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Fans blow vuvuzelas at a World Cup match in Durban, South Africa. (AP)

Top Four Tricks To Drown Out Those Droning Vuvuzelas

Jun 18, 2010

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For those of us following World Cup coverage, it's tough to get through a day's news without someone talking about those vuvuzela horns blown by thousands of fans at each match. Everyone's got their favorite metaphor for describing their sound - mine is a swarm of giant, referee-eating wasps - and most seem to embrace the notion that the sound of the vuvuzela is, well, as annoying as an orchestra of dentist drills. Officials have debated whether to ban them and players blame them for mistakes on the field - and all the while, the fans keep blowing them.

With that in mind, here's my list of ways to drown out the vuvuzelas from your World Cup experience.

Blast Some Guns N' Roses. While watching the World Cup a few days ago I couldn't help but having flashblacks to late 80s metal shows filled with clove-smoking, fake ID-toting teens wearing overpriced black concert t-shirts. It then occurred to me that the note emanated by the vuvuzelas - a B flat, it turns out - is the opening note to GN'R's "Welcome To the Jungle." Apparently I'm not the only one to notice this, including blogs like The Awl and One Great Season, which noted "I imagine Slash, or 50,000 Slashes, producing this note throughout a game without ever moving on to his terrifically descending guitar riff that kicks off the song before Axl Rose rejoins with his unmistakable banshee cry."

If you don't believe us, play the song while watching a World Cup match, and the vuvuzelas will be brought to their shu-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh knees by Slash's opening guitar riff. It certainly adds a whole new dimension to the matches, but it also means that you have to play GN'R incessantly until the cup ends next month. Decide for yourself whether or not it's gonna bring you down. (Huh!)

Use The Magic Of Audio Engineering To Wipe Them Out. Because vuvuzelas are tuned to bleat out a B flat fairly consistently, it didn't take long for some audio geeks to figure out ways of reducing their impact using equalizers and audio filters. One of these methods is demonstrated by the folks at Lifehacker, who were kind enough to put together this video demo:

They also have a useful post about a downloadable audio filter that does the same trick.

Imagine Alligators And Black Holes Consuming Your Least Favorite Team. While searching for songs in the key of B flat, I stumbled upon an 2007 NPR story by Robert Krulwich on some of the curious properties of that particular note.

For example, it turns out that if you play a B flat in front of an alligator, it'll start to bellow back at you. According to Krulwich, this peculiar phenomenon was discovered in the 1940s, when the New York Philharmonic visited the American Museum of Natural History:

During rehearsal, somebody played a note that upset a resident live alligator named Oscar. Oscar, who'd been in the museum on 81st Street, suddenly began to bellow. Naturally, with so many scientists in residence, an experiment was quickly devised to see how to get Oscar to bellow again. Various musicians — string, percussive and brass — were brought to Oscar to play various notes. It turned out the culprit was B flat, one octave below middle C.

While there aren't any alligators in South Africa, there are crocodiles in the neighborhood, and one has to wonder if anyone's bothered to blow a vuveleza in their direction. Perhaps we should leave that experiment for Krulwich, or perhaps the guys from MythBusters.

Meanwhile, astronomers discovered sound waves emanating from a black hole in 2003 - and the sound waves turned out to be B flat, 57 octaves below middle C. Unfortunately, that's a million billion times lower than you or I could hear. (As for the alligators, you'd have to ask them.)

So if you're unable to adjust your equalizer or tolerate Guns N' Roses, using your imagination might tie you over for a little while, especially if you try to picture alligators and black holes consuming whatever team you happen to hate the most.

Suck It Up And Simply Watch More World Cup Matches Until They Begin To Vanish On Their Own Accord. Okay, this one is perhaps the most counterintuitive way of dealing with vuvuzelas, but think about it. Given the fact that they're essentially a constant drone, vuvuzela blasts are almost like white noise. If you simply get over how annoying they are and start concentrating on the game again, you'll probably notice them a lot less.

And apparently, we're probably wired to do just that. According to research published in the European Journal of Neuroscience in 2005, rat brains contain "novelty detector neurons" that focus on new or novel sounds, which in turn help them ignore ongoing sounds.

"It is probably a good thing to have this ability because it allows us to tune out background noises like the humming of a car's motor while we are driving or the regular tick-tock of a clock," University of Washington researcher Ellen Covey explained to LiveScience.com. "But at the same time, these neurons would instantly draw a person's attention if their car's motor suddenly made a strange noise or if their cell phone rang."

She added that similar neurons appear to be present in all vertebrates, including humans. So as long as people playing those vuvuzelas keep blaring them so often that it comes across as a consistent note, eventually you'll hopefully start to ignore them. Yes, it's a bit of a Jedi mind trick, but as the bard once said, "Hear or hear not - there is no try."

Got any other tricks to banish vuvuzelas? Let us know about them in the comments.

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