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

Lion Cecil's Killing Sparks 'Canned Hunting' Debate in S. Africa

Conservationists believe incident, which triggered worldwide outrage, will reshape debate about practice in which hunters are allowed to target animals bred for hunting More

US Urges Taliban to Stay With Afghan Peace Talks

Top US Afghan diplomat also meets with Pakistani, Afghan officials following news of Mullah Omar's death More

Environmentalists Issue Warning on Mekong Biodiversity

Scientists say decades of economic development, hydropower-dam construction, lax law enforcement and trafficking have taken their toll 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.
Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missionsi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
July 30, 2015 8:59 PM
Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
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 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 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.

VOA Blogs