Humans are an odd species. A few weeks back I was enjoying a cup of coffee at a footpath table, outside a café in a small shopping centre. A vehicle pulled up nearby, sound system absolutely thundering. The car stopped, doors and windows open, and somebody ran into a shop. They obviously weren’t going to be there long.
The music was a slow 4/4 beat with burping low-frequency bass, topped by vocals that seemed to consist mostly of aggressive shouting.
The issue was less the genre (which I believe was gangsta rap) than the way it was being played. The driver had turned the volume up to the point where the bass set the speakers buzzing. One of the reasons drivers do this is physics. It takes half a wavelength for any frequency to reach maximum amplitude. Thirty hertz, which is about the frequency of the bass notes this guy was pumping into the street, has a wavelength of 11.46 metres at sea level. This means the bass has to be whacked right up if it’s to be heard in the car (amplitude is low, but total volume is high). And anybody more than about 5 or 6 metres away gets the full force. What’s more, it stays audible over distance. Whereas the higher frequencies attenuate quickly. That’s why all passers-by can hear from these cars is the bass.
However, the main motive these drivers have for whamming their amps to 11, as far as I can tell, is that soaking an entire street with 100+ decibels is the human equivalent of gorilla chest beating – a declaration of presence and an assertion of power over anybody who shares that mind-set.
It didn’t take long for one to turn up. It was a busy shopping centre with cars coming and going. A minute or so later, another vehicle arrived across the street, parked, and a passenger ran into a shop. The driver also got out and – after a moment or two – began nutting off at the vehicle with the sound system – shouting, ranting and demanding to know if they were loud enough. He obviously felt very, very threatened.
I was waiting for the fight to start. Instead his passenger returned and the driver left. A minute or so later the occupants of the car with the burping sound system departed, in the other direction.
It got me thinking. Humans are the most violent species this planet has produced. We live in crowded communities. And when people explode with anger merely because they’re threatened by somebody else’s sound system, I have to wonder. How many other people are going about their everyday business primed and with their anger waiting to explode at the slightest nudge?
Oh – and how do you think I’d go if I tried the same trick with Swedish Synthpop Death Metal? (Yes, it’s a thing).
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2021