Greenwich Foot Tunnel

Startling distortions of footsteps and voices in this incredibly atmospheric foot tunnel.

1 Star, yawn2 Stars, OK3 Stars, interesting4 Stars, worth a detour5 Stars, worth a journey
(9 Votes, average 3.78)
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Is it just me, or is it virtually impossible to resist the urge to shout and whoop when you’re in a tunnel? I’ve noticed that some tunnels work better than others, and this one under the Thames near Greenwich, London is remarkably effective. A study by artist Peter Cusack found this soundscape to be one of London’s favourite sounds [1]. The sound qualities mentioned in the study included the amazingly long reverberance and echoes as well as the acoustic distortions to familiar sounds such as footsteps and voices.

The hard tiled surfaces allow the sound to rattle back and forth in the tunnel for a long time before dying away. What’s more, sound takes ages to go up and down the length of the tunnel, which leads to amazingly long echoes.

Logistics

The south end of the tunnel is at Cutty Sark Gardens, Greenwich, London. The north end is at Island Gardens. It’s open 24 hours a day, but has a hundred steps at either end.

Credits

  1. http://www.favouritelondonsounds.org/search/list.php
  2. Sound Matthias Kispert (c) some rights reserved

Big Ben

London’s famous soundmark

1 Star, yawn2 Stars, OK3 Stars, interesting4 Stars, worth a detour5 Stars, worth a journey
(21 Votes, average 3.81)
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The chimes of Big Ben ringing out from the Houses of Parliament’s clock tower is arguably the the most famous sound of London. Indeed, a study by artist Peter Cusack showed it to be one of Londoner’s favourite sounds. However, most British people probably recognize this from the ‘bongs’ on the TV and radio news, rather than something they heard on a London street. The Big Ben bell celebrated it’s 150th anniversary in 2009. It’s a mammoth 13.5 tons. It cracked a few months after installation and needed repairing when too heavy a hammer was used.

Logistics

Currently not sounding due to rennovation. Normally, on the streets close to the tower the chimes are clearly audible. But as you go further away it gets harder to hear as traffic noise masks the sound. It’s easier to hear higher up so surrounding buildings are not getting in the way. It’s possible to book a tour of the the tower, but you need to contact your member of parliament or get sponsored by a peer months in advance.

Credits

Whispering Gallery, St Paul`s Cathedral

One of the most famous whispering galleries.

1 Star, yawn2 Stars, OK3 Stars, interesting4 Stars, worth a detour5 Stars, worth a journey
(11 Votes, average 4.00)
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St Paul’s Cathedral is an iconic building in the centre of London. High up in the central dome is a Whispering Gallery, which I remember visiting as a child. Climb 259 steps inside the dome, stand on one side of the circular gallery and talk very quietly and your speech can be heard quite clearly on the other side some 30m away.

St Paul’s is a circular whispering gallery. In this case, sound hugs the walls, allowing it to move from one side of the room to another without getting a lot quieter – the diagram shows some of the paths that the whispers take around the perimeter of the gallery.

Diagram showing sound in a circular whispering gallery
Sound paths in a circular whispering gallery

Location and Logistics

St Paul’s Cathedral, St Paul’s Churchyard, London, EC4M 8AD.  It’s worth arriving early in the morning and going straight to the Dome, because once the space gets busy it’s hard to pick out the whispering gallery effect amongst the hubbub.

Credits

[*] Picture Nanonic Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License

Great Court British Museum

An amazing cacophony in the largest covered public square in Europe

1 Star, yawn2 Stars, OK3 Stars, interesting4 Stars, worth a detour5 Stars, worth a journey
(5 Votes, average 4.20)
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This place has a remarkable acoustic which complements the beautiful architecture. Opened in 2000, the court wraps around the circular central reading room, providing a huge circulation space with cafes, information points and shops. The sound of people talking and walking echoes throughout the space. The soundscape is a cacophony of indistinct speech and other blurred sounds.

Large reverberant spaces are familiar to us all, but the sheer size of the Great Court along with the number of people creating the sound makes this space ear-conic. The only downside to the great sound effect is that it makes conversations difficult to hold in the cafes – as I found out when I foolishly tried to hold a business meeting there.

Incidentally, audio nerds can also wander around and look for the Intellivox loudspeakers; an interesting technology which attempts to make public address announcements intelligible in cavernous spaces.

Logistics

The British Museum, Great Russell Street, London, WC1B 3DG. Can only be visited when the museum is open. The Great Court is free to enter. Most impressive when busiest (weekends, school holidays etc.)

Credits

  1. http://www.britishmuseum.org/the_museum/history_and_the_building/great_court.aspx
  2. Photo: M.chohan
  3. Sound ERH (c) some rights reserved