I sleep in a very basic, low-to-the-ground bed with a wood frame.
The other morning while still half asleep I felt a faint vibration that shook the ground and reverberated up through my bed. It was accompanied by an equally faint booming noise, like claps of thunder off in the distance. I dozed off again, until…
Boom. There it was again. This time a bit louder. I could swear the sound was leaking through my closed window, even traveling through the walls, two of which form the corner where my bed sits.
As I became fully awake, I realized the rumbling was coming about once every minute. Wait – hold on…no. There was another one just seconds later. And another one ten seconds after that.
“What the hell is that?” I wondered. Heavy machinery? A pile driver? Here in the suburbs? Not likely.
Earthquake? Uh…hello — this is the eastern seaboard. Wrong geography.
A bomb? Did China, or maybe North Korea and that troublemaking chubby walking heart attack of a dictator finally find a way to lob a missile all the way to the east coast? With world events these days, who knows anymore.
Those distant but audible thuds continued throughout most of the morning. It wasn’t until later that I remembered, and I figured out the culprit: Picatinny Arsenal! Of course!
If you are from the suburbs of Morris County, northwest New Jersey, you’ve heard of Picatinny. If you haven’t, this verbiage from the website will explain it for you:
Picatinny Arsenal is the Joint Center of Excellence for Guns and Ammunition, providing products and services to all branches of the U.S. military. Nestled in the northern New Jersey Highlands, our team of more than 6,000 personnel includes Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, U.S. Federal employees and contractor personnel who lead in the research, development, acquisition and lifecycle management of advanced conventional weapon systems and ammunition. Picatinny’s portfolio comprises nearly 90 percent of the Army’s lethality and all conventional ammunition for joint warfighters.
Yeah, that’s right…ammunition. More specifically, mortars. And howitzers. And landmines. And all kinds of other dangerous stuff that goes “BOOM.”
And it’s ten miles due west of my house.
Every so often Picatinny conducts munitions testing, detonating live devices in the field on their sprawling military base. So strong are some of the explosions that they can rattle the ground ten miles away – yes, right under my bed.
Although thankfully not a common occurrence, the Picatinny blasts are just one of the characteristic sounds found here in my corner of the world. There is also the droning of engines from low flying planes overhead – including the large commercial airlines – courtesy of periodic changes to flight paths to and from Newark Liberty International Airport, some 30 miles from here.
Occasionally the urgent wail of a siren pierces the tranquil stillness, as another ambulance speeds toward the emergency room of the local hospital a few blocks away. In the spring and summer crews of landscapers infiltrate the neighborhood like occupying troops, armed with all manner of lawn mowers, hedge trimmers, saws and other motorized contraptions that kick up a cacophonous racket. In the fall, those same crews invade again, this time brandishing perhaps the single loudest, most impossibly annoying and awful of human inventions: the leaf blower. The sworn enemy of anyone seeking a little peace and quiet. Ever hear three of them going in the same yard, about 50 feet away? Infuriating.
Mr. Leaf Blower Man, how I detest thee.
Another distinctive part of the soundscape: the crickets. As dusk falls, thousands of them chirp away into the night. And as mid-summer turns to fall, their mating call only grows louder. If your window is open, it’s inescapable, and even if it’s closed the sound, while sufficiently muffled, lingers. God forbid even a lone cricket gets in your house – forget about trying to sleep.
To the normal north Jersey suburbanite, all this fades into the background of everyday life. People get used to it, and they adapt to these minor audio micro-assaults.
But not me. I’m constantly tuned in to the environment around me, trying to anticipate where the next unwelcome interruption may happen. I neurotically obsess over it. Why? Because I have to.
Let me explain.
Each and every one of these sounds easily picks up on my hyper-sensitive cardioid condenser microphone – the one that I use to record my voice. My mic is so sensitive that it catches the sound of the fan from my computer across the room, if I don’t enclose it in its specially modified soundproof cabinet. It also picks up the heating/air conditioning unit and the air it pumps through the vent in the ceiling, and it senses the whirring motor of the old refrigerator down the hall. Similarly, it registers the toilet flushing or water running through pipes, although those are on the other side of the wall. It hears an obnoxiously loud family member overprojecting and bellowing into his cell phone several rooms away, or slamming a door, or even watching TV at a high volume. The sound waves carry through the same air conditioning ductwork, directly into my room.
That’s why I’m often found on the other side of a sealed, tightly closed door, behind a set of industrial strength mass loaded vinyl/fiberglass sheets, next to thick drywall reinforced with Roxul “Safe and Sound” rockwool and lined with multiple sound-absorbing blankets from Audimute. It’s all part of my ongoing quest for SILENCE. My room and booth are rigged specifically to ensure quiet. It all looks awkward, and I often act like a paranoid madman in my endless pursuit of a noiseless space, but it sure does get the job done.
This is my Blue “Baby Bottle” cardioid condenser mic. This sucker hears it all.
Such is the burden of a voice talent working from his home studio. Preventing unwanted noises such as these from seeping into my recordings becomes Priority #1. Lose this battle, and lose business. Clients expect and demand a clean, dry recording of your voice….AND ONLY YOUR VOICE. No thuds. No bangs. No echoes. No fans, motors, rotors, engines or pistons. No static or buzzing or beeping or humming or barking or chatter. Anything in the background effectively ruins everything. On this there is no compromise.
This isn’t unique to just me. I network with voiceover talents around the globe; that dreaded “noise floor,” as we call it – ambient room noise – is the common enemy we all fight daily, jumping through all kinds of hoops to convert our spaces to pristine soundproof zones. Ah, blissful, perfect silence – that’s our holy grail, our Nirvana.
But are we the only ones obsessing over this? Do we have company now?
I wonder: in an era of increasing “work from home” arrangements – remote work – are others now “noise neurotics” too? Post-pandemic many companies are demanding employees return to the office at least part of the week. But what about those who have settled into their new digs in their cozy home offices? Have they noticed yet this unique quirk/drawback of working remotely? Do they care? Does it break their concentration when a municipal crew down the street runs a screaming chainsaw to cut tree limbs, and then feeds them to a wood chipper? Does an important Zoom meeting where they’re presenting to clients get ruined because the next-door neighbor decided it’s a swell idea to fire up his leaf blower at 2 in the afternoon on a Tuesday?
Welcome to my world.