A Partial Museum of Noise Prix de Rome


Museum and applications documenting irritating sound through-out history – winner Dutch Prix de Rome 2003, for art and public space

Structures in Life, as in Death


The following fluorescent tubes were salvaged from a disposal bin, chosen for their diversity in expiry.
The waveforms shown below illustrate the patterns found in the recording of each respective tube using contact microphones.
Tubes shown in this range operate off 24 volts and all behave differently when charged. A cold tube for example will have a period of violent fluctuation before stabilising. Sustained oscillations, pulses of charge with incredible regularity and sudden turn to dynamic and unpredictable waveforms outline fault in performance as a result of age. A cross section of sources attempt to describe such behaviour but not quite in relation to an aging. Knowledge being beyond the resource of this museum, we apologise and offer in place, the following partial principles of a fluorescent lighting system.

Attempts to Suppress


Through out history there have been many attempts to suppress the sounds of function in an industrialised world. Counter measure for highway (including porous road surface/ barriers) aircraft noise, and general reduction of Laeq. levels from the factory down to the individual household have been considered and practiced.


Machines You Don’t Want To Hear – Machines You Hear With


Continuous exposure to loud noise can produce hearing loss. Sounds are transmitted as vibrations from the outer ear to the 30,000 delicate hair cells of the inner ear. When exposed to loud sounds, the hair cells vibrate violently. This often results in tinnitus (ringing in the ear) and temporary hearing loss that usually recovers within a day. With continued exposure to loud noise, the temporary hearing loss can become permanent by a destruction of the hair cells. Hearing in the higher pitch range is usually affected first. This often results in a reduction in the clarity of speech, especially in a background of noise. It is, for example, easier to hear men than women and children.


Subjectivity In Sound


The sound which weaves the tapestry of a city can be as much cultural spine and voice as repulsion. While some thrive on the noises of city others find them obtrusive and unnecessary. Noise can be described as unwanted sound yet at the same time to be noisy can also means to be rich and descriptive.
The megaphones shown here are common in Beijing shops along main streets, through which people play pre-recorded messages from walkmans to lure customers.


The following are extracts from the recordings:


1: Let us introduce G.S.M., a new telecommunications system in China since 1994…

2: Hello Customers, welcome to JinTan Supermarket, we have roast duck, dried fruit, cigarettes, alcohol and other consumer products, you are welcome to choose and shop.

3: Ladies jerseys only ten yen each, you are welcome to purchase.

4: Hello customer, in our shop everything is cheap. We have a sale of diverse stock. Toys, different bags and chests

Appliance As Instrument, Instrument As Irritation


William Du Bois Duddell and the “Singing Arc”(1899)


Before Thomas Alva Edison invented the electric light bulb electric street lighting was in wide use in Europe. A carbon arc lamp provided light by creating a spark between two carbon nodes which would then separate, creating a phase. The problem with this method of lighting, apart from the dullness of the light and inefficient use of electricity was a constant humming noise from the arc. The British physicist William Duddell was appointed to solve the problem in London in 1899 and during his experiments found that by varying the voltage supplied to the lamps he could create controllable audible frequencies


By attaching a keyboard to the arc lamps he created one of the first electronic instruments and the first electronic instrument that was audible without using the telephone system as an amplifier/speaker. When Duddell exhibited his invention to the London institution of Electrical Engineers it was noticed that arc lamps on the same circuit in other buildings also played music from Duddell’s machine this generated speculation that music delivered over the lighting network could be created. Duddell didn’t capitalise on his discovery and didn’t even file a patent for his instrument.


A similar method of tuning appliance can be seen below. When reducing the current supplied to a fridge (normally at 50hz from 220v.) one can trace different notes. Only ranging a few notes difference in the modification of 100volts (less than half its power supply), the pitch of a fridge can best be heard by means of contrast in the presence of a second pitch. In this manner, to create a 12 tone fridge instrument would be impossible. At a low voltage (around 70 volts) the given fridge engine would turn itself off. This threshold varies from fridge to fridge.
Commonly thought of as unwanted sound, some people enjoy and rely upon the mesmerising sounds of appliance such as a fridge in order to sleep.

Spread and Decline




The Austrian musician Arnold Schoenberg had devised many techniques for what he had termed ‘The Emancipation of Dissonance’ achieved primarily through atonality, or serial music, a technique whereby a composer would arrange all twelve pitches in a piece, having to exhaust all tones before returning to the original note. This actively denies a sense of resolution and results in a position autonomous of scale.

The word “atonality” later became a negative term to describe and to condemn music in which chords were organized with no apparent coherence. Riots erupted at both Austrian premieres of his two string quartets in 1905 and 1908. Such experiences led him often to feel persecuted by a public that could not understand his music. In later Nazi Germany, atonal music was discredited as degenerate music (Entartete Musik).

An earlier piece Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night, 1899) was written for string sextet in the chromatic tradition of Wagner’s Tristan. As an Opera Trista had already stretched tonality to its limits.