Sound

The importance of sound in understanding our past

 

Photo credit: Martin Belam licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Science Daily reports that many attempts have been made “to explain how past people experienced their wider world,” but those attempts have primarily “focused on sight at the expense of sound.” But things are changing, as “researchers from the University at Albany and the University at Buffalo have developed a tool that puts sound back into the ancient landscape.” The researchers “use[d] GIS technology to advance a largely theoretical discussion into a modeled sensory experience to explore how people may have heard their surroundings throughout an entire archaeological landscape, or soundscape.”

Science Daily writes that the “attempt to infuse character into the material world and incorporate the relationship between people and their surroundings is part of what’s called phenomenology.” Says Kristy Primeau, an archaeologist, PhD candidate, and employee at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation:

From a phenomenological perspective, the difference between a space and a place is critical. People don’t live in a vacuum and we have to look at all aspects of the lived experience.

Do click the link above to read the entire piece. It’s a fascinating topic and well worth your time.

Being Hear

 

Photo credit: Michael Gäbler licensed under CC BY 3.0

Watch this excerpt from the new film “Being Hear,” about sound recordist and ecologist Gordon Hempton. The film, “[a]t once a profile, a guided meditation and a call to action,” follows Hempton as he records sounds on Washington State’s Olympia Peninsula, a national park that contains the continental U.S.’s only rainforest. Says Hempton,” Nature is music. I’m not asking you to get all theoretical here — I saying, just listen.”

To hear more of Gordon Hempton’s captured sounds of nature, check out his YouTube channel.

How sound affects how food tastes

Eustacia Huen, Forbes, writes about  “Charles Spence, a gastrophysicist and Professor of Experimental Psychology who has spent the past 20 years researching on the influence of our four other senses on our assessment of taste at the University of Oxford.” Huen wonders about how “incredibly noisy restaurants in the States (especially in NYC)” affect our ability to taste and enjoy the food.”  So she looks at whether and how sound affects our taste, if at all. And for this she turns to Spence, who shares an excerpt from his new book, Gastrophysics: The New Science of Eating.

What follows is a fascinating discussion about how “the sounds that we hear when a food fractures or is crushed between our teeth generally provide a much more accurate sense of what is going on in our mouths.” Says Spence, “it makes sense that we have come to rely on this rich array of auditory cues whenever we evaluate the textural properties of food.”

Click the first link to read the entire piece. It s short but informative piece.

“In Pursuit of Silence” opens in NYC and LA

In Pursuit of Silence opens in New York City on June 23rd, and in Los Angeles on June 30th. So, what’s the film about?  The producers explain:

In Pursuit of Silence is a meditative exploration of our relationship with silence, sound and the impact of noise on our lives. Beginning with an ode to John Cage’s ground-breaking composition 4’33”, In Pursuit of Silence takes us on an immersive cinematic journey around the globe– from a traditional tea ceremony in Kyoto, to the streets of the loudest city on the planet, Mumbai during the wild festival season – and inspires us to experience silence and celebrate the wonders of our world.

The film made the rounds of the film festival circuit last year–the upcoming New York City opening is its theatrical premier.  If you’re not near New York City or Los Angeles, click this link for a current listing of screenings or sign up for the mailing list to be notified of upcoming events in your area.

Here’s a preview:

 

The disappearing soundscape

Photo credit: David Berry licensed under CC BY 2.0

Livia Albeck-Ripka, Vice, writes about Bernie Krause, soundscape ecologist, and his lilfe’s work in “This is what extinction sounds like.” Albeck-Ripka tells use about how Krause came to spend a lifetime recording the sounds of our natural world:

He might have guessed where his career was heading, having scored Apocalypse Now and been an early adopter of the plastic sound of 80s synth. Back then, Krause thought of the natural world as mere ambience. Earlier, he had been a violinist, a guitarist, and part of the folk band the Weavers. But in 1968, commissioned by Warner Bros. to make an album that included some samples from nature, he ventured just north of San Francisco into the Muir Woods one October afternoon and had an epiphany.

“The moment I switched on the recorder and heard the incredible impact of the outdoor space,” Krause told me recently, “I made the decision then and there to find a way to do that for the remainder of my life.”

But now, Albeck-Ropka writes, “he has become an expert in the sound of extinction.”

Although our planet is under a lot of stress, it’s not entirely grim–there are signs that the natural world finds a way to continue on. Click the link above to read the entire article.

Link via @QuietMark.

Quiz: Who invented the first sound recording device?

Nope, not this guy.

by David Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

If you’re recently downloaded a sound-meter app onto your smartphone, or purchased a handheld sound-level meter, so that you can begin gathering data on unnecessary noise in the places you care about, then this bit of history may interest you. Here’s the quiz question: Who invented the first device for recording sound? If you guessed Thomas Alva Edison (who was famously deaf), you’re wrong. Edison didn’t (re)-invent the sound-recording device until 20 years after the first guy, a Frenchman named Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinsville, patented his invention in 1857.

Unfortunately, M. de Martinville didn’t know what to do with his invention, so he never pursued it. That didn’t stop him from being annoyed when Edison showed up in Paris 20 years later with his own sound recording device covered by American patents. But then Edison didn’t know what to do with it either—he thought he was perfecting Alexander Bell’s work. Only later did Edison decide to market his discovery as the “phonograph”—i.e., a device for recording and playing back sounds, thereby inventing the recording industry as well as the sound-level meter and a whole profession devoted to measuring noise.

Interested in history? Then you’ll definitely want to follow the Princeton researcher and MacArthur Fellow who re-discovered M. de Martinsville, Emily Thomson PhD. And if you’re reading this column you’re probably interested in urban noise and what can be done about it. Well, Dr. Thompson has written a fascinating book about urban noise and its history titled,“The Soundscape of Modernity: Architectural Acoustics and the Culture of Listening in America, 1900-1933” (MIT Press, 2002).

Dr. Thompson is definitely worth knowing about, and her work is a pleasure to read.

Originally posted at The Quiet Coalition.

David Sykes chairs/co-chairs four national professional groups in acoustical science: The Acoustics Research Council, ANSI S12 WG44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group. He is also a board member of the American Tinnitus Association, co-founder of the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), and a contributor to “Technology for a Quieter America” (2011, National Academy of Engineering). A graduate of the University of California/Berkeley with graduate degrees from Cornell University, he is a frequent organizer of and speaker at professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

The sound of the city

Olga Yurkina, Worldcrunch, writes about how “some local governments [in Switzerland] are turning to sound specialists to make cityscapes easier on the ears.”  Yurkina introduces us to Fabian Neuhaus, an acoustician who runs a firm that specializes in sound architecture. While his company mainly works on upgrading the sound quality of industrial spaces and concert halls, Neuhaus believes that outdoor spaces “need to be properly ‘tuned’ to produce pleasant sounds.” “Unfortunately,” he adds, “it’s rarely a priority in an urban project.”

But not any more. Far-sighted public officials in two Swiss cantons are beginning to seriously consider acoustic features in urban design. To that end, the cantons have engaged Neuhaus’ firm to offer guidelines for “a well-designed soundscape along local roads.” “Instead of fighting against noise pollution afterward, we should include the acoustic dimension in the project from the very beginning,” asserts Neuhaus.

Urban planners are also thinking about the design of outdoor urban spaces and what can be done to make them more interseting and aurally pleasant. For example, Trong Maag, an urban planner in Zürich, notes that large uniform facades of glass and steel are “real torture for our ears,” while a gravel or sand path will offer “a soothing rustle,” trees can act as a sound barrier, and a green wall can absorb high-pitched sounds.  And other designers have come up with interesting options, like anti-noise modular screens “with flexible acoustic correction” or singing fountains. Designer Andres Bosshard hopes that at some future time “acoustics will be an integral part of urban design and we will create something with sound rather than just block noises.” After all, he adds, “[w]e have to keep in mind that in a city, sound is central to our sense of well-being.”

Click the link above to read this fascinating article in its entirety.

Link via Antonella Radicchi.

Can plants hear?

Yes they can. Marta Zaraska, Scientific American, reports on a new study indicates that “some flora may be capable of sensing sounds, such as the gurgle of water…or the buzzing of insects.” If plants can hear, are they susceptible to noise pollution? Sadly, the answer could be yes.  Zaraska writes that the research “raises questions about whether acoustic pollution affects plants as well as animals.” Monica Gagliano, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Western Australia who worked on the research project said that “[n]oise could block information channels between plants, for example, when they need to warn each other of insects.” So throw out the gas-powered leaf blower and buy yourself a rake. Your flora will thank you.

Humans can use sound to estimate sizes of enclosed spaces

ScienceDaily writes about fascinating research in echolocation in “Echolocation: Sizing up spaces by ear.” The article tells us about research conducted at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU), and led by Lutz Wiegrebe, a professor in the Department of Biology at LMU, that has shown that sighted people can be taught to estimate room size with the help of self-generated clicks. The research also found differences in how reflected sound affected the visual cortex of sighted versus blind participants.  Namely, with a “congenitally blind participant…reception of the reflected sounds resulted in the activation of the visual cortex.” “That the primary visual cortex can execute auditory tasks is a remarkable testimony to the plasticity of the human brain,” says Wiegrebe. Interestingly, sighted subjects “exhibited only a relatively weak activation of the visual cortex during the echolocation task.”  Click the link above to read the entire article. It’s a very interesting read.

Link via Cheryl Tipp.