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AC/DC’s music is noise pollution, study claims

AC/DC's Angus Young © REX/Shutterstock

Researchers at an American university have put AC/DC’s claim that ‘Rock N’ Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution’ to the test.

A team at Mississippi State University’s Department of Biological Sciences and Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Aquaculture exposed ecosystems of lady beetles, aphids and soybean plants to rock music, country music and more conventional urban sounds to test the effects of noise on an environment.

As part of the study, AC/DC’s seminal 1980 ‘Back In Black’ album – which contains the track ‘Rock N’ Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution’ - was played to the ecosystems on repeat for two weeks solid.

Other music played to the ecosystems included albums by Lynyrd Skynyrd, Willie Nelson, and Guns N’ Roses, while the urban sounds included jackhammers and car horns.

The study in progress © Brandon Barton

The test results found that when exposed to AC/DC, other rock music and urban sounds, lady beetles became less effective predators, which resulted in higher aphid populations and lower biomass for soybean plants.

Conversely, country music was show to have no detrimental effects on the ecosystem during the experiment.

Brandon Barton, Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences at Mississippi State University, who led the team of researchers, admitted that the results were difficult to swallow as an AC/DC fan.

“It was hard on us,” Barton said. “We hate to disagree with AC/DC. We don’t think it’s noise pollution, but the lady beetles do. That’s an important distinction.

“Obviously we’re having fun with this experiment and testing the AC/DC hypothesis, but really what we wanted to also show was that sound pollution or anthropogenic sound affecting one species can then effect multiple species in the food web.”

Barton wrote in a piece for The Conversation: “When the plants were grown without music, the predators reduced aphid density to nearly zero.

“As a consequence, the plants grew strong and healthy in the absence of their pest. In contrast, when plants were grown with ‘Back in Black’ blaring, the lady beetles did not control aphids and the pests’ population size was more than 40 times larger than in the silent condition – from an average of about 4 aphids per plant to more than 180.

“As a consequences of high pest abundance, the plants in music treatments were 25 percent smaller.

“While others have shown that noise pollution can have direct effects on organisms and alter their predation rates, our study uniquely demonstrates that these effects can cascade throughout a food web.”

Concluding his post, Barton said: “As fans of AC/DC and rock music, we sadly must disagree with the band and concede that rock ‘n’ roll is noise pollution, at least for lady beetles. Of course, rock music is not really a threat to ecosystems. But because loud music is similar to other real-world instances of noise pollution such as the hum of snowmobiles and the buzz of drones overhead, our results serve as a proof-of-concept that sound pollution can have pervasive effects throughout an ecosystem.

“What about AC/DC’s other hypothesis, that “rock n roll ain’t gonna die?” As rock lovers, we’re happy to report there’s no evidence to contradict that one.”

Mariah Hodge, who co-authored the paper, said: “AC/DC is not something I listened to all the time. I’m a big country music fan, so that’s why we decided to try country music. However, my music was not noise pollution. Maybe country music is the way to go.”

The research team dedicated the study to AC/DC legend Malcolm Young, who passed away when the paper was in progress.  

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