Jewish World Review July 3, 2002 / 23 Tamuz, 5762
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | There's a big difference between sound and noise. Noise is objectionable. Sound can be objectionable sometimes and not other times. Good music is sound. Music you don't like is noise.
Saturday morning at 5:30, I awoke to the sweet sound of chirping birds. I lay there wondering why the birds were chirping. Were they communicating with other birds? If they were, what were they saying? Was their chirping a form of singing or just an ode to joy, a sound they were making for the fun of it? Sound is impossible to describe with words. We fail when we try to name a bird after the sound it makes. Whippoorwills don't say "whip poor will" any more than chickadees say "chickadee," or cuckoos say "cuckoo." Ducks don't go "quack quack" but that's as close as the human voice can get.
After breakfast that morning, as we sat reading the paper, the woman across the street let her two dogs out in the yard and they start yapping. Yapping is a noise. These two dogs were not trying to say anything. They were barking their little heads off and driving everyone else crazy for the fun of it.
I considered the possibility that the birds had awakened the dogs and wondered whether barking dogs annoy birds as much as they annoy me.
Dogs can vary the sounds they make almost as much as humans can. You know a lot about what your dog has in mind from the manner in which it barks, yelps or whines. I assume that birds cannot alter the noises they make, but I could be wrong. When birds sense the presence of a cat, the sounds they make are louder and more frequent than their normal chirps.
The difference between sounds is often definite but not easy to define. We can tell a yell from a scream but can't say precisely why. A scream is more apt to be involuntary. One of its characteristics is the element of terror. If we hear a yell in our back yard, we figure there are some kids out there. If we hear a scream, we rush to the window, alarmed.
Not everyone agrees on which sounds are good and which are bad. I like the sound of rolling thunder with its promise of rain.
A squeak or a rattle is a bad sound because either one means trouble; something is loose, broken or needs oil.
The abrupt closing of the door on an expensive car is a good sound. You can tell how much a car cost by hearing one of its doors slammed shut. There's nothing tinny about it.
The sound of screeching brakes, skidding rubber wheels, or metal hitting metal are among the worst sounds.
The sound of a typewriter clacking away is one I miss now that everyone writes on a computer that just goes ticky tack.
In summer, I like the sound of a screen door slapping shut.
Breaking glass is a bad sound, although it's good that a burglar can't break a window quietly. The eerie sound of a distant train whistle is distinctive.
Noises in war are important. A good infantryman can identify a dozen weapons by the noise they make. It's important for the soldier to know whether the sound he hears is from the rifle of a friend or a foe.
If scientists have studied the sounds birds make, they have never, to my knowledge, done a report on the sound a house makes in the middle of the night.
What mysterious force is it that makes the sound of someone creeping up the stairs when there is no one creeping up the stairs?
Enjoy this writer's work? Why not sign-up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.
06/28/02 Science: the first resort