As the International Year of Sound 2020-2021 approaches the end, it is worthwhile to reflect just a little on this two-year period. When the year of 2020 was selected by the ICA for the IYS, there was not even a hint of the turmoil that the entire world would endure starting in this very year. At the time of the opening ceremony in January 2020, there was great enthusiasm for the opportunity that the declaration of the year created to host events and activities that would highlight the importance of sound in all parts of our life and culture. That soon changed as the Covid-19 virus took hold. While intense work was being undertaken to develop a vaccine, restriction on movement became an important management strategy along with sanitizing and, later, mask wearing. In most countries, these restrictions have continued with different levels of severity until mid/late 2021. So IYS event organisers and all the national and associated organisations have had to provide alternative means to continue to host activities that would be in alignment with the motto of the IYS.
At the same time, acoustics researchers realized that the restrictions on movements introduced to minimize the effects of the pandemic would have a great effect on the soundscapes on land and in the water. This presented an opportunity to measure and analyse those changes. Many cities have distributed sensor arrays that would continue to collect data. Many researchers and organisations had noise loggers on location which could be left in position to continue to collect noise level data. Other loggers which no longer had a task could be deployed to obtain more data. The importance of analysing and documenting these changes in noise level was quickly realized. In addition to individual articles, some journals promoted special issues on noise levels during the pandemic (for example the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America and the journal Noise Mapping). The bulk of these papers demonstrate the change in soundscape due to minimal transportation and the increase in other residential activities (such as construction and general neighborhood noise).
As so many transitioned to working from home (“WFH” has become a new acronym), individuals became aware of the acoustics of their internal spaces, particularly important when participating in on-line meetings. They also became more aware of how sound transmits within and into their home from their neighbourhood. At times this noise had a positive effect giving reassurance that they were not alone, but at other times the noise could quickly become distracting during WFH, especially for construction/home maintenance noise.
We have all learnt to appreciate what life has to offer in and around the home and the importance of sound when communicating with family, friends and colleagues. While talking continued as an important means of contact, collaborating via music (group singing from balconies) and sound (mass clapping to appreciate frontline workers) also provided some form of cohesion for communities.
In the underwater domain, the mobility restrictions due to Covid-19 had a considerable effect on marine soundscapes as well. The part of the ambient noise chart that corresponds to frequencies between 50 and 1000 Hz is dominated by marine traffic noise. Systematic measurements are performed to monitor the levels of anthropogenic noise in the marine environment due to the necessity for reducing their levels in order to achieve a good environmental status and preserve the biodiversity — marine mammals and several other species living in the ocean are vulnerable to excess noise levels. According to reports recently published showing differences between noise levels in this frequency region before the confinement (lockdown) periods and during these periods, considerable differences have been observed. For coastal waters which are the regions where passengers and recreation ships are sailing more frequently, differences can be up to 7-10 dB in the low frequency range (50-100 Ηz). Similar observations have been made following predictions of noise levels based on modeling that takes into account the actual marine traffic (location and type of ships) as a result of reduced traffic density. It is clear that marine creatures, which are affected by the noise, especially at low frequencies, experienced a much quieter period during lockdown.
So, it is interesting to speculate what may happen when the world cautiously returns to the pre-2020 life. Will the awareness of the positive and negative aspects of suburban soundscapes during the pandemic continue? Will the realisation of the importance of controlling sound within homes continue with attention to achieving improved sound control within the home and in particular the ‘home office’? When transportation and the associated noise increases, will there be an increase in pressure from the community for greater control? Will the importance of controlling sound underwater for the ongoing benefit for marine life be fully understood and applied?
As the end of IYS 2020-21 approaches, there is on the one hand a little disappointment of the lost opportunities to raise awareness of the importance of sound in our world. However, the pandemic of 2020-21 has provided a unique experience to the majority of the community around the world to become personally aware of the importance of sound and soundscapes in so many aspects of our life. Let us all work towards ensuring that this is not quickly forgotten.
Source: Marion Burgess and Michael Taroudakis, co-organisers of the International Year of Sound
Source Location: Australia, Greece
Contact: M.Burgess@adfa.edu.au, firstname.lastname@example.org
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