Would you like to feel sound?

It sounds like an unusual concept, but one cinema in Wisconsin is trialing a system allowing film fans to feel the sounds as well as hearing them.

Marcus Theatres, in New Berlin, Wisconsin, is testing out the system in one auditorium. Known as Cine-Sation, the technology, which is controlled by individual users, enables viewers to become further immersed in the action on screen. Each seat is contains vibrating pads which respond to the narrative of the film. The seat then vibrates with loud sounds, such as fight scenes, explosions and earthquakes. The intensity of the vibrations can be controlled individually.

Whilst I’m not the most experienced cinema-goer, this sounds like something I’d like to try. How does it actually affect how the sound is experienced? Is this something we could see making it’s way into home entertainment systems in the future?

What do you think of this? Have you seen something similar before, or would you like to try it now?

Why do bubbles sound bubbly?

Here’s something I posted on The Sound Blog before Christmas. Maybe it could be applied to your BBQ season this summer!

The Sound Blog

As you break open the champagne this Christmas, listen to the sound of the bubbles suggests Jonathan Riley.

Bubbles in champagne. Photograph by Gérard Liger-Belair.

Earlier this week I watched Dr. Helen Czerski’s programme about the science of bubbles. One of the things she talked about was how a bubble makes a sound as it rises through a liquid. We know that the sound is caused by the vibrations, but what is it that causes a bubble to oscillate?

It turns out that it’s the bubble itself. Specifically, the property of bubbles that means that they want to take on the shape of least energy around a volume. For a solitary bubble this is a perfect sphere. When the bubble breaks away from the main column of gas it is initially elongated in shape and pointed towards one end. Bubbles don’t like being this pointed shape, so the…

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The Sound of the Past

The other day, I was at the Science Museum in London. The exhibition in the main hall was the development of technology through history. One object I saw was an sound level measurement device.


c. 1935

The idea was that the user would listen to a tone through a set of headphones, and adjust the volume of the tone until it was heard at the same level as the background noise that was being measured. The level of the measured noise can be determined from this. Some of the time this works. However, despite being very difficult to do, it doesn’t take into account a major principle now understood in acoustics – weighting.

The human ear doesn’t hear all frequency at the same loudness. Lower frequencies are perceived to be much quieter than higher frequencies, whilst around 4kHz is heard louder, if they’re all actually the same level. This must be taken into account every time a measurement is made regarding how loud a sound is perceived by a listener.

This is known as A-weighting. Values are added to, or taken away from, the source level to account for the difference. The weighting applied depends on the frequency of the sound being measured.

The shape of the A-weighting filter also determined the level at which modern sound level meters are calibrated at. At the start and end of every measurement, sound level meters must be calibrated. This is to check that the level it reads is the correct, true level. This is done using a device, with the mundane name of a ‘calibrator’, being placed on the microphone which produces a sound known to be 94dB. (The 94dB is because this equates to 1Pa of acoustic pressure).

Modern sound level meters are electronic, and have a setting enabling measurements to be made using an A-weighted scale instead. The tone produced by the calibrator is always at 1kHz. This is because the perceived level of 1kHz is the same when A-weighted as when without A-weighting. Therefore the calibration reading won’t be effected if the A-weighting setting was left on by mistake.

3D sound

I saw this online earlier and thought it I’d share it! I think it’s quite interesting.

German physicist Heinrich Rubens became a god among nerds in 1905 when he invented a tube that uses fire to visualize standing sound waves. When there is no sound fed into the tube, the flames rise to the same height. When a sound is added into the tube, the waveform actually affects the amount of gas that is fed through each hole.

At the point of maximum displacement on the wave (the anti-node), the gas pressure varies. The pressure is highest when the wave crests and the gas is pushed closer to the hole, which forces more fuel out and causes the flame to grow higher. When the wave pushes down into the trough, it can’t really suck the gas back in. The flame has enough gas and oxygen to remain burning higher until the wave crests at that point again.

The part of the wave which crosses the mid-line and remains unchanged is referred to as the node. This area in the Rubens tube doesn’t have the pressure fluctuation and remains relatively low.

Of course, volume plays a big role on how these flames appear. The above description applies when the volume is high, but if the incoming sound is quiet, the crest of the wave isn’t enough to overpower the opposite pressure of the trough, and the anti-nodes actually appear smaller than the nodes.

Derek Muller from Veritasium traveled to Denmark in order to check out an updated version of the Rubens tube. These physicists and chemists have developed an apparatus with 2,500 holes in the top. The key difference is that these holes are not all in a line like a traditional Rubens tube, but actually cover an entire plane.

The results are pretty amazing. Check it out:

Why Do Musicians Need Padded Rooms?

Yesterday a friend of mine asked me what he could do in order to sound proof his room. He explained that he wanted to be able to play his guitar and drums in his music room (I’m guessing not at the same time). However, the music room shared an adjoining wall with a neighbour’s house. What can he do to the room so that he can play as loud as he likes without disturbing his neighbours?



The first thing to consider is the frequencies we are dealing with. Low frequencies, which give lower pitched, bassier tones, have longer wavelengths. This makes them harder to stop. Fortunately for us, drums and guitars produce sounds that are predominantly in the mid to high frequency range.

So how do we stop them? Any kind of porous material – “fluffy stuff” to those of us who know – will absorb sound to a degree. The trick is to know what kind of fluffy stuff to use, how much of it we need, and where to put it. One popular technique used to be to pin egg boxes to the walls. The pits of the boxes would trap some of the mid frequencies and the polystyrene they were made from would absorb some of the higher frequencies. This technique is now less popular, since egg boxes these days are made of cardboard.

Another relatively cheap, yet effective, form of fluffy stuff is duvets. Pinning duvets to the wall will absorb a lot of the higher frequencies. The thicker the duvet, the lower the frequency it can block. For a less permanent solution, hanging the duvet from rods and hooks on the wall will work just as well.

To find where to put them, we need to know where most of the noise is escaping. In this case it’s the adjoining wall to the neighbour’s house. Other common weak points are door and windows as these often have an air gap which allows sound to escape easily. Unfortunately, though, short of replacing the doors or windows, there’s not a lot that can be done about this.

How much of this fluffy stuff do we need? Covering the entire room isn’t necessary. In fact it’s unhelpful. This will absorb too much of the sound, leaving a dead, nonreactive space. This isn’t what we want in a music room. Depending on the size of the room covering about ⅓ to ½ of the wall with fluffy stuff should be sufficient for most uses. This will absorb enough so as not to disturb your neighbours but still leave enough reflection in the room to enjoy the music.

Of course, there are professional products available to do this. These will give a much more consistent result, more precise, measured absorption and be a lot more predictable. It would also most likely be easier to install and look nicer. But as a cheap amateur idea for a personal situation, buying your own fluffy will do the job pretty well!

Have you ever tried sound proofing a room? How did it go? What did you use? Let me know how you got on.

Is Formula 1 too quiet?

Did you watch the Melbourne Grand Prix last weekend? It was the first race of 2014 Formula 1 season. This year has seen the most rule changes for a generation, but the most controversial was the sound of the engines. Since the late 70’s F1 fans have been used to the high pitched screech of the engines as the cars fly by. This year, however, with the new regulations regarding the hybrid engine systems, smaller engine size and the reintroduction of the turbo, the the sound of the engine is very different. Watch this video to see what I mean. It compares the engine sounds of the Renault team F1 car in 2013 to 2014.

As you can see, the new cars are much quieter and much lower in pitch. For the first time in many years in the sport, the team crews reported that they could hear the crowd noise over the sound of the cars. Some even said they could here the traffic on the road outside the track!

The different sound of the 2014 cars was met with mixed responses. F1 boss, Bernie Ecclestone, admitted that he was ‘horrified’ by how quiet the cars were and ‘vowed to make them sound more like racing cars’. However, many of the fans at the race said that they enjoyed being able to hold conversations during the race and felt a lot more comfortable without the need for ear plugs.

Many reporters are suggesting that the loss of the classic F1 sound that we’re used to is a loss of genuine authenticity in the sport. I think it will be really interesting to see how people’s opinions regarding the sound of the engines change throughout the season.

Is this the new sound of F1 or will people demand the old engine sounds back?  Have you been to a Grand Prix? What did you think of the sound of the engines? What’s your opinion on the new engines sound?

Water Closet Music?

Last month musician Mick Squalor decided to play his next gig in the bathroom of his local pub in Ipswich. He was singing along to the live band playing one night whilst he was in the bathroom and noticed how good the acoustics sounded in there.

This is probably due to the reverberation. Most performance spaces have a relatively large amount of reverberation. This helps the sound to create a warm atmosphere in the room, without dying away too quickly. The amount of reverberation in a room is controlled by the volume of the room and the amount of absorbing material in the room.

The reverberation in the bathroom was mostly likely caused by the small volume of the room and the high proportion of reflective surfaces. This is in contrast to the acoustic of the pub. The cushions, carpets, and other soft furnishings in the pub would absorb a lot of the sound, along with the people. This means that the live music played in main pub would have less reverberation than if it were played in the bathroom. If it weren’t for the hygiene concerns, I think gigs would be played in bathrooms more often!

What are the weirdest venues you’ve heard about?

The Instrument That Anyone Can Play

Every spring for the last few years,  an art installation brings the sound of music to downtown Montreal, Canada.

The sound is made at the peak of the swing. The tempo, therefore, is controlled by how fast you swing and the pitch of the note is found by how high you go. Each swing plays a different instrument, from guitar, piano to harp.

The project, called 21 Balançoires (21 swings), from artists Mouna Andraos and Melissa Mongiat and design group Daily Tous Les Jours , appears in Montreal’s Promenade des Artistes during May. The purpose of the project is to inspire people who may not think of themselves as creative. Instead, through this project, everyone, by working together, becomes a force for creativity. Music is made by each person swinging together with those near them. Adjusting your movements in relation to neighbours’, combined with LEDs in the base of each seat, leads to a full musical experience of which you’re in complete control.

Have you experienced any other extraordinary sounds like this?

Cosmic B♭

I read this on Twitter this morning.

I think it’s a bit hard to justify this as a sound, for two reasons. Firstly, a frequency of 57 octaves below middle C would be far to low for the human ear to detect – a single oscillation of takes about 9.5 million years. Secondly, in the vacuum of deep space there would be no medium for the sound to propagate through, again meaning we wouldn’t be able hear it.

Even so, that’s very low! It’s caused by the inflation of bubbles of plasma in the centre of the Perseus galaxy cluster and oscillates at the frequency of a B♭. The note was discovered by Cambridge University professors in 2003 using the Chandra X-ray Observatory. I think that’s quite interesting!

The Shape of Music

Shape of Music

Anyone who listens to music will know how it can make us feel. The slow, sombre tones of a ballard, the fast pace and loud brass of a march. But is this the same all over the world? Do people of different cultures, who listen to very different music, experience the same moods for the same styles of music?

This article (tiny.cc/l69lax) on National Geographic says they do. Having compared the responses from college students in New England and rural Cambodia, the data came back as very similar. The emotions experienced through the music as well as the motion associated with those emotions. Faster, livelier music was found to have a much spikier, more harsh appearance with sharp, sudden movements, whereas the motion connected to slow, sad music was much more fluid with a softer appearance.

It seems that the human response to music and sounds is hard wired into the human psyche. Wherever we are the in the world, whoever we are, we are all united through music.

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