Acoustic volatility has a major impact on human and animal communication. We may even consider the volatility of acoustics and communication to be the same, if we expand our consideration of acoustics beyond our hearing range and our consideration of communication to encompass its impediments. A phenomenon known as masking, when environmental noise drowns out a communication signal, drives this volatility.
Transondent Architecture: Signal-Oriented Acoustic Reform
Urban noise functions as a byproduct of architecture and urbanism within a larger framework of sound as (spatial) territory, both public and private. Animals suffer from masking, a sonic externality of roads and cities that disturbs communication patterns (such as dawn chorus). Humans suffer from making as well, and also from the urban canyon effect that causes excess echoing due to the flat vertical surfaces of skyscrapers lining densely populated urban streets. Ever since the late nineteenth centry, people have become aware of the deleterious effects of noise pollution in industrialized cities.
Noise abatement began in the United States with New York City’s Bennet Act in 1907, prompting solutions such as Anti-Noise Police and special zoning clauses to protect hospitals from excessive disturbance. Compared to the city’s efforts in the public sphere, however, mass-production of acoustic tiles for the private sector was logistically simple. Such tiles became popular during the Thirties under Taylorist acoustic reform, proliferating private solutions to a public problem. By challenging the dominant receiver-oriented paradigm, signal-oriented planning and transondent architecture diffuse the soundscapes of densely populated areas and traffic corridors, mitigating negative effects of masking while keeping ambient noise nominal.