Humans and Sound

Listen 49:04
A human ear overlaid with a graphic representing hearing and sound

(AndreyPopov/Big Stock)

The soundscape of our lives changes depending on where we are — the murmuring of voices, birdsong in trees, the beeps and dings of technology, and the cacophony of traffic.

Our worlds are dense with sound. Often, it all blends together to the point that we barely notice it. But every sound has its own distinct profile — providing information, bringing joy or irritation, causing us to snap to attention or zone out.

In this episode, we explore the world of sound, how we interact with it, and the people who compose the sounds that define our lives.

We hear stories about the teams designing the hum of electric cars, how the sounds of a rainforest inspired the pings and dings coming from your computer, and a disorder that makes ordinary noises almost unbearable.

Also heard on this week’s episode:

  • We talk with physicist and oceanographer Helen Czerski about what sound is, how it travels, how our sense of hearing evolved, and her favorite topic — the sound of bubbles. Czerski is an associate professor of mechanical engineering at University College London. Her book is called “Storm in a Teacup: The Physics of Everyday Life.”
  • Great cars make great sounds — the growl of a Porsche, the roar of a Mustang, the purr of a BMW. But what about electric cars? They’re known for being quiet, but in recent years, electric car makers have been working to create their own signature sound. Reporter Alan Yu finds out what automobiles of the future will sound like.
  • Who decides the sounds our electronics make: email notifications, event reminders, and error alerts? Pulse producer Nichole Currie talks with sound designer Matthew Bennet about the unlikely origin of the beeps and boops that define our daily lives.
  • We listen back to a conversation with Fresh Air’s Terry Gross about how different she sounds on the radio than in her head — and talk with William Hartmann, who’s part of the psychoacoustics group at Michigan State University, about why that is.

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