Event Report: “Air pressure” symposium (ain’t just noise pollution)

Manchester Climate Monthly’s prolific volunteer Laurence Menhinick attended a recent symposium. Here’s her report.

Symposium: Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS), Air Pressure
Thursday 5 January 2012, Whitworth Gallery
The symposium, organized by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, followed on from the Air Pressure exhibition (on at the Whitworth until 12 February 2012). Three distinguished guests took part: Professor Kozo Hiramatsu, Japan’s foremost acoustic scientist and UK president of the JSPS, Professor Rupert Cox, from the Department of Social Anthropology at the University of Manchester, and Angus Carlyle, sound artist and Reader at the University of the Arts, London.( who unfortunately arrived late as trains had been disrupted by track damage due to the winds).

[I must add at this point that having registered through the gallery’s website for the event, where no mention whatsoever was made of the second day (6th January) hosted by the School of Social Sciences at the University of Manchester, I completely missed the rest of this very comprehensive and relevant event because by then it was too late for me, which means that I was *mighty* annoyed!!]

Anyway, the presentation at the gallery’s theatre was attended by a mixed crowd, which included delegates from Japan who had travelled to Manchester specifically for the symposium. Professor Rupert Cox started the proceedings with an introduction to the artistic Air Pressure project and its unusual format – observing that other environmental events in Japan (Hiroshima, the Minamata mercury poisoning) have also been depicted in a similarly artistic and cinematographic fashion. In the case of the Narita Airport, two working (organic!) farms operate on the airport in the line of runway B (with only access trough underground tunnels) in what was the village of Toho. The exhibition lets us experience the different sounds and levels of noises on the premises. One of the targets of the exhibition was to turn very comprehensive and scientific data relating to sound levels and health effects into something the general public could understand and relate to. The usual unit measuring aircraft noise levels per day at a given location is the WECPNL ( Weighted Equivalent Continuous Perceived Noise Level) – this has a complicated formula based on acoustic measurements, but Professor Cox related the acronym to the interaction between human life and location such as for instance:

Weight – from the violent protests to the heavy concrete walls surrounding the farm
Equivalent– 104 sound monitoring stations but the levels experience by the local farmers has no equivalence anywhere.
Continuous –perpetual aircraft noises, but also the rhythm of seasons
Noise: the loudest events take place when taxiing occurs – and descending planes pass only 80m over the farm.

Professor Kozo Hiramatsu carried on with an introduction to what aircraft noise means. Drawing from the WHO “Burden of Disease from Environmental noise” publication, and studies by Professor Matsui et al. in Japan and Europe, he listed the known effects of noise pollution: cardiovascular diseases, cognitive problems especially in children, sleep disturbance, tinnitus, hypertension, “annoyance” (stress to you and me- effects vary from one individual to another) and low birth weight, with a noticeable increase in births under 2.5kg. According to data from the studies in Japan, road traffic noise presents a higher death risk than asbestos and even HIV!

One of the problems of the current statistical measurements is that the noise level is averaged over 24hrs – in other words, averaging noise level + number of events over a day is not good enough to show the impact of single events at the time they happen.[ think of sleep disturbance: it is not so much the fact that only 10 planes go past your window in 8 hrs that counts but the impact on your sleep of 10 disturbances!]

Professor Hiramatsu also explained that there is a historical angle to aircraft noise on some Japanese localities – on Okinawa for instance, airfields and plane noises have a direct link with WWII, especially relating to US bases, which adds to the individual perception of aircraft noise for the locals. However, the farmers in Toho are staying because of the links they have with their land – two generations have worked on this farm, creating it from scratch after being relocated after the war and it is now part of their family history: they do not want to be relocated again.

Finally Angus Carlyle took to the chair to give a sound and vision tour of Toho, and its contrasts: steel fences and concrete walls, metal grids and watchtowers but also 50 types of crops, poly-tunnels, chickens and trees. Sounds on the farm, although dominated by airplanes landing and taxiing are surprisingly varied: insects, birds, secateurs, ploughing, packing, rain and wind. The recording and rendition of these sounds were a challenge especially when it came to isolating them and balancing them in the Air Pressure installation – the goal being to provide an experience of the farm, not make a documentary, but this too has its limits since relentless regular aircraft noise cannot be experienced fully on a 10 minutes film. The installation is not the only work the team has produced– there are also an artbook with CD and research papers already, but further work may follow such as a feature length film.

Altogether this event was very interesting ( although I couldn’t stay to the concert that followed) – having listened to the explanations I (and several attendees) couldn’t help re-visiting the installation immediately to take better notice of the details of the film, and found the jet engines even more deafening than at my first visit. Transcribing scientific research into art is an interesting exercise, and I do believe noise pollution is particularly suited to a transposition into art form – and because it is a lesser “popular” pollution in the media despite its links to other types of pollution, and because of the very real and serious health implications, it is high time the issue was brought to the public’s attention.

Laurence Menhinick

Further reading:
The researchers involved in the project are Professor Kozo Hiramatsu, Professor Toshihito Matsui, Dr. Rupert Cox and Angus Carlyle.

Angus Carlyle’s blog about Air Pressure

Map of Toho site (Google map)

The research was funded by a Wellcome Trust Arts Award

About manchesterclimatemonthly

Was print format from 2012 to 13. Now web only. All things climate and resilience in (Greater) Manchester.
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1 Response to Event Report: “Air pressure” symposium (ain’t just noise pollution)

  1. Noise pollution, as well as being a argument against the expansion of the Airport, was one of the reason I put forward against the MMU Birley Fields campus. With roads being closed, and the increase in Student and Staff numbers, noise and traffic pollution, will have a detrimental impact on the health of Hulme residents. The Council, just as with the Airport dismiss the argument, even when backed up with peer-reviewed research, which shows noise has a negative health impact. I do not need to go the art gallery to learn about noise, as I have lived near Manchester Airport and Kai-Tak airport.

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