Low-frequency noise and urban space

Bruce Johnson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Investigation of the sonic environment of the contemporary city suggests that there is a profound dissonance between the profile of contemporary popular music and the physical character of the urban built environment itself, resulting in living conditions that are in significant respects rebarbative. Central to this problem is the increasing presence of low-frequency noise (LFN) in the urban landscape in general and in popular music in particular. Concerns about noise pollution have grown rapidly since the late twentieth century, manifesting themselves in the actions of private lobby groups as well as in government environmental policies. LFN pollution, however, has been largely camouflaged under questions of volume. In fact, the usual systems of measurement of noise pollution are largely ineffective for LFN, which also has its own distinctive aetiology which produces serious trauma and even death. The proliferation of LFN trauma appears to be the fastest growing component of noise pollution. This paper explores LFN, why it is so distinctively threatening to wellbeing, why it has only recently become so pervasive as to have generated its own proliferating research literature, and why it is such a prominent problem in the convergence of the modern city and contemporary popular music.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)177-195
Number of pages19
JournalPopular music history
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2009


  • auditory physiology
  • noise pollution
  • popular music
  • urban architecture


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