Noise (environmental)

Noise is unwanted sound. This is however subjective: some sounds are considered noise by some but not by others, e.g. certain music, church bells, calls to prayer from a minaret, sounds of playing children, birds, wind, sea, etc. Noise can also be any unmeaningful sound or unintended sound.

It is one of the most underestimated causes of health damage. There are several kinds of noise by source, including aviation noise, car, train noise and industrial noise.

In music, some avant-garde musicians, following John Cage and others, have praised noise: "all noise seems to me to have the potential to become musical, simply by being allowed to appear in a musical work." (1976, p.69) It is their view that unintended sounds are always present and that it is the duty of the composer to incorporate noise, to use noise as part of the expected musical event. Some of the long pauses in compositions are therefore stages for noise to take place. "Could we not imagine that itself nothing more than the sum of a multitude of different sounds which are being heard simultaneously?" asked Rousseau in his Dictionnaire de Musique (1767).

"The border between music and noise is always culturally defined--which implies that, even within a single society, this border does not always pass through the same place; in short, there is rarely a consensus" (Nattiez 1990 p.47-8) In France the official physical definition of noise is "an erratic, intermittent or statistically random vibration," (Nattiez 1990) noise is "any sound that we consider as having a disagreeable affective character, something unacceptable, no matter what this character may also be...the notion of noise is first and foremost a subjective notion." (Chochelle 1973: 38) Additionally, Schaeffer (1968: 284) describes that the sound of classical music "has decays; it is granular; it has attacks; it fluctuates, swollen with impurities--and all this creates a musically that comes before any 'cultural' musicality." Nattiez (1990, p.47-8): "My own position can be summarized in the following terms: just as music is whatever people choose to recognize as such, noise is whatever is recognized as disturbing, unpleasant, or both."

There are different sorts of audible noise, such as "white noise" (the hissing of static), which is a full spectrum of sound, and "pink noise" (with more power at longer audible wavelengths) and "blue noise" (with more power at shorter audible wavelengths). Some electronic devices cancel noise by creating sound that complements and obscures the frequencies frequently found most noisy by humans. Rather than filtering out such frequencies, these devices produce cancelling frequencies.

See also: Antinoise, Bel (acoustics).


  • Nattiez, Jean-Jacques (1987). Music and Discourse: Toward a Semiology of Music (Musicologie générale et sémiologue, 1987). Translated by Carolyn Abbate (1990). ISBN 0691027145.
    • Chocholle, R. (1973). Le Bruit. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.
    • Cage (1976).
    • Rousseau (1767).

External links

ja:騒音 nl:lawaai zh:噪音


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