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

Photogallery Strong Words Start, May End, S. African Xenophobic Attacks

President Jacob Zuma publicly condemned rise in attacks on foreign nationals but critics say leadership has been less than welcoming to foreign residents More

Video Family Waits to Hear Charges Against Reporter Jailed in Iran

Reports in Iran say Jason Rezaian has been charged with espionage, but brother tells VOA indictment has not been made public More

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Action to Stabilize Libya

Amnesty International says multinational concerted humanitarian effort must be enacted to address crisis; decrepit boats continue to bring thousands of new arrivals daily 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.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs