Hospital Noise

This Element was published in November 2021 by in the ‘Histories of Emotions and the Senses’ series. It examines the problem of hospital noise, a problem that has repeatedly been discovered anew, with each new era bringing its own efforts to control and abate unwanted sound in healthcare settings. Why, then, has hospital noise never been resolved? This question is at the heart of Making Noise in the Modern Hospital, which brings together histories of the senses, space, technology, society, medicine and architecture to understand the changing cacophony of the late twentieth-century British hospital. This Element is fundamentally interdisciplinary – despite being historical, it comes up to the present day and brings in scholarship on space, place, atmosphere and the senses that will have relevance to scholars working outside of historical research. The intersection between medical and sensory histories also puts interdisciplinary research at the Element’s core. The Element is available HERE.

As part of this project’s work on noise, we have also produced ‘These Sounds Save Lives’ with Bristol-based filmmakers Reuben+Jamie and sound designer Jamie Frye. This video shows movement through a 3D Virtual Reality hospital from the perspective of a patient. The hospital’s visual elements are stripped back to focus on its soundscape.

‘These Sounds Save Lives’ (2021) is (c) Reuben + Jamie, available under a CC BY-NC licence.

The film picks up on and explores one of the key themes of the Element: sounds become ‘noise’ for a range of reasons that are not just about loudness, they are also social and emotional. Sounds can be perceived as ‘noise’ because people are scared or uncertain, or when the origin or purpose of the sounds is unclear. ‘These Sounds Save Lives’ invite us to listen to the hospital cacophony in a different way, as sounds of work and care, not just as ‘noise’. Below are some shots from the ‘making of’ the film, which was created using Quill and is running here on an Oculus Rift S headset (featuring – in order from top left to bottom right – Reuben Armstrong, Jamie Neale and Victoria Bates).

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