Let’s go soundwalking!

David Woolworth – dwoolworth@rwaconsultants.net

Roland, Woolworth & Associates, Oxford, MS, 38655, United States

Bennett Brooks and Brigitte Schulte-Fortkamp

Popular version of 4pAAb1 – Introduction to Soundwalking – an important part of the soundscape method
Presented at the 185th ASA Meeting
Read the abstract at https://doi.org/10.1121/10.0023505

Please keep in mind that the research described in this Lay Language Paper may not have yet been peer reviewed.

Our acoustic environment is a critical part of our everyday experience; it is often unconsciously processed with all other stimuli to form an impression of a place and time, but its impact is not always fully understood. Soundscape is a method of assessing the acoustic environment where perception is prioritized. The soundscape method and the soundwalk tool integrate measurements of the human perception of sound with other observations that characterize the environment, such as the sound levels, the type of location and the various sound sources. The combination of these perceptual measurements with other observations helps us to understand how the acoustic environment impacts the people there and can provide directions for possible changes that can improve their quality of life.

The soundscape method suggests assessing all sounds which occur in an environment using collected data related to human perception, the physical acoustic setting, and context. Context includes visual cues, geographic, social, psychological and cultural aspects, including one’s mental image or memory of a place. Soundscape transcends the common studies of noise and sound levels, and is a powerful tool for effecting positive results with regard to the quality of life for stakeholders in the acoustic environment; standardized methodology has been developed that can be adapted to various applications, using sound as a resource. Soundwalks are an important part of the soundscape method and are a useful way to engage stakeholders who participate by consciously observing and evaluating the soundscape.

Figure 1

A soundwalk is an element of the soundscape method that typically will include a walking tour of observation locations over a predetermined route to solicit perceptual feedback from the participants regarding the acoustic environment (see Figures 1 and 2). The participants of the soundwalk typically include stakeholders or “local experts”: members of the community that experience the soundscape daily, users/patrons of a space, residents, business people, and local officials. Soundwalks can be performed from urban areas to wilderness settings, indoors and outdoors; the information collected can have many applications including ordinances and planning, preservation or improvement of the acoustic environment, and building public/self-awareness of the acoustic environment.

Figure 2

The perceptual information collected during a soundwalk includes the sounds heard by the participants and often directed questions with scaled answers; this along with objective sound level measurements and audio recordings can be used to assess an acoustic space(s) in an effort to effect the purpose of the soundwalk. (see Figures 3 and 4) In some cases, the participants are interviewed to get a deeper understanding of their responses or the data can be taken to a lab for further study.

Figure 3

The soundwalk and post processing of collected information is flexible relative to soundscape standard methods to target an acoustic space and purpose of the investigation. This makes it an adaptable and powerful tool for assessing an acoustic environment and improving the quality of life for the those that live in or use that environment, using their own perceptions and feedback.

Figure 4

2aNS – How virtual reality technologies can enable better soundscape design

W.M. To – wmto@ipm.edu.mo
Macao Polytechnic Institute, Macao SAR, China.
A. Chung – ac@smartcitymakter.com
Smart City Maker, Denmark.
B. Schulte-Fortkamp – b.schulte-fortkamp@tu-berlin.de
Technische Universität Berlin, Berlin, Germany.

Popular version of paper 2aNS, “How virtual reality technologies can enable better soundscape design”
Presented Tuesday morning, November 29, 2016
172nd ASA Meeting, Honolulu

The quality of life including good sound quality has been sought by community members as part of the smart city initiative. While many governments have placed special attention to waste management, air and water pollution, acoustic environment in cities has been directed toward the control of noise, in particular, transportation noise. Governments that care about the tranquility in cities rely primarily on setting the so-called acceptable noise levels i.e. just quantities for compliance and improvement [1]. Sound quality is most often ignored. Recently, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) released the standard on soundscape [2]. However, sound quality is a subjective matter and depends heavily on the perception of humans in different contexts [3]. For example, China’s public parks are well known to be rather noisy in the morning due to the activities of boisterous amateur musicians and dancers – many of them are retirees and housewives – or “Da Ma” [4]. These activities would cause numerous complaints if they would happen in other parts of the world, but in China it is part of everyday life.

According to the ISO soundscape guideline, people can use sound walks, questionnaire surveys, and even lab tests to determine sound quality during a soundscape design process [3]. With the advance of virtual reality technologies, we believe that the current technology enables us to create an application that immerses designers and stakeholders in the community to perceive and compare changes in sound quality and to provide feedback on different soundscape designs. An app has been developed specifically for this purpose. Figure 1 shows a simulated environment in which a student or visitor arrives the school’s campus, walks through the lawn, passes a multifunctional court, and get into an open area with table tennis tables. She or he can experience different ambient sounds and can click an object to increase or decrease the volume of sound from that object. After hearing sounds at different locations from different sources, the person can evaluate the level of acoustic comfort at each location and express their feelings toward overall soundscape.  She or he can rate the sonic environment based on its degree of perceived loudness and its level of pleasantness using a 5-point scale from 1 = ‘heard nothing/not at all pleasant’ to 5 = ‘very loud/pleasant’. Besides, she or he shall describe the acoustic environment and soundscape using free words because of the multi-dimensional nature of sonic environment.


Figure 1. A simulated soundwalk in a school campus.

  1. To, W. M., Mak, C. M., and Chung, W. L.. Are the noise levels acceptable in a built environment like Hong Kong? Noise and Health, 2015. 17(79): 429-439.
  2. ISO. ISO 12913-1:2014 Acoustics – Soundscape – Part 1: Definition and Conceptual Framework, Geneva: International Organization for Standardization, 2014.
  3. Kang, J. and Schulte-Fortkamp, B. (Eds.). Soundscape and the Built Environment, CRC Press, 2016.
  4. Buckley, C. and Wu, A. In China, the ‘Noisiest Park in the World’ Tries to Tone Down Rowdy Retirees, NYTimes.com, from http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/04/world/asia/china-chengdu-park-noise.html , 2016.