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

Russia Names US NGO 'Undesirable'

Prosecutors determine activities of National Endowment for Democracy to be 'undesirable,' paving the way for it to be outlawed on Russian territory More

Erdogan Vows 'Anti-Terror' Campaign in Syria, Iraq

Erdogan expressed confidence the 'necessary steps' will be taken by NATO leaders, who will meet Tuesday at Turkey's request More

North Korea: 'No Interest at All' in Nuke Deal

Senior US envoy Sydney Seiler visits Beijing Tuesday for talks on how to revive the stalled six-party nuclear talks with North Korea 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.
US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Wini
X
July 28, 2015 12:21 AM
The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Iran Nuclear Pact Wins Few New US Congressional Backers

Later this week, President Barack Obama returns from a trip to Africa to confront a U.S. Congress roiled by the nuclear accord with Iran, an agreement that has received the blessing of the U.N. Security Council. Days of intensive lobbying and testimony by top administration officials have won few new congressional supporters of the pact. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Obama Encourages Kenya to Fix Cultures of Corruption, Discrimination

President Barack Obama bid farewell to Kenya Sunday with a major speech at as stadium outside the capital Nairobi where he called on Kenyans to change the cultures of corruption and discrimination that can hold society back. VOA East Africa Correspondent Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video California Towns Welcome Special Olympics Athletes

Cities and towns in Southern California are greeting thousands of athletes who are arriving for Special Olympics, a competition for people with intellectual disabilities. The games will run from July 25th through August 2nd. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, where athletes from Namibia, Singapore and Tanzania got a rousing welcome from local residents.
Video

Video Critics of Japan Defense Policy Focus on Okinawa

In Okinawa, many locals have long complained that Tokyo places an unfair burden on the tiny island by locating most of Japan's U.S. military bases there. As Japan's government moves toward strengthening and expanding the country's defense policies, opponents of those plans are joining local protesters in Okinawa, voicing concern about where the country is headed. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Okinawa.
Video

Video IS Uses Chemical Weapons in Syrian Attack

Islamic State militants have added a new weapon in their arsenal of fear: chemical weapons. VOA Kurdish service reporter Zana Omer was on the scene within hours of a recent attack in Hasakah, Syria, and has details of the subsequent investigation, in this report narrated by Miguel Amaya.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.
Video

Video Hoverbike Flying Toward Reality

Another long-standing dream of many technological inventors is quickly approaching reality: U.S.- and British-based firms are cooperating in the development of an individual flying platform they call a hoverbike. They say it may revolutionize the concept of flying, including in the U.S. military. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video As Japan Expands Defense Role, Protests Follow

The Japanese government is moving forward with a controversial security bill that would authorize the military to fight abroad for the first time since World War II. Leaders say it is critical to defend against rising threats from China and North Korea. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Japan on the big changes ahead, and the opposition they are drawing.
Video

Video Replacing Poppies with Coffee in Myanmar

The remote mountains of Myanmar’s Shan state are home to the second-largest opium-producing region in the world. After a drop during the 2000s, production surged in the past eight years to feed an increasing demand for heroin in China. But farmers are now making less on the crop, and the U.N. is hoping many will make the switch to growing coffee. Daniel de Carteret reports for VOA from Taunggyi.

VOA Blogs