Archive for the ‘Articles’ Category

Hudson views

Architectural Digest recently featured one of our residential projects, a home overlooking the Hudson River in upstate New York.  Designed by architecture & design firm BWArchitects for a private client, the house occupies property farmed by architect Basil Walters’ own grandparents for over 50 years, which he recounts visiting as a young man.  The design is informed both by the landscape and by the architect’s experiences there, and includes a dedicated listening room with carefully controlled acoustics.

Hudson Valley Riverhouse

The sound heard round and round the world

It doesn’t get much louder than an erupting volcano: the eruption of Krakatoa in 1883 registered a recorded sound pressure level of 172 decibels at a distance of 100 miles, not so much loud as completely debilitating. Nautilus Magazine examines the unique acoustics of the Krakatoa eruption, which spawned the most distantly audible sound in recorded history. Not only was the eruption audible over 3,000 miles away, the resulting pressure pulse was detectable for days as it circled and recircled the globe.

To get a sense of what that sort of pressure disturbance really means, try this recent video of a volcanic eruption in Papua New Guinea:

This sound is on fire

Many aspects of a firefighter’s work are not quite like the movies, and locating each other is one of them, according to a recent story from KUT News in Texas.  Visibility is poor or nonexistent in a real fire, so firefighters often have to rely on sound rather than vision.  A Personal Alert Safety System (PASS) is a device that emits a loud audible alarm if the wearer stops moving for more than a few seconds, allowing colleagues to come to the rescue.  Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin are working on ways to improve this system, which despite saving many lives doesn’t always work as well as it could.

For starters, an active fireground is a loud, noisy place, from things like sirens, power tools, engines, and the fire itself.  But beyond that, heat can do funny things to sound—hotter and colder parts of a room make sound travel faster or slower, and these changes in the speed of sound can actually bend sound waves that would otherwise travel in a straight line.  (Similar effects occur outdoors when the air temperature varies with height, such as being able to hear campers far away across a lake that cools the air.)  This heat refraction can wreak havoc with audibility and locating the source of a PASS beacon.  The current UT research will provide valuable insight into the sensory environment within a fire scene, and how compensation might be made for some of these acoustic challenges.

 

But I know what I hear

This week, New York’s Museum of Modern Art is opening its first major exhibition of sound art, “Soundings: A Contemporary Score”.  Through November 3rd, visitors will be able to immerse themselves in auditory pieces designed by sixteen of the most innovative contemporary artists working with sound.

Forty-Part Motet

Not to be outdone, on September 10th the Metropolitan Museum of Art will present Janet Cardiff’s “Forty-Part Motet”, pictured above.  This first foray into sound by the Met (to be installed in Fuentidueña Chapel at The Cloisters) combines forty separately-recorded voices from forty loudspeakers into a 16th century choral ensemble, a synthesis that the New York Times notes has brought visitors to tears.  The Times also provides audio clips from the MOMA exhibition, noting that “while you can close your eyes to an image you hate, you can’t close your ears to a noise”—a risk without a parallel in the visual arts.

Keep it quiet

The New York Times’ City Room Blog is putting together a presentation of New Yorkers’ favorite quiet oases, and they’re looking for suggestions.  Public places submitted to the blog’s interactive map will be considered for the piece later this spring.  Of course, your favorite quiet place may not stay that way once it’s discovered by eight million New Yorkers (and our 50 million annual tourists), so you may want to keep your favorite quiet place, well, quiet!

Don’t don’t honk

In what some might some might take as an admission of defeat (or at least a concession to reality), the New York City Department of Transportation has begun removing each and every “Don’t Honk” road sign from the city streets.  According to the New York Times, “the move is part of an effort to declutter the streets of often ignored signs.”   The signs also give the impression that unneeded honks were only a violation where the signage was installed; with or without a sign, unnecessary honking remains illegal throughout the city with fines starting at $350.

Don't Honk Sign

Enforcement is another matter; last year the NYPD issued only 206 summonses.  Most New Yorkers could count that many car horns in a day, if they were paying attention to them—of course, for most New Yorkers, ignoring the din of constant honking is a quickly learned survival skill.