Q: There seems to be more and more obtrusive music and noise in public in our everyday lives. Would you say this is bad?
A: Yes, unequivocally. Our systems were not designed to withstand this onslaught every minute of our lives. We need to adopt the more advanced European standard of an alert-action sound level of 80 decibels, instead of the 85 we have now. In Sweden, I saw kindergartens with a wall of lights working as sound monitors: Green lights came on when voices were quiet and moderate, and yellow ones flashed when the noise increased. At 80 dB, red ones lit up. Visually, the children could see when they were being too noisy in the classroom. They could self-monitor.
Q: What about MP3 players?
A: The use of things such as iPods, which are forcing sound right down into the ear canal with the newer, tighter ear buds, is going to produce hearing loss and other auditory issues at far younger ages than we’ve seen in the past. This is going to be an epidemic of great proportions in our world. We also must educate ourselves and our children that making music that is too loud is not a well-thought-out activity. Children in bands or orchestras should wear ear protection in the form of musician’s plugs, which come with filters of 9, 15, or 25 decibels. We know there is a relationship between tinnitus, hyperacusis, and noise exposure, so let’s work harder to prevent those cases when we are easily able.
(From an interview with Dr. Marsha Johnson.)
A few weeks ago I had a brief, scary, and, for me, new experience with something that I now suspect could have been a bout of tinnitus. (I dunno, does tinnitus come in "bouts"?) To wit: it was a weird, faint ringing in my right ear, and it lasted for a few days. It has since disappeared, but I'm loathe to follow up with an audiologist, because, well, I'm freaked out by the possibility of bad news about my ears. Cuz I kind of need my ears to keep working.
Then again, why should I be even a little surprised if my hearing is indeed deteriorating noticeably? I shudder to think of the number of hours I have spent wearing a set of headphones (always my favorite way to experience music), or playing keyboards in a bad (read: overly-loud) bar band, or standing in front of any given IJG horn section. I have always craved total immersion in music, and considered it the price of any claim to legitimacy as a composer ("what do you mean, you've never heard of such-and-such a band?!"). But I wonder if the human ear is able to withstand the influx of sonic information that corresponds with such a desire / compulsion? Particularly in the context of a world that is already filled to the brim with sound? (When was the last time you really experienced "silence," anyway?)
I also wonder how many of us in this profession (i.e., the "music business," or its extension, the "music criticism business") truly know how good or bad our hearing actually is -- beyond the impression of authority that is the inevitable byproduct of having a point of view? Are we musical omnivores of the early twenty-first century already part of an "epidemic of great proportions," without even knowing it?