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.

Echo, Château de Chinon

A strange local rhyme exploits this distinctive echo.

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This way to the echo

How can a Sound Tourist resist a road sign pointing towards an echo? Despite having no decent sound recording equipment, no aptitude at speaking French and ignoring the fact I was wearing a cycle jersey of dubious taste, I attempted to capture the event on my mobile. You might need to turn up the volume to hear the echo.

A description of the echo appears in the Rough Guide to the Loire which describes a traditional local rhyme which exploits the timing of the echo:

Me: Les femmes de Chinon sont-elles fidѐles

Echo: Elles?

Me: Oui, Les femmes de Chinon

Echo: Non!

Which translates into English as:

Me: Are the women of Chinon faithful?

Echo: Them?

Me: Yes, the women of Chinon

Echo: No!

And I can confirm the description is correct –  by that I mean the echo rhyme really works, I know nothing about the faithfulness of Chinon women! The echo is a reflection from the side of the chateaux and is beautifully clear (if a little quiet for recording on a mobile).

Location

If you exit the Château visitors’ centre northwards away from the town (it seems like the back entrance) you’ll pass L’Echo de Rabelais. Across the road you’ll see a big sign to the echo vineyard close to the smaller sign for the echo. Follow the small Rue de l’Echo for 200m and you’ll find a small raised vantage point. A

Whistled language

Use to communicate over large distances.

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How do you communicate over large distances on a mountainous island full of deep ravines? On La Gomera in the Canaries, inhabitants developed a whistling language to save themselves long and arduous treks. Maybe we should all use it when the network coverage is poor.

The whistling mimics the sounds of the local language, using variations in the notes to represent words. Indeed, brain scans show that listeners are exploiting the same parts of the brain used in normal language processing when interpretting the whistling.

Although other places in the world have whistling languages, this one is unusual because it’s so sophisticated and practised by thousands of inhabitants. Indeed, the island habitants learn the language at school. It’s importance has been recognized by Unesco.

Waiter demonstrates language for tourists

Location

La Gomera in the Canaries

Credits

  1. Sound extracted from BBC interview
  2. vilb (c) some rights reserved
  3. Suggested by Bernard Berry

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

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