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We live in a landscape of familiar sounds. Unfamiliar sounds stop us and make us wonder what it is we are hearing. Close your eyes. Open your ears. What can you hear? What you hear may be silence, or lack of sound. If you hear something, you are hearing sound. We hear it with our ears. It is a physical sensation. Sound is vibration and is a form of kinetic energy. We feel it with our skin and in our bones. Sounds can be low like a hum, medium like a waterfall in the distance, a or high pitched like a bird’s shriek. They can be drawn out like a chord on a piano held, or sharp and punctuated like a dog’s bark! Its ambience helps us locate ourselves in space and reveals the size and shape of space even with our eyes closed. It helps us predict weather and temperature and in some cultures seasons. It predicts a storm with thunder and informs us of our relative distance to it. Through sound we share ideas using words, speech and song. We share emotions- joy and happiness, pain and sadness. Sounds tells us about land (topography) and water-slow, gurgling, or crashing in waves. Sounds travel across the sky, across the land and in and through water. Sounds differentiate between languages and cultures. What may fall soothingly on the ear in one culture or be a sound of encouragement may startle in another and be a sound of disapproval. We respond physically and emotionally to sound. We cover our ears to unpleasant sounds and cover our mouth to muffle laughter when we are not to be heard. We tune out noise if we can.

Open your ears! Be ‘all ears!’ Get ears in the back of your head!

Activity 1 – Physical Nature of Hearing

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We hear sound that travels through a material in mechanical vibrations that are characterized by frequency and intensity. Frequency refers to the rate at which the sound source and material vibrate, measured in cycles per second, or Hertz. A high frequency sound wave corresponds to a high pitch sound; a low frequency sound wave corresponds to a low pitch sound. Frequencies that are audible, or heard by humans, range from 20- 20,000 Herz. Intensity is a measure of the amount of energy in sound waves. The intensity of sound waves determines the loudness of sounds, as measured in decibels (dB). People hear over a 120-decibel range starting with a low whisper at 20 decibels and moving into normal speaking range to loud music to hearing damage range at over 90 decibels and pain at 120 decibels. Take a look at the Speech Banana Chart. Research the frequency and intensity of the following sounds and determine where to plot the sounds on a Hearing Banana Chart: smoke alarm; police siren; a baby’s cry, a human heart beat, jet plane, chain saw.

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Activity 2 – Sounds of ourselves

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Can you hear your heart beat? Can you catch your breath? Do you slurp when you sip your drink? Do you burp? Has anyone every caught you snoring in your sleep? Do you talk in your sleep? Can you sing? Can you make percussion noises with your mouth? Can you whistle? Make a list of all of the sound that you make. Record them. Choreograph a one-minute sound of human noises that are yours!

Activity 3 – Sounds of Nature…Outside

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Walk outside. Wait until you can stop and listen carefully. Once you can hear sounds of nature, try to identify their sources. Sounds can be a simple as leaves rustling or falling if it is autumn. They can be birds chirping or singing, crickets or insects moving through the grass, or the sounds of waves and water. They can be the wind passing through the needles of the pine trees. Walk quietly toward the source. Collect, listen to and analyze the sounds of your environment. Produce a natural soundscape. You can use a simple sound editing system like I Movie to choreograph the sounds that you have recorded. Seek sounds in the silence that is nature!

Activity 4 – Sounds of Living in a House…Inside

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Sit inside of your house or apartment. Listen carefully. What can you hear? Do you hear someone talking on the phone? Playing music in the next room? Listening to the TV next door? Can you hear water running? Does your refrigerator hum or your microwave beep? Is someone vacuuming or starting a load of laundry? Is someone hammering to fix something? Sort, collect and analyze sounds in your own home. Choreograph a soundscape that is your address. Then listen to sound of spaces in other rooms at FUNCTION LAB Sounds of Buildings.

Activity 5 – Built Environment Soundscape…Citywide

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After the sensitivity of seeking sounds in the natural environment, finding sources of sounds in the built environment should seem much easier. From lawn mowers to leaf blowers there seems to be a lot more noise in the day to day to day rush of people moving things and going places. Bikes, motorbikes, cars, buses, and trucks move loudly on the land and airplanes and helicopters vibrate and jet across our skies. Honking and screeching, buzzing and sounding alarm, pounding and sawing, digging and building…what sounds does your city make? Make a soundscape for the place you live.

Activity 6 – Sound Quality

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Sound fills our life starting with our heart beat, the voice of a human, or silence. Sounds that fill our world have different qualities. Some sounds bring us pleasure. Some are seductive. Whispers and words of comfort soothe. Some sounds bring back memories. Some crackles and sizzles and steeping can cause us to salivate in anticipation of eating something delicious. Some vibrations heal. Some explosions hurt. Make a word web of different sounds in the world. List the words above midline that are positive sounds to you. List sounds that describe sounds that are aggravating, harsh, hurtful or horrible below the middle line. Using Sound Around You find a nearby sound and rate whether it is pleasant or unpleasant.

*Use your ears and listen. And be more aware of sound! *

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  • Sounds can start damaging your ears at how many dBs?
  • Sound travels in...
  • Sound is measured in
  • A whisper is around
  • A jet plane taking off is
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