The synthetic sounds of the future! Zing!

Anthony Creech
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Am I crazy?

Don’t answer.

Sometimes, while driving safely down the highway, I’ll feel like a whirlwind is whipping past my face and then test the window and door to see if they’re accidentally left open.

Usually they aren’t, its just standard car-noise, and I’ll wish I was driving whatever friend's car I’d been in that raised my low-car-noise expectations too high.

And my car is a 2007, not an ’87.

Cars used to be much louder. Too loud.

We’ve had some great guys on a mission for some time now to erase all the noise from driving vehicles (some vehicles like tractors and such could cause some serious long-term hearing loss).

Some guys were busy trying to make their engines louder, to impress the friends at the drag strip and cause old ladies to drop their canes in the crosswalk.

I love the loud engine of some old muscle cars, before I’m driving it longer than a few minutes of engine revving and high-speed antics. Normal driving should sound like I’m strapped into a space shuttle, no matter how fun it is on occasion.

Today, apparently some folk feel like the cars are too quiet, and now inside cars like the BMW M5 (yes, I own a couple, just for kicks) actually play fake (recorded) engine noise through the car's stereo speakers.

The noise in the BMW M5 (no, of course I don’t own one) is connected to the engine. As you rev the engine or accelerate away from your crying ex-girlfriend, the car stereo will be playing all the fake bark and roar that you'd be missing from the now-silent driver's seat through the speakers. You’ll feel like your in Dukes of Hazard again.

BMW says its Active Sound Design system can faithfully reproduce the engine sound over the entire range of RPMs, torque loads and vehicle speeds. Their system’s so closely connected with the ECU that BMW has even matched it with the various power-train settings. Sport or Sport+ modes also get simulated audible boost to go with their performance boosts.

The bad news? You can’t turn it off. Apparently right now the only way to shut it off is to disconnect the car’s amplifier, thus losing other car-audible settings and announcements.

So, Honda is busy beefing up its noise cancellation tech to make the ride more quiet, and BMW is putting the engine sound back in the car. Fun.

We often make advances in technology and then think we need to “bring back some of that lost awesomeness” instead of embracing the new.

We see this in electric cars, that have some added fake sounds like the M5, and some, like Audi’s gorgeous essentially silent e-tron electric models, make new sounds entirely.

Audi’s new “e-sound” makes your electric car sound not like the engines of old, but like futuristic cars from movies. They had a Hollywood sound designer use synths and any odd thing to create a “sound” for the car, heard both inside and outside the car.

The idea is that a car you can hear is safer for pedestrians and more fun to drive.

I surely want one, if only to feel like I’m in the movie Demolition Man with Wesley Snipes (does he still make movies? zing!).

I also sort of cringe at this news. Isn’t this a bit like adding hoof-noises to the early automobiles, to keep the “awesome sounds” of the buggy?

Maybe.

And maybe we need sounds to feel the silence.

Or maybe our highways could be a whole lot quieter, like they were before the automobile.

It would certainly be a welcome change in my home state of California.

Moose Jaw should worry about the noise of your car slamming against the ground due to the string of potholes they pretend to call streets (you know them as rivers of snow and ice in the winter), well before engine noise.

Zing!

P.S. I need someone with an M5 to give me a ride in your car, for testing purposes, and to discuss the hazards of owning such an expensive car in a province dedicated to winning the Guinness Book or World Records for having roads longest left to fall apart due to entropy. They are currently only behind Tibet and Iraq, but one more year should suffice.

Double Zing!

P.S.S. You know, even with all this car sound stuff said, I guess I should confess that my engine is so quiet that sometimes I turn the key when it’s already on and must suffer that horrid screech-crunch sound of attempting to start an already-running car. Stupid wonderfully quiet engine.

Anthony Thomas Creech, MFA, is a filmmaker and lecturer on media, faith, and filmmaking is the program co-ordinator for the Media Arts minor at Briercrest College & Seminary. You can find him at thecreechleague.com.

Organizations: Briercrest College Seminary, BMW, Media Arts

Geographic location: California.Moose Jaw, Hollywood, Tibet Iraq

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