Anechoic Chambers

A claustraphobic silence that some find unpleasant and others love.

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The anechoic chamber at the University of Salford, UK
The anechoic chamber at the University of Salford, UK

When someone talks in a full anechoic chamber, their voice sounds muffled, like your ears need to pop while in an aircraft. Some visitors find the disjoint between the visual and aural unsettling. This is a room where you can see but not hear walls. One scientific study showed that if you turn the lights out, after a while some visitors will start to have hallucinations in the chamber.

Anechoic chambers are incredibly quiet and the walls of the room don’t reflect sound. This enables acousticians to test products and sound phenomena without interference from outside noises or reflections from the walls. A well designed anechoic chamber is so quiet that no sound enters your ear canals, the only sounds you hear are generated by your own body. You might hear blood moving through your head and/or a high pitched hissing originating in the auditory nerve. But the extraordinary quiet isn’t the main reason why some visitors ask to leave the chamber. The walls, floor and ceiling are covered in absorbent wedges that mean no sound reflects back to you when you talk and this sounds impressive.

This video is the best illustration I know for how quiet the space is:

And this sound of a balloon burst is a great illustration of how the anechoic chamber stops reflections, turning the normal bang into a brief click:

Location and logistics

There are many anechoic chambers in the world, but you need to find a high quality one with an absorbing floor and very low background noise level to get the full aural experience. At Salford University, our anechoic chamber opens up during open days for public tours.

Coloured Canyon

A place to hear nothing. Although you might be surprised to find out when you get there, that your body isn’t as quiet as you think.

We’re not used to hearing complete silence. Normally there’s sound around us: the distant drone of traffic noise, leaves rustling in the wind, the hum of insects, etc. To find complete silence in nature, you need to travel to places which have little vegetation (so there are no other animals about) and you need to find a spot which is sheltered from the wind, or travel on a windless day. A good spot to hear absolutely nothing is the depths of the Coloured Canyon in Sinai. And according to Adam Lawrence who suggested this place “Oh, it looks pretty good too.”

Location

Tours are available from hotels on the nearby red sea coast (Gulf of Aqaba side of Sinai). Getting there involves a long jeep ride and a hike. Leave early in the morning to avoid the heat and to get there before too many people ruin the quiet.

Credits

Photo by Tanya Dedyukhina, CC BY 3.0

Way of Silence

This tiny beautiful island has a Way of Silence – a waymarked soundwalk.

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(3 Votes, average 3.33)
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“‘If you can be yourself, you are everything,’ says one sign. ‘Listen to the water, the wind, your steps,’ urges another.” [1]

On the small Isola San Giulio (St Julius’s Island) in Italy, there’s a Sound Walk. The ‘Way of Silence’ is a flagged alleyway that goes around the island, with plaques that instruct you to listen out for particular sounds. Such a process of walking and structured listening was pioneered by acoustic ecologists as a way of better understanding soundscapes.

When you tire of the sound walk, turn around and follow the back of the plaques which have different messages, forming the ‘Way of Meditation’.

Location

Lonely planet page on the island

Credits

  1. http://www.orta.net/eng1/indipendent.html
  2. Photo by oliver hiltbrunner (c) some rights reserved
  3. Suggested by Gianluca Memoli