Have you had difficulty finding a quiet place to relax, or a restaurant to enjoy a good meal with friends without too much noise from the background? Sometimes the noise level of a venue can get too loud that a pleasant conversation is impossible. Here’s a mobile app that we have come across, during the ASA meeting in New Orleans held earlier this month, called SoundPrint that helps users locate quiet venues on map. Users can search keywords (Figure 1) or look directly on the map, venues are displayed with their decibel levels (Figure 2). The app categorises venues into quiet, moderate, loud and very loud areas, so users can easily find quiet or vibrant venues according to their preference. With the app, users can also measure the loudness of a venue in decibels (Figure 3), which contributes to the database of the app, and enables users to determine whether a venue is too loud or not (>80dB), to reflect to the manager for improvement.
Sometimes it is hard to find quiet places nearby when you want to escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. We came across a mobile app that helps users find quiet areas close by to relax. Hush City, an app introduced during the ASA meeting in Boston earlier this year, helps users find these “everyday quiet areas” on a map of quietness (Figure 1). The app also encourages users to explore quiet spots in their neighbourhoods by allowing them to record sounds and measure sound levels in decibels with the app (Figure 2). Users can answer a questionnaire of feedback on the sound spot (Figure 3). The collected data and feedback are used for the map of quietness. This actively engages the public in sonic environment evaluation and planning.
You may know the word landscape. A landscape includes the broad view of everything you can see around you (e.g. trees and rivers when you go hiking). You may also hear bird cries and rivers flowing. These elements make up a soundscape i.e. an auditory landscape. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) defines soundscape as acoustic environment as perceived or experienced and/or understood by a person or people, in context. In simpler terms, soundscape refers to the component sounds of an environment.
Since a soundscape may comprise a host of different sounds, they may not fit or even clash with each other, giving rise to disharmony, especially in cities where man-made sounds and noise dominate the scene. In view of this, soundscape design aims to make sounds or noise, which are perceived to be inevitable, more in harmony with the pertinent environment. For instance, water sounds from a fountain in a park may help mask the undesirable vehicle noise nearby. Regarding how to harmonize a soundscape, professionals engaged in the field have different opinions and focuses. For city planners, they may want to control noise and meet objective noise standards; for sonic artists, they may want to factor in an emotional dimension in their soundscape planning.
Does your neighbourhood have a harmonious soundscape?
A prominent landmark on Hong Kong Island, the International Finance Centre (branded as “ifc”) stands proudly at the Central waterfront. The complex comprises some of the most exclusive office space in Hong Kong, the prestigious Four Seasons Hotel, as well as a leading destination for high-end shopping: ifc mall.
During busy hours when people hurry to arrive at offices and hurry back home after work, the sound of fast-paced walking and high heels clicking on floor are especially prominent. We may all hear classical music playing at a mall but seldom do we listen to it. Yet when we do listen, the background music at ifc is not constantly heard. It may get uneven when background music is heard louder at some spots while not at all perceivable at other locations. It may not matter much as reported by mall-goers of what they perceive within their awareness. However, little noticed as it may, it may sound glaring when the classical music at the background clashes with music of entirely different genres from some stores, such as the rock music played by a Hi-Fi store in the mall.
There may be other aspects of the sonic environment in neglect. The sound of trolleys clashing at Citysuper contrasts glaringly with the relative quiet of the cosmetic stores nearby. The passages in ifc are wider compared to a lot of shopping malls in Hong Kong, hence intensifying the reflection of sound. Pleasant sound magnified will contribute to the likeability of ifc’s sonic environment; unwanted sound amplified will reinforce its undesirability.
Do you think ifc’s soundscape lives up to its expectations of being a high-end mall?
Have you ever been to restaurants that are too noisy to stay long? Are there any restaurants that you want to go again because of its harmonious sonic environment? The many sounds you heard in a restaurant constitute the soundscape of it. The subjective feelings you have towards the soundscape is the most interesting part to study. Sounds in restaurants may not be noticeable most of the time, yet sounds stealthily affect us in different ways.
Why Soundscape Matters? – Dining is part and parcel of everyday life for urban folks. Restaurants nowadays are not only places to eat but a matter of lifestyle. Hong Kong, Macao and Singapore are well developed cities that pursue better quality of life. We care about the setting of a restaurant or the quality of food but seldom talk about the sonic environment of a restaurant. The sonic environment of a restaurant sets the atmosphere and the mood for diners to enjoy food. It is as part of the dining experience as the dishes, décor and customer service. The many possibilities in making better soundscapes can bring us to a new world of dining out experience.
What Can You Help? – If you are interested to contribute in improving the sonic environment of restaurants, you are cordially invited to participate in the research project by National University of Singapore, Macao Polytechnic Institute and DingDingSound HK. We are sorting out the major components in creating desirable soundscape in restaurants. We need your comments on various restaurants. The following questionnaire will take you about 5 minutes to complete. You can rate any restaurants you have been to for several aspects. Your reply will be of paramount value to our research and future design of soundscape in restaurants. Thank you for your time and assistance. If you have any question/ feedback, please email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chinese Questionnaire: http://bit.ly/2tsxcYz
English Questionnaire: http://bit.ly/2ubtcsv