Now, hear this
May 30, 2001
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PRETTY SOON, what was once considered a clear indication of quintessential calm and contentment, whistling while you work, may be a crime punishable at first offence by a fine of up to $5,000.
Of course, for those who whistle out of key and brutally so, no fine can be too high, although (and the same applies to warblers with precise pitch) the culprits might not know if their trills are being well received or considered annoyingly piercing.
Nor will the fine be applicable purely in public situations. Playing your home stereo at a volume upsetting to neighbours or, for that matter, snoring could also exceed prescribed limits of the new law. In the circumstances, any night you wake up and see a third person in the bedroom, fear not—it could be just the meter man measuring nocturnal noises in a conjugal setting.
Awkward intrusions apart, implementation of the new Noise Pollution Control Rules 2001 (which seeks to replace the relevant section of the Summary Offences Act) is bound to run into a multiplicity of problems.
And what does the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) do? Like good Trinis, the agency immediately rushes out and recruits 25 enforcers, avoiding the logical step of spending first money on an education campaign to sensitise the public to requirements of the legislation.
Sound is measured in decibels (dB), by a science unfamiliar to most normal law-abiding citizens. And those who now need to know cannot stop at rudimentary level, but must understand gradations between the loudness of a ringing telephone (60 dB) and that of a panyard (120 dB); the latter being the new upper legal limit in general areas.
But that is precisely where the trouble starts. No indication is given as to whether the panyard benchmark was decided after measuring the Witco Desperadoes in full flight at rehearsal for the Panorama final, or the Samaroo Jets playing Schubert’s “Ave Maria”; noises that are volumes apart.
Nor do the rules state whether “coasting in the yard”, that seriously irritating cacophony produced by each member simultaneously rehearsing individual parts, rises above 120 dB, or if the bands engine room was treated separately.
Truly astonishing is a provision that allows steel orchestras (or other entities) wishing to remain within the law, to pay a fee (ranging from $150 to $2,500) in order to have an environmental inspector monitor the noise and make recommendations.
We may surmise that every time the musical arranger adds a crescendo, it’s back to the meter man one more time, to find out if that new passage is allowable. Having paid the appropriate fee, a steel orchestra may be allowed “variation permission”. Still, the deal requires that an inspector must regularly visit the panyard to ensure compliance.
Let us conjure up that scenario. Here we are, two nights before the Panorama preliminaries. In the height of rehearsal, a lady wearing an EMA badge is going to boldly enter the panyard, take a reading from a meter and tell the captain to reduce the band’s volume immediately.
But failure to comply could incur a fine of up to $100,000 and bring with it two years’ imprisonment for band and captain, as most of today’s steel orchestras are registered companies and would therefore fall under that section of the law.
Some group of people must be continuously out to lunch, if they see that method as a possible solution to noise pollution in the panyard environment. And if they further think soundproofing rehearsal spaces will solve the problem, then no one at the EMA understands the flavour of our national festival or the culture in which it flourishes.
Something must be equally wrong with legislation that does not fully contemplate the cultural environment in which it is designed to operate. No amount of noise police will get the job done once the Carnival season starts and the people at the EMA should know that.
The more immediate challenge must be to increase public awareness of the deleterious effects of excessive noise. Enough examples exist in the steelband movement itself to convincingly make the point. Several pannists (indeed musicians at large) have suffered irreversible hearing loss from being constantly immersed in the level of noise produced by powerful bands.
By going the route of education first (and may I recommend panyards for a start), the EMA might find it a lot easier to drive home its larger point. That way, enforcers can then confine their pursuits to dealing with the (hopefully smaller) lunatic fringe.
There is no doubt that noise pollution can lead to stress-related medical disorders. But to move from a country that has grown accustomed to clamorous expression, to one in which virtual tranquility prevails, cannot be done purely through parliamentary procedure and policing.
Sometimes just speaking to people (softly, of course) reduces the need for the strong-arm stuff which, if I know this country, will produce a lot more noise than the EMA could ever have contemplated.