Human nature and car boom-boxes

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


13 thoughts on “Human nature and car boom-boxes

  1. One neighbour in my previous flat used to get home at any time of day and ramp up his dance music to the max. With thin walls it was pretty obnoxious and I had to confront him about it. After a year of British politeness. The neighbour took it ok and shut up after that.

    There’s that Michael Douglas film that deals with this pent-up anger. Falling Down, from 1993 if I remember correctly. I think a lot of people now use online comments sections to offload their fury.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. They sure do. Or use admin status in Facebook groups as a bully pulpit for the same purpose. Still, when it comes to the neighbours, sound is a definite issue. I have neighbours whose grandkids, aged about 4, can emit ear-shredding, skin-scraping squeals of the exact pitch and volume as a ‘room-clearing’ screamer alarm. Audible through closed doors, windows and a bank of foliage. I have no idea how this is humanly possible.

      Liked by 2 people

        1. I was thinking more along the lines of a device that takes the sound, inverts the wave-form and feeds it back on itself, thus cancelling the noise. If it works for headphones, surely it has to be made to work for this…

          Liked by 2 people

  2. Thanks for the technical explanation, Matthew! We have plenty of these antisocial guys in the UK also.
    Ferrarri sports cars have a similar feature whereby the noise from the exhaust comes at some huge number of decibels, scaring the s… out of passers by.
    I guess there really is some macho gorilla-like beat-your-chest syndrome whereby these guys are driven to unwittingly exhibit their total lack of empathy and social belonging.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Motorcycles too, now I come to think about it – all of which, these days, seem to lack mufflers (I think they can be bypassed – certainly here in NZ there are noise-emission limits for a warrant of fitness.) Definitely falls into the gorilla chest-beating category.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Being hit by the boombox seems to be a global phenomenon, and I have to admit that I’ve been known to indulge a bit myself. But my aggression of choice is opera. 😀 Sometimes I’ll wind down my window and have Turandot blaring. I know, I know, but…c’mon, sometimes you have to challenge the pecking order a bit! 😀

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Opera is an enormously powerful genre – I often think of it as the ‘heavy metal’ of its day, with its colossal orchestrations, bombast and supremely talented virtuoso performers. And in a continuity of the European musical tradition, apparently Euro-metal bands think so too – here’s Pergolesi’s ‘Stabat Mater Dolorosa’, performed – dead straight – at a metal concert in 2013: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nhtOORYTGx8

      Liked by 2 people

        1. They’re all professionally trained musicians – the virtuosity of their performances is simply incredible. The singers knock the pants off the pop artists who rely on auto-tune and producers to sound any good. Brilliant stuff. Floor Jansen is the vocalist for Nightwish, a Finnish symphonic metal band whose work (once again) is operatic, cinematic and entirely in the European musical tradition. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JYjIlHWBAVo

          Liked by 2 people

          1. wow….I was never a head banger but…I LOVE Nightwish! Even more than Epica.
            You, Matthew Wright, are a champion. You’re also absolutely right, no pun intended. 🙂 If opera is to survive into the future, it’ll be young people falling in love with /this/ who’ll carry it forward. I believe trailer music and [some] game music will do the same for classical music. Just wow.

            Liked by 1 person

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