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The Campus Beat: I Can’t Hear You


Someday, I hope to be that crotchety old man who yells at the kids next door to “turn it down!” Why? Because it means I can still hear their music.

Deafening music at some college parties is one of the many assaults on hearing in our world. We compress audio into mp3s, cutting away the high fidelity. We inject little headphones into our ears, blasting over the sounds of the outside world. And when we go partying, the sound guy jams up the levels as if the people down the street want to dance too. The sonic world is vast and I don’t want to lose any perception of it due to an effluvial loudspeaker one Friday night.

I have nothing against parties themselves. The “dazed and confused” atmosphere is its own world of fun. It’s dark, late, hot and full of intoxicated people squished in together attempting to dance. The fortissimo fits in with the rest of the package.

But I don’t understand why, when creating those dens of semi-hedonism, we need to use quite that level of volume. It would be just as fun with the sound turned down a little. That marginal extra 10 dB isn’t imperative for a rager. It will still be dark and crowded. You’ll still be intoxicated and you can still make a “bad” decision and tell the story the next morning. And let’s face it: you’re probably too busy to notice that the music is quieter anyway.

For a modicum of technical expertise: what does a Google search tell this non-bio major about noise-induced hearing loss? Basically, the louder the atmosphere, the quicker you can experience lasting damage. Pretty obvious. Workplace safety rules don’t let you work in an environment with sound at 110 dB for longer than 30 minutes, a level often attributed to rock concerts. So why save our ears in the workplace only to kill them at home?

Granted, 110 dB is a rather specific level. Loudness at a party can depend on all kinds of things: distance from speakers, reflectivity of the walls, how long you stay. You’d have to carry around a decibel meter to get a true reading, and the level of harm can still vary from person to person. But the general principle still stands: don’t linger too long at loud levels, especially aggregated across all the people in the room.

Some might disagree with my general assessment. It’s not like we’re firing guns in our ears and going deaf. If there’s some hearing loss, it’s at frequencies that aren’t usually detrimental to regular life. Maybe you’ll have to ask your friend to speak up a little when you’re older, but that will probably happen anyway. Except that argument just doesn’t fly for me, especially as a musician. The subtleties of sound at high-fidelity levels are too delicious to give up. If parties gradually made you lose the ability to taste chocolate, would you go?

Others might also criticize, saying your hearing shouldn’t be the DJ’s responsibility. We partygoers should self-regulate and not stick around on the dance floor past a point where it might muffle our brains’ microphones. But doesn’t it seem a bit sick to draw people into something and then hurt them?

If we want to really cultivate an awesome music scene on campus, we need to start by maintaining our ability to even experience it with our ears. I’m a big supporter of parties, concerts, iPods and wailing away on a drum set. But the volume doesn’t need to go to 11. If you’re playing some tunes, keep the max at a reasonable level. The listeners will appreciate it.

E-mail Lucas at [email protected] while he waits for his ears to stop ringing from senior night.

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