Acoustic Communication

Sound is essential for communicating information about environments.  It establishes a relationship by mediating the exchange of facts between the listener and the environment (Truax, 12):

Image Mediation

Knowledge about the composition of environments can be ascertained by studying the acoustics of locations.  Sound transmits information about the structure and state of environments that other means of analysis cannot provide.  For example, the following image is of Best Woods – the primary location studied in the Cowling Arboretum:

Click to enhance:

Best Woods - SM2+ Recorder Location

What can be gained by looking at this image?  While the physical state of the environment is seen (the SM2+ recorder used is shown mounted on a tree), the image lacks information about what fills the space.  It cannot reveal the “invisible” elements, such as the organisms that populate this location and their interactions, unless they are physically visible within the frame.

Sound makes the invisible, mentally visible.  For example, play the following audio sample, recorded when the picture was taken, and notice how much more the space can be understood by listening to the acoustics of this environment.

More information about Best Woods is ascertained by listening to the audio.  No squirrels or birds are present in the image. However, their vocalizations are audible in the audio indicating that even though they are not visible, they are part of the structure of this location.  Furthermore, road sounds from highways 3 and 19, which buffer the Arb (Map), and a train, are audible.  The image of Best Woods implies this wooded area is tranquil and unaffected by human presence (excluding the SM2+ on the tree). However, the environment is not as naturally tranquil as imagined because of intruding industrialized sounds.

The value of acoustic communication is thus revealed through this example: sound transmits information about environments that images alone cannot.  Additionally, scientific studies indicate that natural sounds are essential for:

  • Communication between species
  • Establishing, using, and protecting territorial boundaries
  • Mating behavior
  • Protecting offspring
  • Predation and predator avoidance (Reference 1) (Reference 2)

To further understand the value of acoustic communication, this study addresses why sound is important, what sounds can reveal, and why the preservation of sounds is vital.