Boxing the mNAP (a mobile Noise Abatement Pod for raising awareness of the effects of noise pollution)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Department Name: Edinburgh College of Art

Abstract

This collaborative project - involving a composer, architect, community-building project manager / development scholar, film maker, electronics engineer and graphic designer - aims to draw public attention to the levels of noise pollution in Indian cities, with a particular focus on Delhi, which is now considered one of the top 10 mega-cities in the world. Building on work undertaken as part of the UnBox Labs in Ahmedabad, India, in February/March 2014, it aims to raise people's awareness of the problem of noise pollution. Whilst peace and quiet are essential to rest and recuperation, city traffic and other noise pollution can deleteriously affect human health by raising blood pressure and heart rate, disturbing sleep, and causing hearing loss or in extreme cases deafness.

We propose the building of an experimental device, the mobile Noise Abatement Pod (mNAP). This device, a soundproof box on the back of a pedal-powered bicycle rickshaw, will be used as a 'social condenser': an object that will attract attention in its own right; will invite participants to comment on their experience of it and their desires for the sonic landscape of the future of their city; and will act as a container for people to immerse themselves into the soundscape of contemporary life in both rural and urban contexts (and thus from quiet to loud) in order to raise awareness of the disruptive effects of high levels of noise.

Through online and other documentation, through presentation at the UnBox Festival in Delhi, and by offering the sound installation and mNAP designs online, we hope to leave a legacy that will inform and energise other organisations and groups to campaign for a quieter, more healthy environment in other cities around India and the world.

Planned Impact

We are planning to raise awareness of the damaging effects of noise pollution. In order to make the project as impactful as possible, we will use the box with a particular set of user groups. Rather than targeting random passers-by, we will be targeting key spaces and key groups within the city of Delhi. We have identified these key groups as city planners, policy makers, officials from the auto-rickshaw companies, labour union members who are exposed to these damaging levels of noise day-in, day-out, as well as journalists. Participants from these key-groups are likely to have an exponential multiplying effect when it comes to spreading knowledge of the project, the damage caused by noise, and potential actions that can be taken. Our local contacts will help establish further contacts within these groups and individuals, as well as other key contacts during the run-up of the project. The potential knock-on effects of something that could, on first sight, be considered a small-scale one-off aural-spatial experiment are therefore substantial.

Economic: By raising people's attention to the deleterious effects of noise pollution, our goal is the creation of a more peaceful and healthy environment in which to live and work. The economic benefits of this to society at large - through increased productivity in a more concentration-friendly environment - are not to be underestimated. By inviting city-planners to experience these levels of noise in our installation, we anticipate that their experience of the noise can be used to catalyse different, more people-friendly designs.

Social: The social benefits of a quieter and more acoustically attractive and inclusive environment are enormous. Not only will the negative health impacts of noise pollution be ameliorated but a quieter environment will support more concentrated work and social interaction (Schafer 1993).

Cultural and/or policy impacts: Our project supports extant noise abatement policy found in several countries around the world. Noise levels in many parts of India and the rest of the world already surpass safe and desired limits for urban living. The project will raise awareness of this problem through targeting representatives of those groups who are most exposed to it (e.g. auto-rickshaw drivers); work towards integrating policy and actual practice; and serve to point to new areas of policy development and/or a more widespread uptake and sympathy for noise abatement policy in general. The cultural impact is at least twofold: 1) as we are making an artistic/cultural artefact, we are inviting participants to experience a tactile, physical intertwining of musical and architectural design; 2) as so many cultural activities rely on concentration and acoustically neutral space, improving upon existing noise pollution levels will actively and very concretely improve the working and exhibition/performance lives of many artists and practitioners of various disciplines.

In this context, our fieldwork needs to be considered as part of our dissemination strategy and forms a crucial part of the impact of this project. Whilst it is outside the remits of the project to follow up how the experience of the noise composition might lead to certain actions, we anticipate that participation in the experiment will have a lasting effect on individuals and their professional conduct. We also anticipate that key participants will lend their support at the project's official launch during the Unbox Festival in November 2014. Videos of the project in both contexts will be globally available via youtube. These will be available collectively on a website dedicated to the project. This will promote the existing installation, the values and goals of noise pollution abatement in general, as well as forming promotional material for the potential further installation of the project in different contexts around the world.

Publications

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Title mNAP 
Description The stereo piece I made for this installation used recordings I collected at various locations in and around Delhi from 30/11-4/12/2014. I used these recordings exclusively to make the piece: no other sound files, synthesised or otherwise recorded, were used. The piece was mixed during an intensive three-day period in my hotel room in the Jangpura Extension area of Delhi. This was by no means quiet or ideal. In fact, the traffic noise outside the hotel often blended in with similar sounds in the recordings; this was quite confusing at times. But noise was reduced considerably for both myself, when mixing, and for participants, when listening, by using Beyerdynamic DT770 closed-back headphones (the piece was mixed for and on these mid-range cans). The recordings were made with a Zoom H6 using OKM II in-ear microphones to create a binaural recording. The microphones that come with the H6 are perfectly decent but can't compete with the OKMs for bass response; neither do they provide the 3D listening experience that the OKMs create when positioned in the ears during recording. Several participants commented on the strong sense of 'being there'-sometimes to such an extent that they lifted the headphones off their ears to confirm whether or not they were hearing sound from outside the mNAP. IMG_3726 OKM II in-ear microphones were plugged into a Zoom H6 digital sound recorder. Of course I make no claim to be using the best equipment available here. All of this gear can be had for up to a few hundred-rather than thousands of-pounds at the most. An unessential and completely challengeable point perhaps, but I found it attractive to make the piece on and for the kind of equipment that other groups in India and elsewhere might be able to source and use for their own version of this project. 
Type Of Art Composition/Score 
Year Produced 2014 
Impact Inclusion at Unbox Festival 2014, Delhi, India 
URL https://sites.eca.ed.ac.uk/mnap/