Copyright Catherine Meeson Saturday 2nd March 2014
"Think Ahead is a new exhibition about advances in science and technology which blends innovative exhibits with hands on experiences to inspire you to research, think creatively and share your ideas” (Museum Victoria, 2014).
Melbourne’s Innovative Children’s education center Scienceworks in Spotswood, focuses on kinaesthetic and multi sensory exhibits. It has presented another fantastic exhibit with a special ‘Sound Room’. It immediately evoked the inner child in me who first discovered the joy of making sounds and the effect they could have on ones state of being ie. consciousness. It is a sci fi inspired sound module or sound pod which introduces people to the basics of Sound Psychology, and has an easy to touch, screen sample composition module – using pictographs. It is a similar concept to one of their previous compositional models using pictograms with preset sounds one can select from, easy to use for instant playback and recognition, and is gratifying for youngsters. The control sits in the center of the sound pod and there are four reclining seats to listen from and select feeling responses .
The compositional unit uses multiple tracks of audio as in any standard digital recording and playback technology. It is always in play mode scrolling right to left along the timeline. One can choose between four themes and four moods and compose a basic sound palette exploring sonic effects and feeling states and physiological responses. One is still exposed to the low freq sound waves from another part of the exhibit , it acts as constant background drone demonstrating the acoustics of a standing wave.
Sound has been acknowledged as a prime agent of state change, able to affect persons physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually going back in historical records to cultures like the ancient Greeks, Chinese and Egyptian. So the field of Sound psychology is not new, just a revision of aspects of previous knowledge conveyed under slightly different terminology (culture and time context dependent).
Sound has a tremendous impact on state of health and stress production. It is a phenomena of the physical universe of vibrations made audible travelling through the air, but frequency phenomena including those outside of the range of human hearing (20-20,000 hz) also passes through matter states, just at different frequency wavelengths ( as in ultrasound and infrasound). Sound waves can travel through dense objects, air and water, and as inaudible frequencies through space, more of an emission or pulse.
On the lead in to the exhibition this concept is introduced using a wall corridor with a focus on acoustics and waves, with a low pitched possibly sub drone. I did not use a spectrum analyser application to identify the exact frequency exactly as I was with children. Presentation boards introduce the concept of sound as physical vibration, as a force. Once one passes along the corridor, upon turning the corner, the entry to the sound room beckons, a dimly lit space with changing light colour spectrums, connected in to the mood pictographs (a possible colour therapy application). Some other information boards also discuss other aspects of sound, research in Acoustic Ecology- field recording of species to learn about behaviours and environment via sound. This field was a massive inspiration for my honours thesis work last year titled 'An Approach To Soundscape Composition Incorporating the Therapeutic and Moving Aspects Of Music and Sound'. This study explored this field from a slightly different angle.
The ‘Create a Mood with Sound’ ( see picture)- pictographic composition gave the following
The wave or mp3 samples, were dragged and dropped to play, conducted long the “play zone”. The listening pod/ sound module has other panels for selection for the listener with smiley faces, (see photograph) to express how the sounds being played made one feel. It is not prescriptive however studies have informed the choice of samples, they are most definitely themed according to known parameters of music /sounds effect on body and mind. These factors are too numerous to mention here in detail, but mention such things as rhythmic element, pitch, timbre, natural and synthetic, frequency, etc.
The Faces include
Another board spoke about the rhythms of the body and the resulting feeling states i.e. affect and introduced tonality and tempo as factors known to affect us. The dominant soundscape of city life is mentioned with reference to how we may adapt our sound world in the future to deal with the stressors of 21st century life. City soundscapes are known as being particularly stressful, and have impacts on the health of humans and the diversity of biological species, such as bird populations.
The other element of ‘Creating a Mood with Sound’ to select from was the selection of emotions which together with the other presets of Music, Nature, etc brought up, pre-selected palette of samples. The choices were
This linked in with the listening selectors so people could offer their reflections which in some cases may differ, depending of course on a persons subjective response. Sound & health studies as a broad field has some universal aspects and some that are more of the subjective kind.
The children could compose “Scary future sounds”, or Calm environmental “ for example by dragging the picotgrams onto any of the three tracks of the ‘play zone’. It is a fantastic way of generating awareness and educating about the rapidly evolving field of sound studies. Sound studies have so many implications for Future Culture and all living beings. It is timely that we are examining the effect of sound on other forms of life. Historical recsearch and recent studies have been done regarding sounds effect on plants, animals as well as persons. Sound has been used in medicine and engineering and will no doubt continue to be the cutting edge of innovation of many fields of study, with broad applications.
I found it engaging and timely, as it accords both with my lived experience , which is what drove me into researching the phenomena of sound on all levels and being a sonic archaeologist . Many years or private research have me able to recognize the importance of Exhibits like this, and able to offer commentary of interest. My exegesis and thesis last year 'Oriental Temple Gardens Complex composition explored the ideal sonic world, a sonic utopia, exploring all aspects previously mentioned in this blog so far, in a written thesis and a composed work, of 22.20. It considers sound music and health, inter-species relations, music healing traditions, cross cultural spiritualities and acoustic ecology.
To conclude, I think the ‘Sound Room’ has huge potential, and is a timely exhibit marvelously presented. It connects to some of my own ideas and has great future applications.
Photos taken on phone by Catherine Meeson of exhibit elements, from Scienceworks/ Museum of Victoria.
Museum Victoria 2014, ‘What’s on Today’ Pamphlet and map , Scienceworks, Spotswood Victoria.
A passionate human being and avid sound current devotee