What Do You Want to Go Hear?
It is that time of the year when we are starting to get serious about summer vacation. Discussions about where to go and when to do so are heating up around the dinner table. Family members are relating all the good things they have heard from others. The same question is being asked in many homes over and over again – what do you want to go see this summer?
What if you could ask a different question? What if you could ask, what do you want to go hear this summer? Yes, places have visual signatures. But now they have acoustic signatures as well. Places are marked by their topography. But now they are characterized by their soundscape as well. The National Park Service has completed an ambitious project of measuring the sound level across the entire country. This meticulous work has given us two sound maps of the nation. One map of “existing conditions” plots sound levels including man- and machine-made sources. The other map of “natural conditions.” The first map of existing conditions expectedly shows areas of sound level peaks near the urban centers of life across the country. The second map of natural conditions appears to indicate that natural sound levels are highest near water. Flowing water itself is a source of sound, but perhaps habitats of living things (other than humans) in the vicinity also add to the sound levels. In fact, on close examination, the map of “natural conditions” simply appears to reveal rivers of sound.
The maps themselves are intriguing and clearly the outcome of tremendous expert labor. Their sheer scientific quality and aesthetic beauty are undeniable. These maps also give us a different way to plan our summer vacation. We can now plan our vacation to go hear the nation rather than just see the nation.