Our last post together, we talked about ears. Now, we’re going to talk about what goes into ears.
The Q-Tip, or ‘cotton swab’, was originally created in the 1920s by Leo Gerstenzang by attaching pieces of cotton to toothpicks. The name of this product was trademarked as ‘Q-tip’ later in its existence; however, its original name was ‘Baby Gays’.
Wait, hang on? There are no Q-Tip themed superpowers? There goes my plan. We’ve got to talk about something else.
More specifically, audiokinesis – the ability to make, amplify, or nullify sound waves. In comic books, this could be used for everything from mind control to unconsciousness. There’s not many comic book characters around that have this ability; we’re going to talk about only two: Shriek. That is to say, Shriek from Marvel Comics and Shriek from DC Comics. And they’re supervillains!
Marvel Shriek was created relatively recently, first appearing in 1993 in a Spider-Man Comic and definitely looking like a rock band groupie. She’s definitely considered a supervillain: she operates with the Carnage Gang. Her backstory isn’t incredibly cheerful, but it’s a little vague as to how she acquired her powers. She was shot in the head and, apparently, the doctors missed some pieces while putting her head back together. Other potential origins include drugs or her momentary stay in a dark dimension. Theories abound! She has a few other powers besides audiokinesis; however, in terms of audio, she can manipulate sound to confuse her enemies, use it as a physical projectile, or inspire feelings of intense emotion. Much like music itself. Without the physical projectile part.
Now, DC Shriek initially appeared in a cartoon, not a comic. At first, he was only in Batman Beyond, an animated show that premiered in 1999. He was a sound engineer and owner of a sound laboratory, but after bankrupting his company and being persuaded by the decidedly more evil Derek Powers, he fell into villainy. He doesn’t really have any powers, but he built a suit capable of four sound-related abilities. He can project low-frequency vibrations, a sound nullifier, a sound amiplifier, and use sound-waves as a weapon.
First, let’s start off with what sound is, exactly. Got to listen to a kitten squeak before a tiger roar.
Sound travels in the form of waves. A wave, technically speaking, is a disturbance that goes across a medium. The medium can be mostly anything (although we’ll be thinking of it in terms of air), but think of it as a series of particles that interact with one another. If one is displaced from its location, the next particle will also be pushed or pulled, and so on through a medium. Let’s use a super-villain example. Imagine a bunch of people standing very closely together in a room. Give one a solid push forward, and they’ll probably bump into and move the second person, and the second person will bump into the third person, and so on.
Now, let’s talk about different kinds of waves and how they relate to sound. Sound can be classified as three different types of waves, and you already know one of them! Mechanical waves are waves wherein a disturbance is transmitted through a medium using particle-to-particle interaction, AKA what we learned a few scrolls up!
Let’s focus on the direction of the wave. Sound waves are classified as longitudinal. Go back to our pushing people example. Say they’re all standing in a row on the floor. Push one forward, they fall into the next, like dominoes. Can you see how the energy transport is horizontal – that is, along the floor? Because the energy transport is parallel to the displacement (the floor is parallel to the falling people), the waves are longitudinal.
Finally, pressure waves. For this ones, all you need to know is that sound waves have points of high pressure and low pressure because they’re produced by a vibrating object. This makes them a pressure wave.
This is all really cool and all, but we’re talking about supervillainy here. How can we do some really evil stuff? How do we steal candy from babies, kick puppies, tear the ‘do not remove’ tags off mattresses? Is it even possible to cause pain with sound?
As always, the answer is a vague hand gesture and an ‘eh’.
Infrasound is defined as something that is below 20 Hz. Humans can hear down to 12 Hz. For comparison, human voices can range anywhere from 80-250 Hz. Nails on a chalkboard is about 3,000 Hz. So, infrasound is very, very low stuff.
There were a couple of incidents that involved infrasound and the result on the human body. One woman was working in a ‘haunted’ Warwick laboratory and saw a grey figure coming at her. Later, she found a fan was emitting infrasound at 19 Hz: get ready for this, the exact frequency when your little eyeball starts vibrating, an event which could easily cause her to see something. There’s also some evidence that infrasound disrupts sleep. One study projected infrasound at a concert, and a significant portion of people reported feeling uneasy or anxious after. Not exactly death and despair. But it’s pretty cool anyway, because a lot of people think ghost sightings can be chalked up to infrasound.
But we want supervillainy. We want a Shriek & Shriek double team of evil. So if low frequency can’t do it, how about volume? Can something be so loud that it can kill someone? Can high frequency kill someone?
The problem, of course, is that it’s not actually feasible. You can burst your eardrum at 160-185 decibels (a jet engine is around 140 decibels, for comparison). I’ve seen numbers saying that a blast of about 200 – 210 decibels is enough. However, at that volume, you’d probably have more luck hitting someone up the head with whatever sound emitter you’ve got on you. Currently, the loudest speaker system in Europe, the LEAF system, can generate over 150 decibels – granted, that’s still pretty dangerous, but they’ve got a dozen safety procedures to go through so nobody gets that blast. Not to mention that it’s not some handy-dandy pocket product. It’s an entire facility.
So, fortunately, portable death sound guns are a long way off. Sorry, Shriek Squared.
Q-Tip History, inventors.about.com
Marvel Shriek –
Shriek Biography, marvel.com
DC Shriek –
Shriek biography, comicvine.com
What is a Sound Wave? –
Mechanical Wave, physicsclassroom.com
Pressure Wave, physicsclassroom.com
‘Haunted’ Warwick Building, skepdic.com
Infrasound and Sleep Results, link.springer.com
Voice Frequency, livescience.com
Concert Hall Infrasound, smh.com.au
Wind Turbine Noise on Workers, worldscientific.com
Loud Volume –
Could a Sonic Weapon Make Your Head Explode?, popsci.com
LEAF Sound System, dailymail.co.uk