A Siren's Song
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A Siren's Song
Sound Bits
Recent and Ongoing Projects

“Square in your ship's path are Sirens, crying beauty to bewitch men coasting by; 
woe to the innocent who hears that sound!” 

by Homer in The Odyssey

A Siren's Song

I live on a busy street. My house sits roughly between three hospitals - all with helipads and emergency rooms. That's good for me if I have a really bad day, but my poor cat thinks wolves are after her whenever someone else is having a really bad day. I'm talking about the incessant sirens going up and down my street. And they seem to be getting louder – they penetrate my windows and brick walls with even more ferocity than ever before. It turns out that I'm not imagining this, because some emergency vehicles are now employing something called "low frequency system," or LFS. I call it "Loud F*@#$%^& Siren."

In addition to the regular high yelp of a siren, you may have noticed a lower yelping sound that seems to penetrate your car and go straight through your chest. That emergency vehicle has a secondary siren system that emits powerful omnidirectional bass tones from about 200-400 Hz. In this range, sound is "felt" more than heard - up to 200 feet away. These frequencies can penetrate auto glass and metal, wood and brick buildings, and human flesh and bones.

The sellers of these types of sirens call them "intersection clearing" devices. They didn't make them just for fun, there is a real need for something to gets more attention. We live in a world of super-quiet cars, people with earbuds playing music loudly, pedestrians hunched over their phones while walking into fountains, and general inattentiveness. City dwellers in particular have learned to tune out the pervasive sirens that scream past them daily. There have been countless accidents, some fatal, at intersections while an emergency vehicle is on a Code 3 run. Police and fire departments are continually searching for solutions that make emergency runs efficient and safe for everybody, but it's an uphill climb.

This latest solution of using enhanced low frequency sounds is not without its controversy. Opponents complain of ever increasing noise pollution. They also bring up the lack of legislation regarding the use of LFS. For instance, many police and fire departments that are purchasing the LFS units are small towns without the traffic problems of big cities. People who live or work in cities that employ LFS sirens are subjected to particularly invasive sounds while inside a building, even on the 20th floor.

And these loud and low tones aren't just an annoyance, they can be harmful to your health. says "The intense sound caused by the [LFS] siren easily triggers an involuntary stress response commonly known as 'fight or flight.' This results in the secretion of adrenaline, with ensuing spikes in cardio-respiratory rates, muscle tension, and elevated blood pressure."

But let's not forget about the police officer or ambulance driver who is sitting on top of this thundering klaxon. At ten feet away, roughly the length of a pick-up truck, these sirens emit a powerful 123 dB-SPL. Let me put that in context for you. If you were standing at the goal line of a football field and a jetliner took off 65 yards away, you probably wouldn't notice that the jet was slightly louder than the siren because you would be screaming in agony from the pain. Makers of these LFS sirens don't recommend users subject themselves to more than ten seconds of the bone rattling sound, so they usually build in a failsafe cut-off time of the tone. But once it ends, nothing stops the operator from sounding it again and again.

Clearly, there needs to be more engagement between the public agencies and the public they're supposed to protect. An effort to educate both the protectors and the protected will only help everybody in the long run. These LFS sirens are getting the attention of people in the way, but at what cost? Will their overuse cause heart attacks, panic attacks, or deafness? If people then start to ignore these, will the police come up with something even louder? Like something that goes to 11?

Sound Bits

Audio in the News

Kittens, Kisses, And Razorblades: Behind Star Trek's Iconic Sounds

Early electronic music is at the core of many of these classic sounds.
Read it on


Grossly Under Representated

According to Soundgirls, women make up only 5% of the audio engineering workforce. Let's change that.
Read it on

Now you can get a Master's Degree in Game Audio

Beginning in September, online music school Think-Space Education, in partnership with the University of Chichester in England, will begin the first online master’s degree programs to focus on the field of game music and sound design.
Read it on

PBS NewsHour Mics with Sanken

And so do we! Sanken lavalier mics have become the gold standard in film and TV for clarity.
Read it on

Recordings of tiger sounds aim to help save wild population

Tigers use a grunt-like snort called chuffing as a greeting, short roars for intimidation and long roars to find mates. Researchers are now trying to use those and other sounds tigers make to help protect and boost their population in the wild.
Read it on

Leonard Bernstein Gives a WOW Lecture on Music Development

Check out this lecture on music development to students at Harvard. For us music majors, it took us years to learn what he boils down in 5 minutes.
Watch it here

Watch a Record Being Made

I'm not talking about the recording studio, go behind the scenes in a factory!
Watch it on YouTube

R50 Portable Bluetooth Speaker Looks Like a Vintage Microphone

I want one of these! The R50 portable Bluetooth speaker looks like the legendary microphone from 1950s, delivering a vintage look along with nostalgic feel.
Read it on

Watch the Voiceover Recording for an Ice Cream Ad Go Horrendously, Comically Wrong

I have...ahem...engineered sessions similar to this. If you're in the business, this will make you cringe and laugh at the same time. Director Tim Mason's "No Other Way to Say It" is about an amusingly bleak voiceover recording session for an ice-cream commercial.
Read it on

Recent Projects

  • "Acre", an audiobook by J. K. Swift. Narrated by Brad Wills
  • Live radio interview with UK professor and author Carolyn Finney for Minnesota Public Radio's "Tom Weber Show." The topic was about getting more diversity in America's National Parks. Download the podcast here. (MPR, Minneapolis, MN)
  • Red Mile radio (Team Cornett, Lexington, KY)
  • Claiborne Farm TV soundtracks for sires War Front, Algorithms, and Flatter (Studio 34 Productions, Lexington, KY)
  • "Burgers Chicken Floats" TV soundtracks for A&W Restaurants (Team Cornett, Lexington, KY)
  • Location audio recording with Santa (in blue!) and UK coach John Calipari for Paul Miller Ford (Post Time Studios / Zipie, Lexington, KY)
  • Soundtrack for live presentation to Fayette County Public Schools employees featuring John Cole as Frederick Douglass (FCPS, Lexington, KY)
  • Keeneland Branding TV spot for the China Market (Keeneland, Lexington, KY)
  • "Press Conference" radio spot for San Jose International Airport, San Jose, CA
  • "Steps Challenge with Coach Stoops" radio for UK HealthCare  (Team Cornett, Lexington, KY)
  • "Let's Make a Deal" TV soundtrack for Kentucky Lighting (Logical Marketing, Lexington, KY)
  • Soundtracks for University of Kentucky student recruiting videos  (Team Cornett, Lexington, KY)

In Production

  • "The Iron Knight" an audiobook by Kathryn Le Veque. Narrated by Brad Wills
Copyright © 2016 Dynamix Productions, Inc., All rights reserved.

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