular strain more than the other subjects did. But how exactly is cardiovascular distress a result of noise pollution? It mainly derives from sleep disruption.

You’ve probably been told to “quiet down” a few times in your life because others nearby were trying to sleep, or you’ve instinctively tip-toed around someone who was sleeping. These actions have become common courtesy because society has recognized that noise is a major distractor when trying to sleep. So, you may not have noticed but your instincts are aware that excessive noise leads to sleep disruption, one of the major effects of noise pollution. A study in Belgrade showed that noise was the leading cause of awakenings for 44.4% of respondents from a noisy area whereas in a quiet area it was only a leading cause for 6.1% of respondents. A noisy area was defined as an environment that experienced sounds above 65dB and a quiet area was an environment experiencing noise below 65dB (Ristovska and Lekaviciute 2013). However, noise can still disrupt one’s sleep without even waking them up. As the human body goes into deep sleep, blood pressure drops. Although one doesn’t consciously hear extraneous noise while sleeping, the body reacts to the sound by activating the sympathetic part of the nervous system. This process is similar to preparations the body makes before waking up. Therefore, one moves from a deep sleep state to a lighter state of sleep. With this transition between sleep states comes a rise in blood pressure and heart rate, both coalescing into cardiovascular strain which increases the probability of acquiring a cardiovascular disease in the future (Hammer, Swimburn, and Neitzel 2014). These effects typically come about when one is constantly exposed to noise levels above 65 dB (Goines and Hagler 2007). The same study in Belgrade demonstrated that 48.7% of respondents located in a noisy area experienced noise induced sleep disturbance, whereas only 12.9% of respondents located in a quiet area experienced this disturbance (Ristovska and Lekaviciute 2013). In this study, a “disturbance” was classified as an occurrence in which the body reacted to a sound but did not result in an awakening. These percentages are higher than those only accounting for awakenings, indicating that sleep disturbance occurs to people residing in busy acoustic environments more often than one may presume.

“The results are consistent with the hypothesis that noise exposure provokes a stress response causing a release of stress hormones, which in turn affect factors such as blood pressure and heart rate and thus cardiovascular disease risk” (Floud et al. 2013, 90).

Aside from the toll the body takes from noise pollution, the mind is also affected in a variety of ways that can in turn affect one’s behavior. About a month ago, I was tasked with reading an article related to soundscapes while listening to a vacuum cleaner recording with my headphones. At first I believed the assignment ahead of me would be grueling, but my work ethic turned out to be quite efficient. The vacuum cleaner sound had blocked out all other noises in my surroundings, allowing me to fully concentrate on my work and comprehend the text. This was because I established control over my acoustic environment. Studies have shown that this feeling of control reduces noise related annoyance (Staples 1996). Soon after completing this unique assignment, the instructions for the following task were to read another soundscapes article without listening to any recordings. My work efficiency contrasted greatly from the first assignment. Distracted by sounds from my friends nearby, the light bulbs above me, and the mechanical sounds throughout my room, it was difficult to completely understand the article and the time taken to finish the reading took longer than anticipated. Loss of control over the acoustic environment led to a loss of concentration.

Why do people seek quiet areas away from others, such as the library, when attempting to do work or read a text? The answer is quite obvious: because the acoustic environment is quiet. It’s clear that noise exposure affects one’s concentration, but it also detracts from memorizing pieces of information as well as accessing memory. The mind is distracted by the surrounding noise, making it difficult to focus on memory. Excessive noise has been shown to also lead to aggression, a lower frustration tolerance, and a reduction in one’s willingness to help others (Stansfeld and Matheson 2003). Have you ever been surrounded by an abundance of sounds and felt aggravated? Try to recall if this aggravation has caused you to become easily frustrated or aggressive with others around you. These feelings often lead to stress which then reduces one’s helping behavior. Usually when one is stressed, their main objective is to focus on accomplishing their own tasks before assisting in the endevours of others. All of the built-up stress resulting from noise exposure also increases heart rate and blood pressure which then causes cardiovascular strain, indicating that noise can lead to cardiovascular diseases from multiple angles.

After discovering how extensive and severe noise pollution can affect human health, I wondered how noise pollution has been allowed to remain prominent in American society specifically. One of the core reasons as to why this destructive ambient sound has been allowed to unfold upon urban environments in the United States is because the government has not dealt with the issue effectively. In 1977, a report was drawn up by members of the EPA and sent to Congress explaining how noise pollution has not been addressed and that effective regulations must be instituted to combat the problem. Attempts had been made to reduce noise pollution but none came to fruition. A major step taken to combat noise pollution was the Noise Control Act of 1972, but the objectives of the legislation were slow to take shape and were considered low priority in the eyes of the government. The act planned to issue noise emission standards and label noise emission levels on certain products in order to protect citizens and make them more aware of their acoustic environment, but noise emission standards were issued slowly and little progress was made in creating noise emission labels. Finalizing aviation noise control regulations was also never completed due to the lack of coordination between the EPA and the FAA (United States 1997). These unfruitful efforts were mainly a result of little government funding in addressing the tasks and the government focusing on other issues plaguing society at the time.

The government’s lack of action against noise pollution and its lackadaisical attitude towards addressing the problem explains why noise pollution’s growth over the recent years has been unchallenged. Unless the government recognizes destructive ambient sound as a serious issue in society, then its magnitude will only increase due to the way modern civilization has been advancing. As a result of the government’s inability to regulate noise pollution, a great majority of citizens are unaware that the issue even exists – just like I was prior to my research. During my research, I surveyed 100 people that were between the age of 14 and 84 asking the question: What are the first three types of pollution that come to your mind? Only 11 subjects included noise pollution in their response and 65 subjects stated they didn’t know what noise pollution was. Destructive ambient sound is not even known or considered a prominent issue to a large majority of individuals, indicating that the government must not only issue regulations to prevent the spread of noise pollution but must also inform the public of its danger and the precautions citizens should take on their own.

Humiliated with myself for being unaware of noise pollution’s presence in society, my research led me to uncover its history and the direction it was heading towards. Noise pollution developed its first major presence in society during the onset of the Industrial Revolution. During the 18th and 19th century, workers in the industry handled obtuse machines that produced loud mechanical sounds on a daily basis. This constant exposure to high levels of noise caused workers to experience hearing loss, nausea, anxiety, stress, headaches, aggressive behavior, and changes in mood. Government action was never taken to protect workers in the industry because the workers were still capable of effectively performing their duties (Bijsterveld 2008). It can be understood that the health of the workers was not of much concern to the government, setting the trend for the government’s apathetic response to noise pollution. It turns out that the total environmental noise has been on the rise since its dawn. It was estimated in 1991 that environmental noise increased 10% during the 1980’s (Goines and Hagler 2007). Urbanization has been escalating since the Industrial Revolution and with urbanization comes the escalation of concentrated noise. The human population is ceaselessly increasing as well which increases the total magnitude of environmental noise. Easy access to transportation in modern society has made people more mobile, leading to noisier transportation vehicles, and society’s constant desire for technological advancement has led to the necessity for noisier equipment (Bijsterveld 2008). If actions aren’t taken to dial back the growth of noise pollution, then its effects will continue to exponentially spread across a wider range of victims due to the inevitable factors mentioned before.

Civilization constantly strives to surround itself in a visually appealing environment. Houses are cleaned before family gatherings, garbage is picked up from beaches and parks, etc. Living on Long Island, New York, there have been numerous times that plans to build wind turbines to promote renewable energy have been opposed and shut down due to their ugly appearances. It’s clear that pleasing visual environments are desired, but why aren’t pleasing acoustic environments desired as well? “Unlike our eyes, which we can shut to exclude unwanted visual input, we cannot voluntarily shut our ears to exclude unwanted auditory input. Our hearing mechanisms are always ‘on’ even when we are asleep” (Goines and Hagler 2007, 88). Since we can’t “turn off” our ears, we must “turn off” the unwanted noise. Of course not all destructive sound can be eradicated, but humanity’s technological advancement can be shaped to prevent noise pollution. For example, the development of quieter transportation vehicles would drastically reduce the magnitude of excessive noise and therefore bring peace to the acoustic environments of millions. Limits can be set as to how close one could live to an airport in order to prevent constant exposure to aviation noise. Just making others aware of noise pollution and the effects that come with it can create a solution; it will not only make people strive to live healthier lives but will also cause the government to take effective actions against the issue if a formidable amount of citizens request this safety.

Works Cited:

Arkette, Sophie. 2004. “Sounds Like City.” Theory, Culture & Society 21 (1): 159-68.

Babisch, W. 2014. “Updated Exposure-response Relationship between Road Traffic Noise and

Coronary Heart Diseases: A Meta-analysis.” Noise & Health 16 (68): 1-9.

Benfield, Jacob A., Gretchen A. Nurse, Robert Jakubowski, Adam W. Gibson, B. Derrick

Taff, Peter Newman, and Paul A. Bell. 2014. “Testing Noise in the Field: A Brief Measure

of Individual Noise Sensitivity.” Environment and Behavior 46 (3): 353-72.

Bijsterveld, Karin. 2008. Mechanical Sound: Technology, Culture, and Public Problems of Noise

in the Twentieth Century. Cambridge, MA: MIT.

de Kluizenaar, Yvonne, Sabine A. Janssen, Henk Vos, Erik M. Salomons, Han Zhou, and Frits van

den Berg. 2013. “Road Traffic Noise and Annoyance: A Quantification of the Effect of

Quiet Side Exposure at Dwellings.” International Journal of Environmental Research and

Public  Health 10 (6): 2258-2270.

Floud, S., M. Blangiardo, C. Clark, K. de Hoogh, W. Babisch, D. Houthuijs, W. Swart, et al. 2013.

“Exposure to Aircraft and Road Traffic Noise and Associations with Heart Disease and

Stroke  in Six European Countries: A Cross-sectional Study.” Environmental Health 12

(1): 89-.

Goines, Lisa and Louis Hagler. 2007. “Noise Pollution: A Modern Plague.” Southern Medical          

Journal 100 (3): 287-94.

Hammer, MS, TK Swinburn, and RL Neitzel. 2014. “Environmental Noise Pollution in the

United States: Developing an Effective Public Health Response.” Environmental Health

Perspectives 122 (2): 115-9.

Ristovska, Gordana, and Jurgita Lekaviciute. 2013. “Environmental Noise and Sleep Disturbance:

Research in Central, Eastern and South-eastern Europe and Newly Independent States.”

Noise and Health 15 (62): 6-11.

Seong, Jeong C., Tae H. Park, Joon H. Ko, Seo I. Chang, Minho Kim, James B. Holt, and

Mohammed R. Mehdi. 2011. “Modeling of Road Traffic Noise and Estimated Human

Exposure in Fulton County, Georgia, USA.” Environment International 37 (8): 1336-41.

Stansfeld, Stephen A. and Mark P. Matheson. 2003. “Noise Pollution: Non-Auditory Effects on

Health.” British Medical Bulletin 68 (1): 243-57.

Staples, Susan L. 1996. “Human Response to Environmental Noise: Psychological Research and

Public Policy.” American Psychologist 51 (2): 143-50.

United States. General Accounting Office. 1977. Noise pollution: Federal Program to Control it

has been Slow and Ineffective, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of

Transportation: Report to the Congress. Washington: U.S. General Accounting Office.

A Moment of Transcendence: A Study of Music and the Church


Over the past decade, music has become a huge part of human culture. “Gangnam Style” was the first music video to reach over 1 billion views, which initially broke the YouTube view counter. The song not only received much success on YouTube, but also stocks for PSY’s company skyrocketed in anticipation for his next release. According to Business Insider, single music sales have increased almost three times in the past decade. Indeed, music has become an integral part of human culture. In this digital age, music has become an easily-acquired solace for many people. Ironically, even though music has become very accessible, musical styles have become narrow. With the evolution of music toward heavier bass and catchy beats, the Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) industry has started to boom in the hopes of attracting younger listeners and worshipers. Hymns, chorales and other forms of worship popular in the last century have become obsolete in this new era of popular culture. CCM has evolved to offer young Christians a chance to listen to music in the same style as its contemporaries. However, the shift in style raises many controversies on its appropriateness in a religious setting. Conservatives believe that the music disrespects God because it associates God too much with worldly culture. This project will explore the evolution of music at the founding of the Christian Church by first discussing the changes in two specific songs: “Because He Lives” and “Amazing Grace.” It will then discuss the structural, lyrical, and stylistic changes of music throughout the history of the Church. Finally, it will form an argument on the question of CCM’s appropriateness in worship.


Because He Lives

Heritage Singers: 1976


One of the most beloved songs for worship is “Because He Lives” originally by Bill Gaither. This is a song of praise and adoration for God’s love. It is a narrative that tells the story of Jesus’s sacrifice and the future it creates for sinners. The chorus centers on three “Because He lives” statements that are directed toward the future. Because He lives, sinners are able to face tomorrow, lose all fear, and give all control to God. Life is worth living because God has washed away all sin and has given hope to sinners for a better future. The focus on this song is God’s work; it discusses very little of human works and actions. This recording is made by the “Heritage Singers” in 1976. Although recorded only a few decades ago, the style of music is extremely different from Matt Maher’s version, discussed below, which was released in 2014. The song is sung in the traditional four part harmony, and there are very little instrumentals.

Matt Maher: 2014


In this version of “Because He Lives,” the focus of the lyrics looks at Jesus’s resurrection in a different perspective. The first verse begins with 3 “I believe” statements. Because “I believe in the Son,” who rose again, then “by the power of his blood, I am alive.” The word “I” and “I’m” appear in the lyrics 18 total times. In the original song, it appears 5 and 0 times, respectively. The stark difference implies a huge shift away from God and towards the self. In many cases, this is not an ideal situation. Many bible verses talk about shedding the “old, egotistical self” and receiving the “new, humble self” (Ephesians 4:22, 24). A faithful Christian should be content with the role of the “backseat driver” (TobyMac, 2015) and allow God to be the center of his/her life. However, in this case, Matt Maher chooses to use “I” because it allows for a proclamation of faith. “Because He Lives” acts as a prayer. It proclaims that Jesus has died and risen, and through his sacrifice, all believers are reborn. The repetition of “amen” allows for a humbling and acceptance of God’s mercy and grace. The singer of the song wishes for his voice to join the “song that never ends,” implying his fear and love for his God. Although the song begins with “I,” it returns back to God in the end. The song understands that without God, there is nothing. The use of “I” is not a way of rejecting God’s way, but rather, it is a way of praising God by offering one’s life up to him. Although the musical style of the song is much bigger and louder than the one by Heritage Singers, it does not seem to interfere with its goal: to praise God for the lives he has given to humans. On the contrary, the contemporary style appeals much more to youth than the traditional style by Heritage Singers.


Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone)

Olney Hymns: 1779


“Amazing Grace” is one of the most popular songs in the Christian music industry. It has been translated into multiple languages and is a loved song among Christians and non-Christians alike. Even a man without faith cannot deny the pure love and hope that this song offers. “Amazing Grace” is a narrative of a man who was lost and blind, but through God was saved. Grace not only saved the sinner, but also taught his “heart to fear.” God promises to be a “shield” and to bring believers through “dangers, toils and snares” into a place that is “bright shining as the sun,” as long as they fear and respect his power. Although the earth will dissolve and men will shed their mortal coil, God will save the soul for “ten thousand years.” Undoubtedly this song speaks a message that allows for hope and redemption. Here God is painted as the all-powerful and all-merciful God, who is willing to save all sinners if they will believe and fear his power. The focus of this song is purely on God’s amazing grace and his ability to save the soul even when the mortal body returns to dust. This recording attempts to recreate “Amazing Grace” in an older style by using an older score. Thus, the instrumentals are simple. However, because it is an imitation, it is difficult to fully understand its original style. For example, musicians sometimes strayed away from the actual written bass line and improvised their own. Thus, the original score can give some idea of the piece, but the actual music and the way it was played is lost.

Chris Tomlin: 2008


Chris Tomlin’s version of “Amazing Grace” peaked in the Christian billboards at number 3. It is probably the most famous version of “Amazing Grace” today. This version of the song is similar to the original by John Newton, but it introduces a new chorus in the song: “My chains are gone.” Again, although the focus is on the human self, it returns to God’s undying grace at the end of the verse. The chorus is an extended metaphor of a prison in which the sinner is the prisoner and the Devil is the warden. However, God, with his “unending love and amazing grace,” breaks the chains of sin and ransoms sinners away from their cells. This song also omits some of the verses in the original and ends with the penultimate verse. This new ending seems more appropriate in this era. The last words in this version are: “But God, who called me here below, will be forever mine.” Today, there are many people suffering, both physically and emotionally. In this secular era, many Christians need help to maintain their faith. This last line offers the hope they need. During times of suffering, not only is God present, but he calls from the gaping abyss, implying that suffering is a part of God’s will. There is no greater suffering than the passion of Christ, and yet, Christ endured and was resurrected. Martin Luther says, “It is God’s nature to make something out of nothing; hence one who is not yet nothing, out of him God cannot make anything . . . He has mercy only on the wretched” (Keller, 49-50). Through suffering, God molds a sinner and allows him to be redeemed and saved.


Music Evolution in the Church

Hebrew worship music: Psalm 23


Even before the founding of the Christian church, Hebrews and Jews worshipped God through music and song. Miriam, Moses’s sister, burst out in a famous song of praise after the crossing of the Red Sea. Ancient Hebrew music relied mostly on vocals; instruments were rarely used (Talley). Singing was a way for studying scripture by facilitating a faster memorization of verses and passages. The structures of the songs are simple: they are taken almost directly out of scripture. It is acapella and sung in a one-line melody, producing a subdued and calm effect. Music before the church was not used to develop a relationship with God. Rather, it was used as a way to easily commit scripture to memory in a time without many books and writing.

Early Church Music: Blagosloven jesi Gospodi


The early Church took many musical ideas from the Jewish synagogues. Just like Hebrew music, early hymns were used as a means for devotion and learning. The musical style in the early church remained simple and almost inelegant. There was little instrumental and accompaniment. Many were groups of monks singing in unison, which makes for a simple, but quickly dull performance. Singing was done in unison with one simple melody line. Many songs were acapella with no backup or harmony. However, in a time in which monks were mostly secluded, the pieces did not need to be interesting. They were used as a tool to help monks with their daily devotions, and thus, they did not need to be well written or intricate. They were rarely performed for the public. Although many ideas were similar with Jewish culture, new lyrics and styles of music emerged. Spiritual songs such as Alleluias began to be sung in churches. Early praise hymns, such as “O Gladsome Light,” were written, which presented a different theological perspective than the ones from hymns based verbatim from scripture.

The Great Schism: Valaam Monastery, O Gladsome Light


As mentioned above, “O Gladsome Light” was one of the first hymns written. During the Great Schism, the Roman Catholic and the Protestants split, and thus, there was a change in Christian music. Around the 11th century, polyphonic music began to gain popularity. Monks started to chant in intervals of fourths or fifths instead of in unison. Organs and accompaniment instruments started to be installed in churches around the Western world. With the introduction of music and polyphonic music, understanding of the lyrics began to blur, and many Christians argued about this controversy. Much like CCM today, polyphonic music was called “distorted and intoxicating” by Pope John XXII (Talley).

Baroque Period: J.S. Bach, Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring


Romantic Period: Jean Sibelius, Finlandia


The advent of the Baroque and Classical era of music introduced a huge revival in Church music. Great composers, such as Haydn, Bach, and Mozart wrote many pieces dedicated to God. Music became a sort of meditation because many of the classical pieces were without lyrics. From only notes, music was able to share the same message as the chants from the early Church. In “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” the constant moving notes gives a continuity to the piece, which parallels the constancy of God. Other pieces, such as chorales and cantatas, were used with lyrics. Bach’s cantatas were a blend of Scripture quotations and introspective choruses to illustrate the connection between the human body and the Holy Bible (Talley). The rise of the great composers allowed Church music to add a new dimension. Many lyricists used melodies from famous pieces, such as Sibelius’s “Finlandia.” The complex and intricate melodies and harmonies in these pieces allowed for Church music to achieve a certain grandeur never achieved before.



NEEDTOBREATHE’s “Brother” peaked number 1 on the Christian Billboard in the summer of 2015. It is personally one of my favorite. Like many of its contemporaries, it focuses more on the human self; in the lyrics, it has little mention of God or the divine. However, it does offer a promise: “When the night winds are driving on, [I will] be the one to the light the way, and bring you home.” Luke 2:52 says that “Jesus grew in favor with God and man.” Thus, Christians not only have to grow with God, but also they have an obligation with other humans. Jesus said that to “love your neighbor as yourself” is one of the two greatest commandments (Mark 12:30-31). “Brother” embraces the golden rule; it is a song about love and compassion for a fellow human. In a world full of grief and suffering, this song offers hope because it implies that friends and family will bond together to triumph adversity. Metaphorically, if God is the Father, Jesus is a brother. This is a song that Jesus sings to us, his brothers. He will be the “shelter,” the “fortress,” and the “light that brings [us] home.”



Music styles has inevitably changed drastically since the early church. Songs that once contained only one melody line have come not only to incorporate multiple voices and melody lines but also encompass more lyrics than specific scripture passages. The importance of music has not changed across the centuries. Augustine said that “those who sings prays twice” (Westermeyer, 2013). Songs as prayer and meditation has been an integral part in Christian worship ever since the Great Schism in 1054. Thus, it is no surprise that the validity of CCM has come under investigation. Conservatives worry that CCM defiles the sacred nature of worship music; Matt Maher’s “Because He Lives” is undeniably different from “O Gladsome Light.” However, as time changes, so should humans change to adapt. The shift towards CCM is a result of the revolutions in the 21st century. In the past decade, the rise of technology and the popularity of liberalism has put stress on the Christian community. CCM is a response to the world’s changes, and it offers an even stronger relationship between God and humans.

At the time of early Christianity, the Church held much power, and they were a strict and orderly society. Monks lived ascetically, never allowed to marry or follow the wealth of the world. Thus, early church music involved only scripture and voices. Instruments and harmony were seen as distractions to the real purpose of music (Morris, 2010). The music that resulted was thus very simple and God-focused. Christianity was an accepted religion in the Middle Ages, and thus, followers of faith did not feel the need to use music as a way to proclaim their faith, but rather, as a way to strengthen it.

By the time of Martin Luther and the Great Schism, the Church had broken into two major denominations: the Protestants and the Roman Catholics. From here, not only would their beliefs differ, but so would their musical styles. When baroque music became popularized, many composers, such as Haydn, wrote music for the church. It became dramatic and majestic. Many of these pieces used a full string orchestra. Sometimes the music used no lyrics. The Catholic Church disagreed with this movement, saying that it distracted and distorted the purpose of music (Talley). However, a singer that I interviewed believed that singing chorales and other forms of classical music does not blur the purpose, but rather it brings her closer with her faith.

Because of the changes in style, it is understandable that music’s purpose has also shifted since the early church. Before, its use was simply as a way to remember scripture and devotions. With today’s technology, this purpose of music is obsolete. Instead, worship today is used as a way to develop a communal atmosphere within a congregation. Mr. Colloton, a director of education for the National Association of Pastoral Musicians, says that worship should indeed be communal because not only should humans love God, but also each other (Colloton, 2009). By having a communal worship, it allows for a group of people who are fundamentally different, but come together in worship to God. At the Christ Tomlin concert that I attended in October, I was stunned by the way music brought together a group of people that never knew each other. The entire amphitheater was united through music and under God. Music may be evolving towards something that is very different from original church music, but its ability to promote a communal environment has not changed. On the contrary, it may have even improved. In today’s world, people need hope, and CCM, although focused more on humans, offers that solace, and from my experiences at the concert, it has not failed to return to God and the heart of worship.



Music has undeniably changed throughout the centuries, but its nature has remained constant. Since the time when humans banged on leaves and rocks to make sound, music has been an integral part of society. In many ways, music is the language of God. Even people without faith cannot argue with music’s transcendent nature. Many of the best composers of worship music, such as Vaughan Williams and Johannes Brahms, were atheists. Regardless of the origin of music, it allows for listeners to enter a state of spiritual awakening. When a group of worshippers come together, their origins and future loses their purposes for an instant. Instead, they are all united under a common banner. In essence, music is unity. If we can somehow find a way to unite a world ravaged by differences, then we will surely find peace.

Indeed, Music today is used as a way to express emotions without words. It is difficult to describe God with man-made language, just like how it is hard to have a real representation of a tesseract. Music is something that is much less artificial than words; it is something that transcends this world. An Arab and a Chinese may not understand each other’s language, but let them listen to Mark O’Connor’s “Appalachian Waltz” and they will surely feel a sense of nostalgia and peace. Music is a way that people can connect with other people. Confucian said that every person is connected with each other: “Our mouths agree in having the same relishes; . . . Our eyes agree in recognizing the same beauty, our minds also agree in feeling the same objects” (Liu, 50). We all see music in the same way: as a way to depart from this world, if only for an instant. Music is ephemeral and elusive. Unlike a photo, music cannot be separated from its temporal constraints. Music and time are inextricable. Perhaps it is this relationship that makes music transcendent, just a wrinkle in time.




Bach, Johann Sebastian. 1723. “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.” Accessed November 7, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FwWL8Y-qsJg

Colloton, P. 2009. “Professional Concerns: Contemporary Praise and Worship music and Roman Catholic Worship, Part I. Pastoral Music, 33(5), 38-38, 40.

Foley, Edward. 2015. “Music and spirituality—introduction.” Religions 6 (2): 638-41.

Heritage Singers. 1976. “Because He Lives.” Accessed November 7, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zVvsfvthSOo

Liu, Xiusheng. 2003. Mencius, Hume, and the foundations of ethics. Aldershot, England; Burlington, VT: Ashgate.

Love Ran Red. By Chris Tomlin. The Koka Booth Amphitheatre at Regency Park, Cary. 15 Oct. 2015. Performance.

Maher, Matt. 2014. “Because He Lives.” Accessed November 7, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PBvU7arNhQs

Morris, Anne. 2010. “Music in Worship: The Dark Side.” Practical Theology 3 (2): 203-17.

NEEDTOBREATHE. 2015. “Brother.” Accessed November 7, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=61Wm_qlVD4Q

“The Theology and Place of Music in Worship.” Accessed November 1, 2015. https://www.rca.org/resources/theology-and-place-music-worship

TobyMac. “Backseat Driver.” Accessed November 7, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kME_Q5V82Us

Tomlin, Chris. “Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone).” Accessed November 7, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jbe7OruLk8I

Westermeyer, Paul. 2013. “Music and Spirituality: Reflections from a Western Christian Perspective.” Religions 4 (4): 567-583.

Sibelius, Jean. 1899. “Finlandia.” Accessed November 7, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F5zg_af9b8c

Trueman, C. N. 2015. “The Medieval Church.” March 5. Accessed November 11, 2015. http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/medieval-england/the-medieval-church/

Valaam Monastery. “O Gladsome Light.” Accessed November 7, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h243a2Vln6A

YouTube. “Psalm 23.” Accessed November 7, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p96RVPukpQk&index=19&list=PLtHwCW_cJqEy2YTdg0cQiJKR8c0jfQad8

YouTube. “Blagosloven jesi Gospodi.” Accessed November 7, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LvGkYG12vx8


Auditory Environments in Basketball and Rowing

In prestigious college athletics, spectators and fans often fail to consider the full range of factors that can shape the athletes’ performance. A game, race, swing, or other such competition is a complex environment, with many different stimuli determining the outcome. A big part of this is the soundscape, or auditory environment. These can differ greatly between sports. Rowing and basketball are two cases in which very different sounds cause a similar “amping up” effect in athletes. Basketball players enjoy a rowdy, noisy crowd that generates almost all of the sound making up their auditory environment.

Courtesy of News-Observer
Courtesy of News-Observer

On the court, players experience an almost physical, disconnected roar that can either help them focus and to perform better or force them inside their own head to shut down, and therefore perform worse. Rowing, alternately, does not attract the same crowds as most basketball games. The athletes’ auditory environment instead is made up of the sounds of teammates and coaches, as well as the sounds of the boat and river. This kind of competition has a more personal element; the boat’s coxswain passionately urges the rowers to push harder in order to cross the finish line first. Both sports have a quality that can make more noise better or worse for performance, but these environments vary greatly.

Varsity 8+
Courtesy of Duke Photography

At Duke University in particular, the environments surrounding these two sports are extremely different. Basketball games consist of a highly energetic crowd generating noise within the confines of Cameron Indoor Stadium. The athletes can hear the roar of the crowd, the buzzers signaling that time is running out, and the squeaking of shoes on a court. This stadium once had acoustic renderings installed, but were quickly removed to cause the Crazies to sound louder in games (Gomez 112 2008). The noise from the crowd echoes onto the court where the athletes are playing, increasing the sound level of the game time environment.  Rowing, on the other hand, is both less contained and more personal. Instead of strangers yelling at a player to make a basket or hustle down the court, a person the rower knows is addressing them personally to push harder for the people that are in front and behind them. There are still spectators for regattas, although not as many as at a typical basketball game. However, these fans are not directly next to the athletes; they are on shore, a significant distance away. To rowers, the sounds of spectators are indistinct background noise compared to the highly personal interactions within a crew. Coxswain  Courtesy of Shane Farmer

Not only are the coxswain’s calls personal, but the timing and efficiency of a boat hinge on rowers hearing each teammate travel up the stroke, place their blade in, and finish. Those in the boat can also clearly hear and see the other teams. During a race, a rower may hear another team’s coxswain call for a “power ten”, in which the rowers amp up their intensity for ten strokes. When one boat does this power ten, another may try to match their move with a “power twenty” in hopes to stay ahead and push away from the competing teams. Because rowers face backwards when rowing, they cannot see who is ahead of them or how far. Instead, they have to listen for the other boats’ strokes and coxswains to attempt to gauge how far they are from the other teams. These two sports’ surrounding auditory environments differ in many ways, but the central difference is the type of noise that takes place in competition. Basketball players hear rambunctious, externalized, impersonal noise from the surrounding crowd while rowers experience quieter, more personalized (and therefore internalized) noise. These dissimilar circumstances, naturally, motivate the athletes differently. With this externalized roar of the crowd in basketball, the players will be more motivated to perform well for their fans. Rowers, on the other hand, will attempt to perform well in order to to back up the people setting the pace in front of them, and to set the pace for those behind them in order to move the boat as quickly as possible. Different auditory environments, overall, can change the way athletes perform.

Silence, in general, is an uncomfortable auditory environment that few get to fully experience. In everyday life, a person may think they are sitting in complete silence but fail to realize the even minuscule white noise that encompasses humanity’s surroundings every day. In athletics, there is never complete silence since there is always sound created by all movements and equipment. Therefore, an athlete would struggle if they were to perform under total silence. An experiment in which different sounds was tested on a group of mice proved after repeated exposure to certain sounds that brains adapt to almost all sounds except the lack of one. Complete silence, after seven days of exposure to certain auditory environments, was the only environment that still sparked cell proliferation in the mice’s brains (Kirste 1221 2015). This response to the silent auditory environment proved that while other environments can be noisy and distracting, a brain can adjust to the noise levels with repeated exposure, such as everyday practice in athletics. Because this silent auditory environment causes the synapses to fire and more brain activity to happen, silence in important sporting events can throw an athlete off. These athletes, especially such as those who are used to roaring crowds to cheer them on, can be thrown off by silence.

Instead of the rowdiness they are accustomed to, there is almost an empty hole that is filled with all these new thoughts. Overthinking, which consists of high brain activity, is bad for the athletes because their success in their performance depends on nonverbal thoughts and muscle memory. Thoughts such as “will I make this shot?” will be circulating through the players’ heads as they try to score their team points. These thoughts can not only bring a player down and make them feel worse about their game, but can just distract them in general. For example, if a crowd wanted to make a basketball player miss his foul shot, suddenly going silent would be more unsettling for the player than screaming at and heckling. The heightened brain activity that follows could make him overthink his shot instead of relying on the rote mechanics learned in practice.

In rowing, races do not have as large of a crowd as Cameron Indoor Stadium, so some may think that it is a more silent environment. However, there are many different sounds within a rower’s auditory environment in both practices and races that can very much affect their performance.

Firstly, the sport of rowing can never be completely silent. Gaël Dubus performed an experiment in which he sonified the rowing stroke, which accentuated certain parts of the stroke’s sound and how an athlete could learn to perform better by listening to the sounds. This experiment was successful in speeding up the boat, and athletes reported better performance when rowing with the sonification system in place. Dubus performed experiments in hopes to increase the velocities of different boats by highlighting certain technical inefficiencies within the stroke. According to Dubus, “sonification is a domain of interdisciplinary sciences defined as the use of non-speech sound to convey information,” and he used sonification to better the athlete’s technique while rowing. Without a rower hearing their boat mates travel up the stroke, place the blade in the water, and push back towards the bow of the boat, they would not be able to have as efficient of timing and therefore, not be able to move the boat as quickly. In another experiment by Dubus, four sonification models were presented to the rowers while they were rowing. These models had four different sounds: wind, wind and car engine, pure tone, and car engine. The four sounds were being tested to see if they made any kind of effect on boat velocity, and also to see if the athletes had any particular favorites. Out of ten athletes being tested, eight said they preferred the wind model to any others. This overwhelming preference for the wind model proves that rowers prefer to compete in environments that have their usual outside auditory surroundings, such as the wind whooshing around the boat. This finding also relates to basketball in how the athletes will choke in the completely silent environment, because it is unnatural for them.

With a silent, unnatural sports environment comes choking. Choking is a psychological situation in which an athlete feels extreme amounts of pressure from the competitive environment and therefore, performs worse to the standards they are normally playing to (Gómez 111). There are two types of theories that attempt to explain choking in high pressure situations: the distraction theory and self-focus theory. Studies have shown that the last five minutes of basketball games are the most critical parts of the game, and can therefore lead to the most choking (Gómez 113).

The roaring crowd may pump up the athletes to perform better than ever before, or cause the players to crack under the pressure. But while active auditory environments can have alternately positive or negative effects on athletes, a silenced crowd or abnormally quiet soundscape would almost definitely hurt their performance. The resultant elevated brain activity would not allow for them to play at their best. Between the pressure of the situation, the critically short amount of available time, a full game’s worth of fatigue, and constantly firing neurons from the lack of a loud auditory environment, it would be incredibly difficult for a player to focus in on the play going on at the time. Although the reality is that this situation would rarely happen due to the hype at sporting events, it is better tactically for fans to remain silent at high pressure times in games in order to effectively influence the players. In addition, if a player has to make a free throw shot, silence is a similarly effective tactic in forcing the opposing team to miss the baskets they practice every day.

Choking is a common occurrence in all sports, just in different ways. In rowing, the athlete can choke in a few different ways. The most common way is by “catching a crab”. In doing so, a rower gets a bit disoriented and unfocused from the basic technique of the stroke. When they lose this focus, their oar is more prone to getting caught under the water at the end of the stroke, therefore slowing the boat down because they have to stop and get their oar out from under the water. Catching crabs can be prevented with sound. This sound, unlike basketball’s external crowd’s noise, comes from within the boat. The boat’s coxswain, who is the person who steers and coaches the boat through the race, is supposed to give technical help during the race to prevent mistakes from happening and more importantly, to make the boat faster. Therefore, every stroke the coxswain is supposed to speak to try and better the boat as a whole and make everyone work as one, instead of separate beings.

The coxswain works as both an active, emotional source of encouragement and a metric for the rowers to stay in sync. Each technical issue and missed stroke at the end of the race is something the coxswain takes accountability for, so they must ensure that they better the boat. Without the coxswain’s calls during a race, any boat would fall apart. Rowers would not know the sequence of strokes the start with, when to go faster, and what technical changes to make in order to balance the boat and send it at the highest velocity possible. Another major type of choking in rowing occurs at the start of the race. In a sprint two-thousand-meter race, which is the main event in rowing, it is a significant competitive advantage to be the first off the line. Different races have different starting sequences, some of which are a silent start. A silent start is when the dropping of a flag replaces the standard call for “ready, attention, row.” If a rower is not paying attention, they could miss the call or flag drop and become disoriented during these crucial strokes of the race. In addition, it is advantageous to start the race with short, hard, fast strokes in order to pick up and move the boat from rest the fastest. Without the call of a coxswain to command the rowers to row at half and three-quarters of a stroke, along with their voice on the speaker to match the timing of the strokes up with, the crew can easily fall out of time and not get the starting sequence correct. Technical changes and calls for timing come from a voice playing on a speaker throughout the boat; without this voice of reason, rowing would be a disorganized mess for those who are competing.

Overall, although the sonic environments of each sport differ greatly, more sound typically helps both rowers and basketball players perform better. In basketball, fans may want to try to increase the amount of cheering for their team in the stadium. More cheering is likely to hype up the athletes in question and shield them from silence’s deleterious effects. In rowing, more sound is beneficial because of the motivation and technical changes it can bring to the boat. Coxswains, therefore, should attempt to coach their crew as much as possible with the hopes of motivating the athletes and getting the boat to move as fast as possible. A lack of noise from the coxswain may make the rowers think that they are giving up or not paying attention during the race, which could lead rowers to putting less effort into their strokes. One approach for coxswain to try is cursing at the crew more during the race. There are studies that have proven how swearing releases the same hormones associated with pain, and therefore, this could help lessen the burn the rowers are feeling during the race (Stephens 1056 2009). These curse words can also be used to motivate the rowers to pull harder and push beyond they thought possible, since these words are more motivational than some more ordinary words. These strategies can help Duke’s athletes and fans  — and, hypothetically, those everywhere — lead our teams to success in major sporting events.

Works Cited:

Dubus, Gaël, and Roberto Bresin. 2015. Exploration and Evaluation of a System for Interactive Sonification of Elite Rowing. Sports Engineering 18 (1): 29-41.

Dubus, Gaël, musik och hörsel Tal TMH, KTH, Skolan för datavetenskap och kommunikation (CSC), and Musikakustik. 2012. Evaluation of Four Models for the Sonification of Elite Rowing. Journal on Multimodal User Interfaces 5 (3-4): 143.

Gómez, Miguel Ángel, Alberto Lorenzo, Sergio Jiménez, Rafael M. Navarro, and Jaime Sampaio. 2015. Examining Choking in Basketball: Effects of Game Outcome and Situational Variables During Last 5 Minutes and Overtimes. Perceptual and Motor Skills 120 (1): 111-24 Installation Spotlight: Cameron Indoor Stadium, Duke University, Durham, NC. 2008. Vol. 26 NewBay Media LLC.

Gray, Rob, and Rouwen Cañal-Bruland. “Attentional Focus, Perceived Target Size, and Movement Kinematics Under Performance Pressure.” Psychonomic Bulletin & Review (May 2, 2015): PsycINFO, EBSCOhost (accessed November 3, 2015).

Kennel, Christian, Lukas Streese, Alexandra Pizzera, Christoph Justen, Tanja Hohmann, and Markus Raab. 2015. “Auditory Reafferences: The Influence of Real-Time Feedback on Movement Control.” Frontiers In Psychology 6, PsycINFO, EBSCOhost (accessed November 3, 2015).

Kirste, Imke, Zeina Nicola, Golo Kronenberg, Tara Walker, Robert Liu, and Gerd Kempermann. 2013. Is Silence Golden? Effects of Auditory Stimuli and Their Absence on Adult Hippocampal Neurogenesis. Brain Structure and Function 220 (2) (March 2015).

Schaffert, Nina, and Klaus Mattes. 2015. Interactive Sonification in Rowing: Acoustic Feedback for On-Water Training. IEEE Multimedia 22 (1): 58-67.

Stephens, Richard, John Atkins, and Andrew Kingston. 2009. Swearing as a Response to Pain. Neuroreport 20 (12): 1056-60.

Woods, Elizabeth A., Arturo E. Hernandez, Victoria E. Wagner, and Sian L. Beilock. 2014. “Expert Athletes Activate Somatosensory and Motor Planning Regions of the Brain When Passively Listening to Familiar Sports Sounds.” Brain And Cognition 87, 122-133. PsycINFO, EBSCOhost (accessed November 3, 2015).


“GW Rowing- Racing from the Coxswain’s View.” 2013. YouTube Video, 1:52. Posted by RaiseHighTV. 13 June. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=czZODfSpfto

“’Cameron Crazies’ Get Crazy (Duke vs. Miami; Feb. 5, 2012).” 2012. YouTube Video, 1:31. Posted by Fan Man. 5 February. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=019GnaR9P0Y

“2008 Beijing Olympics: Men’s 8+ Rowing Final (BBC Commentary).” YouTube Video, 8:47. Posted by TheGuy3105. 22 April. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KkP3P5ucR4U

“Duke Highlights vs. Wisconsin (National Championship).” 2015. YouTube Video, 5:19. Posted by mali mall. 9 April. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UKI9dGHxL_A

A Natural Calm


Have you ever had a stressful day where everything seems to be going wrong? How have you improved your mood? Did you talk to a family member, exercise, or did nothing help? A very effective way to improve mood is to surround yourself in a natural environment, whether it be sitting on a bench in the middle of the forest, relaxing on a beach chair in the sand, or even closing your eyes with headphones on listening to sounds. The last one is the most accessible, for you could be anywhere in the world but as long as you have headphones and a device that plays sounds with your desired sounds, you can immerse yourself in the wonderful, calming natural environment. But, researches have failed to pinpoint one important aspect of this method: why does it work? What is it about natural sounds that calms your system and improves your mood?

Based on my own findings as well as research by scientists and anthropologists, I’ve come to multiple conclusions. With the move towards modernization, people are more accustomed to living in high-stress environments with the focus being on money and work rather than personal well-being.  One conclusion is that with this shift in living style people began to see nature as novel and untouched – a huge change from city living. Being immersed in this new environment is a nice switch-up from the hustle and bustle of the city, and it leaves people feeling calm due to the lack of loud noise and many people. Another is that people associate natural sounds with beautiful natural environments, which are more appeasing than industrious environments. People enjoy looking at beautiful natural environments, so by the transitive property, people also enjoy listening to beautiful natural sounds. Finally, a similar conclusion is that along with people enjoying these sounds, people feel more calm just being in natural environments. This is due to the relative quiet, the overall combination of natural elements (i.e. a rambling river, trees blowing in the wind, etc.), and the relative novelty of it for most people, since most people live near cities. Since natural environments are calming, once again by the transitive property sounds are calming as well. Altogether these conclusions form a basis to answer the golden question: what makes natural sounds, such as those in a forest, calm your mood?

Over time, western culture has taken a turn from coexistence with nature, and now asserts its dominance over it. In his essay “Nature and Silence,” Chris Manes simply states a quote from a Tuscarora Indian: “…for Westerners, ‘the uncounted voices of nature…are dumb” (1992, 339). This many be an oversimplification of a very complicated history of the advancement of western culture, but he hits the nail on the head. Western civilization is more concerned about the advancement of their finances than the preservation of their natural world. This seems fair to think of in the short-term, for many people strive to become rich or famous without much regard to everything around them. However, this is exactly the issue with western civilization in regard to nature. Putting all focus on money, technology, and work puts nature in the rear-view, and people seem to forget it exists. Novelty of nature is what arose from this way of thinking, and although it isn’t necessarily a good advancement, people enjoy nature more so than they would if nature was at the forefront of their concerns.

The beginning of this change occurred in the early developmental stage of modern-day society. Manes accredits this change in our culture to “the introduction of two powerful institutional technologies: literacy and Christian exegesis” (1992, 343). With regard to literacy, humankind began to lose interest in the vast world of nature due to the fact that simply, nature couldn’t speak. Humans were so caught up with communicating with one another that they began to lose sight of the important natural world. With regard to Christian exegesis, religion viewed animals as symbols of God, and in a society perpetuated by the Bible and other religious texts, people viewed animals in the same light. Manes fails to mention how humans in modern times began to shift back to communicating with nature in some ways by understanding the relevance of nature to success as a species; humans love having pets and interacting with animals, and scientists are beginning to discover how intelligent animals really are with the development of new technologies. Coexisting with nature is necessary for growth as a species, for we learn how other animals can deal with global problems like disease, natural disaster, and famine. This is also a very narrowed look at the larger idea; Manes focuses on the bible and its effects on society without mentioning the many other factors that could contribute to this change. For example, the industrial revolution greatly changed the overall environment of the Western world, and I’d argue that it had the largest impact of  all of the factors. While throughout the centuries previous to the current one nature has taken a backseat, people are beginning to see the value in nature again. People enjoy relaxing in parks, having their feet in the sand at the beach, and going on long walks in the forest. However, this shift back to a focus to nature is definitely not complete as humans as a species still disregard the natural world.

As is apparent with the lack of environmental care such as the deforestation of the Amazon, the melting of the ice caps, or the rise in temperature, people around the world as a whole care more about themselves or their work than the beloved planet Earth. Nature and natural sounds will continue to be calming as long as the world continues to get environmentally worse sadly, for nature becomes further unknown as the world shifts more towards the fast-pace life many live today. This idea goes along with the cliché that you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. With the massive amount of problems around the world affecting nature, people are starting to see the value in it. People need an escape from the stressful life they live whether they know it or not, and the seemingly novel idea of a natural soundscape helps people to suppress the stress.

Although people escape from their stressful lives by channeling nature to help, the majority of a focus in a natural environment is the landscape rather than the soundscape. While the depreciation of nature ironically allows more people to appreciate nature, John Fisher fights for the equality of natural soundscape with a natural landscape in his essay “What the Hills are Alive with: In Defense of the Sounds of Nature.” Although a landscape is necessary to understand an environment, sounds are just as important. For example, “Birds, although beautiful in themselves close up, do not significantly affect the visual appearance of a landscape, whereas the daily cycle of their sounds have a powerful affect on the soundscape” (1998, 168). Along with birds, many insects and other animals make sounds from discrete places all around an environment, and to think that you can fully understand an environment just by looking at it is like watching a movie silently with subtitles. Sure, you know what’s happening, but to fully grasp the emotion and what is occurring at every moment, sound is necessary.

It’s just as easy to notice when something is missing from a soundscape as it is to notice when something is missing from a landscape. Fisher is a huge proponent of valuing sound, and in his piece “The Value of Natural Sounds,” he explains that “when sounds are not the right ones for a setting, we may notice” (1999, 27). For example, imagine being immersed in a forest with birds and insects making sound all around you with a rambling river in the background, and suddenly there’s a drill being used in the soundscape. This completely throws off the sanctity of the soundscapes and in many cases, it’s the only sound that allows itself to be focused on because it’s so different. This is important to understand why sounds in a natural soundscape must be heard as a whole. To study why these sounds are calming, the study must be about the group of sounds heard, because that’s what people are hearing; they aren’t hearing all of the individual sounds separately, they’re hearing a combination of all the animals and elements of an environment. To fully understand the calming of nature, a larger focus on sound is more important than people may think. Sight is considered our most important sense, in reality, sound can be considered as just as important. With all of the focus on the beautiful landscape, most people don’t realize how amazing the different bird calls are, or the infinite number of sounds insects can make. This, coupled with the fact that people don’t spend enough time with nature, creates a sort of novelty and relaxation because of the beautiful new sounds people just don’t get to hear enough.

The beautiful new sounds that people have grown to love stem from enjoying natural environments. If you asked someone what type of environment would be calm for them, most people would say something along the lines of a mountain range, a beach, a forest, or other iconic natural environments. Natural landscapes give people a chance to debrief and remove the worries for the brief moments they’re able to relax and not think about whatever may be stressing them. But, what people don’t realize is that sounds play the same role than landscapes in calming your mood. But why do they play a large role? What about sounds in the context of a natural landscape is calming? The answer deals with the difference between artificial and natural sound. Fisher brings up the point of a loud cataract being more pleasant than the sound of a jet engine although they are similar, and intrinsically, humans enjoy the sounds of thunder more than bombs (1999, 28). This is attributed to multiple things. A roaring cataract is normally thought of as pleasant in a natural scene filled with trees and animals, while a jet engine is thought of as extremely unpleasant because of its unnecessary loudness. Also, being aware of the origin of sounds is extremely essential to understanding whether a sound is to be liked or disliked. In a natural environment, a cataract is seen as a harmonious part of the environment; the soundscape just seems right with it in the background, and all of the noises come together (1999, 35). However, with a jet engine, humans know that the sound isn’t natural and isn’t meant to be in this environment. Naturally, humans choose the cataract as better. Because of this association with this harmonious, beautiful environment, humans see the sounds that come from these environments as just as harmonious and beautiful. Therefore, one can listen to the sounds without being in the environment and still become just as calm. This method is much easier than finding a landscape that calms one’s mood, because headphones and a music device are much more accessible.

Along with research I had looked at by scientists and anthropologists, I decided to do a little bit of research of my own. Starting with myself, I had people answer questions for research in the following manner:

Please fill out this questionnaire as accurately as possible. Your results will be kept anonymous but may be included in a published version of this study. This is to be completed before listening to the soundtrack.


  1. Describe your mood at this instant.




  1. Could you explain why you feel this way?




  1. What could you do right now to change your mood if you’re in a negative mood, or what could damper your mood if you’re in a positive mood?





After answering the questions, I had participants listen to the following soundscape for 5 minutes with their eyes closed while wearing over ear headphones:

This soundscape allowed the participants to be fully immersed in the environment, and it left participants in their own thoughts. After listening, I had the participants reflect by having them fill out this sheet:

Please fill out this questionnaire as accurately as possible. Your results will be kept anonymous but may be included in a published version of this study. This is to be completed after listening to the soundtrack.


  1. Describe your mood at this instant.




  1. How did the soundtrack affect your mood?




  1. Would you use the soundtrack again if it affected your mood? Please briefly explain why.




After conducting this experiment on 10 of my peers including myself, an answering pattern quickly became apparent. For those that started off in a negative mood, 9 out of 10 found themselves in a better mood after listening to the soundscape I provided. The majority answer that I received for why they felt better afterwards was something along the lines of, “something about the sounds just made me feel calm.” This thought was the same exact thought that I had before I started my research on the topic. Sure, many people know that sounds can calm you, but no one really knows why. But to my surprise, only 8 out of 10 said they would use the soundtrack again. The two that said they wouldn’t both said that they had other, more effective ways to calm their mood like exercise or listening to music. The main conclusion I pulled from the research is that yes, natural sounds are effective as a mood calmer, but not everyone prefers it over other methods.

Through all of this research, I believe a sufficient answer to the question has been found. But it isn’t just one reason however; the reason why sounds are calming stems from a multitude of factors. The main factor deals with the seemingly novel idea of nature in our society. Because society as a whole has turned into a more modern timeline gradually over the years, nature has become less and less at the forefront of our concerns. With all of the focus on job security and self-improvement nature took a backseat, which ironically caused nature to be more important for people that take the time out of their day to try and relax. Since these people aren’t accustomed to the beauty of a rambling river or the crash of the ocean waves, these sounds become surprisingly calming for people seeking a break from their stressful lives. Another reason stems from the value of natural landscapes. People use the landscapes to escape their stress without realizing the effect sound also has. So, these sounds are calming due to association with calm natural landscapes. For the same reason, these sounds are more beneficial than artificial sounds. When the origin of the sound is known, more people prefer the natural sounds than the artificial sounds, because of a mix of being used to the artificial sounds and associating the sounds with the landscape. All of these scientific reasons are great, but personal anecdotes help the argument just as much. Throughout my childhood I’ve spent my summers at an overnight camp in Fryeburg, Maine, where I’ve learned to truly appreciate nature. Every time I hear a river or I talk to my friends from camp it brings me immediately back to the camp landscape which relaxes me. This is just one experience that I personally had, and many others have similar experiences with different places and different sounds.

So what exactly does this mean for the world? Should we all just start listening to natural soundscapes when we get stressed? Not necessarily. I believe the biggest takeaway from this research is that sitting down and listening to a natural soundscape needs to be added to everyone’s arsenal of stress relief. Stress is only building as our society advances, and sometimes exercise or talking to a loved one simply doesn’t cut out the stress. With the calming effects of natural soundscapes now in mind, people need to utilize the powerful calming ability of natural soundscapes to better their lives.


Baumann, Max Peter. “Listening to Nature, Noise and Music.” The World of Music 41, no. 1 (1999): 97-111. Accessed September 25, 2015.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. “Perpetual Forces.” The North American Review 125, no. 258 (1877): 271-82. Accessed October 2, 2015.

Fisher, John Andrew. “The Value of Natural Sounds.” Journal of Aesthetic Education 33, no. 3 (1999): 26-37. Accessed September 28, 2015.

Fisher, John Andrew. “What the Hills Are Alive With: In Defense of the Sounds of Nature.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 56, no. 2 (1998): 167-79. Accessed September 24, 2015.

Lawson, Johnnie. “Relax 8 Hours-Relaxing Nature Sounds-Study-Sleep-Meditation-Water Sounds-Bird Song.” YouTube. July 2, 2013. Accessed November 10, 2015.

Manes, Christopher. “Nature and Silence.” Environmental Ethics 14, no. 4 (1992): 339-50. Accessed September 21, 2015.

Oliveros, Pauline. “The Earth Worm Also Sings: A Composer’s Practice of Deep Listening.” Leonardo Music Journal 3 (1993): 35-38. Accessed October 5, 2015.

Samuels, David W., Louise Meintjes, Ana Maria Ochoa, and Thomas Porcello. “Soundscapes: Toward a Sounded Anthropology.” Annu. Rev. Anthropol. Annual Review of Anthropology, 2010, 329-45. Accessed October 20, 2015.

The Power and Emotion of Music

How connected do you feel to music? Music is innate to humans, no known human culture has survived without some sort of music (Levitin). Music can be an extremely powerful object, but what makes music have such a dominant presence in all of humans’ lives? After all music is just sound waves traveling through the air that our ears pick up on.  Throughout this post I will look at the physical properties in sound associated with the emotion we feel in music. I will also be delving into to the effects of how culture, and the factors that influence our lives as we are growing up change how we experience music. I’m also going to be looking at the neurological reasons for why humans can draw so much emotion out of music.


The mechanics of the ear, and certain parts of the brain let one examine the links between the mind, emotion, and music. Before talking about sound it is necessary to look at what allows makes the sound waves to be heard. The ear in a sense translates the sound waves into something that can be interpreted by the brain, in addition it has the role of maintaining balance which allows for movement. It is experienced by many that music makes one want to move and dance. The ear offers the initial connection between sound and movement; the link that the ear offers between sound and movements is a potential reason for why we can be physically moved by music. Another part of the brain that also can play a role in music comprehension is the cerebellum.


The cerebellum plays a critical part in timing, and in coordination and movement of the body. When we run or walk we do it at a constant pace, and when a dolphin moves its tail to swim, or a humming bird moves its wings to fly—the movement they do is also always near a constant rate because of the cerebellum. People without functioning cerebellums have loads of trouble in walking (Ivry). The cerebellum, although not traditionally thought to deal with emotion itself, plays a large part in emotion. The cerebellum contains huge links to the emotional centers of the brain, such as the amygdala which is involved in remembering emotional events (Friston). A link between the ear and cerebellum can be seen below:

cerebellum link

With modern technology in brain imaging there is evidence of strong activations in the cerebellum when listening to music versus little activations when listening to noise (Ivry). The cerebellum is activated when people will listen to music they like while not being activated when listening to music they do not like (Menon). The connection between the ear and cerebellum, and the connection from music to emotion come through movement offer an explanation for why music can make us get up and move around.


Intense musical emotion what many people call “musical chills”  or a “shiver down the spine” there is an association with the brain regions involved with reward, motivation, and arousal also there is an increase in the neurotransmitter dopamine (Panksepp). Dopamine is the neurological chemical responsible for enjoyment from food, sex and other tangible rewards that play a vital role in humans’ survival. Although music is not something considered necessary for life it contains this powerful response. The way the brain’s circuitry activates when music is heard is identical to biologically relevant stimuli (Blood). A scientific explanation for why music produces these strong responses is that music had an extremely significant role in ancient humans’ lives which is why it elicits such a powerful response to us today, and perhaps still plays a role in our lives.


In order to be moved by music both physically and emotionally it helps a large amount to have a readily predictable beat (Levitin). Scientifically theorizing, this potentially has a connection with the timing and the cerebellum mentioned earlier. Chaotic sounds and noises are not going to appeal to emotions like music will. That is what makes music more powerful, music in its basic sense is simply organized sound (Levitin), and this organized sound with measureable beats is something humans can connect to on an emotional level. Chaotic sounds that you hear in nature or in manmade soundscapes all around the world are not likely to appeal to your emotion. Leaves falling, and the loud bus noises we hear during this time of year at Duke will not be very emotional to us because these sounds have no beat or rhythm; they are not what we consider music. But when we take sounds and put them in a meaningful order with structure they can begin to appeal to the emotion more. Rhythm is important to modern music as well as preindustrial society’s music. To get a look at the role of music in the lives of our early ancestors from 50,000 years ago one can look at societies that are not industrialized yet. In those societies rhythm has a large importance of the music they produce. From this we assume that our cave men ancestors 50,000 years ago would also bang their drum bones, and play their bone flutes incorporating timing and meter into their music.


Why do we respond to music the way we do? Is it something innate in our minds that has been ingrained into them over thousands of years of evolution, or does it have to do with our cultural surroundings? Based off what experts think of the two, there are claims to both sides of the argument, and others that claim it is a mix.  Does the emotion we feel from music have to do with how we were raised in our surroundings (culture), or is it a universal connection between all humans? Culture plays a large role in the emotion we feel from a certain music piece. (Balkwill) In western culture we generally perceive music with an increased tempo, and higher pitched notes as happier. (Balkwill) So for a song like this:

or this:


where the songs are in minor key which to a western person will sound more sad where if this was played to someone from China where music is naturally more slow and this song might not stand out as a sad song. To compare see the innate emotional responses to music researchers played songs a small native African tribe called the Mafas. Both Westerners and Mafas interpret majority of major as happy as well as pieces with a higher tempo as happy (Fritz). According to these experiences it is the innate part of the mind that views major as happy as well as a fast tempo. In Middle Eastern music many of the songs are in minor, both the happy and the sad songs. Therefore in Middle Eastern music the cultural effects that one is surrounded with when growing up will start to override what is innate to our brain. As one is constantly exposed to minor music in Middle Eastern the emotion one feels would start to perceive that all minor key music can be either happy or sad, this weakens the innate connection of the minor key to sadness.


It is easier to memorize a song than it is a string of spoken words. The timing and the meter in a song is what contributes to keeping the word order exact and being able to pair a word with a beat. Before the existence of written language it is theorized that cavemen would use songs to keep track of information and carry on important instructions for survival (Levitin). So there could potentially be a song for how to cook a certain food, or how to build a shelter. The timing of the music is what helps memorize a song rather than just a list of words. When pairing up a word from the lyrics to the rhythm of the song there is a connection in the brain which makes the whole thing easier to remember. Theorizing evolutionarily, people that could better emotionally attach to songs would be able to memorize them more easily than other people. Thus those that emotionally connect to the music more have more knowledge which serves as an evolutionary advantage. Music used to be something that was inclusive for everyone. Everyone performed together and there was no subject of performer and listener in music. That began to fade away about 500 years ago in western culture when there became a distinction from the performer and the listener. From there the gap between the two only has grown and now to be a performer, one needs to be considered highly skilled in their musical category. This correlation can be looked at from a cause and effect stance: as it became very easy to write down and spread information through technology there was no longer a need to sing to keep the instructions memorized. Thus there would be a large decrease in music in people’s lives which is where the shift towards listening to performers come from. This is could either be a simple coincidence or one of the potential reasons for why the decrease in people producing their own music.


The effect of our surroundings when growing up play a big role in our connection to music. That is why friend groups often time have the same taste in music. This effect of surroundings has a lot to do with neuroscience and nostalgia, for example the song that was played at high school graduation—a song that potentially would have had no significance to someone would now be a very happy song if graduation was a fantastic milestone event for that person. What was talked about earlier how it is often music that produces emotion—not random sounds—can have exceptions with our surroundings. For example, a small sound clip of 5 seconds of a creaking door could have no significance to most people, but to a few that were shocked in their youth from that sound through scary movies or real life experiences could be very frightened because of the sound clip.


What is it that makes music so catchy? People have different tastes in music and that is strong support for the effects of culture and our surroundings on how we perceive music. If there was no effect from our surroundings we would all have the same musical taste. Although there is a certain catch that many songs have and that can be called groove, something that keeps the song going forward and enjoyable to listen to. For example, the song superstition by Stevie Wonder is a song that is considered to have a lot of groove in it and many people will find the song enjoyable to listen to.

A key component of groove is that it is not predictable the beat in superstition has a slightly different aspect in the pattern of the drums each time they are played. This keeps the listener on mental toes and tuned in to the song (Levitin). A key component of a groove and musical emotion is “violating” our expectation, these “violations can occur in any domain- the domain of pitch, timbre, contour, rhythm, tempo and every part of the song” (Levitin). These violations are what separates an emotionally flat song to something like Beethoven’s 5th where in the first 10 seconds the listener does not know when the music will come. Due to the rests the piece that keep the listener on their toes and drawn to the song (Cooper).


This draw to a song can be narrowed down to an algorithm and nowadays that is what a lot of pop music is—following a certain formula to best appeal to the way our brains were designed to enjoy music. In this example combining up popular country songs, and seeing how similar they all are it is pretty apparent that the music producers have gotten very good at this formula.

Culture and evolution, as well as the physical properties of a song, all combine (and can combine in different way) to form the emotion and power we draw from our music. Researching music and emotion has given me a better understanding of music and I am more aware of the emotion I feel when listening to music. There are many different aspects to what can make a song happy to one person and some of these reasons contrast with each other, the studying emotional connections to music is a fairly recent topic in scholarly works and it is still so hard to do because so much of it relates to complex chemicals and activations in the brain. We still much to learn of how the brain works and still have a lot of trouble learning about the complexity of it. The large role that music plays in our lives can be boiled down to its connection on a deep emotional level to all humans.


Balkwill, Laura-Lee, and William Forde Thompson. 1999. A cross-cultural investigation of the perception of emotion in music: Psychophysical and cultural cues. Music Perception: An

Interdisciplinary Journal 17 (1): 43-64.


Blood, Anne J., and Robert J. Zatorre. 2001. Intensely pleasurable responses to music correlate with activity in brain regions implicated in reward and emotion.”  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 98 (20): 11818-23.


Cooper, Barry. 2011. “Beethoven’s Uses of Silence”. The Musical Times 152 (1914). Musical Times Publications Ltd.: 25–43.


Friston, Karl J. 1994. “Functional and effective connectivity in neuroimaging: A synthesis.” Human Brain Mapping 2 (1‐2): 56-78.


Gagnon, L., and I. Peretz. 2003. “Mode and tempo relative contributions to ‘happy-sad’ judgements in equitone melodies.” Cognition & Emotion 17 (1): 25-40.


Ivry, Richard B., and R. Eliot Hazeltine. 1995. “Perception and production of temporal intervals across a range of durations: Evidence for a common timing mechanism.” Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance 21 (1): 3-18


Levitin, Daniel J. 2006. This is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession. New York, N.Y.: Dutton.

Levitin, David, and Paikin, Steve. 2011. “David Levitin: Why Music Moves Us.” The Agenda with Steve Paikin. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m6Pn9KRVCi4

Menon, V., and D. J. Levitin. 2005. “The rewards of music listening: Response and physiological connectivity of the mesolimbic system.” Neuroimage 28 (1): 175-184.


Panksepp, Jaak. 1995. “The emotional sources of ‘chills’ induced by music.” Music Perception: An Interdisciplinary Journal 13 (2): 171-207


Salimpoor, Valorie N., Alain Dagher, Mitchel Benovoy, Kevin Larcher, and Robert J. Zatorre. 2011. “Anatomically distinct dopamine release during anticipation and experience of peak emotion to music.” Nature Neuroscience 14 (2): 257-262.