Why Have Cars Turned So Mute?
What's the meaning of sound, I wonder. A signal of precedence, or a response to an interaction? It could mean joy, a fortunate emotion to feel more of the things around us. Sound is seemingly palpable to touch, if not only sensed by one's ear-drums. Running our hands through the kitchen in the morning, finishing a dozy walk after stumbling out of bed, breakfast at the ready.
Rustling bed sheets, the click of the door handle, footsteps abound, coffee brewing, toast simmering, bacon and eggs crackling on a pan. You can feel it, can't you? Not just your ability to hear, but to feel those microscopic vibrations and sensations running through your body, an oscillating force resonating through a solid medium of air. It's more than just sound, that's our sensory emotions talking to us, and it's tingling.
What's In A Sound?
Credits to: Ahmed Kamal - Behance | Imagine if all cars were silent, like this GIF. You're making 'vrooming' sounds, aren't you.
Auditory pleasure is something that we might be taking for granted these days, especially in automobiles. Again, and again, regulations are impending to account for the "harms" of driving, by emissions, or excess noise. Cars need to be quieter, so it may not disturb others. Cars need to be cleaner, so it may not harm our Mother Earth. All very important, but what have we suffered as a consequence? More importantly, how come we have willingly traded this loss, sometimes for other, more dangerous forms of enjoyment?
Imagine listening to music through a pair of high-quality headphones. Sitting in your room in its lonesome, comforted, and devoid from the rowdy disturbances of the outside world. Just you, and the music exist in this world now. Notice how you can discern each single tone, separating the musician's pitch, and being able to hear all the individual instruments being played out. It's as if you were the one there on that stage, creating music.
The peaks on the highs, the clear mids, and the thumping lows. You can feel the difference between a pianist running their fingers along the keys, or the guitarist plucking away at the strings. Then, there's all the excess background noise to add imperfections. The vibrations of the drum stands, the subtle breathing of an exhausted musician, wire and cords shuffling around, or the microphone being swayed from side, to side. They were not meant to be in the song.
Credits to: Kirokaze Pixel - Behance | Enjoy this scenery for a moment. Can you hear the rain pitter-patter on the windows, the footsteps on the sidewalk, or the slashing of the dagger?
Yet, all these sound make up for a wholesome listening experience, and each single tone, as hushed as it may be, adds character and builds a connection with the world around it. Now, repeat the same song again, but this time, fold a handkerchief in half, then putting that between you, and the headphones. It doesn't sound as good anymore, does it? That same muffled aural sensation is now happening to the cars we love. But what's the reasoning as to why cars are sounding dull these days?
For one thing, the need to curb emissions have forced carmakers to install particulate filters, helping to catch most of the harmful gases and pollutants that exits a car's exhaust. Then, there's the need for cars to become more fuel-efficient, where we're seeing the need for engine capacities to downsize. Compensating for the lack of power, more performance can be added on demand with forced-induction, with turbo- and super-chargers creating miracles by compressing air into a now atmosphere-rich combustion chamber.
More air, means more explosions, equals to added grunt. Though just like adding a particulate filter, there's just another layer for sound to dissipate away. More disappointingly, cars are more than just exhausts, as there is far more machinery at work here. There's mechanical noise, such as the sounds of the engine working, firing banks of cylinders hundreds of times every minute. Then, there's induction noise, created from 'howl' of a supercharger, or the 'whoosh' of a turbocharger's waste-gate.
Credits: Youtube | Two humble performance cars - an Alfa Romeo 2000 GTV, and a Honda Civic Type R. The Type R might be 50 years younger, and with x2.5 times the horsepower, it sounds meek in comparison.
How about all the other bits and pieces that you interact with, crisscrossing between auditory, and tactility in feel? The crispness of changing gears, either the 'thump' of slotting a stick-shift, or the solid 'click' of paddle shifters. How about the faint 'clunking' of pedals beneath your feet, or the clickety 'clicks' of buttons and switches. These are very simple things, but add them all up, and it rewards you with a wholesome driving experience, even under the most mundane conditions.
Carmakers dull the sound of an exhaust because that's simply a cause and effect, but it happened in such a dramatic fashion because we allowed for it. We stopped caring, and when they took it all away, we hadn't cried far enough. More power, we asked. More tech, we wanted. We traded-in the aural and tactile pleasures in cars, for the sake of gimmicks.
Why does one need Alexa, eBay, Netflix, or video games in a car, presented on large displays that smudge themselves with fingerprints. Must we contend with 'beeps' and 'boops', magnified by faux haptic-vibrations, constantly begging for attention, as our phones do? Are those graphics, and vibrant colours not distracting? Are they not only dangerous and impractical, but worth the sensory pleasure?
Credits to: CarThrottle | So, phone calls, texting, and drinking are distracting drivers, you say? Is a 49-inch screen not as distracting? Why do you even need this much information?!
Of course, I'm typically old-fashioned. Perhaps, despite my best attempts to write this in a more objective manner, I've allowed for my biases to come into play. Yet, I can't accept the fact that cars, a complex machination in motion, has been forced to wear a gag. I want ceiling fans, vacuum cleaners, and blenders to keep quiet, not cars. How can my senses feel the pleasure of driving, when I'm travelling soundlessly at 300 kilometres-per-hour?
Can you enjoy music with muffled headphones, or treat your savoury glands with vegan-ised pizza? It works, but it's not just the same, is it? Automobiles need their own voice, so let them cry, roar, howl, or chirp as they please. In our near future, I fear they are becoming unjustly mute, and we are turning gratuitously deaf.
Credits to: Kirokaze Pixel - Behance | Here's hoping our grandchildren's flying cars will sound good. Still, silence is better than some punk revving the nuts off his Lamborghini, anyways. Bloody annoying.