Acoustics: a Project for the Technological Park

Written by  Roberto Pompoli
Sounds, noises, and silences accompany man throughout life.
In a letter to Lucillus, Seneca offers a lively description of the noisy neighbourhood in which he lived: «I'll be damned if silence is all that necessary, as it seems, for reflection and study. You see, I'm surrounded on all sides by a devilish din: I live right above a seaside resort. You can just imagine the variety of sounds capable of disturbing the ear. [...] Among the sources of the clamour that surrounds but does not distract me I would mention the carts rushing by, the carpenter next door and the blacksmith in a house nearby. [...] I can oblige my spirit to concentrate on itself, without letting it be distracted by external things.

External things may make all the noise they wish as long as there is no internal clamour; as long as desire and fear, avarice and vice do not brawl within me. In fact, if passions rage within us, it matters little if the whole neighbourhood is silent.» Nevertheless, at the end of the letter he concludes: «Wouldn't it better to rid oneself of all this hubbub once and for all? Agreed; that's why I'm going to leave this place. I wanted to put myself to the test but now why should I continue to suffer this torment when there is such an easy remedy, thought up by Ulysses to protect his comrades against the Sirens themselves? Farewell».

Today, the ambient noise that not only irritates us but also damages us physically and psychologically may be remedied by means other than that excogitated by Ulysses. All the industrialized countries are committed to the struggle against acoustic pollution. The European Community intends to regulate the noise emission of all cars and an acoustic certificate will eventually be required.
At the same time it is promoting research aimed at controlling noise emission both in external and internal environments. In Ferrara, under the aegis of the Faculty of Engineering, an Acoustics Department was set up in 1993. The new department offers courses of various levels of complexity in applied acoustics. In the same year the Centre for Noise Studies was established to serve as a watchdog concerned with urban noise levels as well as a research centre and a consultatory body for the control of road traffic noise.

Researchers working in these branches of acoustics are also interested in music, as befits an organization working in an area with a high cultural profile. And so we come to Ciarm, an interdisciplinary centre for research into acoustics and music set up jointly in 1995 by the Universities of Bologna, Ferrara and Padua.

To encourage these activities, certain infrastructures: plans include the construction of an anechoic chamber, a reverberation chamber, test chambers for measuring the acoustic insulation qualities of building materials, as well as other acoustically controlled environments required for specific research. The anechoic chamber is already in the design stage and should be completed by the end of 1998.
In the past, Ferrara was known as the city of silence. In recent years many have learned to appreciate Ferrara as the city of music. It is my hope that in years to come it may become an important reference point for the manifold applications of acoustics.