Thursday, December 13, 2012

Visualizing the Sounds Around Us

When we echolocate, it's not necessarily important to understand the physics and psychology of what is going on, but for me, that level of detail is fascinating, and while I might not be able to readily apply it in daily practice, it's good to know what's going on behind the scenes.  And inevitably, we will find small ways of implementing these little bits of knowledge.  Understanding sound to a greater level will allow us to visualize exactly what is going on and will give us a more intimate picture of reality.

When we talk about the mechanics of echolocation, it's entirely comprised of sound waves.  Sound, fundamentally is fluctuations in air pressure.  These fluctuations happen fast enough for us to refer to them as "vibrations".   When I say a fluctuation in air pressure, that means a region of high pressure, followed by a region of lower pressure.  These pressures are so low, much lower than atmospheric pressure so we generally can't feel the sounds (although there are cases that sounds are felt and that is another interesting topic) but our ears are very sensitive to these very low pressures and can easily detect them.

When you emit a sound visualize waves of energy emanating from the source (your clapping hands, your mouth, etc.).  Depending on the shape of the object emitting the sound, the sound waves will be shaped differently in all directions.  Sounds coming from your mouth will generally be loudest in the direction straight out from your face.  A megaphone, for instance is not very loud if you were standing beside someone using it, unless they were to aim it directly at you.  The sound energy is much greater in that direction.  A clap will be much more uniform in all directions, however when the sound waves strike your body they will be reflected, absorbed or diffused and will change the sound pattern when observed from a wider perspective.

This is the same for any object.  Supposing a sound source emits sound equally in all directions.  The sound will radiate outward at a certain speed and strike the nearest object first.  As soon as it hits that object sound will stop travelling in that direction and the overall "soundscape" will be affected by that object.  The change in this "soundscape" would be another way to consider echolocation.  Once you start to consider all of the objects that the sound waves may contact during their journey and the infinite amount of interactions they can have, it becomes very interesting to try to visualize the shape of the emanating sound wave.

This is really neither here nor there, but an interesting thought experiment and something to ponder.  Let me know if this thought process leads you to any deep revelations.

Free 10-Minute Audio Lesson: Learn the Echolocation Click

Learn echolocation clicks with a free audio lesson
Learning how to click is one of the first steps to becoming an effective echoloator. This lesson provides clicking samples of a variety of different clicks and descriptions of when they might be most useful. This lesson has been used by O&M instructors all over the world.

Despite popular belief, it's easy to make your clicking quite subtle or unnoticeable even in quiet settings. There are many different clicks for different situations. I explain all of these in great detail and give examples of where, why and when they can and should be used.

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