Low-frequency noise and urban space


  • Bruce Johnson Macquarie University




auditory physiology, noise pollution, popular music, urban architecture


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.

Author Biography

Bruce Johnson, Macquarie University

Bruce Johnson’s current research lies in acoustic cultural history and the role of sound in the emergence of modernity. A jazz musician, broadcaster, record producer and arts policy advisor, he was prime mover in the establishment of the Australian Jazz Archive, and is co-founder of the International Institute for Popular Culture based in Turku. His recent publications include (with Martin Cloonan) Dark Side of the Tune: Popular Music and Violence (2008), and an edited collection Earogenous Zones: Sound, Sexuality and Cinema (2010). Adjunct Professor, Contemporary Music Studies, Macquarie University Sydney; Docent and Visiting Professor, Cultural History, University of Turku; Honorary Professor, Music, University of Glasgow


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How to Cite

Johnson, B. (2010). Low-frequency noise and urban space. Popular Music History, 4(2), 177–195. https://doi.org/10.1558/pomh.v4i2.177