May 13, 2009

a city of (automotive) sound

Dan Hill at City of Sound uses the Economist story on the "danger" of the silent Prius[1] as the starting point for a mind-bogglingly fantastic post on automobile noise in cities.

Cities should not be quiet, or only replete with so-called ‘natural’ sounds - whatever that means post-nature, and post-industrialisation - but the urban soundscape is something that could use a little more room for manouevre, dynamically. To be clear, I'm not averse to cars or car noise. Some car noises are hugely appealing. It’s just best experienced as a distinct note and timbre in a richer, more dynamic city symphony, as opposed to the pervasive ambient roar of thousands of combustion engines. This latter has a totalising suppressing effect on urban sound, akin to the scourge of overusing the compressor in contemporary music production. If everything is loud, nothing is.

Go read the whole thing -- it's as if his entire history as a blogger has been leading up to this one post. The illustrations are pitch-perfect, there are some (literally) fantastic ideas about creating new sounds in cities, and some wonderful touches like this...

In that respect, [car] sounds can be considered as something special too. We can more fully appreciate the throaty purr of a 1969 Ferrari Daytona or the brawny roar of a 3.5 litre 1978 Ford Capri or the lawnmower rattle of a 2CV or the saucy throb of an old DS, lifting skirts and all, just as we’ll always appreciate the sizzle and hiss of tyres on wet road.

[1] FWIW, as a Prius owner, the only pedestrians I've come close to hitting are the ones who happen to be wearing white earbuds while stepping out into the street without looking.