Posts Tagged ‘soundscapes’

Things that go thump in the night…

Maybe you are familiar with images of the northern lights or perhaps have been lucky enough to see them yourself, but did you know that apparently they also make a sound?  According to, acoustic researchers at Alto University in Finland have identified a clapping sound associated with the aurora borealis that occurs 230 ft above the ground!  Just as is true with most mystery noises, they are brief and faint, require very careful listening as well as very low background noise in order to be heard.   There is an audio recording on here if you want to listen…

aurora borealis

[via, photo: shawn malone]

What do fireworks sound like on 72nd Street?

Getting off the train at 72nd St, on the subway platform we heard a funny sound and wondered ‘what is that?’  Well, it turned out to be the sound of fireworks above for the kickoff of the NYC Marathon.  A cell phone microphone does not completely do this justice but you can hear the reflections of sound off of the building facades and the overall reverberation somewhat.

Putting the rev back in your engine

A great deal of engineering effort has gone into quieting the automobile over the past century.  In most major cities, transportation noise is a huge contributor to environmental noise both outdoors and in (who doesn’t live near a road?)  Vehicle acoustics is a primary focus of many current applied acoustics research programs, with the enthusiastic support of the auto industry.

Even so, some would argue that these great successes in reducing vehicle noise have come at the expense of exhilaration; gunning your engine at a stop light just doesn’t give the thrill that it did in the days of the big block V8.

SoundRacer in actionFor those of us that would occasionally like to hear what we’re driving (which yes, sometimes includes even noise-averse acousticians), a Swedish company has developed the SoundRacer.  This gizmo fits into your cigarette lighter socket, and using the socket voltage to sense engine RPM, broadcasts real-time sports car engine sound through your car stereo.  Even if your “sports car” happens to be less than sporting!

just in time for Superbowl Sunday…

Squareheard Technology has a new microphone system, AudioScope, that allows broadcasters to zoom in on sounds as well as sights, to pick out a single conversation. The device is made up of around 300 microphones used in conjunction with a wide-angle camera that can zoom in to any position.  The AudioScope software then calculates the time it would take for sound emanating from that point to reach each microphone, and digitally corrects each audio feed to synchronize them with that spot.


Too much noise? No, too little silence

In a recent op-ed piece for the New York Times, author and silence activist George Prochnik eschews ranting about noise in favor of cultivating “a passionate case for silence.”  Prochnik (whose recent book “In Pursuit of Silence” further explores this theme) suggests that doom-and-gloom about noise and its well-documented health effects may be losing traction with a public weary of “self-compassion”.  Indeed, despite noise being the number one environmental complaint in New York City year after year, last week’s International Noise Awareness Day offered its hometown little more than free hearing tests behind City Hall.

Prochnik’s perspective is an intriguing one, and he finds promise in efforts to integrate “oases of quiet” into the urban soundscape.  Referencing Swedish research on urban environmental noise (to which we have directly contributed), he reminds us that noise control efforts that are nearly futile along busy urban streets can rather create truly quiet, healthful “quiet sides” in backyards and courtyards between buildings.

Of course, this approach is neither Swedish nor new— pre-war neighborhoods in Manhattan are chock full of residential buildings boasting sheltered courtyards—but Prochnik reminds us that this luxury is not often afforded to residents of disadvantaged areas.  Not to mention, courtyards that may have provided a quiet oasis in pre-air-conditioning days now carry the modern acoustical burden of concealing scores of unsightly air-conditioning units—often giving these New York City courtyards the irony of being as noisy as the streets they defend against.

Sample the sounds of the city

British artist Stanza has published a growing database of urban soundscape samples (his Soundcities project) into a Google Map, allowing the user to sample the sounds of  world cities—including New York City.  The online, open-source database also allows users to contribute their own samples, and to freely use and mix samples from the database for their own projects.

In his introduction, the artist states that “Cities all have specific identities, and found sound can give us clues to the people that inhabit these spaces, as well as provoking us and stimulating our senses in a musical way.”

Projects like this (see also a similar project by the BBC) allow us to explore what a Chicago street has in common with an avenue in Tokyo, or to compare the quiet (or lack thereof) in New York’s Central Park to that at Skansen Kronan in Gothenburg.

What is still lacking is decibel noise level data for each sample, allowing a direct comparison of loudness.  This sort of calibration would be the only way to prove that one city is louder than the next—although, in the meantime, our money is on New York.

[PSFK via Curbed]