We are sure that you have at some point in your life just wanted to get away from all the noise, escaping to a place where you are left with only your thoughts, hopes and dreams.
That place does exist, and I have been there. But I can tell you with the utmost of confidence that it is a horrible place to find yourself.
As part of a small media contingent from around the world, I was a guest of Microsoft last week, privileged enough to tour around its Redmond campus.
One of the stops that we made between sessions was to Building 87 (or B87) for short. The grey exterior of the building does no justice to the awesome work that gets done inside. That seems to be a bit of a recurring theme with the tech giant, as buildings often look boring but house some amazing projects.
In any case, B87 is the base station for Microsoft’s Hardware Lab, where prototypes are designed and tested, and where concepts are perfected before being made into retail-ready products.
Needless to say, no photography was allowed inside.
One of B87’s many rooms is the Audio Lab, where anything to do with sound is tested, retested and analysed.
“It takes a lot of effort to shield these rooms from noise, which is why we have rooms within rooms,” explained Erik von Fuchs, senior director of engineering.
Developing audio products is an exact science, and Microsoft needs to have the ability to track and rectify the minutest sounds in all of its products – which is why it contains the world’s quietest room.
Known as an anechoic chamber, it is so effective at dissipating each and any noise, that it has the potential to make you go insane. Think of it as noise-cancelling headphones, but in the size of a house.
Stepping into the heavily padded room, I felt like ears were closing up the same way that air pressure would make them pop in changes in altitude.
Even when people are talking inside the chamber, you can sense that something just isn’t right.
Von Fuchs then asked everybody in the chamber to be as quiet as possible.
In total silence, my ears started to ring, which is slightly disconcerting and somewhat worrying – as there is nothing to cause the ringing. If you close your eyes, the feeling is intensified and you can become nauseous.
The ringing in my ears, von Fuchs explains, is essentially my brain trying to keep me alive. With no sound whatsoever, my brain concocted the ringing as I was suffering from sensory deprivation.
The room has been certified by Guinness World Records as the quietest room in the world, so it is no wonder that I felt a little bit uneasy on my feet just before we left.
It is also said that the record for someone who stayed in an anechoic chamber the longest is 45 minute (in Orfield Laboratories in Minnesota), and I completely believe that.
I have done some weird things in my life, but being in Microsoft’s anechoic chamber definitely ranks up there in the top 10.
There really is no way to effectively describe what your mind goes through when inside, only that it could possibly drive you insane in the pursuit to normalise what is going on around you.
To put it in perspective, adults breathe at 10dB and rustling leaves clock in at 20dB. Microsoft’s anechoic chamber has the lowest sound levels ever recorded at -20dB, and the only thing quieter is Brownian Motion, the movement of particles in a gas or liquid.
So in theory, with sounds levels of -20dB you should be able to hear the blood pumping through your head.
At a cost of $1.5 million, its construction wasn’t easy. The chamber is isolated from the rest of the building’s foundation, and the lighting and air systems are housed outside the walls to prevent any noise pollution. Oh, and there is no floor. People who enter the chamber can’t wear anything with heels, as you walk on a mesh-like material.
I wonder what band practice would sound like?