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Bernice Martin

The Sounds of Silence

A manifesto against noise pollution.

One Square Inch of Silence was published at the end of March 2009 in time for the authors, Gordon Hempton and John Grossmann, to appear at the Earth Day events in New York's Central Park on April 26th, at the end of their book-launch tour. I was only halfway through the book at that date, reading it over coffee, sitting in the sun by the river in the old Swedish university city of Uppsala during the mid-morning rush-hour of students cycling to classes. In spite of the modest traffic I could enjoy the sounds of river water running, birds singing, and trees soughing in a light breeze on a glorious spring day, in sight of a hillside of blue scillas reaching up towards the castle. It would be hard to find the equivalent relative quiet in an outdoor café in the center of London or New York, or even Cambridge, England, another ancient seat of learning, where the pavements are as congested as the roads and the traffic noise is deafening. The contrast with less densely populated Sweden was thought-provoking. One Square Inch of Silence is a thought-provoking book. It makes you listen to the world with different ears and question the inevitability of the background cacophony you take for granted.

Gordon Hempton describes himself as a Sound Tracker and acoustic ecologist, a term and a vocation he invented for himself. The book recounts a three-month journey in his collectors'-item blue 1960s Volkswagen camper (affectionately referred to throughout the book as the "Vee-Dub") from his home in Joyce, just west of Seattle in Washington State, to "the other Washington." En route he recorded the noise levels in cities and in supposedly quiet places in the National Parks and wilderness areas in between. Journey's end came with a hundred-mile walk from Williamsport, Maryland, along the C & O Canal National Historic Park to Washington. There Hempton and Grossmann had set up a series of meetings to lobby the Director of the National Park Service, the Environmental Protection Agency ...

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