In common use, the word noise means unwanted sound or noise pollution. In electronics noise can refer to the electronic signal corresponding to acoustic noise (in an audio system) or the electronic signal corresponding to the (visual) noise commonly seen as 'snow' on a degraded television or video image. In signal processing or computing it can be considered data without meaning; that is, data that is not being used to transmit a signal, but is simply produced as an unwanted by-product of other activities. In Information Theory, however, noise is still considered to be information. In a broader sense, film grain or even advertisements in web pages can be considered noise.
Noise can block, distort, or change the meaning of a message in both human and electronic communication.
In many of these areas, the special case of thermal noise arises, which sets a fundamental lower limit to what can be measured or signaled and is related to basic physical processes at the molecular level described by well-established thermodynamics considerations, some of which are expressible by relatively well known simple formulae.
When speaking of noise in relation to sound, what is commonly meant is meaningless sound of greater than usual volume. Thus, a loud activity may be referred to as noisy. However, conversations of other people may be called noise for people not involved in any of them, and noise can be any unwanted sound such as the noise of dogs barking, neighbours playing loud music, road traffic sounds, chainsaws, or aircraft, spoiling the quiet of the countryside.
For film sound theorists and practitioners at the advent of talkies c.1928/1929, noise was non-speech sound or natural sound and for many of them noise (especially asynchronous use with image) was desired over the evils of dialogue synchronized to moving image. The director and critic René Clair writing in 1929 makes a clear distinction between film dialogue and film noise and very clearly suggests that noise can have meaning and be interpreted: "...it is possible that an interpretation of noises may have more of a future in it. Sound cartoons, using "real" noises, seem to point to interesting possibilities" ('The Art of Sound' (1929)). Alberto Cavalcanti uses noise as a synonym for natural sound ('Sound in Films' (1939)) and as late as 1960, Siegfried Kracauer was referring to noise as non-speech sound ('Dialogue and Sound' (1960)).
In audio, recording, and broadcast systems audio noise refers to the residual low level sound (usually hiss and hum) that is heard in quiet periods of programme.
In audio engineering it can also refer to the unwanted residual electronic noise signal that gives rise to acoustic noise heard as 'hiss'. This signal noise is commonly measured using A-weighting or ITU-R 468 weighting
Electronic noise exists in all circuits and devices as a result of thermal noise, also referred to as Johnson Noise. Semiconductor devices can also contribute flicker noise and generation-recombination noise. In any electronic circuit, there exist random variations in current or voltage caused by the random movement of the electrons carrying the current as they are jolted around by thermal energy. Lower temperature results in lower thermal noise. This same phenomenon limits the minimum signal level that any radio receiver can usefully respond to, because there will always be a small but significant amount of thermal noise arising in its input circuits. This is why radio telescopes, which search for very low levels of signal from stars, use front-end low-noise amplifier circuits, usually mounted on the aerial dish, and cooled with liquid nitrogen.
Uses of noise
The use of loud noise can serve as a deterrent, to ward off unwanted animals and humans. One example of noise used specifically as a deterrent occurred in 1998, when actress Barbara Streissand and actor James Brolin had large external speakers set up outside of a tent that they were married in, from which very loud heavy metal music was blared outward from their location, in order to ward off journalists and papparazzi.
- The Way They Were People Magazine, July 20, 1998.
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- Guidelines for Community Noise, World Health Organization, 1999
- Aercoustics Engineering Limited. Consultants in Acoustics, Noise and Vibration
- Audio Measuring Articles - Electronics
- Mohr on Receiver Noise: Characterization, Insights & Surprises
- Fundamentals of Electrical Noise
- Noise voltage - Calculation and Measuring of Thermal Noise
- Noise at work European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA)