Gong rocks, Serengeti National Park

This granite boulder makes a metallic clang and is covered in percussive marks.

Musical artefacts provide some evidence of what our ancestors’ listened to. Unlikely as it may seem, some large boulders can ring with a metallic clang when struck with another stone. Hammered indents on large boulders like this one in the Serengeti show us that the rocks were struck and played in the past. Some of these rock gongs are assumed to date back to antiquity, but getting exact dates of use from percussion marks is difficult.

Location

North eastern end of the Moru Kopjes area, with the Mbalageti river a short distance east of it. You can also find rock gongs at other sites in Africa.


Credit

Seronera photo courtesy of Tripadvisor

Whispering wall: Barossa reservoir

This vast, gray arc of concrete has turned into an unlikely tourist attraction, with visitors chatting with each other from opposite ends of the dam.

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It’s unbelievably fun to whisper across this parabolic dam and hear others across the way.

revett2016, TripAdvisor

This is the largest whispering wall I know of, as it’s 140 meters long. What happens is that the sound hugs the inside of the concrete wall and is transported with surprising loudness to the other side of the dam. Do you know of a bigger whispering wall? Please comment below.

It’s worth not fast forwarding this, because you get a sense of how far the sound travels.
How sound hugs the wall in a whispering gallery amd keeps close to the curved wall.

Location

Info from the Barossa visitor centre.

Photo credit

Scott Davis, CC BY-SA 3.0

Gloucester cathedral whispering gallery

The whispering gallery (or tunnel) runs behind the magnificant Great East Window

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Doubt not but God who sits on high,

Thy secret prayers can hear;

When a dead wall thus cunningly

Conveys soft whispers to the ear.

Plaque in the gallery

Classic whispering galleries usually have obvious curved surfaces to allow sound to travel long distances without getting too quiet. This isn’t what is happening here. As the video shows you have a tunnel within which the sound can’t escape, and so travels easily from one side of the cathedral to the other.

Great demo of the whispering gallery

The first documentation of this comes a meeting of the Royal Society in 1662. Such scientific luminaries as Robert Boyle (a founder of modern chemistry) had been discussing echoes and sounds and sought further information about the whispering gallery from politician Henry Powle.

Logistics

See Gloucester Cathedral website. While you’re there, you can also enjoy the reverberation in this huge cathedral (reverberation time about 8 seconds apparently).

Photo Credits

© Julian P Guffogg (Creative Commons Licence)

Clonmacnoise whispering arch

Whisper into one side of this ornate doorway and the architrave carries the sound to the other side.

This ornate Gothic doorway dating to the fifteenth century is apparently a popular spot for wedding proposals. Folklore has it that the doorway once had a very unusual use: Lepers would stand at one side of the doorway and whisper their sins into the half pipe in the architrave. The priest would stand at the other side of the arch, far enough away to avoid infection, listening to the confession emerging from the architrave.

Like all whispering arches, sound skims around the inside of the curve because of the geometry – see below for a simple model of sound as a snooker ball bouncing around a circular table. Being a half-pipe probably helps keep the sound close the arch.

A whispering arch

Location

See Heritage Ireland for more details about visiting.

St. Louis Union Station Whispering Arch

This sound effect was discovered when “a workman dropped a hammer on one side of the arch and a painter on the other side, nearly 40 feet away heard him.”

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The whispering arch is a treat, talk towards the wall and someone 20 yards away can plainly hear you. pretty cool.

Aquariuz, Trip Advisor

The whispering arch is the structure to the left in the old postcard, there’s a plaque marking the spot. This whispering arch dates back to when the building was a large railway station in the nineteenth century. When someone talks into the wall, you can get sound that stays close to the edge of the arched ceiling. A classic way of illustrating this is to consider sound as a snooker ball bouncing around the edge of a circular table.

Sound in a whispering arch modelled as a bouncing ball

Location

In the lobby of the St. Louis Union Station Hotel. Head for the stained Tiffany glass window featuring three robed women figures.

Credits:

Photos: Public Domain and onasill

Gastown steam clock

This clock produces a whistled version of the Westminster Chimes.

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The World’s first steam powered clock has been created for the enjoyment of everyone

From the plaque on the clock

The Westminster Chimes ringing out from Big Ben is a familiar sound. A breathy version of the same tune is also played by this clock. The notes are created by steam being forced through whistles.  Built in 1977, the whistles are driven from the system of underground pipes that supply steam to heat downtown buildings.

Location

305 Water St, Vancouver, BC V6B 1B9, Canada. Best heard on the hour.

There are other similar steam clocks in The City of Otaru, Japan, and the Indiana State Museum.

Credits

Photo: By Leonard G.

High tide organ

A ‘musical manifestation of the sea’ is created by this sound sculpture.

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Built in 2002 and designed by Liam Curtin and John Gooding, this organ stands next to Blackpool’s promenade. A narrow tall rusting sculpture shaped like a fern in spring beginning to unfurl, forms the most visible section of the wave organ. The sculpture uses church organ pipes that are sounded by air being forced through them by the ebb and flow of the sea waves. The music made depends on the vigour of the sea, sometimes it intermittently moans and groans, at other times it resembles a lazy orchestra of train whistles, or a slow-action replay of a nightmare recorder lesson.

Location

South Promenade, Blackpool FY4 1BB. Sounds best 2-3 hours before or after high tide. If the sea is calm, you won’t hear anything!

Musical Stones of Skiddaw

Try your hand at rock music on this Victorian instrument played by the “Original Monstre Stone Band.”

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Queen Victoria heard command performances of Handel, Mozart and Rossini on this large stone xylophone. It took Joseph Richardson thirteen years to construct this lithophone out of hornfels slate from the Lake District. The vast instrument is in the Keswick Museum and Art Gallery in Cumbria, where I was amazed to be encouraged to have a go. The tone varies across the instrument. Some stones ring beautifully, like a wooden xylophone, while others make more of a thunk, like a beer bottle being struck with a stick.

Original advert from the London Gazette in 1845

One historical account recalls, ‘The tones produced are equal in quality, and sometimes superior in mellowness and fulness, to those of a fine piano-forte, under the hand of a skilful player.’

Location

Keswick Museum, England

Beetham Tower

In high winds this tower hums like an alien space ship coming into land.

The hum, recorded through my car’s sun roof on a very windy night.

In very high winds, the Beetham Tower in the centre of Manchester emits this very loud hum. The problem is caused by the glass and metal sculpture right at the top of the building. When the wind rushes past the edge of the glass panes turbulence is created. This is then amplified via resonance. (I think of the air between the deep glass panes).

“Quick sound level measurement at Beetham Tower – 78 dB Laeq,1s main freq in 250Hz 3rd/oct band”

Acoustic consultant Simon Jackson (@stjackson)

No wonder people complain about it keeping them awake, that is like having someone playing a tenor saxophone at a moderate volume level.

Location

303 Deansgate, Manchester M3 4LQ. You’ll only hear it when the wind is from the west and gusts over 70 mph.

Credits:

Photo: Mikey

Imam Mosque echo

Tour guides delight in standing underneath the dome and flicking a piece of paper, which creates a short, sharp “clack, clack, clack, . . .”

This Mosque was completed in 1629, in the last year of the reign of Shah Abbas. Sound bounces back and forth between the floor and ceiling, with the vast dome focusing the sound, forcing it to keep moving back and forth in a regimented fashion. Without a dome, the echo from the ceiling would be lost among all the other sound reflections in the mosque. The iconic blue-tiled mosaic tiles help to provide strong reflections, which is why so many repeats of the echo are heard.

A domed room focusing sound
You can also excite the echo by stamping your feet

Location

Esfahan’s main square

Credits

Photo: seier+seier