Wednesday, October 09, 2019


How the Ear of Man Is Tortured!

Thomas Carlyle, quoted in James Anthony Froude, Thomas Carlyle: A History of His Life in London 1834-1881, Vol. I (New York: Harper Brothers, 1885), pp. 159-160:
How the ear of man is tortured in this terrestrial planet! Go where you will the cock's shrill clarion, the dog's harsh watch-note, not to speak of the melody of jackasses, and on streets, of wheelbarrows, wooden clogs, loud-voiced men, perhaps watchmen, break upon the hapless brain; and, as if all was not enough, 'the Piety of the Middle Ages' has founded tremendous bells; and the hollow triviality of the present age—far worse—has everywhere instituted the piano! Why are not at least all those cocks and cockerels boiled into soup, into everlasting silence? Or, if the Devil some good night should take his hammer and smite in shivers all and every piano of our European world, so that in broad Europe there were not one piano left soundable, would the harm be great? Would not, on the contrary, the relief be considerable? For once that you hear any real music from a piano, do you not five hundred times hear mere artistic somersets, distracted jangling, and the hapless pretence of music? Let him who has lodged wall-neighbor to an operatic artist of stringed music say.

This miserable young woman that now in the next house to me spends all her young, bright days, not in learning to darn stockings, sew shirts, bake pastry, or any art, mystery, or business that will profit herself or others; not even in amusing herself or skipping on the grass-plots with laughter of her mates; but simply and solely in raging from dawn to dusk, to night and midnight, on a hapless piano, which it is evident she will never in this world learn to render more musical than a pair of barn-fanners! The miserable young female! The sound of her through the wall is to me an emblem of the whole distracted misery of this age; and her barn-fanners' rhythm becomes all too significant.
Edwin Way Teale, Journey into Summer (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1960), pp. 21-22:
Sitting relaxed, aware of all the little sounds around me, enjoying the peaceful calm of these mountain heights, I remembered the young barber who had cut my hair in a small town a few days before. His great ambition, he said, was to work in New York. There was a city! For a good many years, he explained, each summer he had visited his grandfather on his farm in the country. But he couldn't stand it any more. Everything was so quiet! It gave him the creeps. He felt like going out and blowing a trumpet or pounding a drum—anything to make a racket. He represented that new breed, growing in numbers, the Noise Needers.

From the outboard motor to the jet airplane, through the radio and TV, the electric razor and the power lawnmower, almost every mechanical advance has added to the noise of the world. Each successive generation lives in a less quiet environment. In consequence, evolution is at work in massed urban centers. For evolution concerns the present as well as the past, ourselves as well as the dinosaurs. Noise is evolving not only the endurers of noise but the needers of noise.

Those whose nervous systems are disturbed by uproar are handicapped under such conditions. They are less fitted to maintain good health, to endure and to increase their kind than are those who thrive on clamor. What is strain and distraction to one is a stimulant and a tonic to the other. In step with noisier times, the number of Noise Needers is growing. I was told recently of the art editor of a chain of magazines who carries a pocket radio with him all day long and even places it, turned on, under his pillow when he goes to bed at night. Noise is comforting and reassuring to him. He seems in his proper environment when quiet is eliminated. The metallic clangor of rock-and-roll music is, perhaps, symptomatic of the steady rise in the number of Noise Needers. For them, quiet is somehow unnatural, stillness is somehow unfriendly. They feel better, more at home, when they are surrounded by a din—any kind of din. They do not merely tolerate noise. They like noise. They need noise.

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