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I am not interested in writing about the deafening kind of noise that causes irreversible damage to the human ear. Nor in the wide range of sounds that you can hear outdoors, like the roar of surf, birdsong, or wind. What interests me far more is that elusive category in-between. Ranked highest among the sounds I find most unpleasant are: compulsive and demonstrative finger-cracking in libraries, and the high-pitched squeal of feedback from PA systems. Others can be driven insane by a dripping faucet, or even a ticking alarm clock, elevator music or in-store Muzak — noise that we have to hear whether we want to or not. My neighbor owns an admittedly quite attractive hunting dog that is genetically hard-wired to bark incessantly, or so she tells me. Why she has to keep this dog in the middle of a city is beyond me, but that’s beside the point here.

If you think you fall into the category of noise-sensitive people, you are in good company. It is known, for example, that Proust’s smoke-filled study, which doubled up as a bedroom, was completely soundproofed with cork. Hypersensitivity to noise doesn’t automatically qualify you to write masterpieces. But the renowned Frenchman knew how to tap his remarkably acute perception to be extraordinarily, even enviably prolific. Noise, in his opinion, was a kind of assassination of the senses. However, his labored breathing was beyond his control. Luckily, it was so loud that it not only drowned out the sound of his quill, but also the construction work being carried out on a bathroom a story above him.
More… “The Art of Noises”

Bernd Brunner writes books and essays. His latest book (in German) is When Winters Were Still Winters: The History of a Season. His book Birdmania: Remarkable Lives with Birds will be published by Greystone Books in 2017. He is a fellow and nonfiction resident of the Carey Institute for Global Good in Rensselaerville, New York. His writing has appeared in Lapham’s Quarterly, The Paris Review Daily, AEON, TLS, Wall Street Journal Speakeasy, Cabinet, Huffington Post, Best American Travel Writing, and various German-language newspapers. Follow him on twitter at @BrunnerBernd.
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For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by skyscrapers. A poster with the skyline of Manhattan graced the wall of my childhood bedroom. And I belong to the slowly disappearing group of people who have gazed upon New York not only from the Empire State Building and the Rockefeller Center, but from the viewing platform of the vanished World Trade Center too.

Now a spectacular new project is underway in Switzerland that immediately drew my attention: a skyscraper in the middle of the mountains. The location is the village of Vals, in the canton of Graubünden. Even in multilingual Switzerland, Graubünden is remarkable: with native speakers of Swiss German, Italian, and Romansh, it is the country’s only trilingual canton. This spot in a beautiful arm of the Anterior Rhine valley is home to about 1,000 people. Approximately the same number of sheep are said to live there as well, but perhaps that’s just a rumor. The planned building will be 80 stories tall and soar 1,250 feet into the sky. That’s 23 feet higher than the Federation Tower in Moscow – which currently qualifies as Europe’s tallest building – and exactly as tall as the Empire State Building minus the antenna. However, a building now planned for St. Petersburg will come in at over 1,312 feet, reclaiming the top spot for Russia. Of course, all these structures are small potatoes compared to the world’s tallest building, which boasts 2,722 feet and is located in Dubai.
More… “The Tower”

Bernd Brunner writes books and essays. His latest book (in German) is When Winters Were Still Winters: The History of a Season. His book Birdmania: Remarkable Lives with Birds will be published by Greystone Books in 2017. He is a fellow and nonfiction resident of the Carey Institute for Global Good in Rensselaerville, New York. His writing has appeared in Lapham’s Quarterly, The Paris Review Daily, AEON, TLS, Wall Street Journal Speakeasy, Cabinet, Huffington Post, Best American Travel Writing, and various German-language newspapers. Follow him on twitter at @BrunnerBernd.
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