Sound Pollution–an Artist’s Take and Us

The pandemic brought lockdown. The lockdown brought a different soundscape. In cities throughout the world regular sounds are absent and in some like San Francisco, one can hear birds. Stuart Fowkes a UK based artist has been mapping the sounds of cities since 2014. He’s trying to map sounds all over the world and  noticed that one thing lockdown brought out were sounds like church bells which were no longer lost in other city sounds. They could now be more noticed. To Fowkes so many sounds have been lost to noise pollution. In fact the World Health Organization  thinks of noise pollution as an environmental stressor and a public health risk. On an everyday level we may not be aware of how sounds affect us, but they do. The vibrations hit our senses as well as our bodies, and usually result in a reaction from not only our physical bodies, but also our emotional ones. Sound pollution is so much part of urban life that we forget to notice its impact. Traffic of course, delivery trucks, ambulances, other sirens, revving motors, blaring music.. each bearable by themselves perhaps, but when added to the others affect us in ways we forget to recognize much less acknowledge. It’s not hard to see that sound pollution does stress us and that stress on an ongoing basis can be a health risk. Fowkes now has more than 4000  recordings of sounds from 100 countries, and was planning to issue a report last March. When Covid 19 hit he began recording  those sounds, or their absence, and incorporated those recordings into The Future Cities Project so that we will not only know what cities sounded like before the virus, but also now. Whatever Fowkes’ reasons for undertaking that project, how sound affects us is something  we ought to think about. Some sounds can make us relax, and some interfere with what we feel and even more with our thought processes. And for those of us who are also sensitive to what is transcendent, being aware of sounds and their effects upon us is certainly a must.

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