Cox (Acoustic Engineering/Salford Univ.; Acoustic Absorbers and Diffusers, 2009) explores how the psychological and physical worlds of sound come together.
Using the design of concert halls to illustrate “the fusion of the objectivity of physics with the subjectivity of perception,” the author explains how, in the final analysis, it is the audience that judges the quality of the acoustics. The reverberation of sound as it bounces around a room determines how we hear a sound—e.g., a live room such as a bathroom, where the sound is enhanced by the reflection of the sound, compared to the way that a plush hotel room dampens sound. However, a crucial element that necessarily eludes the acoustical engineer is the role of expectation in our response to sound. Neuroscientists are just beginning to unravel the mystery of how we perceive sound. Cox has devoted much of his career to the design of concert halls and theaters that enhance sound quality or quiet spaces that reduce unwanted noise. Fifteen years ago, he also became fascinated with common, everyday sounds in our environment. It all began when a BBC interviewer tapped his expertise as a sound engineer to explain the unusual acoustics found in a London sewer 20 feet below street level. The experience was a life-changer. “In the right place a 'defect' [such as]…the metallic, spiraling echo in the sewer, could be fascinating to listen to,” writes Cox. This was the start of a new phase of his career, during which he has presented 17 popular-science documentaries on different aspects of sound for BBC radio. He visited ancient Greek theaters and 16th-century cathedrals, participated in a Buddhist retreat and explored the acoustics of whispering galleries. His travels also took him to Neolithic sites and the sand dunes of the Mojave Desert.
An intriguing tour d'horizon of the world of sound.