New app and website to create a sound map of Britain

Monday 19 November 2012
Sounds Around You in action on campus.
Sounds Around You in action on campus.
Acoustic engineers at the University of Salford have launched a unique project to create a 'sound map of Britain’.

Members of the public are invited to use the project app on their iPhone, iPad or any digital recorder to record short audio clips from different environments - such as a local park or a street - and upload them to add to the soundscape map with their opinion on how it makes them feel and why they recorded it.

Just head to the website on an Apple device and click the iSAY app link or search for “isay” from the app store.

The study aims to get a better understanding of what gives a place 'character' and how opinions and attitudes to sound environments vary.

PhD student Charlie Mydlarz, who is leading the study, explains: "We're asking people to record the sound of any environment they choose, and that includes both public and private spaces, so recordings could capture anything from a family car journey to a busy shopping centre.

"And by using everyday technology to get people involved, this has the potential to be the largest study of its kind. We'll be producing the first ever sound map purely for research purposes - the findings of which could have far reaching uses from psychological research to town planning."

While existing studies tend to focus on volume, with loud assumed noisy and undesirable and quiet as desirable, this study will investigate the idea that there is no such thing as 'noise', simply sound that is out-of-place or context.

For example, the sound of a busy street and shouting voices may be unpleasant and out-of-place in a quiet residential area but is an essential part of the 'atmosphere' and personality of a market.

Sound, especially in urban areas, is an increasingly important issue, as recent debates about potential noise levels from a third runway at Heathrow demonstrate. While there are many bodies concerned with how our environments look – how they sound has, until recently, often been overlooked.

With more people living in cities, urban areas being redesigned and new technologies such as electric or hybrid cars offering the potential for quieter streets, there is a need to reassess our understanding of 'noise'.

This sound map of Britain could be useful in a variety of ways, for example, for urban planners or people checking out an area ahead of buying a house.

In raising awareness of how our sound environment influences us, researchers hope that participants will embrace a new 'language of sound'. For example, rather than 'landmarks' and 'landscapes' we might describe distinctive features of our sound environment or 'soundscapes', as 'soundmarks' and value them as highly as an attractive country vista or dramatic urban skyline.

You can keep up with developments in the project on the Sounds Around You Twitter page.

Follow the latest science and technology research, courses and other news from Salford at our dedicatedTwitter feed or on the College of Science and Technology Facebook page.