Thought: Placing Sounds

I’ve been cycling in London for several years now, a lot more active since September 2016, about 9 months ago.

I’ve easily racked up 2000 kilometres in this time.

One thing I now realise I’ve become rather adept at is placing the location of sounds without a direct visual reference. When I’m on a busy road, my eyes are on the 2/3 metres in front of me, and whether I can fit in this gap, or whether that van is slowing down or indicating too late.

However, my ears hear the whole environment, and I can now with a fair amount of accuracy tell exactly what vehicle is where and which way it’s moving and whether it’s accelerating or braking – all from the sound.


Research: Gamification and Directional Sound


As part of a safety campaign entitled ‘Track Tests‘,┬áso-called ‘music artists’ (a rapper and a spoken word artist) were invited to play a game.

In a warehouse with 7 spokes of tracks mocked up, the player was set in the middle and asked to push the button corresponding to the direction they thought they could hear the train coming from.

“Sound engineers” (nameless, of course) “have created a 360-degree surround-sound system to recreate the noise of an approaching train with other distracting noises such as wind and traffic.”

They seemed to have rigged up what is described as a “360 sound system”, though the behind the scenes video seems long gone. Neither Wretch nor George the Poet did well once the noise of wind and the distorting effects of buildings and structures were incorporated into the sound mix.


What I got from this:

  • Identifying sounds relies on more than just the actual sound, it’s about the absence of other sounds – distractions. For one sound to be identified as the key thing to listen to, all other noise must be eliminated, or it drifts into the background.