Horrible noises

What really is the worst sound in the world? The ex-wife calling you on your mobile phone when you are out at The Roxy with that rather attractive brunette from Trondheim?

Fingernails scraping down a blackboard, the scream of a baby, or the ex-wife calling you on your mobile phone when you are out at The Roxy with that rather attractive brunette from Trondheim. What really is the worst sound in the world?

It may sound like torture, but BadVibes is a new science project masterminded by the academia at Salford University to find out just that.

People can log on to the BadVibes website at http://www.sound101.org where they listen to and vote on a collection of awful sounds, use the horrible sound mixer and even download horrible sound effects as ring-tones.

But as Professor Trevor Cox from the University’s Acoustics Research Centre explained, there’s a serious side to the research as well.

“The idea behind the project is to get people thinking about the complex way we listen to and interpret sounds. For instance, you can find out why we find the sound of retching horrible,” he said.

“By examining people’s voting patterns we will learn more about people’s perception of horrible sounds. We hope to learn what is the worst sound in the world, and maybe why it is the worst sound. This is important because noise significantly affects our quality of life.”

Researchers at a University in the UK town of Salford (left) could shed some light on whether the worse sound in the world is the ex-wife calling you on your mobile phone when you are out at The Roxy with that rather attractive brunette from Trondheim (right).

As if this wasn’t horrible enough, an exhibit for the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester is being produced in addition to the website.

This horribly noisy work is funded by none other than the EPSRC. As readers may know, the EPSRC is the main UK government agency funding research and training in engineering and the physical sciences, investing around £500 million a year in a broad range of subjects.

Having eagerly lapped all this up, I’m sure you’ll be desperate to click right off to the Badvibes web site to vote for your favourite horrible sound. I’ve already been there myself, but to my astonishment I couldn’t find the specific horrible sound that I was looking for.

And what might that be, I hear you ask? Well, it’s the sound of academics cashing checks involving large amounts of tax-payers money to fund projects of somewhat dubious merit. Don’t get me wrong, though. I’m not saying that applies here. (Of course not. – Ed.).

Dave Wilson