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Skills We’ve Developed

The deaf community and electric vehicles

This is a letter to The New Yorker from Madan Vasishta of Ellicott City, Maryland, writing in response to John Seabrook’s recent article about sounds for electric vehicles. The key issue is the matter of the “skills” developed by the hearing impaired. The ability of the deaf to safely navigate streets is not a refutation of the importance of car sounds; it’s an affirmation of the fact that being a pedestrian isn’t a neutral state. It requires effort, attention, and experience. This letter appeared in the magazine’s September 12, 2022, issue.

I read with great interest John Seabrook’s article about making sounds for electric vehicles, or E.V.s (“On Alert,” August 8th). Although I learned much about how these soundscapes are made, I was disappointed that Seabrook did not mention the deaf and hard-of-hearing communities. The million deaf people in the U.S. typically cannot hear internal-combustion-engine vehicles, or even their horns — yet we manage to survive! Silent E.V.s put the public in the same precarious situation that deaf people have been in since the automobile was invented. Perhaps our perspectives, and the skills we’ve developed to protect our lives, could usefully inform the work of those thinking about the future of E.V.s — as well as heighten the awareness of anyone encountering these cars.

Originally published in a special, experimental September 16, 2022, edition of the This Week in Sound email newsletter. Get it in your inbox via tinyletter.com/disquiet.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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  • about

  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website Disquiet.com in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media

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  • My book on Aphex Twin's landmark 1994 album, Selected Ambient Works Vol. II, was published as part of the 33 1/3 series, an imprint of Bloomsbury. It has been translated into Japanese (2019) and Spanish (2018).

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