What’s the most annoying sound in the world? Some might reply it’s fingernails on a chalkboard, someone vomiting, their ex’s snoring or Nickelback.

In a recent Gizmodo article exploring the question, a professor of audio arts suggested that a far more important question was why we find certain sounds annoying, and offered an interesting argument about a connection between noises we don’t like and an “underlying natural beauty” of the universe.

The resulting suggestion was that perhaps we should make a point of listening to music we don’t like if we want to understand life better.

“The ‘most annoying sound for a human’ is a surprisingly evasive concept that depends not only on who the human in question is, but also on that person’s circumstances and emotional state,” said Florian Hollerweger of Columbia College Chicago. “I think of it as a beautiful testimony to the raw emotional power that sound commands over us – not only on the negative end of the spectrum, but also with regards to that most beautiful of sounds: music.”

He noted that changing circumstances and emotions applied to music as much as natural sounds - “the same strong reliance on context explains both the ‘ugliest’ as well as the ‘prettiest’ sounds.” To Hollerweger, that was evidence that both good and bad sounds are “really just two manifestations of a larger underlying natural beauty, which we humans can become a part of and nurture (through music, for example), but which ultimately exceeds the value judgements that we can’t quite seem to be able to do without.”

The experience of his research, Hollerweger said, was that “one human’s ‘most annoying sound’ may well form the basis of another’s most precious music,” echoing the timeless principal that one person’s food is another person’s poison. He suggested that we could learn more about ourselves and others by trying to work out more about our own tastes.

“Perhaps once a COVID-19 vaccine is widely available, you might want to attend an experimental music concert near you, to see which of these two groups you belong to ... or whether there is room in between," he said. "British composer Trevor Wishart, for example, created a stunningly complex and highly recommended piece of music entitled ‘Imago’ from a single clink of two glasses.”

You can try Wishart’s ear test below. Meanwhile, Nickelback’s back catalog is also on sale.

 

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