“Boo-ooo-ooo-oom!” The first rocket launched, the sound so intense that I didn’t just hear it as it bounced off of the river and hit me, I felt it! “Hoo-ah!” I exclaimed as my startle reflex took over: my stomach tightened, my eyes widened, my heart slowed (bradycardia), and my body flooded with adrenaline and endorphins… Time stood still as my attention was pulled fully into the here and now… all thoughts, emotions, and expectations emptied from my mind to make room for my heightened senses…
- ~40 ms: time between explosive sound (>80 dBA) and onset of startle reflex
- ~3-8 seconds: Time between firework launch and firework burst
“Cr-ack!” the sky exploded and my entire visual field was suddenly filled with the most beautiful cascade of red light that I have ever seen… Sitting there, in my kayak on the water with the fireworks barges in front of me, the red peony burst above me, and its reflections in the water all around me… It was so intensely beautiful that it overwhelmed my senses and brought tears to my eyes…
- 115 dBA: Sound intensity of Commercial Fireworks (5 lb charge) at 1500 ft
- Most commercial fireworks sound energy is below 500Hz; bimodals spikes in firework sound energy are reported near 50Hz, and near 5.1kHz
- 115 dBA: Threshold for permanent hearing damage
I’ve watched Boston’s 4th of July fireworks before (from the Mass. Ave bridge-back when that was allowed, from the MIT sailing pavilion, and from multiple locations along the banks of the Charles), but I’d never experienced fireworks like this! AND the show was just getting started!!!
“Thu-ump!” another firework launched. As the sound hit me, I was reminded me of the feeling I used to get at rock concerts… dancing in front of the speakers when the music was too loud and the bass was cranked up as high as it could go… the raw power of the sound resonating in my body, moving me, as I breathed the music…
- 90 dBA: Soud intensity at which the vestibular system begins increasing hedonic response (sense of pleasure) in response to low-frequency sounds (<500 Hz).
My heart sped up with excitement and expectation because I knew what was coming next…
“Crack! Crack! Crack!” Three stars, one red, one white, and one blue, exploded. “Wow, is there anything better than this?” I wondered blissfully, “Well… maybe sex…” The fireworks continued with a chrysanthemum, followed by some willows… I breathlessly awaited each new boom, and burst as the fireworks danced and crackled across the sky… It was so amazing… so beautiful… so intense… so perfect… so lovely… so magical… “This! This IS better than sex!”” I thought, overwhelmed by the sheer intensity of both the auditory and visual stimuli… I suddenly I understood why people associated orgasms with fireworks; each explosion was full of ecstasy, joy, and happiness… Wow! As the show continued the fireworks just got more and more intense and amazing… showering the sky with cascading patterns of red, purple, green, and blue…
- 5 to 2.5 seconds: time between firework explosions during main show
- 500 ms: time between firework explosions during finale (last 3 minutes)
- 600-800 ms: time between muscle contractions during male and female orgasm.
I was euphoric… I loved my colorfully lit up kayak… I loved the gentle waves that were rocking my kayak, I loved that there were 10s of 1000s of other people there, watching it with me… I loved that it still felt like the whole show was being put on just for me… I loved the new friends that were watching the fireworks with me… I loved Boston… I loved it all… I continued glowing with happiness even after the fireworks ended… Sure, the air was filled with smoke, the barges had caught fire, I had to pee, and I to kayak 4 more miles to get home, but I knew that the spectacular experience of watching the fireworks from my kayak would remain with me, as one of my happy thoughts, for the rest of my life… Additional Links & References:
- Fireworks: Sound Intensity (How loud are they?)
- Fireworks: the science and physics of how they work!
- DIY Fireworks sound measurements
- Fireworks & Hearing (Advice for Adults & Children)
- Explosion Patterns: Types of fireworks (fun videos of patterns)
- Startle reflex and heart rate (Pubmed Abstract)
- Physiological consequences of startle reflex (Huffington Post)
- Todd, N., Evidence for a behavioral significance of saccular acoustic sensitivity in humans. J Acoust Soc Am, 2001. 110(1): p. 380-90.
Cell phone pictures: