Sounds: Inside, Outside, Day, and Night

I once saw an NCIS episode in which a blind character could detect one of the detective’s emotional state, just based on a tiny change in his voice. The detective was surprised how she essentially figured out his facial expression and emotions without seeing him, and she replied that blind people could hear better. I was very interested in how blindness could indeed be compensated for in a way by having other senses become more sensitive to stimuli. I researched this, and it turns out that blind people really do have stronger hearing capabilities, particularly with sound localization (Gougoux et al., 2005).

Based on this, I decided that the best way to do this activity was to wear a blindfold to best detect sounds surrounding me. After identifying these sounds, I recorded them during both day and nighttime, starting with the inside of my house and then moving into the outside world. I wanted to experience what constituted daytime, nighttime, home, and outside of home through sounds.

The first sound that I listened to, was the hum of the fridge at night. I was drawn to this sound because it was previously so low-frequency and unnoticeable, fading into the background. However, since I stayed up a little longer that day and blocked visual stimuli, I was able to really focus on it, and wanted to record what usually escaped my attention. I recorded the audio using the Voice Memos app on my iPhone. I thought back to our lecture on sound, and how when we sleep, our brain waves are mostly the meditative delta and theta waves. Maybe that’s why we could sleep with these low-frequency sounds at night without a problem, and why several sleep music includes white noise. These “uneventful” sounds of the fridge convinced me of what it means to be at “home”, a place where I don’t have to constantly be on guard by being overwhelmed hundreds of sensual stimuli, but I can instead be allowed to just relax at peace. Part of the night’s serenity was the lack of noise pollution.

I was also inspired by the Cymatics video that we watched in lecture, in which auditory sounds were essentially converted to visual stimuli for us to observe. This also reminded me of a condition that I learned in my Psychology course, called “sound-to-color synesthesia”, in which a person is able to see colors/shapes when listening or playing sounds. After watching a video of what this looks like (It’s absolutely fascinating, I highly recommend watching it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=obrBAysVef0&t=1s), I decided to design my own way of “seeing” sounds. For that, I used an app called “Phyphox”, which I previously used for pressure measurements in my Physics course. Through this app, I was able to generate graphs of the sounds that I was hearing. These were essentially anthrophonic and geophonic “sound signatures”, as Bernie Krause described in his TED talk. Here is the plot for the fridge hum:

The second sound that I listened to were those of the outside world at daytime. These were what would be best characterized as Spring sounds, with birds chirping and the general movement of people through cars and machinery. I chose these sounds because they were an interesting blend of the human and natural world and were so different from the night and interior sounds. While the birds’ sounds were harmonic and patterned, the anthrophonic ones sounded more chaotic. I noticed that these man-made ambient sounds were always present in the outside world, regardless of whether it was night or day, coming from highways, machines, and industries. It was interesting to think about how this noise pollution from these non-stop sounds could interfere with nature, animals, and even our own mental health, reminding me of Bernie Krause’s TED talk on being able to assess the state of the environment just through sound changes. Here is the sound signature from the Spring:

The third sound that I listened to was that of a plane flying above my balcony in the evening. I was interested in this sound because it showed me just how far our human influence really extends, through the anthrophonic sounds in the atmosphere. It also helped me get a sense of the historical timeline of our human developments because we previously couldn’t do much as it got darker due to the lack of electricity and industrialization in general. Thanks to people like Nikola Tesla, we’re now able to work and travel anytime we want to. Here is the sound signature for the plane:

Finally, the last sound that I listened to was actually one that I produced myself through playing the piano. I did this a while after I returned inside at night. I used to play music a lot in school but didn’t do that as often anymore. I chose this sound because I wanted to choose what to hear at home, as contrasted to what I actually had to hear when outside. It was quite amazing to reflect on the range of sounds that humans can produce. While many of the anthrophonic sounds that we produce are chaotic, such as the ambient noise of cars on the highway that I heard in the Spring sounds, we are also able to produce very distinct and patterned sounds, much like I observed the birds do. Here is the sound signature for the piano: