Sunday, March 4, 2012


This morning I'm reading about Björk's latest project, and thinking about the importance of one's sonic environment.

I was slow to realize that I am sensitive to sounds, perhaps more so than the average person.  My moment of epiphany resulted from vacuuming.  I used to hate vacuuming. It seemed so irrational.  I used to tell myself "It's very simple, and it doesn't take long.  Just push the wand around the floor for a few minutes and you're done!  Stop whining and get on with it."  But I couldn't get over a visceral aversion to that particular chore.

One day something clicked.  I spotted a pair of earplugs on my bedside table. I normally wore them at night, to partially block out my husband, Mr. Snorey McSnorester.  I plugged up my ears before turning the vacuum on, and voilà, problem solved!  The essence of my vacuum-hating wasn't the action itself, but the overwhelming roar of the motor.

(Back then I was using a cheap but effective Dirt Devil.  Later I bought a fancy dancy Sebo, which is much quieter. I no longer have to wear earplugs in order to vacuum cheerfully.)

I'm not sure if my hearing is particularly keen, or if it's more a matter of innate sensitivity to sounds in general.  I can't stand the light fixture in Ken's room, especially when the dimmer is turned down low, because it emits a piercing, high pitched hum.  It doesn't seem to bother Ken at all.

The whining of motors of any size gets under my skin.  On a small scale, I sometimes get very distracted and annoyed by the external disc drives attached to our home computer.  They spin up at random times while the computer is backing itself up or doing other daily maintenance, and the dissonant, non-rhythmic sounds make me crazy.  On a larger scale, I have the same fingernails-on-a-blackboard reaction to the motors of some buses, depending on how the engine is working.  I always wear my iPod during my morning commute, to drown out the mournful, repetitive rrrrrrRRRRRRRrrrrrr, rrrrrrrRRRRRRRrrrrrr, as the bus creeps forward in rush hour traffic.

Don't even talk to me about the subway.  It's the absolute pits.  It's so loud that it can't be entirely drowned out by my iPod (as I am unwilling to damage my hearing for the cause).  The best I can do is put on some music and mentally focus on following the song in my head, instead of listening to the train screech and rattle through the tunnels.

Am I weird, or do any of you have similar reactions to your sonic surroundings?


DarcKnyt said...

You're not weird. I think we all have different sensitivities to sounds. It's like the sound of a balloon being rubbed -- that squeaky, squealing noise it makes drives some bats, while others can simply laugh about it. Chalkboard/fingernails, same thing.

I haven't spent a lot of time doing this sort of experimentation, but I wonder if one of those quieter vacuums might've helped my daughter be less terrified of the appliance.

Hm. And my kids's computer power supply will make a HIGH-low HIGH-low, high-pitched whine when the computer is asleep, too. THAT irritates me beyond my reckoning.

It's an individual thing for sure, but you're not odd. :)

Lynn said...

I have a constant ringing in my ears that I've gotten used to, but it still sort of drives me crazy at times. It's worse when I'm in my quiet house - it's like a high pitched noise that never goes away.

Jenski said...

There is a LOT of noise pollution in a lab - fridges, freezers, other random appliances are always going. I could still tell you if a computer monitor is on over the din though. It was always weird to me that others can't hear that high pitched sound! Luckily I don't have a particular aversion or I would despise research!

You should check out the song in this article:
I've listened to it but haven't made it a habit to listen to it to calm down. It is very nice!

Jameil said...

You're weird. But not for this. LOLOL (You made me say that.) I hate any noise when going to sleep. Of course my husband falls asleep to the tv. :( Hate it. His old computer is also hideously loud. I still think I'm much more sensitive to smells.

Warped Mind of Ron said...

I can hear my monitor at work and I have those "silent" pest repellant plug in things that I can hear. So not crazy... crap.. there I go again, not crazy to me at least.

LL Cool Joe said...

I'm very sensitive to noise too, although since I've become a dj my hearing is a lot less good than it used to be. My brother has always called me Bats Ears. That may have nothing to do with my hearing though. :D

G said...

Because my hearing is so incredibly shot to pieces (none in my left ear to speak, courtesy of a golf club to the head when I was 'tween), I can't have background noise of any kind when I'm talking.

And because my hearing is so shot, it also makes me exceptionally alert to my surroundings, be it at work, at home, or on the road.

Granny Annie said...

I am your polar opposite. Give me noise, lots of noise. I either have a television, radio or stereo going all the time. I sleep with a fan near my bed for the whirring sound not for the cooling effect. I wear headphones and listen to audio books and we have guinea fowl running on our property that drive everyone else crazy and sound like angels voices to me:)

Sparkling Red said...

DarcKnyt: I can't stand fingernails on a chalkboard, but a squeaky balloon wouldn't bother me. I didn't know that was a button-pusher for some people.

Lynn: Oh dear, that would be very trying.

Jenski: Thanks for the link to that article on the relaxing song. I found it on YouTube, and it really does do the trick.

Jameil: I would have been disappointed if no one said I was weird. ;-) I used to not be able to stand any sound when falling asleep, but lately I've given up wearing earplugs and can fall asleep even if I can hear the TV through the wall. (Ken stays up later than me.) Maybe I'm becoming more mellow.

Ron: Is that device supposed to repel rodents? Because my Chinese astrological sign is "rat". Maybe that explains my keen hearing.

LL Cool Joe: Better to have bat ears than a bat nose.

G: A golf club to the head! That sounds pretty awful. Is there a story to be told there? On your blog, perhaps?

Granny Annie: I enjoy friendly background noise, such as a radio or TV, to a certain extent. But sometimes it's so good to just turn it all off and enjoy the silence.

DarcsFalcon said...

My daughter used to run screaming from the vacuum, and when the maintenance crews would go around with either the leaf blower or the snow thrower. When my old vacuum died and I had to get a new one, it was much quieter and she was okay after that. She really hates the loud sounds, unless she's making them herself. *eyeroll*

I hate that high pitched whine that you can sometimes hear from electronics and things like that. Used to be a jewelry store in a mall years ago, I couldn't go in to look at the pretties because their overheard lights made that whine and it drove me nuts.

I can't sleep with fans on either. I've had to purposefully try to ignore the sound of the blower on the a/c and heater, otherwise I'd probably lose it, lol.

You're not alone sweetie! I think a lot of us are sensitive to "noise pollution." Isn't that a great description of it? :)