Random noises drive you nuts? ‘The Sound of Silence’ is for you09/12/2019
As any New Yorker knows, silence and the city seem mutually exclusive. But in the new sci-fi indie “The Sound of Silence,” two Brooklynites have conjured a man so tuned into the urban hum that he’s made a career of helping other people deal with it.
Peter Sarsgaard plays a “house tuner” named Peter who tracks down and fixes hidden audio sources that might be making apartment dwellers anxious or depressed. When he meets Rashida Jones’ character, he’s stymied when his diagnosis fails her.
So plausible does Peter seem that when he’s profiled in a local magazine, this writer had to look it up afterward to see if such a person and a profession actually existed. (They don’t, at least not yet.)
“He could exist,” director Michael Tyburski, 35, tells The Post. “He’s grounded in reality. It didn’t seem unlikely that someone could turn this into a profession.” In an age when people are willing to spend untold amounts of money for alternative healing methods — jade egg, anyone? — paying a guy to analyze the vibes your toaster is giving off sounds downright reasonable.
‘It’s not that far-fetched to think that certain dissonant combinations could cause an emotional reaction.’
The idea originated with screenwriter Ben Nabors, 37, who lives in Prospect Park South but resided in Washington Heights years ago. Between constant street music and the demonic clanking of his apartment’s radiator, he says, “I was going crazy listening to noise all the time.” He was a Met subscriber who often went to the opera, and the extreme juxtaposition of the two environments “got me thinking a lot about music theory, and the effect of sound on people’s moods.”
Tyburski, a Stuyvesant Heights resident, was also interested in ambient noise.
“Everything does create a sound — I’ve tested this around my home,” he says. “If I have a tuning fork and I hold it up to something that’s buzzing, it will register as a certain key. It’s not that far-fetched to think that certain dissonant combinations could cause an emotional reaction.”
Their theories were echoed in Consumer Reports earlier this year, where a feature analyzed the sounds of popular household appliances, noting that “certain sounds make us feel relaxed. Others — particularly high-frequency sounds or loud, low-frequency ‘thumping’ sounds — annoy us and can trigger stress-producing hormones.” Apparently, refrigerator compressors kicking on are likely to jangle one’s nerves.
Sarsgaard — who in real life is a violinist with “perfect pitch” — makes his way around the city in the film, honing in on its various pitches and moods. Central Park is a happy, uplifting G major, while the Financial District is an A minor, which the house tuner describes as “frenetic.”
“The Sound of Silence” includes real, black-and-white footage of a man recording sounds in Times Square. It’s taken from the archives of a noise abatement commission from 1929. “That was right around the time of the Industrial Revolution,” Tyburski says. “The city was getting noisier. But rather than fixing it, New Yorkers just learned coping mechanisms.”
Tyburski hopes that those who see “The Sound of Silence” will walk out engaged with their aural soundscape. “I would love audience members to be more aware of the sounds around them,” he says. “Controlling them might not be possible, but we can at least acknowledge the fact that these things have an effect on the way we’re feeling.”
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