WASHINGTON — Close your eyes and listen.
The sounds emanating from the world can be noisy and abrasive, but often they’re fascinating, magical, musical and hard to explain.
Acoustic engineer Trevor Cox has been searching for, and cataloging, many of the sonic wonders of the world — including some generated locally.
“People have for ages been taking pictures of their holidays and sharing them, but it seems we don’t seem to celebrate the sounds that we hear as we’re out and about,” Cox says in an interview from London.
Cox’s website provides a soundmap and explanations of some of the world’s most interesting acoustic phenomena.
He has recently released a book, called “The Sound Book: The Science of the Sonic Wonders of the World”, which includes tips on becoming better listeners in a world dominated by the visual.
While Cox used a Roland R-44 portable field recorder and Audio-Technica AT8010 microphone to gather his sounds, smartphone technology enables anyone to gather audio of the chirps, whispers, squeaks, honks, purrs and hums that make up the world.
“Loads of us take our phones with us, and not only do these take pictures; they take video. And of course on those videos you have the soundtrack,” says Cox. “So now it’s possible for anyone who’s got a smartphone to share their sounds with others.”
Amazing sounds, if you know where to listen
The Whispering Gallery, inside London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral, is one of Cox’s favorites.
The design of the circular gallery enables a person talking quietly to be heard clearly by another person across the room. “You go and whisper into the walls and you can hear the sound going around the inside of the dome,” Cox says.
Closer to home, Luray Caverns, in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, is home to the Great Stalacpipe Organ, hailed as “the world’s largest musical instrument.” The stalactites produce tones when electronically tapped by rubber-tipped mallets.
“It might seem unlikely a stone can make sort of a xylophone sound, but it can if you get the right kind of stone,” says Cox.
The singing sand dunes in the Mojave Desert are another natural phenomenon.
“You have to go into the desert in the heat of the summer and create an avalanche by slipping down the slope on your backside, and then you create this amazing droning sound,” says Cox.
See and hear the singing sand dunes: