Pink Noise; or, Thank you, Jonathan Franzen

by jbloodwell

A while back I wrote about reading Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom: A Novel. In another instance, I talked about how Franzen described a program, “Eigenmelody,” in The Corrections: A Novel (Recent Picador Highlights)
that seemingly “came true” later, in the form of the technologies used by music sites like MOG and Pandora.

Anyway, I’ve decided it’s long overdue that I should praise/publicly thank Franzen for tipping me off, in the pages of Freedom, to “pink noise.” During a train ride, the (book’s most interesting) character (in my opinion), Richard Katz, puts on a big pair of headphones and listens to “an iPod full of pink noise,” thereby drowning out all the noise around him. I don’t have the book in front of me so I can’t quote it, but Franzen—quite clearly a low-level science geek—slips in a quick description of what pink noise is. (A technical treatise on it, featuring more info than you’d care to know, is here.)

For months now, I have been using an hour-long pink noise track to drown out all kinds of irritating background noise. I use it mainly at work, where I share an office. It has made a huge difference, and is incredibly effective at muffling all sorts of sounds. On the first or second day of my using it, the telephone, about three feet from my head, began to ring, but I didn’t notice until I caught the phone’s flashing red light in my peripheral vision.

Anyway, putting aside all its literary merit, Freedom was well worth reading for the discovery of pink noise alone. So, though you will never read this, Mr. Franzen, thank you.