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Do you know the difference between Noise & Sound?

Photo by Jamie Mellor

Actually, “What is the difference between Noise and Sound?, is a flawed question. Noise IS sound. Sound is the broad overarching realm in which noise lives. However, in everyday language and communication we do use these two terms and they have very different meanings and associations. When we talk about sounds we like, we typically say “That sounds nice” or “I like the sound of that”. When we speak of sounds we dislike we say things like “I hate that noise” or “What an awful noise”. Sound tends to be that which is wanted or that which we are focused on while noise is almost always that which we do not want and is often something that interferes with what we are focused on.

Things get complicated when you realise that context and past associations have an impact on whether a sound is perceived as noise or not. A noise can become a pleasant sound when it becomes the focus of your attention. Say you are working in a coffee shop and the music is too loud – it occurs as noise because it interferes with your concentration. On the other hand, if you were sitting in the coffee shop and you were simply listening to the music and you liked that music, it would then occur as a pleasant sound for you. But, if you had very specific tastes in music and you decided you didn’t like the sound of the music, you might be tempted to categorise it as Noise. This is where the age old generation gap often shows up. Remember being a teenager and some of the things your parents said about the music you loved?

One thing urban dwellers can agree on is that there is too much Noise in our lives. So it is curious  that we persist on choosing to build a world that pays no attention to it. We design living and business environments that amplify noise and we choose equipment that adds even more noise to the environment. There is now solid evidence to show the detrimental effects noise has on our well-being, peace of mind and business profitability. I think it’s time to start making some noise about noise. However, my first choice would always be to promote beautiful sounds rather than to add more noise to the mix.

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