News / Science & Technology

Acoustic Experts Capture World's Sonic Gems

A sound engineer sets up to record singing sand dunes in the Mohave Desert, California. (Trevor Cox)
A sound engineer sets up to record singing sand dunes in the Mohave Desert, California. (Trevor Cox)
Rosanne Skirble
Our planet is speaking to us, if we would just stop and listen, says Trevor Cox, an acoustic engineer at the University of Salford in England and author of The Sound Book: The Science of the Sonic Wonders of the World.

A companion website offers sonic gems that resonate far beyond the pages of the book.

Cox records an organ made from cave formations in Luray Caverns in Virginia that plays Chopin, a listening wall in Grand Central Station in New York, and the honk of a bittern, one of the shyist creatures in the freshwater wetlands, but certainly among the loudest. 

“I imagined that it would be fairly easy to find lots of interesting places to listen to, but actually, we’re a quite visually dominated society," Cox said. "So it’s easy to find descriptions of beautiful views, but much harder to find descriptions of beautiful sounds.”
 
Acoustic Engineer Captures Nature's Sonic Wonders
Acoustic Engineer Captures Nature's Sonic Wondersi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X

With help from sound artists, acoustic engineers and social media, Cox pieced together an itinerary to listen and record. One fork in the road led him to an abandoned tunneled network of World War II oil storage tanks buried in a Scottish hillside.

“And it is the most incredible space, because if I were to go in there and just sing a note, the notes would linger there 30 seconds, a minute," he said. "The sound goes on in that space for an incredibly long time.”  

The music bounces off the walls; the location became the test site for the world's longest echo, a gunshot that reverberated for two minutes.
 
  • The stalacpipe organ in Luray Caverns in Virginia pounds stalactites with electronically-controlled rubber mallets to produce its music. (Trevor Cox)
  • The World War II abandoned oil storage tanks in Inchindown, Scotland was the test site for the world’s longest echo. (RCAHMS)
  • A spot under archways at Grand Central Station in New York reflects the sound from the walls to the opposite side of the underpass and is called the Whispering Gallery.
  • The Mayan Pyramid at Chichen Itza, Mexico creates a chirp like the sacred quetzal bird if you clap your hands while descending the stairs.
  • Bitterns are shy, but have the loudest voice in the wetland. (Creative Commons)
  • A sound engineer sets up to record the singing sand dunes in the Mohave Desert, California. (Trevor Cox)
  • The grooves in this highway in Lancaster, California play an out-of-tune William Tell Overture. (Trevor Cox)
  • A sign welcomes tourists to the musical highway in Lancaster, California. (Trevor Cox )

Cox also takes us to pyramids in Guatemala that were  built as tombs and shrines to please the gods. He finds a sonic gem hidden in its design that mimics a bird when you clap your hands as you descend the steps.

“Well, it sort of goes choo, choo, choo, a chirping sound," he said.

But how? Cox chalks it up to geometry.

"If you work out how long it takes sound to go from your hands to each tread of the stair and back again, you find that actually this frequency drops as the sound comes back to you, so the echo kind of droops down in frequency.”

Cox found a natural sonic wonder in California’s Mohave Desert. Singing sand dunes are rare but, he says, the ancient Chinese, Charles Darwin and Marco Polo all wrote about them. The hum is caused by an avalanche of sand grains pushed by the wind.

“Unfortunately the wind wasn’t moving the sound when I was there. So, I had to create my own avalanche," he said. "So you sit down on your backside and scoot down the hill and create an avalanche and you get this amazing droning sound, which not only can you hear it, but it kind of vibrates your whole body as well.”

And, not far away, also in California, Cox drove over a stretch of road that plays a well-known tune, very out of tune. He explains that a car company designed the road with grooves deliberately placed in the pavement, so they play a melody as tires roll over them.

“And if the grooves are spaced far apart, you get the low notes. And if the grooves are spaced close together, you get high notes," he said. "And by having different patches of grooves spaced at different distances, you can get different notes out. And that just worked out, how to get the patches in a line, to give you the William Tell Overture.”
 
Cox says you don’t really have to go anywhere exotic to hear remarkable sounds. He suggests we unplug from our music players to hear the wonders around us.  

“It can be as simple as that, just sort of being in silence a bit and listening around for some of your day is enough to suddenly notice that there’s all these sounds that you normally just ignore, and some of them are great.”

You May Like

Video Positive Messaging Helps Revamp Ethiopia's Image

In country once connected with war, poverty, famine, headlines now focus on fast-growing economy, diplomatic reputation More

Russian Activist Thinks Kremlin Ordered Nemtsov's Death

Alexei Navalny says comments of Russian liberals who think government wasn't involved are 'nonsense.' More

Video Land Disputes Rise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Imagei
X
Marthe van der Wolf
March 03, 2015 9:03 PM
Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Cyber War Rages Between Iran, US

A newly published report indicates Iran and the United States have increased their cyber attacks on each other, even as their top diplomats are working toward an agreement to guarantee Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and to free Iran from international sanctions. The development is part of a growing global trend. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.
Video

Video Land Disputes Arise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Ugandan police say there has been a sharp increase in land disputes, with 10 new cases being reported each day. The claims come amid an oil boom as investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers. Meanwhile, the people who have been living on the land for decades are chased away, sometimes with a heavy hand. VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
Video

Video In Russia, Many Doubt Opposition Leader's Killer Will Be Found

The funeral has been held in Moscow for Boris Nemtsov, the opposition leader who was assassinated late Friday just meters from the Kremlin. Nemtsov joins a growing list of outspoken critics of Russia under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin who are believed to have been murdered for their work. VOA’s Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Simulated Astronauts Get Taste of Mars, in Hawaii

For generations, people have dreamed of traveling to Mars to explore Earth's closest planetary neighbor. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports that while space agencies like NASA are planning manned missions to the planet, some volunteers in Hawaii are learning how humans will cope with months in isolation on a Mars base.
Video

Video Destruction of Iraq Artifacts Shocks Archaeologists

The city of Mosul was once one of the most culturally rich and religiously diverse cities in Iraq. That tradition is under attack by members of the Islamic State who have made Mosul their capital city. The Mosul Museum is the latest target of the group’s campaign of terror and destruction, and is of grave concern to archaeologists around the world. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Prepare to Defend Mariupol

Despite the ongoing ceasefire in Ukraine, soldiers in the city of Mariupol fear that pro-Russian separatists may be getting ready to attack. The separatists must take or encircle the city if they wish to gain land access to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia early last year. But Ukrainian forces, many of them volunteers, say they are determined to defend it. Patrick Wells reports from Mariupol.
Video

Video Moscow Restaurants Suffer in Bad Economy, Look for Opportunity

As low oil prices and Western sanctions force Russia's economy into recession, thousands of Moscow restaurants are expected to close their doors. Restaurant owners face rents tied to foreign currency, while rising food prices mean Russians are spending less when they dine out. One entrepreneur in Moscow has started a dinner kit delivery service for those who want to cook at home to save money but not skimp on quality. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Presidential Hopefuls Battle for Conservative Hearts and Minds

One after another, presumptive Republican presidential contenders auditioned for conservative support this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference held outside Washington. The rhetoric was tough as a large field of potential candidates tried to woo conservative support with red-meat attacks on President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress. VOA Political Columnist Jim Malone takes a look.
Video

Video Southern US Cities Preserve Civil Rights Heritage to Boost Tourism

There has been a surge of interest in the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, thanks in part to the Hollywood motion picture "Selma." Five decades later, communities in the South are embracing the dark chapters of their past with hopes of luring tourism dollars. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More