An Oasis of Tranquility: An Audio Post

Tech Square at Night

Tech Square at night.

This is the audio recording. The transcript is available at the bottom of the post.

A sample of the Tech Square soundscape:

Concept Art:

In my imagination the overhang and windowed wall stretches all the way to the roadside

In my imagination the overhang and windowed wall stretches all the way to the roadside.

Transcript:

At Tech Square, our group chose a more secluded area just a little bit down the road from the intersection of 5th and Spring, where it seemed like very little road traffic travelled. It was astounding how quickly the area turned from bustling and loud to quiet and calming. I’ve provided a sound sample to try to provide some sense of the soundscape of the area.

The more time I spent in the area, the more I came to believe that the space should prioritize the peace and tranquility that the naturally low traffic flow provides. The pedestrians that used the area seemed noticeably calmer and more laid back than the pedestrians just fifty yards away but nothing disrupted this calm more than when a bus, or in particular, a motorcycle would trawl through the area and disrupt the airspace. This is the problem that needs to be solved to make this area absolutely perfect, and to do this, I think the solution is a sound interface specifically designed to keep the noise pollution of the open road out.

Consider the amount noise pollution would be reduced if a canopy and a full length windowed wall were built atop this walkway. I’ve provided concept art of the sort of installation I’m talking about but in my imagination the windowed wall stretches all the way to the road. This installation would reduce noise pollution and provide a nice calming area for pedestrians to walk through or even for pedestrians to sit down and have lunch outside Starbucks or the pizza place with the picnic tables and benches provided. There could even be slow relaxing music piped into the area to add to the ambiance and help turn the area into an oasis of tranquility in the busy city environment. If the interface was advanced enough, it could even raise the volume of the music slightly when it sensed that there was a high noise level on the street to try and drown it out just a little bit.

I would be wary of allowing the terrace to speak as this might enter an uncanny valley where users would become unnerved by previously silent objects, such as general architecture speaking to them, especially when the terrace should in theory be servicing many different people at once. As is stated in Wired for Speech, humans do not fundamentally determine a difference between the voice of a computer and a human, and so a speech interface may confuse users into thinking somebody was trying to get their attention or, if the speech is clearly robotic, users may be annoyed by the interface interrupting their conversations. Furthermore, what service would a speech interface serve here? The only functionality that comes to mind is changing the music, which I think would be better served with a jukebox for such a comparatively small function.

Plot Twist: Buses are actually Temples of Relaxation

     The Bus is a through-way. There is no defined standard of what one does onboard. People check their phones, stare outside, listen to music, talk to neighbors. Everyone is a passive actor existing in limbo for the three or five minutes they are on The Bus until returning to the real world, journey completed.

We are waiting. We are passively journeying.

     The hum of the engine lulls passengers into the meditative other universe of The Bus. Its sound turns mechanical in passenger’s bodies, relaxing their muscles for the ensuing 1Vipassana. The windows and their handles rattle in time with the engine, but muffle outside noise: horns, passing cars, conversation, leaf blowers.

     On recurring intervals the brakes squeal and a hydraulic hiss flows back into the cabin. Another squeal and the doors open, followed by a hiss. The open doors are portals – into the other universe you are passing amidst – through which the wind is sucked in, mixing with the rush of the air conditioner. It is like The Bus is breathing in. And out. Irregularly; sometimes every five minutes, sometimes every three minutes.

     The bus hiccups, too: brakes squeal, but do not hiss. The temporary disruption from the beast’s breathing alerts passengers to the outside world. One is, momentarily, not a meditative passenger, but a watcher of the windows as TV screens.

     One hears the sounds and knows them, but they are so constant and repetitive that you don’t hear the source, you just hear the quality – it is reduced listening. The rhythmic sounds of The Bus define it as a place in between, but the most important sound is that of the driver. Without their announcing voice, one can easily miss their stop because of the meditative atmosphere. This is the semantic and intelligibility aspect of this soundscape. As a passenger you need to hear clearly the signals from the driver to complete your purpose – the journey.

~

1As in Theraveda Buddhism, meditation involving concentration on the body or its sensations

Break from it all

Selective listening is the key to using the garden at the top of the Clough successfully. The noise pollution that comes with being in Atlanta can be drowned out by the ambient sounds of the micro-park on the roof. Strategic placement of this space allows for a constant breeze that whistles around everyone’s ears. A high-pitched continual whistle from the wind blowing by the listener’s ears quick drowns out the busy noises of a city. An added feature to the breeze is the rustling of the leaves from the trees that are strategically placed on the top of the roof for a point of audition. The most calming sound of all, however, is the soft, yet noticeable hum of the crickets that hide in the bushes. If the listener is lucky enough to have birds in the trees, listening with intelligibility, the sound of the birds melodic calls releases the tensions of the day as the listener appreciates the simplicity of nature. The stresses of the day slowly drift away, because the distinct noises of this space lets the listener know that he is away from the hectic world around him.

When the listener needs to complete homework or study for a test, he can casually listen to the sounds of nature; the relaxing and rhythmic sounds can cause him to be more productive. While the listener won’t be completely focused on each individual sound that he hears, while he is doing homework and concentrating on a problem, he can still hear the calm sounds in the background. That allows him to instantly be brought to a state of comfort, which allows him to continue doing his work, with  less stress than he had before.

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