Pisa Baptistry

The rich reverberant sound in the Baptistry of Pisa lasts an astonishingly long time, to the delight of all tourists, not just sound-ones.

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Under the dome of the Baptistry in Pisa a stunning acoustic effect can be heard. Notes sung here last so long, it’s actually possible to accompany yourself: new notes will harmonize with old ones still reverberating around. The Baptistry Guards will often demonstrate this beautiful effect.

The key to the remarkable acoustic is that there’s very little soft material about to absorb the sound. Consequently, notes rattles around the space for a long time, some suggest for over 12 seconds, before the sound dies away and becomes inaudible.

Logistics

To enjoy the wonderful acoustic arrive early before it gets too busy. Website with opening hours.

Credits

  1. Sound (c) jnbcarvalho
  2. Photo: gaspa (c) some rights reserved

El Castillo, Chichen Itza

The echo from the staircase disorts the sound, creating a chirp like a bird, maybe even the sacred quetzal bird.

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Listen to the distorted echoes immediately after each handclap: they sound rather like a chirping bird.

The Kukulkan Pyramid in Chichen-Itza, known as “El Castillo” (the castle), is one of the seven new wonders of the world. It’s arguably the most spectacular and most frequently visited Mayan site in Mexico. If you stand at the bottom of the steps and clap your hands you get this incredible chirping sound.

Whether the pyramid was constructed to deliberately make this noise or it happened by chance is still a matter of debate among archaeologists. Reflections from the treads of the staircase are responsible for the echo being altered. The reason that a chirp like a bird is produced is because of geometry. The time between later reflections is longer than early reflections, causing the frequency of the echo to rapidly drop by about an octave.[2]

There is another sound effect here, but unfortunately as people are no longer allowed to climb the steps it’s hard to experience. Apparently, if you sit at the bottom of the stairs the sound of footsteps from people above you is like raindrops falling into a water-filled bucket rather than footsteps. The effect is caused by sound skimming the surface of the staircase. The sound reflects off the regular pattern of the stairs, creating a very distinctive effect [3].

Other acoustic phenomena

The Great Ballcourt is a huge semi-enclosed areas. If you clap your hands, the sound repeats a dozen times (this is a flutter echo) [3]. Also a whisper carries a huge distance if you speak from one of the raised areas [4].

Location

Wikipedia page.

Credits

  1. Photo: By Mariordo (Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz) – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0
  2. David Lubman: http://www.ocasa.org/MayanPyramid.htm
  3. The Acoustic Raindrop Effect at Mexican Pyramids: The Architects’ Homage to the Rain God Chac?, Calleja, JAC; Declercq, NF, ACTA ACUSTICA UNITED WITH ACUSTICA, 95(5) 849-56 (2009)
  4. http://www.luckymojo.com/esoteric/interdisciplinary/architecture/ecclesiastical/mayanacoustics.html
  5. Sound (c) robgodd

Greenwich Foot Tunnel

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

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(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

Great Court British Museum

An amazing cacophony in the largest covered public square in Europe

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(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