BY JOHN ETRA
VOGUE, October 1988
The North Pole is quiet, especially in March. There's nothing but the sounds of the wind. The White House is quiet; the silence is like the center of a hurricane. Ridgeway, Colorado, is quiet, says Diane Wolf, a U.S. Commissioner of Fine Ans. "Our ranch is next to Ralph Lauren's. Ralph doesn't make a lot of noise."
TV producer Nikki Haskell likes yachts. "The Patience II anchored out-side of Sag Harbor is very quiet, so is The Sea Goddess—a bit too quiet. The Marcos yacht was not: Madame Marcos loved to sing, she sang all the time. Her favorite was Feelings.
A town house is quiet, it you own it all. A New York City attorney has one with eighteen- foot-high coffered ceilings. "The only noise is the occasional rumble of the private elevator around dinner time," he says, Museums are quiet. Libraries are quiet, Cemeteries are quiet, but also depressing.
Another New Yorker, an art dealer, was an distressed by urban uproar; he had a concrete bomb shelter constructed in his living room. Inside it was quiet, but he found the rest of the city unbearable. He moved to a desolate section of Maine. Then flight patterns were changed, jets passed overhead. He moved to rural Pennsylvania. where he remains, So far.
The world was never particularly quiet.
Dinosaurs were by no means sedate; and after them, mammoths, mastodons, and aurochs made a bother. Even without people, innumerable birds and assorted other fauna screeched, bellowed, and howled day and night. Julius Caesar tried unsuccessfully to ban daytime speeding al chariots over Rome's cobblestones. Sybarites of 600 B.C. excluded black-smiths, cabinetmakers, and other noisy artisans from working in residential areas. The deity Eulil got fed up with Babylon's hubbub. "The noises of mankind have stirred my anger," he announced, and raised the Great Flood. Heaven knows what he would do today in Los Angeles.
With luck and planning, quiet once was obtainable. Today, noise follows you everywhere; radios, horns. alarms, sirens, stereos, phones, banging pipes, dogs, cats, fights, parties, Parades- planes, boats, snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles, trucks, motorcycles, lawnmowers, Muzak, construction, demolition, and the ubiquitous garbage collection.
The courtesy that once applied to noise has departed. Engines roar, radios thunder, parties boom and quake with no concern for the hour. As loud noise decreases hearing sensitivity, the increasingly deaf keep raising the volume in an attempt not to miss anything. A cheering song, a soothing hum comfort and protect; but at a certain point sound becomes an imposition.
In "Psychopathology of the Hi-Fi Addict," H. Angus Bowes, M.D.. notes, "The less organized will treat their hi-fi... as an expression of aggression, as a power symbol. To many, [it] has a sexual con notation." Aggression and sex seem to be a major component in the ongoing noise phenomenon: loud cars, big radios, huge gun, fired noisily by men like Rambo.
We may all need help. Some action should be considered. The Mabaan tribe of the Sudan, who live in an environment of virtual silence, have significantly lower blood pressure and no coronary heart disease. Mental hospital admissions are 30 percent higher among people living near the noise of the Los Angeles Airport. Adults living near Soviet airports have two to four times the norm of ear, nose and throat disease, cardio-vascular disease, nervous disorders and stomach problems; children suffer from increased fatigue, blood pressure abnormalities and cardiac insufficiency. Achievement test scores for low and middle-aptitude students show progressive deterioration in schools exposed to aircraft sound. People have been driven to extremes and have even started shooting at each other to stop the noise.
Alan Fierstein, president of Acoustilog, Inc , is frequently brought in as an acoustical consultant. "Neighbors are at each others’ throats. One hears footsteps overhead: another complains about the piano; things escalate. If they want blood, Fierstein can be an expert witness.
Armed with a stethoscope and portable spectrum analyzer, he tracks down all the frequencies—including many that can't be heard—and recommends ways to eliminate or contain them. "Less than 5 percent of all city buildings are built the right way. Floors are not made to prevent noise. Wood transmits sound. Carpets are frequently Ineffective in preventing sound from leaving or coming in ".
Fierstein works against long-standing misconceptions. "Common sense is often not the right way. People put in a ceiling on the advice of contractors but it’s the wrong ceiling; it doesn't work, and everyone gets mad. "There are ways to solve problems," he states, and my cost is not prohibitive. Ceilings can be hung on springs with rubber clips. Caulking and felt line the inside; insulation fills the space in-between. Floors can be built up the same way. Walls can be filled with insulation and fiber-glass sprayed on to absorb reverberation. Double and triple windows screen outside noise.
Fierstein redesigned the apartment of a horn player for Blood. Sweat Tears so he could practice without disturbing neighbors. Currently, he is advising the City of New York on how to make meeting rooms in City Hall less reverberant. Apparently, people can’t understand what's being said.
For real quiet, one still must get away from the city —Wherever there are phones, there's noise, observes Diane Wolf. "Al Little Dix Bay, there are no phones in the rooms. There are only four in the whole place. At Jumby Bay, there are only six. I searched them out, one by one." Wolf is a confessed phone addict. "Spas are quiet, adds Nikki Haskell "At the Golden Door. you can hear the fat falling off. Haskell, who specializes in being a houseguest rather than a paying guest, says the glass-enclosed pool of the Di Portanova home in Houston is very quiet. Stan Herman's house in Malibu is consistently quiet. Finally. There is her mother's house in Beverly Hills. "That's where it’s really quiet. She's always out."