Sound in the future
In Holland, people list noise as the biggest nuisance in their lives, and surveys in many other countries reveal a similar situation. Yet why does nothing much seems to be done to curb it?
Anti-noise regulations limit the excesses rather than eliminate that persistent mid-range noise which is now so ubiquitous and so wearing. Some product manufacturers, particularly the car industry, are doing their bit to make our world quieter, but this is just the tip of the iceberg.
And anyway, do we really want quiet machines? There is a story of a totally silent vacuum cleaner prototype which never made it onto production lines: customers thought it wasn't working because it was not making any noise….
It seems pointless longing for a return to an imagined pre-industrial quiet world. We are more likely to succeed if we actively work on re-modelling and controlling our noisy sound environment.
ARE YOU LISTENING?
Robin McGinley, a UK-born acoustic artist, has initiated a pioneering project in a dozen Swedish secondary schools. He teaches his students how to effectively use their ears.
As a result of writing sound journals and drawing simple sound maps, they began to acknowledge and pay attention to the sounds around them, for the first time in the case of some students.
The project has been so successful that there is now talk about introducing it to schools across the European Union.
Has the time finally come for lessons in aural literacy?
From Stockholm Soundscape Project‚ New Directions in Music Education by Robin McGinley
Tuesday 29th‚ 'On the bus'‚ Linda (9A)
'Wow, I never really thought about it, but the bus is a really noisy place. When I first got on, and started thinking about what I can hear I was shocked. I couldn't believe that I had been on this bus every morning for 2 years and never noticed all of the sounds. People are almost shouting, trying to be heard over all the noise. Every now and then the bus driver picks up the mike and says, 'next stop'. On the seat next to me is a young boy listening to his CD player. It is so loud, even I can hear it. The most obvious sound is that of the engine. Outside the window cars are roaring by. After every stop the bell rings again, because somebody wants to get off. Finally my stop, it was really nice to get off that noisy bus.'
TAKE A SHOWER
The sound of running water is very good at masking other kinds of noises, a feature used extensively in the design of gardens and public spaces.
The Swedish-born sound artist Anna Karin Rynander took this one step further in the Sound Showers which she installed at Oslo’s Gardermoen airport. When you stand under one of these large objects which closely resemble street lamps, soothing sounds envelope you, drowning out the usual airport noises.
Now, here's an innovative alternative to the Walkman.
BUILDING WITH SOUNDS
Noise abatement has been rising higher and higher on the list of architects' priorities. Fantastic new sound-insulation materials are being manufactured and used in new, and old, buildings as noise transmission is better understood.
Jean-Francois Augoyard and his team in Grenoble, France, among others, are studying how we react to different types of sounds in buildings. Their research shows that if, say, a train station has the wrong reverberation time, the wrong echo, people become very confused there, no matter how clear the visual signs are.
The sound of the building also determines whether it feels just pleasantly busy or claustrophobic when it's full of people. It seems that even in this visual world, we are still using our ears to guide us.
PAST & FUTURE
'It seems that for many, particularly highly urbanised populations, the return to natural sound is all but impossible. In such a context, any way forward shall, even by default, fall to sound-designers, so that the built environment will become an opportunity for tinting and high-lighting new, probably unnatural soundworlds.'
Oliver Lowenstein, 'Fourth Door Review', 2001
New technology is the driving force behind the majority of today's sound-installations which are designed to make our spaces more pleasant. Computer-controlled 3D sound for the first time is allowing us to re-create almost any audio space anywhere.
But using architecture to construct sound effects is not a new phenomenon. Builders of the past were also masters of sound-artifice, from Vitruvius' resonators in Greco-Roman theatres to the ancient Japanese buildings which can roar like dragons or trill like nightingales. And Mayan temples, which were built to echo the cries of their sacred birds, play what may be the planet's oldest sound recording.
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