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Useful And Fantastic: Music As Noise - Part 2

...At a time when we need brains that can work at capacity, is there any evidence that long term exposure to very loud music might affect abilities such as thinking of more than one thing at a time, connecting ideas, reasoning, concentration, intellectual curiosity, ability to face the problems of our time or mental stamina itself?...

Val Yule presents the results of a survey which asked young people why they like loud music.

What can be seen in brain scans? What can they show about functioning intelligence? Can longitudinal IQ test measures re-assure us? We know that some forms of intelligence are rising world-wide, especially non-verbal IQs relevant to technology and pattern-matching. Babes can work computers, tribesmen fresh from the jungle can drive bulldozers. But what about verbal intelligence?

At a time when we need brains that can work at capacity, is there any evidence that long term exposure to very loud music might affect abilities such as thinking of more than one thing at a time, connecting ideas, reasoning, concentration, intellectual curiosity, ability to face the problems of our time or mental stamina itself?

I made an accidental survey of 200 teenagers aged 12 to 19 who to my surprise returned, completed, a questionnaire I had sent to their school when they were having a fairly loud disco. They were 200 Australian adolescents having a top-drawer education with high academic standards, and as contented young people as you could find. Seventy percent described themselves as 'Very happy' or 'Cheerful', as well they might, and 65% said they were doing very well at school, or had no problems, really. Only 7% 'wished they were happy'. Only 6% reported they were not going well at school.

The survey showed the amazingly important part music played in their lives, not only at the many parties, raves, discos, and school performances. 95% liked to listen to music when travelling, 87% liked music on when they studied, 49% were keen to have music whenever possible, and 12% (check) liked to have it always. They had a great knowledge of a wide range of modern music genres and a lesser interest in other hobbies or concerns. 58% liked loud music, 33% liked it extremely loud, and all the rest did not mind it, except for four girls and eight boys whose other responses showed that they were clearly oddball nonconformists. There was no difference between Australians and foreign-born.

Why did they like very loud music?

The most common reason the teenagers gave was that it stopped boredom (65%). Over half gave reasons such as it calmed them down, it excited them, and it entertained them. 37% used it to forget their troubles. Over half of those who liked VERY loud music, ‘louder than adults liked it’, said they felt pumped, pumped with energy, high, energised, awesome, hyperactive, had a buzz, hyper, hypo, buzzed up, exhilarated, awesome, and WHEE! Afterwards they mostly still felt good but 20% said they felt ill effects, such as sleepy, tired, dizzy headaches, deaf, my ears hurt, my ears bleed and argggh!

Others who just liked loud music, or didn’t mind it, also felt energetic, pumped and excited, but more of them reported ill effects, ‘a bit dizzy, jumpy, tired, dizzy but I think its the lights, shell-shocked, like my ears have exploded, exhausted, headache, tired and annoyed, ringing in my ears, sometimes my ears hate it’.

Reports of feelings next day were mixed, many feeling over the top, refreshed, or only a little tired, but 37% reported ill effects ’like I was smashed in the head with a bungee gold brick’ my head buzzes, sore neck, ‘sore but I felt great at the time’.

Do any of these negative effects have longer consequences?

Why do they think other people enjoy very loud music?

Some gave practical reasons such as social approval‘ it’s good to dance to’ and ‘people enjoy listening to their favourite bands’. Makes them feel cool! like everybody else, because their parents do. The overall reason is that it makes them feel good, and it makes them feel good because it excites and energises them. “Because its awsum, because it makes them feel happy, it makes them feel good, makes people feel like that want to have fun, to get rocked, coz it rocks, gives them a buzz, powerful voices, beats, gets you moving, get into it more, BECAUSE IT PUMPS YOU UP, it gets you in a good mood, because its boring when soft.

Blocking out the outside world was mentioned by all groups, It lets you blank out, coz it blocks out everything else, it lets you forgot about other stuff, so they can only hear music, because it blocks everything out apart from the song, so they don’t have to talk,, to blow out other things they don’t want to hear, drown out thoughts, because they don't want to hear anything else.

Two teenagers came up with psychological theories. - Once it reaches a certain amount of decibbles, it stimulates happy chemicals in the brain! and It gets rage out.

The few who did not like loud music thought that others liked it ‘to feel the base’, they thought it could be because theyre angry, they think its cool, so they don’t have to think or talk, - They don't (like it), not as such, They're loosers, Because its mad, They are silly.

Even some of those who liked very loud music mentioned deafness as a reason for liking it louder. because they can hear it, dunno, def? Hearing Problems!! because they're slightly deaf, , coz it drowns out boring noise, hate their eardrums (said a respondent who likes heavy metal),, because they are deaf, because they can't hear soft music.

Then there were a range of tautologies or incoehrences - It's better, coz its good, The Kind of people who are major fans, it soots them, Its good, cause, music not really but maybe, it’s a disco . . . . because , yes, Sounds better Because they do, Don’t know gets, gets into it more, it's good, they like the music more if its loud. 35% of those who liked loud music said that they disliked silence or could not stand it. Personally I find this sad. I love to lie awake at night and listen to silence.


Is what many devotees find attractive about very loud music not the music itself, but the physical sensation of the banging on the eardrums bone around the ear made by the physical noise - the thumping, the pumping, the reverberation?

Can very loud electronic music become an addiction to the noise itself rather than the music?

Does becoming accustoming to intense stimulation make boredom more likely without it? Does it raising limens of perception so that gentler experiences cannot be appreciated, and more excitement is needed? How much is all this just the adolescent love of excitement and intense stimulation that usually moderates with growing older?

My concern about effects on thinking are only anecdotal. I can’t think when music is blasting or still reverberating in my ears. And there is the curious observation that when 90% of people in a public place would like a band to lower the decibels, the band is likely to refuse, Why? The bandleader replies ‘Because people would not like it’. I wonder what is happening to the infants who may be sitting there in pushers – are they docile or just stunned?

Might effects be like those for many noxious stimuli, where healthy people may seem quite immune to any dangerous effects, but the weak and vulnerable are damaged?

The less you have, the more easily it is knocked off you. After all, Peter Garrett, who started well ahead, still seems to have functioning neurones.

Many students, including some high-flyers in memory tests, claim that loud background music helps them to concentrate on learning. I can see how it could help drum in, literally, rote learning, but learning with understanding and reasoning? There are psychological laws about human difficulty in attending to two tasks at once, and incompatible responses. And evidence about the accumulation of sub-clinical effects of stimuli. Boxers can become chronically punch-drunk without ever having been actually knocked out. The State worries about growing numbers of ageing people about to burden the young. The elderly are recommended to keep the brain active and avoid going senile by doing puzzles. But some researchers think that one contributor to age-associated decline in cognitive ability could be presbycusis, loss of hearing, especially of high frequency sounds, due to changes in the inner or middle ear as people age, which can be increased by long-term exposure to intense sounds such as power tools or loud music.

Humans survive through their adaptability, but adaptation to noxious pleasures usually comes at a cost. Should alternative pleasures be offered to teenagers rather than ghetto-blasters?


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