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Hunt for the worst sound

London, Nov. 14: For some, it is the sound of fingernails scraping on a blackboard. For others, a crying baby, the trill of a mobile phone or the sound of someone retching.

Now British scientists have launched the BadVibes project, a quest to find the world’s worst sound to help shed light on how Stone Age sonic likes and dislikes shaped modern sound preferences.

They hope that ultimately the project will help to make the world a better-sounding and less stressful place.

The project is backed by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and run by Trevor Cox, a professor at the University of Salford’s Acoustics Research Centre.

Cox was a finalist of the FameLab national quest to find new science presenters. Among his many talents, he has shown that the sound of a quack does have an echo and demonstrated how to make a clarinet from a large white radish before an audience.

Cox launched BadVibes at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester and around 30,000 people have voted for their least favourite sound.

People can also log on to www.sound101.org and then listen and vote on a collection of awful sounds.

Among the website’s offerings to offend people of taste and discretion are snores, flatulent outbursts, rows and phlegmy coughs. “The idea is to get people thinking about the complex way we listen to and interpret sounds,” said Cox.

“We hope to learn about what is the worst sound in the world, and maybe why. This is important because noise significantly affects our quality of life.”

Cox said it was not always easy to predict whether someone would be annoyed based on the physics of a sound wave alone. “The boom-boom-boom of your neighbour’s hi-fi isn’t so annoying if you are going to join the party later,” he said.

“If you have control over the noise, it tends to be less annoying. But if you are fearful of the source, then it usually makes it worse.”

A pioneering study conducted in the 1980s found the worst sound was a garden tool scraped across slate.

“This sound is similar to fingernails being scraped down a blackboard,” he said.

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