Wednesday, 17 March 2010

She's Electric

Another great story from the world of sound. Now that electric cars are on the verge of mass production in the west, car companies are debating over what to do about their sound.

Some are developing ways of recreating existing engine sounds for their supercars' so as not to lose the roar of driving, whilst others are looking at amplifying the unique sound of the electric engine, even going as far as to fit speakers to pump the sound out.

Nissan appear to have even gone one better that this though and developed a futuristic melodic chime to alert people that the near noiseless electric runaround is approaching. You couldn't make it up.

See the full article here

Monday, 15 March 2010

Acoustic Engineering Boosts Productivity?

Anyone who has struggled with stress and concentration in the office should have a look at this article. There is definitely not enough thought put into making workplaces sonically comfortable, but with greater emphasis on acoustic architecture many of the distractions and annoyances in noisy offices can be greatly reduced.

I like the way this article sells it as a way to increase productivity, telling the boss that we are costing them thousands of pounds a year through sonic distraction. But then I guess that is the language of business and if it makes them listen that's fine by me.

I'd just settle for a few less headaches.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Survival of the Fittest

Interesting article here discussing the effects of human noise on animal behaviour and how we are disrupting their ability to mate, hunt, forage and avoid predators. The full report is available from the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution.

The most common effect is known as masking, whereby a human constructed sound such as that of a railway or road impedes an animals ability to hear a mating call or the scuttling of its next meal.

Animals and birds do adapt to a degree though. Studies have found that inner city birds often sing louder or at a different pitch to their country companions in order to be heard over the traffic and commotion.

But not all species have the ability to adapt to the ever changing human environment, and the speed at which things change in the modern world means that even the ones that do are having to evolve at a pace that will surely leave some behind.

Maybe it's just survival of the fittest in the animal kingdom, but it doesn't seem fair that humans get to play such a part in it.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Sonic Resources

There is now a link on the right hand side of the blog for Sonic Literature which will take you to my google books library where you can find some excellent literature on sound.

Large excerpts of many of the books are available to read online for free so its a good place to start if you're interested. There are also links to some interesting sound websites and sound maps too.

Ben Tausig of Weird Vibrations is also constructing a sound studies bibliography here which you can add to by signing up to the sound studies group. Find out more here.

Hope this is useful.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Sound and the Art of Listening

Having been consciously studying sound in the environment for some time now, I feel that I have gained a heightened awareness of the world around me. The chirp of the birds, the space of the valleys, the muting ambiance of the snow; I am passionate about the way these things affect us, what they represent and signify, and what they tell us about the ever changing time and space we are in. Sound also tells us much about the interaction between our senses and the things that determine our mood and emotions.

I know that listening to bird song makes me happy, peaceful and relaxed, but I can also get immense pleasure from sounds with less calming connotations. A road drill can deliver some exciting rhythms, tones and timbres that would not be out of place on record. It is the art of listening and understanding that provides the satisfaction.

Ignoring connotations is one of the hardest things to do though. They are the foundations upon which our media saturated world is hosted. We are told that bird song is relaxing, and it is. But why? It is a collection of rhythm, melody, harmony and timbre. Maybe the higher pitches leave space for the human voice amongst them? Or is it that if we can hear the birds we are already in a peaceful space, architecturally or mentally.

There are beautiful rich sounds to be found all around and I know that if I am taking the time to consciously listen to them that I am feeling peaceful and appreciative of the world around me. And not just the sounds, but the aromas, the colours and the feel of the air. Likewise, if I am agitated and struggling to concentrate, the hum of my refrigerator can drive me to distraction as my entire focus is drawn to its every detail.

This is not to say though that different sounds do not have different affects on our bodies and minds. Those mellow, high pitch, floating bird songs do make me feel and think differently to the ferocious roar of the drill.

The next time you are on a bus, in the office or just out in town, take five minutes to listen to what is going and try to understand how your body reacts to different noises. What sounds make you jump, cause your temperature to drop, your heart rate to increase, your chest tighten and body tense? What has happened sonically that may have caused you to suddenly exhale and relax? This is quite difficult to do because if you concentrate too hard you will exert control over your body that may cause it to react differently. The key is to be aware but not too expectant.

So my point here is that sound has a definite direct affect on our body and mind, but in tandem, the art of listening tells us much about how we already feel. All sounds can be dynamic and interesting, but only when we find the space to step back and listen to them.