Noise and Creativity
How many artists can work in noisy environments? I don’t know, but Alan Moore is not one of them:
I know there are some people who can apparently write with a roomful of people and a radio on and a television or stuff like that. I can’t imagine how they do it. I can’t have any sound in the room while I’m working. I can’t have anybody in the room with me. (Alan Moore: Storyteller, p. 306.)
Neither is Quentin Tarantino:
Nearly every day Mr Tarantino and others in his home are subjected to the macaws’ obnoxious pterodactyl-like screams, which are not only startling, but have also seriously disrupted Mr Tarantino’s ability to work as a writer in his home.
The defendants know that their birds issue blood-curdling, prehistoric sounding screams. Though one might assume that, as a fellow writer, Mr Ball would understand and respect a writer’s need for peace and quiet while he is working, that assumption would be wrong.
How many people in the world have access to silence? I certainly don’t. Our neighbor to the north likes to enliven our days with the sound of his electric saws and gasoline powered leaf blowers. At this very moment to the south, a film crew is set up across the street, repeatedly playing loud music over and over. We already get enough of that from the guy who lives below us whose preference is to spend his days playing video games and watching TV with the volume set to max. Silence nowadays is more golden than ever, in the sense of being scarce. Even the Grinch, who lives alone on a mountaintop, could not keep the noises at bay. No wonder he was a Grinch!
My question is this: does the amount of art made in the world shrink as the noises made in the world increase? And here’s another question: what if there are two types of people? The first thrives on noise, but wilts under quiet; the other wilts under noise, but thrives under quiet. If these groups do exist, can they ever get along? Here’s a cartoon that addresses this question:
Here’s a cartoon about a man driven to the breaking point by noise:
Someone should run out in the street, nab the first Tarantino look-alike they spot, and make Quentin Tarantino Vs. the Prehistoric Bird right away!
Brain Pickings has a page about and some excerpts from a book about noise, Discord: The Story of Noise. Here’s a sample:
[Charles] Babbage attacked noise on many fronts, making numerous court appearances and, like any good naturalist, collecting data to support his case, including his detailed list of 165 interruptions that he suffered over 80 days and his estimate that noise had reduced his working output by a quarter.
Babbage’s efforts might have been more successful had he not insisted in characterizing the battle against noise as the battle of the ‘intellectual worker’ against ‘those whose minds are entirely unoccupied.’ He included in his pamphlet a list of ‘Encouragers of Street Music’:
tavern-keepers, public houses, gin-shops, beer-shops, coffee-shops, servants, children, visitors from the country, and, finally and occasionally, ladies of doubtful virtue…
And he also lists ‘Instruments of torture permitted by the government to be in daily and nightly use in the streets of London,’ comprising:
organs, bass bands, fiddles, harps, harpsichord, hurdy-gurdies, flageolets, drums, bagpipes, accordions, halfpenny whistles, tom-toms trumpets, and, the human voice, shouting out objects for sale.