Singing Ringing Tree

High on the Pennine Moorsthis sculpture uses wind to generate discordant and haunting sounds.

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This piece of public art is high above Burnley on the Pennine moors. It uses the prevailing westerly winds to generate discordant and haunting sounds to accompany the view from Crown Point. It was designed by architects Mike Tonkin and Anna Liu in 2006 and won a Royal Institute of British Architects award. Not all the pipes create sound – some are just there to create the dramatic shape. The pipes that ‘sing’ create an unearthly choral sound, which is only audible at relatively close range on a windy day.

Location

Local tourist information

Credits

Norias of Hama

The groaning and creaking from these ancient water wheels is remarkable and unexpected.

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(9 Votes, average 4.22)
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Damaged by the on-going war in Syria, I decided to leave this page here as a record of this sound.

The sounds these water wheels make aren’t very pleasant, but maybe sound tourists shouldn’t restrict themselves to pleasant listening experiences.

These gigantic ancient water wheels were used to raise water from the river and drop it into canals to irrigate fields. Although I’ve heard many water wheels, these ancient noria have a really unique and distinctive sound: creaking and splashing as the wood is distorted by the weight of the water and the endless rotation. Given that these are some of the oldest water wheels in the world, maybe they can be forgiven for their groaning and moaning.

Location

On the Orontes River in Syria

Credits and sources

Tikal pyramids

Echoes off this pyramid create an unexpected chirping sound. But did the ancient Mayan’s deliberately design this sound effect?

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(11 Votes, average 4.55)
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Tikal was the largest city of the ancient Mayan civilization and is probably Guatemala’s most famous tourist destination. If you stand at the bottom of the pyramid’s steps and clap your hands you get this incredible chirping sound. Echoes off buildings are common, but not ones that distort sound like this. Whether the pyramid was constructed to deliberately make this chirp is still a matter of debate. Reflections from the treads of the staircase are responsible for the echo. It’s down to geometry, later reflections are spaced further apart – all staircases have potential to chirp.

Location

Website. BTW The wildlife calls in this overgrown, runied city are also stunning: parrots, toucans and even howler monkeys.

Sources and credits

  1. Photo: Raymond Ostertag (c) some rights reserved
  2. Sound (c) sagejock

Booming Sand Dunes

Singing sand dunes can create loud drones during avalanches.

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(14 Votes, average 4.29)
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(Your tablet ot computer loudspeakers may fail to reproduce this low frequency sound).

Some sand dunes make a strange low frequency humming sound a bit like the drone of a distant propeller aircraft. The sound can be surprisingly loud: in some cases it can be heard many kilometres away. This is something that has been known about for centuries: Marco Polo, the Emporer Baber and Charles Darwin all wrote about it [1]. For instance, Marco Polo wrote about his encounter in the Gobi Desert “[the singing sands] at times fill the air with the sounds of all kinds of musical instruments, and also of drums and the clash of arms.”

The sound is rather unusual and eerie – reminiscent of a bass musical instrument. The drone is caused by a synchronised avalanche of the sand grains. The pitch of the note produced depends on the size of the grains – and so each singing sand dune has its own distinctive voice pitch. But the exact reason for the grain synchronisation is still being argued about among scientists.

Logistics

Consider safety as you’ll be visiting a desert in the height of summer. About thirty dunes around the World boom. The large dunes most reliably sing in the summer when the grains are dry. Small dunes tend not to sing. As the videos show, you can start the avalanche yourself: once the sound has started it can continue for sometime after you stop pushing the sand. Do this on the leeward face of the dune (the side sheltered from the wind). The dune needs to be steeper than about 30 degrees.

Below is a list of locations gleaned from the Internet – it would be wise to check with locals about the exact locations.

  • Atlantic Sahara desert around Laayoune, Ghord Lahmar dune near Foum Agoutir, Morocco [2]. (Also Erg Ezzahar or screaming dunes)
  • Kelso Dunes near California’s Mojave Desert, off the Kelbaker Rd, north of Highway 40 between Barstow and Needles, Ca, USA [3]
  • Kelso, Sand Mountain (20-21 miles east of Fallon, Nevada on Highway 50, USA [3]
  • Crescent Dunes (about 15 miles west of Tonopah, Nevada, USA [3]
  • Dumont Dunes (60 miles north of Kelso, Ca, USA [3]
  • Big Dune (Amaragosa Valley, south of Beatty, Nevada, USA [3]
  • Eureka Dunes (Hanging Rock Rd, out of Bishop, Ca, USA [3]
  • 40 km southwest of Doha, Qatar
  • La Mar de Dunas and El Cerro Bramador, Copiapo, Chile
  • The Dune of Altynemel (“The Singing Dune”) in the valley of Ili River near Kapchagay, Kazakhstan
  • Near Liwa, South of the United Arab Emirates. In area known as the Empty Quarter
  • Dunes of Badain Jarin, Inner Mongolia, China
  • Dune Ming Sha Shan, The Mount of Singing Sand, DunHuang, Gansu, China

Credits

  1. http://www.its.caltech.edu/~nmvriend/research/
  2. http://www.pmmh.espci.fr/fr/morphodynamique/SongOfDunes.html
  3. Wild soundscapes: discovering the voice of the natural world, Bernard L. Krause, Wilderness Press
  4. Sound (c) Nathalie Vriend

Animated Clock

Watch and listen to the animated town clock at this UNESCO World Heritage site

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(5 Votes, average 3.80)
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Goslar is a medieval masterpiece: narrow cobbled streets, canals and picturesque houses are some of attractions. Indeed, the whole city is a UNESCO World Heritage site. But for the sound tourist, it’s the old animated clock in the main square which is the must-see attraction. A procession of mechanical figures slowly troop out of the clock innards to re-enact the town’s history; celebrating its prosperous mining past.

Logistics and location

Situated in Goslar’s Marktplatz. Sounds at 9am, 12, 3pm and 6pm.

Sources and credits

  1. Photo: Gerhard Elsner (c) some rights reserved

Vienna Musikverein

Possibly the best and most famous concert hall for classical music.

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If you were to take a straw poll among acoustic engineers to find the best concert hall in World, then the Musikverein would come pretty close to the top: it might even top the list. It’s one of four concert halls around the World that are commonly cited as sound exemplars, with extraordinary acoustics against which all new designs are compared. Like all good concert halls, the Musikverein provide sound reflections that enrich the orchestral sound. Without these reflections, the music would sound rather thin and distant.

Scientists have spent many decades trying to unlock the secrets of the hall, and perhaps the most important feature is its diminutive floor size. People are packed together in a way which wouldn’t be allowed in a new building because of modern fire regulations. This results in a very lively sound; the music reverberates and echoes for a long time, bouncing around the hall, creating sound that seems to envelope the listener. It’s ideally suited to the music of Brahms, Bruckner, and Mahler; these famous composers all had music premiered here.

360 video

Location and logistics

Website: Book a concert, or second best, go on a tour.

Credits

Photo: By Li Sun – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

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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(16 Votes, average 4.19)
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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

Quarry Bank Mill

Just one cotton machine running is loud, just imagine what it was like with all of them going.

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The North-West of England was at the heart of British Cotton Manufacturing. The noise within the mills was horrendous, indeed pioneering research into noise induced deafness examined weavers because the sound was unrelentingly loud. Nowadays, only a small number of machines are used at this museum, even so the sound is deafening:

“Stand among the looms today, feel the heat brush your face and the floorboards shake, and listen to the roar of the flyer frames. There stretch the beams of yarn and the 500 bobbins set out in the creel, each holding up to 12 miles of cotton. A cool, damp stairway leads down to the wheel itself; a giant, a monster, grown mossy and rusted, its colossal spokes still turning, heaving the river. You can get lost in the vastness of it, in the motion of it, in the grumble and groan of its working, feel yourself floored by this rush of the past.” [1]

Location

Quarry Bank Mill and Styal Estate, nr Wilmslow, Cheshire SK9 4LA, see website for opening hours and times when machinery is running. Cotton looms can also be heard at the Museum of Science and Industry in nearby Manchester.

Sources and credits

  1. http://www.guardian.co.uk/travel/2009/nov/27/manchester?page=all
  2. SpindlierHades (c) some rights reserved
  3. Sound Matthias Kispert (c) some rights reserved

Whispering Arch, Grand Central Station

A whispering gallery found in a surprising place, Grand Central Terminal in New York.

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There’s an area under 4 archways, on the way down to the lower concourse, where you can experience an amazing sound effect. If you and a friend stand at opposite ends of the underpass and one of you speaks towards the wall at a normal volume, the other person can hear you perfectly even though you are a good 10 metres away and facing in the opposite direction. The stone walls and ceiling do a great job of reflecting the sound on a path across to the opposite side of the underpass. For more on the cause of this effect, see Whispering Gallery in St Paul’s Cathedral.

Logistics and location

In the lower concourse outside the Oyster bar. Whispering galleries need to be visited when it isn’t too busy otherwise the effect can’t be heard above other noise.

Sources

  • Site suggested by Charlie Mydlarz
  • Photo Nick Gray

Big Ben

London’s famous soundmark

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(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