Budd Davisson, Jan, 1995

The Noise to Fun Ratio

If it's okay with you, I'd like to float a question out there into the readership hinterlands just to see how far off-base one of my favorite theories is. The question is: How many of your more enjoyable activities have a degree of noise attached to them?

The theory is that, for certain personality types, there is an unspoken ratio between noise and fun. You can't have one without the other.

Okay, so I could be full of bovine effluent. But let's think about it for a minute. If you decided my fertilizer content is off the meter, was it because your own particular taste doesn't run towards noisy activities? If you agree with me, are you addicted to throwing yourself into things that make noise? In some cases, lots of noise?

I long ago realized there's a major part of me and my tastes that part of society judges as being a little on the vulgar side and noise seems to have something to do with that. I don't mean I'm vulgar in the sense of being in bad taste (usually) it's just that I'm not overly loaded with finesse and the things I love to do reflect that . And I bet I'm not alone.

I'll give you some personal examples and you can come up with some of your own at the same time.

For years I thought sailing (on water) is one of those skills I should know something about. I've always viewed the skill as finding a fine balance between nature and technology, carefully balancing the two to finely tune the exhilarating result. Then I was given the opportunity to help crew a large sailing yacht between a couple of the Hawaiian islands. The golden sun was basking me in a delicious warmth. The salty air danced in my hair. And all that other poetic stuff.

But I was bored silly. They patiently explained the finer points of sail rigging, of tacking, of being at one with the vessel. I even spent some time on a Hobey Cat and got some instruction. But it wasn't working. It wasn't me.

About the same time I was introduced to the smaller, three-point hydroplane classes. Same media (water), different propulsion system (lots of horsepower). The first time that thing shot up on the step and I found myself skipping sideways through a turn, jockeying the throttle and listening to the hollow roar of the hopped-up outboard, I was home. What a rush!

I had a similar experience in flying sail planes. I truly love the feeling of freedom and of cheating gravity. But, again, it isn't me. I'm forcing a fit. When I'm flying a sailplane I feel as if I'm putting a tuxedo on over dirty underwear and trying to pass for something I'm not.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not putting down the finer concepts like sailing, or gliding. It's just that I appear to be a bit too vulgar for that kind of thing. I can appreciate Pavarotti, but I'd much rather listen to Eric Clapton or B.B. King. I love the lines of a 1936 Pierce Arrow, but given the choice, I'd rather have a '29 highboy roadster with a nasty sounding small block in it.

What's the difference? What makes one fit and the other feel like sandpaper underwear?

Certainly one of the differences is the sound track that comes with each. The lovely (and generally raucous) noise each generates is important. Try to imagine a P-51 with the sound of a C-152. Think about a NASCAR race with mufflers! Try to imagine the opening scenes of Top Gun with Vivaldi or Mozart in the background as opposed to Kenny Loggin's pounding out "Danger Zone."

And maybe that's what we're actually talking about here...the background music attached to what we do. Going one step further, maybe we're discussing our personal definition of music itself. Sorry, I didn't mean for this to get so philosophical.

One definition of music could easily be "enjoyable noise." There's absolutely no doubt there are lots of folks who can hear a Merlin moaning along overhead and hear it as nothing but noise. But there are lots of others who hear that 12-cylinder song as the purest of symphonies.

And, like a song, we learn the lyrics and melodies so clearly we can identify them in an instant.

Not long ago, we were standing out in the desert just packing up after an afternoon of goofing off and far out over the mountains I heard the sound. Without giving it a second thought, I knew exactly what it was. I didn't even lift my head from the car's trunk and said to The Redhead, "...T-6s, two of them..."

A few minutes later two beautifully restored AT-6s rumbled overhead tucked in tight formation. The Redhead looked at me and I just grinned.

How did I know they were T-6s? Better question: How could I NOT know they were T-6s? They are as identifiable as Whitney Houston going for a high note or Glenn Miller doing "String of Pearls." You just know.

It is the same kind of instinctive identification that we use when we hear a highly-tuned V-8 fire up and automatically know when the compression is well above 11:1. Or we recognize the flat crack of an M-16 from the resonating boom of an M-1. We just know.

But, the whole world doesn't know that. The whole world doesn't have a repertoire of noises rattling around insides their heads that they catalog and instinctively recognize. Why is that? Why is it that a certain group of us hear certain types of sounds and immediately know not only what it is, but connect some sort of meaning to them?

My personal theory is that we attach importance to knowing and understanding those noises because we've included them in our personal definition of music. The old saying, "'s music to my ears..." obviously has a basis in fact.

It's not that the specific group of personality types we're discussing can't have fun without noise. But it seems to make it so much more enjoyable.

Yes, there are lots of things that make no noise and are fun. I just can't think of one right now.