Bring 'da Noise

June, 2010 by Ray Bendici
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So as I tried to watch some of the World Cup this past weekend, like many others, I kept trying to adjust my TV to eliminate that annoying constant droning/buzzing sound!

Of course, you probably already know that the source of my frustration -- and apparently, the frustration of the players and many fans as well -- is the vuvuzela, a $6 South African plastic horn that seems like something right out of Dr. Seuss and emits a loud "BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ!!!" at an ear-splitting 127 decibels! (By comparison, a jet taking off only scores 201 decibels.) The companies that make these "instruments" have seen an incredible surge in popularity, and now that FIFA, the ruling organization for the World Cup, says that the vuvuzelas can stay, expect the audio assault to continue.

Actually, it shouldn't really come as a surprise that such a loud item could be found to be so obnoxious. Sonic weapons have a long history, used for years by police and military for non-lethal confrontations. Others have suggested that extreme bass vibrations, known as infrasound, may not be able to be heard consciously by the human ear, but could be responsible for causing odd sensations and strong hallucinations that are often mistaken as ghosts or otherworldly contacts.

From the Skeptic's Dictionary entry on infrasound --

In 1998, Vic Tandy, experimental officer and part-time lecturer in the school of international studies and law at Coventry University, and Dr. Tony Lawrence of the psychology department wrote a paper called "Ghosts in the Machine" for the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research. They cited infrasound as the cause of apparitions seen by staff at a so-called haunted laboratory in Warwick.

Several years earlier, Tandy was working late in the "haunted" Warwick laboratory when he saw a gray thing coming for him. "I felt the hairs rise on the back of my neck," he said. "It seemed to be between me and the door, so the only thing I could do was turn and face it." But the thing disappeared. However, it reappeared in a different form the next day when Tandy was doing some work on his fencing foil. "The handle was clamped in a vice on a workbench, yet the blade started vibrating like mad," he said. He wondered why the blade vibrated in one part of room but not in another. The explanation, he discovered, was that infrasound was coming from an extractor fan. "When we finally switched it off, it was as if a huge weight was lifted," he said. "It makes me think that one of the applications of this ongoing research could be a link between infrasound and sick-building syndrome." When he measured the infrasound in the laboratory, the showing was 18.98 hertz--the exact frequency at which a human eyeball starts resonating. The sound waves made his eyeballs resonate and produced an optical illusion: He saw a figure that didn't exist.

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Personally, if I've been in a loud room (like a night club)  or at a concert for too long, I've come out feeling a bit wonky, almost drunk, even if I haven't imbibed anything alcoholic, so I can appreciate this phenomena.

Another audio phenomena that is among my all-time favorites is The Bloop, which I've discussed here before. If you're not familiar with The Bloop, it was a strange undersea sound picked up by underwater microphones in 1997 that no one has been able to explain. Apparently, it was a sound emitted by a living creature, yet it was heard on microphones over 3,000 miles apart -- anything alive that could make a noise like that would have to be bigger than any known creature on Earth, which is where the good times begin. Some speculate it could be anything from a colossal squid to The Kraken to the legendary monster Cthulhu!

Speaking of The Bloop, I recently read this article from Web Urbanist featuring 8 Mysterious Unsolved Sounds. Fun stuff!

Of course, when I think of weird local noises, the first thing to come to mind are the legendary Moodus noises, the spooky rumblings heard in the Southeastern area of the state. For centuries, the noises were thought to be caused by supernatural causes, everything from angry spirits to the undead; more recently, scientific research has suggested that the sounds are the result of shallow micro-earthquakes.

Anyway, that's all I've heard about. For now!

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