Soccer Soundscape: How Fan Chants Impact Match Atmosphere

Soccer is the most popular sport in the world. Just by looking at the number of fans and players of the game, it is clearly tough to argue against its world popularity. It is truly one of the few sports that can be found all around the world. Reportedly, over one billion people tuned in to watch the 2014 FIFA World Cup Final between Germany and Argentina (which Germany won 1-0). A number like that proves its popularity around the world. Part of what makes the sport so special is the passion and energy of the fans. People live and die with the results of their favorite club, and for those who are in fact true fans, it is a lifelong bond. The dedication of supporter groups each and every match makes the experience incredible. The soundscape of soccer is completely affected by the passion of the supporters. These devoted individuals are able to have an undeniable impact on the match atmosphere and match result through their effervescent chanting.

Mario Gotze scores the game-winning goal in the 2014 FIFA World Cup Final

Often times, people forget about the importance of sound in sports. Both Phil Durrant and Eileen Kennedy were unimpressed with the research done on the connection between sound and its role in sports. They believe that sounds are often uncared for or neglected. They decided to work towards achieving an increased awareness to the sound heard, for example, in televised games or matches. In their work, “Sonic Sport: Sound Art in Leisure Research”, they discuss a short film titled Super cfc, which captures a televised soccer match but includes both a separate recording and video. The recording comes from actually being at the match while the video is what is seen on television. The film has the natural sounds of the soccer match compiled with what you would hear watching the match at home, which would be the commentators and some of the louder sounds from the match that made it on television. The film has three different movements that cross-fade into one another. The first is two players going for a header and clashing into each other. The second is of a player casually walking and turning around. The last of the movements focuses on some players converging before a free kick is set to take place. Each movement represents a different part of the “audio-visual relationship” going on during the match. This study was able to show how viewers, both those viewing/listening at the match and those doing the same while watching television, become engaged to the noises and images produced through each example. By combining the three different parts of the match, the sound has three separate moments, which allows us to see how the soundscape of the match changes as the match progresses. Durrant and Kennedy’s ultimate goal is to not let sound become obsolete in sports and that more people pay attention to its intricacies and impact on the sport.

While the sound from the players is certainly important in the overall soundscape of soccer, it is the sound from the fans that truly defines the soundscape and atmosphere of a match. The role of being a supporter is not to be taken lightly. The passion that comes from fans is what can truly inspire a team to perform. In a study done by Sandy Wolfson, Delia Wakelin, and Matthew Lewis, supporters were asked to pick from a list of options what makes playing at home such an advantage, compared to playing away. An overwhelming majority of fans selected the fan support as being the number one advantage for playing at home. Other factors that were on the list included “familiarity, travel, territoriality and referee bias” among others. This study proves the influence that supporters believe they can have on a match. It is a reciprocal relationship between them and the players; both are expected to do their best on match day. The chants are the key to expression for soccer fans. The atmosphere created by supporters during matches is something that needs to be truly witnessed to be able to have an idea of the magnitude of its impact.

In my opinion, Borussia Dortmund, a German club, has some of the most devoted and passionate fans in the world. Here is a video of what the crowd at one of their home matches looks like: 

Over in North Lincolnshire, England, we find Scunthorpe United, a soccer team that currently plays in Football League One, England’s third division. Tom Clark used data he collected from attending matches at Glanford Park, Scunthorpe United’s home stadium, to examine how supporters use songs and fan chants during matches. He found that these chants have a huge effect on the collective identity felt by supporters when watching a Scunthorpe United match. Clark mentions the word “placelessness” many times and how it is beginning to be seen more and more in the sport. However, the use of song and chants is exactly what combats this placelessness; song allows spectators find a place among the placelessness. The connection that a spectator has with a club is an extremely strong bond and chanting before, during, and after matches further strengthens the collective identity that unites the supporters.

Supporter groups, however, do not always bring about a positive impact on the match. In an article in the Newcastle Herald from Australia, the author discussed a soccer match in the A-League (top soccer league in Australia) between Sydney FC and the Newcastle Jets. In the match, Newcastle lost at home to Sydney FC 2-1. Throughout the match, supporters of the Jets had been getting very upset and, in turn, started to become very vocal and used “unsavoury chants” during the match. This happened in December of that season, about two months into their season. Williams describes the fans as potentially suffering from early signs of “premature season burnout”. Throughout this 2008 season, the Newcastle Jets supporters, also known as the Squadron, had been held responsible for bringing in some vulgar chants into the soundscape of the sports stadium and television broadcasts. Of course, it made sense that the Squadron was not happy given the state of their team; at that point in the season, Newcastle was close to the bottom of the table.

Soccer has had many incidents involving vulgar words being said by players or supporters during matches. Some get extremely serious and controversial like the Zinedine Zidane headbutt of Marco Materazzi during the 2006 World Cup Final. According to reports, words were said about Zidane’s sister, prompting him to lose his head and lash out at Materazzi. While swearing and bad-mouthing during matches can cause problems, it is inconceivable to think of an environment where a soccer match does not have this sort of soundscape (to an extent). The vulgarity that Williams had previously described does need to be toned down; there is no doubt about that. But the actions of a few in this Squadron, or any other fan group, should not dictate how the chants at matches are regulated. The Squadron has to bring it upon themselves to understand what they can and cannot chant, but the solution is not to institute more security and regulations for them. They need to remain vocal because it is their duty as supporters. As Williams says, “They will benefit from energetic and vocal support of all kinds in the course of remaining matches. While teams do well from a spirited chorus, diversity in the fan mix is also crucial.” The diversity is a necessity and cannot be completely regulated. There has to be some room for groups like the Squadron to express themselves and share some banter throughout the match.

According to Williams, instituting security and other rules would simply lead to more vulgarity in chants and breaking of the rules, leading to a chaotic atmosphere. It is crucial to remember that supporter groups are an absolutely integral part of soccer culture and putting them under regulations is not the answer. They play an integral role in the soundscape of the sport and limiting them would be controlling the potential of the match environment and soundscape. Like Williams says, “Love or hate them, the language of sports fans will continue to occupy a central place in the sport, culture and media matrix.”

Racism from supporters also has been an extremely important issue in soccer recently. One of the most noteworthy incidents happened in Italy in 2013. In a friendly between AC Milan and Pro Patria, the Milan midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng (who currently plays for FC Schalke 04) led his teammates off the field after being on the receiving end of racist fan chants. Just 26 minutes into the match, Boateng heard the chants, grabbed the ball, and punted it at the fans. All his teammates supported his decision to walk off and he became the first player to have prompted a match to be abandoned due to racism. This match became one of the biggest stories in world soccer that year and made it clear that racism in soccer was still a major problem. Here is the video of the incident: 

One anonymous former professional player claims that players did not care about what the fans thought. In an article from The Telegraph, Mark Bailey looks into six different questions that  “The Secret Footballer”, the book the anonymous player wrote, answers about life in the Premier League and soccer as a whole. One of the topics that he specifically focuses on is the players’ relationship with the supporters. In the book, he states, “Fan chants I’ve always hated. I never read papers unless I play well. That may sound egotistical but, psychologically, it is a tremendous boost reading great things about yourself. It helps me greatly. When I don’t play well, I don’t read the papers. Simple.” Clearly this is only the opinion of one player, but it does ask the question of how many others feel the same way. I believe that The Secret Footballer had some bad experiences with fan criticism and therefore has an unfavorable view of them. The fan chants negatively impacted his personal match atmosphere.

Kath Woodward also had a personal anecdote to share about her experience witnessing chanting for herself. She was on her way back from the university where she was doing research and waited for the train to leave the station. That day was the last day of the Football League season and she knew that Leeds, the local soccer team, had been promoted with their victory over Doncaster. As a result, she expected there to be some rowdy fans on her train home; the celebration carried on into the train. The fans were all loud, drunk, and clearly very happy. As Woodward put it, going through chants and songs when you are winning or have already won is just what you do, especially if the victory wins you promotion to the next league. The fans were piling into the train car, and Woodward noticed that they were all white men. The volume of the chants increased as the train progressed on its route. The chanting also became more and more vulgar. Woodward described the scene in the train by saying, “we were drowning in sound”. As much as she was struggling to move around in the crowded train, she said the sound was even more invading than the sheer number of bodies. One of the Leeds fans apologized for their behavior and proceeded to ask if Woodward had a team she supported. Thinking that she may be cut some slack or be seen as an “unthreatening target”, she relied truthfully saying she was a Sheffield Wednesday fan (a rival of Leeds). To her surprise she was met with a variety of chants (the obvious ones that were always made towards opposition). Woodward felt the chants getting louder and louder as the ride went on. What surprised her about this experience was that even though she had experienced crazy supporters many times at matches and had even joined in while watching on television, this train ride experience “seemed alarmingly and frighteningly out of place”.

The account shared by Kath Woodward is an intriguing description of fans outside their true sports environment. Their actions do not seem to differ a great deal from how they generally act while watching the match itself. It is interesting to think about the soundscape of the fans outside of the sports arena atmosphere and how it translates. Often times, you would get the same sorts of fan energy and reaction while watching matches at pubs. Obviously, fans getting rowdy in a train seems like it is out of place. Woodward was up close and personal with them in a small sized train car and saw first hand how sound can engulf an area. These supporters have made their role in each match crucial to the match soundscape and result.

Soccer is one of my favorite sports, and I am extremely passionate about my favorite club, Chelsea FC. I was first introduced to the club when my family visited London over ten years ago and randomly decided to go for a stadium tour. My first experience at a Chelsea match was like nothing I had ever experienced before. This past March, I finally made my way to Stamford Bridge, Chelsea’s home stadium in London, for a Premier League match against Southampton. The build up to the match was everything I thought it could be and more. As I walked up to the stadium, I could really feel the energy of the match; the chants were already in full force as the fans were making their way into the stadium. I truly felt the passion of the club as I was joining in with the chants. I knew that this feeling around the stadium was something special. The match atmosphere was amazing to be able to witness first hand, and although the match ended as a 1-1 draw, it was still one of the greatest experiences I have had in my life.

This is a collection of some of the more well known Chelsea chants:

Attached is a recording of from my time at the Chelsea Southampton match at Stamford Bridge. I compiled a few recordings together so as to try and create a narrative. The recording starts with the supporters singing before the match followed by a few recordings of actual soccer. It ends with the classic Chelsea FC anthem, Blue is the Color. Being able to go to a match and be part of the incredible atmosphere added so much to my passion for the club. Listening to the thousands singing throughout the ninety minutes of the match, along with before and after, makes you really understand how it could be possible for a group of spectators to have a significant impact on the match. The unity and energy displayed by going through chant after chant really says a lot about a club’s supporter group.

All in all, both the positive and negative effects of fan chanting and singing at soccer matches are important to consider when discussing match atmosphere and overall soundscape. However, it is the positive impact that should have a greater significance in the sport. There is absolutely zero place in soccer for some of the offensive behavior and hooliganism and it needs to be contained. Every match at every professional level is almost guaranteed to have some supporters attending and positive home support is a constant. For that reason it is less talked about because it tends to be a given that the home support will be extremely vocal. We here about these horrible incidents because they are more rare than a good home support chanting and singing for their club. What makes soccer such a special game is the incredible passion and pride coming from supporters. Their contribution to the soundscape and the sport cannot be understated.




Works Cited:

Bailey, Mark. 2014. “The Secret Footballer: ‘Players Don’t Care what Fans Think’” The Telegraph, November 6, sec. sports.

Balmer, Nigel J., Alan M. Nevill, Andrew M. Lane, Paul Ward, A. Mark Williams, and Stephen H. Fairclough. 2007. “Influence of Crowd Noise on Soccer Refereeing Consistency in Soccer”. Journal of Sport Behavior 30 (2): 130.

Bateman, Anthony, 1966, and John Bale. 2009;2008;. Sporting Sounds: Relationships Between Sport and Music. New York; London: Routledge.

Clark, Tom. 2006. “‘I’m Scunthorpe ’til I Die’: Constructing and (Re)negotiating Identity through the Terrace Chant.” Soccer and Society 7(4): 494-507.

Cummins, R. 2009. “The Effects of Subjective Camera and Fanship on Viewers’ Experience of Presence and Perception of Play in Sports Telecasts.” Journal of Applied Communication Research 37 (4): 374-96.

Edwards, Luke. 2013. “AC Milan’s Kevin-Prince Boateng leads team off pitch in protest at racist chanting in friendly match with Pro Patria” The Telegraph, January 3, sec. sports.

Johnson, O’R. 2011. “Soccer Chant Flap Kicks Up Controversy.” McClatchy – Tribune Business News, Jun 23.

Kennedy, Eileen, and Phil Durrant. 2007. Sonic Sport: Sound Art in Leisure Research. Leisure Sciences 29(2): 181-94.

Miller, Michael E. 2015. Nazi Chants at Dutch Soccer Game Expose an Ugly Blot on ‘the Beautiful Game’: From Nazi Chants in Holland to Sieg Heils in London, Anti-semitism is on the

Rise in European Soccer. Washington: WP Company LLC d/b/a The Washington Post.

Racist Chants Overshadow Start of Euro 20122012. Public Radio International, Inc.

Schoonderwoerd, Pieter. 2011. ‘Shall We Sing a Song For You?’: Mediation, Migration and Identity in Football Chants and Fandom. Soccer & Society 12(1): 120-41.

Sounds of Soccer: A New Love For the Game. 2007. National Public Radio.

Swanepoel, De Wet, and James W. Hall III. 2010. “Football Match Spectator Sound Exposure and Effect on Hearing: A Pretest-post-test Study”. South African Medical Journal 100(4): 239-42.

Williams, Craig. 2008. Chant-nasties All Part of Sport Soundscape. The Newcastle Herald          (Newcastle, Australia), December 13: 19.

Woodward, Kath. 2011. “Sounds Out of Place.” Soccer & Society 12, no. 1: 76. SPORTDiscus    with Full Text, EBSCOhost (accessed October 21, 2015).

Baseball: How Fan Noise Affects Player Performance

The brain has many abilities that allow us to function and perform actions at top level. Short-term plasticity refers to the brain’s ability to hear something, know the reaction, and learn from that. Iiro P. Jääskeläinen (2007) states in her article that “This could support auditory sensory memory, pre-attentive detection of sound novelty, enhanced perception during selective attention, influence of visual processing on auditory perception and longer-term plastic changes associated with perceptual learning.” Our brain is aware of our surroundings based on its ability to comprehend and understand our environment. Short-term plasticity allows our brains to understand and process pleasurable experiences in our environment and repeat them. Athletes use short-term plasticity in games with regard to crowd loudness and intensity. If a crowd gets loud after they perform well or during the performance, the athletes who use that crowd reaction to benefit their gameplay tend to do better than those who don’t. I analyze the extent to which the crowd directly affects a player’s performance on the field through interviews, video evidence, and personal anecdotes.

Before looking at videos and asking questions, it is important to understand why athletes react well to certain sounds and how loud they really are while playing. The answer to this question lies within Acoustics Sound Systems for Baseball. This journal article focuses on how the acoustics of a baseball stadium can be influenced by the architecture. The author notes that every aspect of society and the game must be taken into account in order to create an optimal playing/viewing environment. For example, Brown (2001) states in his article that “Community noise is also a potential for problems…” Not many people take into account the surroundings outside of a baseball stadium. In his article, Brown doesn’t argue but rather teaches skills that can help future architects to build more optimal stadiums for both fans and players. Through personal experience, I know that a crowd’s noise can be effective while playing.


I play baseball for Duke University and have played in a number of stadiums. The idea that stadiums should be built better, taking into consideration every detail and aspect of the game and its surroundings, was mind-blowing to me at first. I could not believe that such attention to detail could be incorporated in that aspect of the game. After reading this article, I thought back to a few of my games and actually noticed that it was true. Some stadiums are louder than others on the surface and others muffle the sounds of the game and crowd. I remembered a certain time at my high school stadium when the stands were packed and it was so loud on the field that I had to talk to myself in order to get my thoughts straight. This stadium allowed for the fan noise to be highly noticeable while at our rival high school; it was often hard to hear things going on from second base. This is obviously a huge difference in the acoustics and the ability of sound to travel within the stadium of the two places.


I interviewed three teammates at Duke to better understand their opinions on fan interaction during a baseball game. I chose Kellen Urban, Trent Swart, and Jimmy Herron. Kellen and Trent are both graduate students from California. Jimmy is a Pennsylvania native and a freshman. These players were chosen because they have all played in high intensity atmospheres and performed at top levels. Their opinions support my research because they are first hand testimonies, aside from my experiences, that the crowd can affect a player’s performance on the field during that moment and for the rest of a game. The interviews I conducted, that are found below, are brief interviews because of time constraints. All of the interviews prove that fan noise does, for these players, have a direct correlation to performance and intensity.

Trent Swart: Redshirt 5th Year Pitcher

CHRISTOPHER: In your experience with baseball, did you tend to play better or worse when the crowd was louder?

TRENT: I’d say, the majority of the time, I’ve played better when the crowd is louder. Just, kind of, a more exciting atmosphere. I like a loud audience.

CHRISTOPHER: Do you prefer to play in games that are quiet or games that are loud in most instances?

TRENT: Yeah, I think it just kind of plays to the whole thing, like you know it’s a competitive environment, it kind of gets you going. Its just an exciting thing to play when there’s crowd noise rather than when you’re just playing without anyone passionate about it.

CHRISTOPHER: Do you listen for certain things in the crowd’s noise to pump you up for that moment?

TRENT: No, I don’t listen for anything specific. I think that would get a little too distracting. Its more like the kind of the background noise, but its definitely funny when you come off the field and someone on your team says they heard something and they tell you then you kind of laugh it off and could potentially use that to pump you up for the next inning.

CHRISTOPHER: Do you believe that there is a certain correlation between crowd noise and the way you perform?

TRENT: To an extent, I mean I think I’d still perform regardless of crowd noise or not, but I think when the crowd is bigger it’s a lot more fun and it kind of, like I said earlier, it pumps you up to play in that situation, more so. So yeah, I’d say there’s some correlation.

Kellen Urban: 5th Year Pitcher

CHRISTOPHER: In your experience with baseball, did you tend to play better or worse when the crowd was louder?

KELLEN: I definitely think I played better, especially when the crowd was on my side. When they were rooting for the other team sometimes it gets a little nerve racking, but usually when the crowd is on your side, you definitely play better.

CHRISTOPHER: Do you prefer to play in games that are quiet or games that are loud in most instances?

KELLEN: Definitely loud. It makes it way more fun.

CHRISTOPHER: Do you listen for certain things in the crowd’s noise to pump you up for that moment?
KELLEN: Honestly, I don’t hear much else besides just the overall noise.
CHRISTOPHER: Do you believe that there is a certain correlation between crowd noise and the way you perform?
KELLEN: I do believe that there’s correlation, if they’re cheering for you. If they’re cheering against you, I feel like there’s not a negative correlation, but when they’re cheering for you I feel

like it definitely helps you out.

Jimmy Herron: Freshman OF

CHRISTOPHER: In your experience with baseball, did you tend to play better or worse when the crowd was louder?

JIMMY: Probably when the crowd was louder because I focused better.

CHRISTOPHER: Do you prefer to play in games that are quiet or games that are loud in most instances?

JIMMY: Probably loud.
CHRISTOPHER: Do you listen for certain things in the crowd’s noise to pump you up for that moment?
JIMMY: No, it’s more of just background noise.
CHRISTOPHER: Do you believe that there is a certain correlation between crowd noise and the way you perform?
JIMMY: Yeah, I think it increases performance because you focus better and play harder.

I grew up playing baseball, and as a fan, have watched plenty of games. Upon thinking back to some games I have watched, I remembered some moments when the crowd has had an effect on professional players. To prove this, I went to YouTube and searched a few of the moments that I remembered and found some compilations and solo videos of these moments. They are attached below and I will be explaining each.

Marcus Stroman “The Return” 2015 Blue Jays

When looking at the video of Marcus Stroman, it is evident that his animation results from the big moments and the crowd. Contextually, these moments were intense because he had recently made his return from knee surgery and wanted to make a statement. After getting the double play in the first instance, he yells and gets fired up. The second instance shows Stroman striking out a player and walking off of the mound full of adrenaline and ready to throw another pitch. After striking the next batter out, Stroman yells, playing off of the crowd’s reaction to the double play and the strikeout. This is an example of a professional player feeding off crowd noise and performing not only at top level, but better than other professionals that may be as good or better than him.

Jose Bautista EPIC Bat Flip Home Run vs Rangers – Game 5 ALDS

The second video occurred this year during a playoff game. The Texas Rangers were playing the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League Division Series. This was Game 5, the last game in this particular series, a loser-goes-home matchup. The video shows Jose Bautista hitting a three-run home run in the bottom of the 7th with two outs. The intensity of the moment stems from having two runners on base and a currently tied ballgame. The crowd in Toronto is unbelievably loud and Bautista uses this to perform better. He hits the ball and everyone in the ballpark, including him, knows it is a home run. His adrenaline is pumping so much at this point that he throws the bat and starts to jog. The crowd and the moment influenced the player that scored first; evident by him yelling and the fans contributing to this moment.

Alex Gordon Game Tying Home Run vs Mets – Game 1 World Series

The last video portrays Alex Gordon hitting a home run in Game 1 of this year’s World Series. This game was intense due to the stakes of this game. History shows that sixty-three percent of teams that win Game 1 go on to win the series and the title. This was a close game and went into extra innings due to this big time play. The Royals were down by one and it was the bottom of the 9th with one out. The game was practically in the bag for the Mets. They were in Kansas City so the crowd was pulling for Gordon, they weren’t quite as loud as the Bautista video. Listen to the crowd during the pitch and then as soon as Gordon hits it. Gordon played off of the initial yelling and crowd atmosphere to hit that home run and then the crowd went even crazier. The crowd was on his side and, as Kellen Urban stated in the interview “when they’re cheering for you I feel like it definitely helps you out.” Royals fans definitely helped Alex Gordon out in this specific moment of the game. Gordon hits the home run and the crowd immediately gets to their feet and yells uncontrollably. They know the ball is going to leave the stadium and are yelling in excitement. The other players, specifically Eric Hosmer, are yelling as well. He, along with the entire stadium, let the moment take over and the crowd is pumping him up even more with the deafening screams. The Royals went on to win that game in fourteen innings by a score of three to two and went on to win the World Series.

I have been in these types of situations as well and can attest to the crowd pumping me up during an intense moment. Through personal experience I can relate to the same clutch home runs and RBIs.  It was my senior year in high school and we were playing our first playoff game against a conference rival. The game was tied and I came up to bat with bases loaded and two outs. I came to the plate and the crowd was louder than I had ever heard. I hit a ball and it went right down the right field line to win the game. This was just one of many instances in my life where the crowd pumped me up and I was successful.

Short-term plasticity is huge in the world of sports and can be seen through an athlete’s use of that intense atmosphere to enhance performance. The claim that short-term plasticity is why an athlete performs better with a large crowd is proven here. The video evidence of professionals and interviews of Division 1, ACC players shows that even the best of the best can be found using this aspect of the game to benefit their gameplay on the field. With this new way of thinking, stadiums can be built to help both players and fans alike. This idea that the acoustics of a baseball stadium can be enhanced and critiqued is a new solution that could potentially change the game of baseball forever.


Works Cited

Balmer, Nigel J., Alan M. Nevill, Andrew M. Lane, Paul Ward, A. Mark Williams, and Stephen H.

Bateman, Anthony, 1966, and John Bale. 2009;2008;. Sporting Sounds: Relationships between Sport and Music. New York; London: Routledge.

Brown, Jim. 2001. Acoustics Sound Systems for Baseball. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 109 (5): 2498

Clark, Tom. 2006. ‘I’m Scunthorpe ’til I Die’: Constructing and (Re)negotiating Identity through the Terrace Chant. Soccer and Society 7(4): 494-507.

Collier, Robert D. 2001. The Sounds of Baseball: The Bat–ball Collision and the Crack of the Bat. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 109 (5): 2497

Cummins, R. 2009. The Effects of Subjective Camera and Fanship on Viewers’ Experience of Presence and Perception of Play in Sports Telecasts. Journal of Applied Communication Research 37 (4): 374-96.

Ellermeier, Wolfgang, and Karin Zimmer. 2014. The Psychoacoustics of the Irrelevant Sound Effect. Acoustical Science and Technology 35 (1): 10-6.

Fairclough. 2007. “Influence of Crowd Noise on Soccer Refereeing Consistency in Soccer”. Journal of Sport Behavior 30 (2): 130.

Jääskeläinen, Iiro P., Jyrki Ahveninen, John W. Belliveau, Tommi Raij, and Mikko Sams. 2007. Short-term Plasticity in Auditory Cognition. Trends in Neurosciences 30 (12): 653-61.

Jenkins, Julian,III. 2011. MEG, Psychophysical and Computational Studies of Loudness, Timbre, and Audiovisual Integration. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing,

Johnson, O’R. 2011. “Soccer Chant Flap Kicks Up Controversy.” McClatchy – Tribune Business News, Jun 23.

Kennedy, Eileen, and Phil Durrant. 2007. Sonic Sport: Sound Art in Leisure Research. Leisure Sciences 29(2): 181-94.

Miller, Michael E. 2015. Nazi Chants at Dutch Soccer Game Expose an Ugly Blot on ‘the Beautiful Game’: From Nazi Chants in Holland to Sieg Heils in London, Anti-semitism is on the Rise in European Soccer.

Roberts, J. R., R. Jones, S. J. Rothberg, N. J. Mansfield, and C. Meyer. 2006. Influence of Sound and Vibration from Sports Impacts on Players’ Perceptions of Equipment Quality. Proceedings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Part L: Journal of Materials: Design and Applications 220 (4): 215-27.

Schaffert, Nina, Klaus Mattes, and Alfred O. Effenberg. 2010. A Sound Design for Acoustic Feedback in Elite Sports. In . Vol. 5954, 143-165. Berlin, Heidelberg.

Schoonderwoerd, Pieter. 2011. ‘Shall We Sing a Song For You?’: Mediation, Migration and Identity in Football Chants and Fandom. Soccer & Society 12(1): 120-41.

Sounds of Soccer: A New Love For the Game. 2007. National Public Radio.

Swanepoel, De Wet, and James W. Hall III. 2010. “Football Match Spectator Sound Exposure and Effect on Hearing: A Pretest-post-test Study”. South African Medical Journal 100(4): 239-42.

Vogel, Johannes. 2014. Audición y Control Motor: Una Relación Recíproca. [Hearing and Sports: A Bidirectional Interaction]. RICYDE : Revista Internacional De Ciencias Del Deporte 10 (38): 289-304.

Washington: WP Company LLC d/b/a The Washington Post. Racist Chants Overshadow Start of Euro 20122012. Public Radio International, Inc.

Williams, Craig. 2008. Chant-nasties All Part of Sport Soundscape. The Newcastle Herald (Newcastle, Australia), December 13: 19.

Woods, EA, AE Hernandez, VE Wagner, and SL Beilock. 2014. Expert Athletes Activate Somatosensory and Motor Planning Regions of the Brain when Passively Listening to Familiar Sports Sounds. Brain and Cognition 87 (1): 122-33.

Woodward, Kath. 2011. “Sounds Out of Place.” Soccer & Society 12, no. 1: 76. SPORTDiscus with Full Text, EBSCOhost (accessed October 21, 2015).


Marine Animal Communication

Are you scared of the Ocean? So am I, but why is that? So much of the ocean remains undiscovered, which is the whole beauty of it. Before we were asked to pick a topic for our research paper, I already had a vision of what my research would be on. My fascination with marine life started when I first watched the movie “Finding Nemo,” which gave me my first look into the depths of the ocean. Since it’s an animated movie, it tends to imagine certain aspects and the information isn’t as reliable as it would be if it came from a documentary. As a result, to learn more about the ocean, I had to gather information from more reliable sources, such as books and documentaries. More specifically, I began to learn about marine life and the underwater acoustic environment in high school when I took a class on marine biology. The main reason I chose this topic was to learn more about what goes on under the surface of the ocean. To hear a bird sing or a tiger roar, you can simply listen to the noise they make, but when it comes to whales singing or dolphins clicking, these sounds cannot be heard as easily. Unlike going to the jungle or a safari, it is much harder to go underwater and observe these sounds. In order to hear these sounds, outside technology is crucial. Only technology that records the sounds of these animals can give you the ability to hear them clearly.

The main topic of my research is animal communication. Though this could be a broad topic, I really focused on how important communication is for underwater animals like whales and dolphins. I focused on this more because it’s fascinating how certain marine animals use communication in order to survive (ex. Feeding, reproduction etc.). Also, I want to investigate how other sounds that are produced by humans, or the underwater environment itself, affect the sound production of whales and dolphins as well as their communication.

Some questions I want to answer throughout this research are: what role does communication have in everyday life of animals, how do communications differ in certain types of animals, how important is the environment when it comes to communication etc. In order to answer these questions, I will use the library as a primary source to books and academic journals that specifically talk about my topic. I intend to contact a librarian specialist, Janil Miller who specializes in marine science and interview her, which would help me answer my questions as well. I could use hydrophones to record an underwater environment so that way I can get a better picture of the sounds in environments where these communications happen.

A plethora of studies have been performed on this specific topic, allowing me to gather information from others’ research. One of these researchers I will focus on is Katherine Payne, who started her research career investigating whale communication. If I was ever involved in a discussion about this topic, my contribution to the conversation wouldn’t be incredibly big, but it would be meaningful and the information that I provide would be reliable. One of the things I could add on to the conversation is the question about noise pollution and how, in addition to ships and underwater sounds projects, this could be one of the things that alters whale and dolphin communication and their sound production.

One of the chapters from the book Animal Communication and Noise, “Effects of Noise on Acoustic Signal Production in Marine Animals”, provides most of the answers about my topic. The chapter primarily focuses on sounds that are produced by marine animals and how outside noise effects those sounds. This text addressed questions of why communication is important to marine animals and how humans interfere in that communication. The authors propose reasons why communication is so important to marine animals. It notes that sounds created by ship engines interfere with the communication between marine animals. The ships interfere with animal communication because they “caused a remarkable change in the global ambient noise of the deep ocean” (258). Extraneous noise leads marine animals to alter the way they produce their sounds in order to communicate. These alterations could be avoided if we, as humans, are more considerate and more aware of how important communication and sound production are for marine animals.

The next article I read was “Communication in Bottlenose dolphins: 50 years of Signature Whistle Research”, in which the authors focus on explaining the signature whistle and what it means to the dolphins. When the dolphins are isolated, “38–70% of all whistles produced are signature whistles” (Janik). Also, it serves as identification as different dolphins produce their own distinctive signature whistles. Each dolphin introduces a new signature whistle that becomes a part of their communication, and this ability to copy these whistles allows dolphins to create a communication system often compared to our own human language. Every whistle could represent a single word in a language. These signature whistles help scientists when it comes to studying dolphin communication because they are easy to recognize. Dolphin communication is very complex because of their cognitive and vocal abilities, which is why it is hard to find answers to some questions about this topic. Signature whistles help scientists when it comes to studying dolphin communication because the whistles are easy to recognize.

In the last article, “Exposure to Seismic Survey Alters Blue Whale Acoustic Communication”, the author grabs attention by addressing how certain underwater projects in the ocean affect the everyday communication between whales. A seismic survey is a technique used to develop images of rock layers below the ground, which ultimately help access gas and oil from the ocean floor. These surveys produce high frequency sounds that interfere with whale sound production. After 11 days of seismic surveys, the collected information had shown that blue whales increase the sound production during survey days as opposed to days when the survey sounds were not being produced. This helps me answer one of the biggest questions I have about this topic, which is how do other sounds affect acoustic communication among marine animals.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t record any underwater environments myself, but I was able to find some recordings online that could be helpful in my research. For example, after reading the article on seismic surveys affecting whale communication, I wanted to find sound recordings to get a better picture of how disturbing the noise really is. One of the recordings I was able to find was recorded by a diver off the coast of Cavo Greco in Cyprus. After hearing the first wave being fired from the boat, each wave is repeated every 10 seconds. There is no information provided about how far the boat is from where the diver was located, but these sounds from a single seismic survey can travel up to tens of thousands of square kilometers. It is extremely difficult for whales to avoid these noises since the surveys are performed often and on different locations.

seismic survey

It is a known fact that whales use echolocation and acoustic signals in order to hunt. A short YouTube video shows us how humans and ship engines interfere with this process. In this specific video, the main focus is the Killer Whales struggling to find food because, without echolocation, it is impossible for them to find any type of prey. Whales use echolocation for other survival activities like finding mating partners and reproducing, but again, echolocation is pretty useless when its being interfered by other sounds. This video shows how important acoustic signals are for marine life and by humans interfering with these sounds, we are causing more damage than we think.


My next step is to spread the word about the problem of human noise pollution in the ocean. A lot of people remain ignorant to this information because it is “under the surface”. People are afraid of the ocean, which is the big reason why most of it is still undiscovered, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t feel responsible for protecting the discovered part of it. Obviously oil spills from ships damage the ocean much more than seismic surveys or ship engines, but by focusing on solving these smaller problems can help a great deal in the long run. Hopefully in the near future ship companies will pay more attention the level of engine noise and how to limit this disruptive noise.

This research really opened my eyes to communication between underwater animals and the acoustic environment, and I learned things that I was clueless about before. Communication and acoustic sounds are a huge part of the underwater environment, which is why we should be more cautious when it comes to underwater noise pollution. We need to provide the whales and dolphins with an environment that allows them to do things like mate, feed or any other survival activity that involves sound production.


Brumm, Henrik. 2013. Animal Communication and Noise. 1st ed. Vol. 2. Dordrecht: Springer Berlin Heidelberg.

Di Lorio, Lucia, and Christopher W. Clark. 2010. “Exposure to Seismic Survey Alters Blue Whale Acoustic Communication”. Biology Letters 6 (1): 51-4.

Janik, Vincent M., and Laela S. Sayigh. 2013. “Communication in Bottlenose Dolphins: 50 Years of Signature Whistle Research.” Journal of Comparative Physiology A 199 (6): 479-89.

Parks, SE, DA Cusano, AK Stimpert, MT Weinrich, AS Friedlaender, and DN Wiley. 2014. “Evidence for Acoustic Communication Among Bottom Foraging Humpback Whales.” Scientific Reports 4: 7508.

Castellote, Manuel, Christopher W. Clark, and Marc O. Lammers. 2012. “Acoustic and Behavioural Changes by Fin Whales (balaenoptera physalus) in Response to Shipping and Airgun Noise.” Biological Conservation 147 (1): 115-22.

From Dr. Dre to J. Cole: The Art of Sample-Based Hip-Hop

Travel back 16 years to 1999 when one of the most influential figures in the American hip-hop scene released The Aftermath, a groundbreaking album that sold over 6.6 million units in four years. Number 23 on Billboard’s Hot 100 at the time, “The Next Episode” featured on Andrew ‘Dr. Dre’ Young’s album sunk itself so deep into the heart of hip-hop that more than a decade later it remains one of the producer’s most iconic sounds. But the discernible first nine seconds of the track that thousands accredit to Dr. Dre actually stem back three decades prior to the release of Dre’s album. Sampled from David McCallum’s 1967 track, “The Edge,” Dre’s piece rejuvenates the Scottish musician’s work by creatively construing it into the new record. This authentic compilation by Dre has since been resampled in at least 39 other tracks, including Kanye West’s “Power” and High City’s “What Would You Do?.”Dr. Dre QuoteThe art of sampling for producers like Dr. Dre, who built a dynasty atop which producers throughout the decades have followed, serves as a method by which producers cultivate a realm of musical preservation while embedding their own creativity into the original track’s legacy. But what exactly defines the legal constructs of sampling? Take, for example, Dr. Dre’s “The Next Episode” and “Let’s Get High” from the same legendary album. Why has one continuously been renowned while the other resulted in a 1.5 million dollar lawsuit against the producer?

Sampling? What is Sampling?
In “Sampling Ethics,” writer and lecturer Joseph Schloss debates the ethicality of sampling, particularly focusing on concepts of “biting,” “flipping,” and “parodying”. Because of the widespread nature of sampling within the hip-hop industry, the ethical basis of an artist’s originality lies within his or her creative nature—to what degree is the new track an artistically modified supplement of the original? Producer DJ Kool Akiem believes that biting, the appropriation of other hip-hop artists’ tracks, is a root of social repercussion in the music industry. As referenced by Schloss, Akiem provides an example of biting in production, stating:

“I’m not gonna take two elements of something that somebody else took. Like, if somebody samples this James Brown piece and then they put the “Substitution” [drunk break] on top of that? I won’t do that. To me, that’s biting.”

Although resampling a recently sampled segment is usually a taboo, exceptions to the inherent rule of thumb include parodying or flipping, the alteration of material in one manner or another. Still, coincidental sampling—when one producer creates a track similar to that of another producer around the same time—obscures the thin line between pure coincidence and biting. As Schloss notes, “[A producer] must always be prepared to defend one’s creativity, and this requires standards.” Unlike other genres of music, where originality stems from creating a completely authentic piece, hip-hop garners much of its substance from previously produced tracks, thus relying on a completely different set of standards, namely the no “biting” rule (Schloss 2004, 107).

Mariam Sulakian   Mariam Sulakian Mariam Sulakian

Originality and Sampling
Schloss argues that music sampling, the act of integrating one sound recording into another, remains a distinguishable characteristic of hip-hop and a mark of purism (Schloss 2014, 64). For instance, Dr. Dre has sampled over 825 tracks while DJ Premier exceeds 1,450.

Though traditional scholars may condone the lack of live instrumentation in hip-hop, for producers of the genre, the aesthetic pleasure of sampling originates from the fusion of samples rather than the roots of the sound. Sampling, thereby, acts as an artistic enhancement to the quality of the track. In contrast to common preconceptions, live instrumentation actually deteriorates the sound authenticity to producers like Jack One, who notes, “[Live music] just doesn’t sound authentic…There’s something about the way the old records sound when they’re put together right. You can’t really recapture ’em when you play [live].”

In fact, as indicated in Michael P. Jeffries’ essay “Hip-hop authenticity in black and white,” music audiences tend to focus their attention initially to the beat of a track and then to the accompanying vocals. However, in identifying a favorable beat, listeners lean towards specific musicians rather than the objective formalities of meter, harmony, etc. Note that when members of an audience analyze specific aspects of the piece, they observe the artist’s lyrical quality and not the track’s tonal sounds (Jeffries 2011, 121).

Case Study of Kanye West’s “Gold Digger”: This iconic song (top), which has been featured in thousands of Spotify playlists, is sampled from Ray Charles’ “I Got A Woman” (middle), which is in turn sampled from The Southern Tones’ “It Must Be Jesus” (bottom). Sample-ception? I think so.

But is the barrier between sampling and live instrumentation so stringent for all producers? The Wu-Tang Clan’s the RZA, unlike many other hip-hop producers, utilizes both methods of production in his work. In an interview with MTV’s Mixtape Daily, RZA recalls an incident which inspired him to delve into the technical aspects of music. He especially articulates the importance of differentiating between music generally and hip-hop specifically by balancing sampled and sample-free tracks. He expresses in the interview, “It’s unfair sometimes for us to have success on things when we haven’t paid our dues. So even though I paid my dues to hip-hop, I hadn’t paid my dues to music, and so I went and started studying [music] theory.” RZA, who has a history of dealing with sampling infringement lawsuits, conceives of hip-hop as a territory ideally crafted of original and sampled sounds.

Nevertheless, the majority of hip-hop generally strays from live instrumentation, contrary to other forms of music (i.e. classical, jazz), and thus shifts the musical viewpoint and engages its audiences and artists from a lateral landscape. Musical preference replaces musical technicality; producers desire sound how they want to hear it and not necessarily how it should sound. In essence, sampling holds an innate worth that transcends the need to focus on more traditionally technical creations of music (Schloss 2014, 67). Producers like The Neptunes’ Chad Hugo, who views sampling equipment as an instrument itself, even believe that the art of sampling instills a greater appreciation for live instrumentation. Hugo comments on the versatility of sampling in URB Magazine by noting, “When you sample, there are a million different ways you can manipulate one sound. There are only so many different ways you can play it with a live instrument.” Perhaps the true value of hip-hop originates not from what we hear but rather how we hear it and it is through the method of sampling that truly influences the “how.”

Screen Shot 2015-11-17 at 5.16.11 PMMariam Sulakian
Cite It, Don’t Bite It
ampling is a recursive process which can complicate retracing the original track. Take the example below of “I’m On One” (video on left), produced by DJ Khaled in 2011, that samples Drake’s “Trust Issues” and Treal Lee and Prince Rick’s “Throwed Off (Fuck Everybody).” After its release, DJ Khaled’s track was sampled in at least 22 other songs, including J. Cole’s “Power Trip” (video on right). As apparent, many distinct records feature non-distinct sounds.

I’M ON ONE – DJ KhaledSample appears at 1:26

POWER TRIP – J. ColeSample appears at 2:10

Hip-hop music has transitioned into a station of radical change, both in legal regards of sampling and socially (though the social impacts of hip-hop’s are not discussed in this researched piece). This maturation has consequently altered the music selection for the markets: whereas music audiences initially decided which music was “street legit” through their own personal purchases, the industry’s boardrooms now determine the music that will be sold to the public (Tate). Sampling could, however, be used to preserve “old” hip-hop with the process of reincorporating worn tracks as an escape means from the industry’s dictatorship.

But how can a producer avoid copyright and legally clear a sample? The first step, according to, is to find the copyright owner, usually by searching the performing rights organizations’ websites, and then to obtain permission from both the copyright owner/publisher and the owner of the master recording. Normally, a cost will accompany the permission if granted.

Producers, however, did not always follow today’s steps to clearing a sample. When sampling increased in popularity in the 80’s into the beginning of the following decade, the legal basis of musical intellectual property remained a hazy arena in which producers and original ‘sound’ creators settled matters of copyright infringement without actually going to court (according to NPR). However, the 1991 case between Biz Markie and Gilbert O’Sullivan altered the ethical and legal basis of sampling. During this time, O’Sullivan accused Markie of copyright violation, claiming that Markie sampled portions of the 1972 single “Alone Again (Naturally)” without authorization. The case verdict finding Markie guilty significantly transformed the practice of creating sample-based recordings.

In more recent times, similar cases have continued to emerge, most notably in reference to works produced by American rapper and producer Timbaland. One case in particular arose in 2007 when audiences began to post videos accusing the producer of plagiarizing Finnish artist Janne Suni’s work, thus attracting mainstream attention. Facing lawsuits for allegedly violating intellectual property of Juni’s “Acid Jazz Evening” in his production of Nelly Furtado’s “Do It,” Timbaland went on air defending his work by distinguishing sampling and stealing. He affirmed that the sample in question was modeled from a video game, not Suni’s music. In the interview the producer also claimed, “Everybody samples from everyone everyday…I don’t know what’s public domain and what’s not,” and that he does not always have the time to research every track he uses. Though acquitted in the 2007 case and subsequent cases, Timbaland’s disregard for musical attribution continually concerns internet users like Diamanda, who publicly shamed Timbaland online for “biting” foreign artists’ works. As illustrated by this example, sampling and sampling ethics remain very enigmatic and perception-based fields wherein producers, even if ethically guilty of “biting,” may not always be legally guilty of intellectual theft.

Mariam Sulakian               Mariam SulakianMariam Sulakian

Evolution and the Basics
The value and tradition of sampling remain an inherent aspect of hip-hop. From the N.W.A.’s piecing of previously produced tracks in its greatest hit “Straight Outta Compton” to J. Cole’s “G.O.M.D.” that models music from the early 90’s, producers throughout the decades–Marley Marl, J Dilla, Kanye West, Sounwave, 9th Wonder–have relied and continue to rely upon sampling for the production of the most groundbreaking music in the international hip-hop dominion. Dispute the ethics of sampling all you want, but one of two things remains certain–either great samples produce great music or great music dawns from well-construed samples.

Jeffries, M. P. 2011. “Hip-Hop Authenticity in Black and White” In Thug Life: Race, Gender, and the Meaning of Hip-Hop (pp. 117-123). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Schloss, J. G. 2014. “‘It just Doesn’t sound authentic’: Live instrumentation versus hip-hop purism” In Making beats: The Art of Sample-Based Hip-Hop (pp. 63-78). Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press.

Schloss, J. G. 2004. “‘No biting’: One can’t sample material that has been Recently used by someone else” In That’s the Joint!: The Hip-Hop Studies Reader. (pp. 105-110), edited by Murray Forman & Mark Anthony Neal. New York: Routledge.

Tate, G. 2004. “Hip-hop Turns 30: Whatcha Celebratin’ For?” In That’s the Joint!: The Hip-Hop Studies Reader., edited by Murray Forman & Mark Anthony Neal. New York: Routledge.

*The “Relating Back” segments of this piece reference an online survey to which 76 students at Duke University, as well as other universities in the U.S., responded and which was conducted Nov. 12, 2015 until Nov. 14, 2015 by means of sharing a link to the Google Form on social media including Facebook and Twitter.

Reflections of Duke Through Soundscape Composition

A month ago, I read an article by Peter Cusack entitled “Interpreting the Soundscape” that offers a critical review and track by track analysis of the compilation album Noises Off: Sound Beyond Music. The album itself contains a diverse set of soundscape compositions, while the article aims to discern societal clues from the sounds (2006, 69). My research, inspired by the model laid out by Noises Off: Sound Beyond Music and “Interpreting the Soundscape,” analyzes the soundscapes present on Duke’s campus through the lens of soundscape composition; I created four original soundscape compositions, molded from the distinct sounds of twenty-seven locations across Duke, that each highlight different elements of the Duke experience. Of course, these soundscape compositions, which constantly rearrange and juxtapose Duke’s soundscapes, alter sonic reality to enhance certain qualities. The sections below outline the creative processes for each track and explore the specific ways in which their sounds reflect Duke.

“We Get Around (Part 1: Pedestrians)”

When I first arrived at Duke three months ago, the amount that I walked on a daily basis increased significantly. My senior year, I had a car — I regularly drove to school, the houses of my friends, and a slew of stores and restaurants in my area. Back then, cars were integrated into my life. Now, I walk; I’ve been in a car once in my entire time at Duke. I bet that many Duke freshman have experienced similar transformations in the way they get around. Academics such as Chandola Tripta and Freek Colombijn have used soundscapes to further develop the idea that modes of transportation can shape the experience of a place. Tripta’s article “Listening into Water Routes: Soundscapes as Cultural Systems” discusses the sounds of impoverished women in Delhi as they walk to collect their daily supply of water (2011, 61); Colombijn’s article“Toooot! Vroooom! The Urban Soundscape in Indonesia” points out how Indonesian drivers use their car horns to navigate crowded streets (2007, 260). And so the sounds of walking act as a key component of the soundscapes that define the Duke experience for me and presumably for others.

“We Get Around (Part 1: Pedestrians)” contains the sounds of two walks from my room to Marketplace that I took on separate occasions. The first walk, I took alone in the midst of a small rainstorm. I had finished my coursework for the night and wanted to grab a late night snack, so I set off to Trinity Cafe. As I walked, I noticed a few other students on missions like my own — together we experienced the rhythmic sounds of our sloshy footsteps and the percussive rain on our umbrellas. The second walk, I took with friends in weather conditions that only affected the soundscape via a light breeze. Almost every day a group of friends from my hall walks together to Marketplace for dinner, and more often than not other clusters follow the same trajectory as ours. Even more so than my first walk, my second walk includes a set of sounds integrated into the lives of most Duke freshman.

The track “We Get Around (Part 1: Pedestrians)” adopts my first walk as its primary narrative. Due to the sounds of a lone walker’s footsteps and lack of voices (voices imply interaction), the sounds of my first walk conjure up an atmosphere of contemplative isolation. To supplement that atmosphere, I layered in the sounds of my guitar playing. I had the idea to employ this technique after I read in the article “Soundscapes: Toward a Sounded Anthropology” that soundscape compositions often “take on the challenge of representing sound in a social or environmental context” by “blending music into environmental recordings” (2010, 335). The guitar notes come in quick succession and layer over one another in a way that mimics the rain. Simultaneously the process of tension and resolution heard in the chord changes resembles the process of thoughts. While the guitar sounds enhance the first walk rather directly, the second walk enhances it through contrast. This contrast, which I achieved by embedding a few bursts of sound from the second walk into the first walk, that hints at the broad range of sounds connected to walking at Duke and in turn gives “We Get Around (Part 1: Pedestrians)” a more expansive, inclusive feel.

“We Get Around (Part 2: The Bus)”

“We Get Around (Part 2: The Bus)” continues the conversation started by “We Get Around (Part 1: Pedestrians)” as it contains a collection of sounds linked to the other prominent mode of transportation for Duke Students: the bus. These two tracks also connect due to their parallel creative processes. I recorded my first bus ride twenty minutes after my first walk, so the rain that dominated the soundscape of the walk still lingered throughout the bus ride. It was 8:40PM on  a Monday. No more than fifteen people were on the bus. A few of them engaged in sparse conversations that hovered over the rumble and spray from tires on a wet road. The rest of us didn’t say a word. Perhaps the sounds of the motor and the traffic and the rain filled up enough empty sonic space that people didn’t have the urge to fill it themselves. For instance, imagine if the interior of the bus were silent. How uncomfortable would it be to sit with strangers in silence? Would more people make small talk in that scenario? The soundscapes for such bus rides as the first one I recorded don’t hold the answers, but they do spark these questions, albeit in an implicit way. I recorded my second bus ride at 4:00PM on a Tuesday. This time around, the bus was at maximum capacity, so the conversations of Duke students played a more central role in the soundscape— more people means more voices.

A noteworthy aspect of these bus rides comes from the sound of the bus’s engine, which serves as the foundation of both soundscapes and contributes to the aura of purposefulness around the bus. In general, Duke freshmen walk to dinner, but they take the bus to class. This observation alone strengthens the association of walks with leisure and bus rides with purpose, while the hum of the bus’ engine, a machine designed to take people places, shows that this purpose extends into the realm of sound. As I did on “We Get Around (Part 1: Pedestrians)” to reinforce the sense of contemplative isolation, I layer my guitar playing over the sounds of my first bus ride to add to the sense of purposefulness. The chords, while somewhat ethereal, rise and fall with a rhythmic pulse that complements the engine, whose pitch rises and falls as it revs up and winds down. I also used my second bus ride in the same way that I used my second walk — the frantic flashes of sound from my second bus ride expand the sonic template laid out by the more subdued sounds of my first ride. This helps listeners discover that bus rides at Duke, like walks at Duke, are unpredictable endeavors.

“Study Session Dynamics”

I don’t know much about the study habits of even my best friend from high school, but my roommate? I know that he does his linear algebra problem sets in Lilly, but he prefers to watch his economics videos in the common room; I know that he starts to prepare for a test two nights before; I know that he listens to 90s pop hits while he studies — I could continue. When I arrived at Duke, the only study habits I knew were my own. As a high schooler, I did my work mostly at home, and my classmates did the same, which explains why we referred to it as homework. I would occasionally study with friends at the library or work on a group project, but my exposure to the variety of study habits possessed by students was limited. Now “homework” has simply become “work.”

Every Duke student has preferred study spaces as well as a personal study schedule, and all of us study at Duke — where else? The combination of these facts designates Duke as the site for an extensive, interactive, and dynamic network of its students’ study spaces and study schedules. The word “dynamic” has multiple definitions courtesy of Wikipedia, two of which add a valuable dimension to the discussion of this network: “characterized by constant change, activity, or progress” and “relating to the volume of sound produced by an instrument, voice, or recording.” The sounds heard on the track “Study Session Dynamics” reflect both of the definitions above. I collected the ingredients for the track by identifying and recording some of the Duke study network’s hotspots: my room, representative of a typical room at Duke, with and without my roommate present; my dorm’s common room, representative of a typical common room at Duke; and the designated “quiet” and “loud” sections of Lilly and Perkins Libraries. (On a side note, the development of “quiet” and “loud” sections comes not only as a result of the different sound levels that individuals prefer while they study, but also due to the interactive nature of the Duke study network — “loud” sections often become loud with the sounds of collaboration.) Then, I arranged these hotspots from least to most sonically active and faded them in and out of each other. As a final touch, I added the sounds of some ancient instrument, courtesy of the soundtrack for a historical display near the entrance of Perkins, to the transitions between soundscapes. This music, which reoccurs throughout “Study Session Dynamics,” imbues the soundscape composition with a scholarly vibe.

“Community Through Routine”

While “Study Session Dynamics” captures the sounds of a network that connects Duke students’ study habits, “Community Through Routine” hints at similar networks that apply to the other routines shared by Duke students. Earlier I discussed how my study routine came into contact with those of others as I transitioned from high school to college. What about my bathroom-related routines? As a high school student, I shared two bathrooms with three other people; in college, I share one bathroom with twenty-one other people. Given this situation, the bathroom on my hall has become a place where people, and by extension their routines, interact. When I walk into our bathroom, I often come across my hallmates showering, shaving, or brushing their teeth. As trivial as they may seem, such occurrences cause our daily tasks to become less personal and more communal, which contributes to the sense of camaraderie in my hall and other halls at Duke. The same logic applies to my food-related routines. As a high school student, I typically ate breakfast at my house, lunch at my high school, and dinner at my house — only one of those meals happened in a communal environment (i.e. my high school’s cafeteria). Now, I usually have breakfast at Marketplace, lunch somewhere in the Bryan Center, and dinner again at Marketplace — I eat the majority of my meals in places shared and experienced by other Duke freshman on a regular basis. This shift in food-related routines, like the shift in bathroom-related routines, further distinguishes the Duke community from a high school community with respect to its expansiveness.

The interwoven nature of Duke students’ daily tasks culminates in a powerful sense of community at Duke — “Community Through Routine” seeks to express that point through soundscapes. The track starts with a recording of me eating lunch in the Bryan Center and transitions into me eating dinner at Marketplace. When Duke students eat at those places, not only do they taste the same foods, but they experience the same sounds. In turn, the sounds of Bryan Center and Marketplace effectively serve as the sounds of community. From there, “Community Through Routine” morphs into the soundscape of Shooters. Though gathering at Shooters isn’t a routine as widely shared across Duke’s student body as eating in the Bryan Center or Marketplace, Shooters’ atmosphere particularly heightens the importance of sound to its sense of community. When packed with Duke students on a Saturday night, Shooters is a loud place, partially due to the students’ chatter but mainly due to the music that blasts through its speaker system. While the soundscapes of Bryan Center of Marketplace foster community indirectly, the music at Shooters has a more direct impact. Matt Sakakeeny’s article “Under the Bridge: An Orientation to Soundscapes in New Orleans” identifies the sound of a brass band as a “soundmark” or a “community sound” to the city of New Orleans (2010, p. 3). Furthermore, Johnny Milner’s article “Australian Gothic Soundscapes: The Proposition” notes how the “unfamiliar sounds” of the Australian outback, such as “laughing kookaburras,” “whipping whip-birds,” “mimicking lyre birds,” and “howling dingoes” give it a distinct ability to unsettle people, while commonly heard sounds have the opposite effect (2013, 97). Like New Orleans, Shooters has a few “soundmarks,” certain pop songs that have become the staples of its nightly playlists (the first that comes to mind is the Killers’ song “Mr. Brightside”), and unlike the outback, these familiar sounds prompt the students at Shooters to unleash a collective scream of joy that elevates the sense of togetherness. After the sounds of Shooters, “Community Through Routine” shifts to the sounds of me showering, then brushing my teeth, and finally flicking off the lights and hopping into bed. Of course, countless people throughout the world hear those same sounds at the end of the day, but those sounds only connect them on a subconscious level — places like Duke intertwine people’s routines and ultimately bring such connections to their consciousnesses.

Works Cited

Chandola, Tripta. 2012. “Listening into Water Routes: Soundscapes as Cultural Systems.” International Journal of Cultural Studies 16 (1): 55-69.

Colombijn, Freek. 2007. “Toooot! Vroooom! The Urban Soundscape in Indonesia.” Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia 22 (2): 255-73.

Cusack, Peter. 2006. “Interpreting the Soundscape.” Leonardo Music Journal 16: 68-70.

Milner, Johnny. 2013. “Australian Gothic Soundscapes: The Proposition.” Media International Australia, Incorporating Culture & Policy 148: 94-106.

Sakakeeny, Matt. 2010. “Under the Bridge: An Orientation to Soundscapes in New Orleans.” Ethnomusicology 54 (1): 1-27.

Samuels, David W., Louise Meintjes, Ana Maria Ochoa, and Thomas Porcello. 2010. “Soundscapes: Toward a Sounded Anthropology.” Annual Review of Anthropology 39 (1): 329-345

Understanding my Relationship to Hinduism Through Acoustic Worship

Understanding my Relationship to Hinduism Through Acoustic Worship

I have never considered myself to be musically talented or in tune with sounds. I refrain from singing most of the time, even in the shower. This is the way I have been for my entire life. What I have never considered, though, is how inextricably my life is intertwined with music and sound. I am a Hindu and acoustic worship is how I connect to my religion. Singing and chanting devotional hymns is an intuitive aspect of my life that I did not start reflecting upon these practices until I started college. I was inspired to question my relationship with Hinduism by the Hindu Student Association chaplain, who spoke to us during puja about the importance of chanting in our religious experience. Her statement prompted me to delve into how I participated in the sound and music of Hinduism. I realized that the ideal “spaces” for my acoustic worship practices were the shower and in bed right before going to sleep. Why are these “spaces” ideal for my acoustic worship, and why is acoustic worship so fundamental to Hinduism? Prompted by these personal inquiries, this research project will investigate the prevalence of sound and music in Hindu theology and ritual practices.

When thinking of Hinduism, one thinks of visual worship in the form of the veneration of the idol infused with a divine essence (Murti). However, Hinduism is made up of two forms of worship: visual veneration of the Murti and acoustic veneration of Nada, a divine resonant sound (Beck, 1993, 81), and Vak, sacred speech derived from ancient scripture that also communicates the language of nature (Beck, 1993, 25). The volume Sound and Communication: An Aesthetic Cultural History of Sanskrit Hinduism describes sound as “the most ethereal object of sensory perception,” where hearing and acoustics are so subtle that they blur into the realm of supernatural (Moebus, Wilke, 2011, 36). All sounds are considered divine because they are all derived from the same sacred source, Om, which is viewed as the “divine seed sound” or “root mantra” (Coward, Goa, 2004, 2). Every sound heard symbolizes the universe (Moebus, Wilke, 2011, 65) and links the internal vibrations of the devotee to those of the divine. Acoustic worship in Hinduism is supported in ancient scriptures, specifically in the fundamental Rig-Veda (an ancient Hindu scripture). This emphasis on sound in Hinduism has yielded “acoustic piety,” which is divided into two different acts: the chanting of mantras and the performance of holy text, mythological epics, or devotional poetry through music.

It is evident from Hindu scriptures that sound and music play significant roles in Hindu theology and ritual acts, but it is not clear what this means for the average Hindu. My research will draw conclusions to the following questions: What is the relationship between a higher spiritual being and sound in Hinduism? What is the importance of music in Hindu rituals and in relation to theology? What philosophy is behind the prevalence of mantras and music in Hinduism? What is the purpose of mantras in Hinduism? Using a literature review, I will investigate these fundamental research questions and synthesize the information found. Simultaneously, I will put the information into context by analyzing and connecting it to my Hindu experience. The blog post will sequentially look at evidences of music and sound in relation to Hindu mythology; the practice of mantra; the practice of Nada-Yoga; devotional Hindu music; and finally, the implications of this information for regular practicing Hindus.

Evidence of Music and Sound in Hindu Mythology

The origins of elements of Indian classical music and the reverence of sound are directly connected to Hindu mythology, being creations of the deities themselves. Brahma, the creator deity, is said to have made the first musical instrument, the drum (Strickland, 1931, 331). Drums are a crucial instrument of Hindu devotional music; they set a rhythm for everyone to follow during communal musical worship and give off a beat that makes one feel the music within. Vishnu, the sustainer deity, always holds the conch-shell horn in his hand, from which he discovered the seed-sound of all music, Om. Om is considered the basis of all divine sound and is characterized as the “sacred key-note of the cosmos” (Strickland, 1931, 331). The conch shell is blown at the beginning of longer devotional services or songs, in order to summon the divine. It creates resonating sound and vibrations that reverberate throughout the space of worship. Krishna, one of the most popular Hindu deities, is credited as the creator of the flute. He is known in Hindu mythology for his enchanting flute music, through which he “exerted a mysterious influence over man and beast” (Strickland, 1931, 333). Flute, while usually employed in during Hindu service, is popular in recorded devotional music. By playing these instruments during devotional practices, Hindus consciously honor the deities.

Sakta-Tantra is the tradition of goddess worship in Hinduism that is strongly linked to the power of language and sacred sound (Beck, 1993, 121). Language is linked to sacred sound in Hinduism because every chant or song is made up of precise syllables that impart a specific sonic energy. Saraswati is viewed as the goddess of poetry, language, and music who possesses a body made up of the alphabet. She can be worshipped through recitation of holy texts that are made up of this alphabet (Moebus, Wilke, 2011, 279).  The principle of vak (sacred speech) is often represented in the Vedas as Vak, the goddess of speech (Beck, 1993, 28), or as the goddess of language, Vagdevi who is “present in everything and contains everything” (Moebus, Wilke, 2011, 287). These two deities are considered incarnations of Saraswati. Hindus are instructed to pray to Saraswati to receive good grades or knowledge and she is always portrayed as playing the guitar-like sitar, but her role as the goddess of language is not regularly emphasized. There have been hymns and devotional poetry written specifically to honor this goddess of language and sacred speech, demonstrating that sound and language are not only used in worship, but are also worshipped as a deity.

What is mantra?

In order to honor the various deities, Hindus engage in different sonic and musical practices. One such practice, mantra, is the basis of every Hindu’s religious practice. The simplified definition of mantra is a repeated chant focused on correct pronunciation of each word with intentions akin to that of a prayer. In his article, “The Indian Mantra,” Jan Gonda attempts to capture the more complex definition of mantra. He concludes that mantra is made up of words believed to be of divine origin that are spoken with pure intentions in order to evoke a divine presence and to forge a connection with the essence of divinity present in the mantra (Gonda, 1963, 255). In their text, Mantra: Hearing the Divine in India and America, Coward and Goa describe the chanting of mantras as a purification ritual for the devotee, until one’s life is in harmony with divine power and its sound-vibrations (Coward, Goa, 2004, 5). A tenet of acoustic Hinduism states that the sound produced when a word is pronounced is eternal and represents the eternality of the cosmos (Gonda, 1963, 272). This concept of eternality is why sound is sacred in Hinduism. Therefore, the power of mantras lies not in their direct meaning, but in the power of the sounds produced when the mantras are pronounced (Beck, 1993, 31). Repeating mantras correctly produces sacred sound-vibrations that resonate with the cakras, or spiritual centers, of the body to effect internal change (Simms, 1993, 70). The Veda is made up of sruti, the divine word that “came vibrating out of the Infinite to the inner audience of man” (Coward, Goa, 2004, 13). These divine sound-vibrations are what give mantras the power to express the power of truth and order at the center of the Vedic universe (Coward, Goa, 2004, 12) and help the devotee “see” transcendent truth of the cosmic and human orders.

The most important part of mantra is the emphasis on participation and a performative nature. One participates in mantra not by understanding the semantics of it, but by physically hearing and reciting it (Coward, Goa, 2004, 13). In religious education, young Hindus are taught the nuanced pronunciation of every syllable of a mantra, but are often not taught the meaning of the mantra until many years later. The emphasis is always on chanting the mantra with vigor and positive intentions. Hindus often use mantras as prescriptions for everyday situations, such as success on an exam or safety during travels, making mantras an important part of daily ritual acts. While the “prescription” use of mantra is what is taught to most Hindus initially, mantras are considered alternate forms of deities, with God’s creative power being embedded in mantra (Gonda, 1963, 2879-280). Each deity has its own bhija-mantra, or seed sound that represents the essence of the deity’s divine power (Gonda, 1963, 281). In this way, mantras serve as the deity’s “sound-body” (Coward, Goa, 2004, 27) and as a way for the devotee to connect directly with the divine. Since each syllable of a mantra carries careful intention and power, mantras open up a clear channel of communication with God. When Hindus want to establish a connection with a certain deity, they chant mantras containing the deity’s bhija-mantra or just the bhija-mantra over and over to summon the divine’s presence. While most Hindus only use mantras to attain short-term goals as stated above, Hindu theology supports the idea that mantras are intended for transformative purposes. Repeating a mantra is to establish good karma and intense repetition is said to release one from the infinite cycle of rebirth so that the devotee can achieve moksha and become one with the divine (Coward, Goa, 2004, 9-12).

What is Nada-Yoga?

In order to attain moksha, Hindus practice Nada-Yoga (sound yoga), which incorporates mantras and meditation upon the sound-vibrations produced. The Nada-Bindu Upanishad, which is a text attached to the Rig-Veda, describes the auditory ascension of “higher, divine hearing” that can result from certain sound yoga exercises (Beck, 1993, 93). An important aspect of sound yoga is litany, where a number of different names of one deity are chanted in order to invoke the deity’s presence (Moebus, Wilke, 2011, 92). Litany is a significant part of the celebration of Hindu festivals centered around a specific deity. Hindus participate in these long ceremonies to show their devotion to the deity and ask for good fortune, good health, knowledge, etc. Another significant aspect of sonic yoga is the repetition of  Om. This syllable is divided into three sounds, each of which is correlated with various states of consciousness, that merge into a sacred soundlessness (Simms, 1993, 70). The chanting of Om is the most familiar part of any Hindu’s acoustic practice. It helps to focus one’s mind on the devotional practice ahead and brings a sense of inner peace with each deep, drawn-out repetition.

There are different types of sonic yoga for different purposes. Bhajans, religious songs, are performed as a more emotional sound yoga. These songs are performed as communal worship during a Hindu service, but are also often listened to by Hindus in their homes. To establish an intense connection with god, one repeats the name of the deity (Gonda, 1963, 253). Those seeking meditative contemplation repeat monosyllabic sounds (like Om) that produce sacred sound-vibrations that will induce this state (Moebus, Wilke, 2011, 95). By meditating on a specific bhija-mantra, the divine power of the deity as derived from the sound energy of the mantra is transferred into the devotee through the sacred-vibration that is unique to each deity (Moebus, Wilke, 2011, 739). Hindus have several choices regarding the types of Nada-Yoga they want to incorporate into their practice. The point of it is to focus on the internal vibrations caused by the sound acts; sound is at the top of the hierarchy of the senses in Hinduism because it is the path along which one is able to gain knowledge of the universe. While this significance of Nada-Yoga practices is not emphasized during the religious education of most Hindus, acts of sound yoga create an almost intuitive, personal connection with the divine.

What is the significance of devotional Hindu music?

While chanting mantra and practicing Nada-Yoga are more independent ways to interact with the divine, music is a more engaging, communal devotional practice. The earliest form of Hindu musical expression was the singing of Sama-Veda hymns (Beck, 1948, 35). They are believed to sonically represent fundamental divine forces that give order to the universe (Moebus, Wilke, 2004, 429). Sama-gana, the music of the Sama-Veda, is characterized by the insertion of nonsensical words and syllables into verses for lyrical effect along with long, eerie notes intended to summon the gods (Beck, 1948, 53). Sama-Veda music is incorporated into more formal ritual acts, such as for Hindu festivals or occasions (i.e. weddings, funerals). The earliest form of Indian classical music, Gandharva Sangita, was a gift from the gods and is perceived as the same type of music enjoyed by the deities in heaven (Beck, 1948, 86). It is associated strongly with puja, temple ritual acts that emphasize a personal connection with the deity. Gandharva Sangita has evolved into Bhakti Sangit, which is the devotional music most common in temples today. It is characterized as devotional and personal, emphasizing a two-sided relationship between the devotee and the deity (Beck, 1948, 146). During the performance of Bhakti Sangit music during religious service, the mood is upbeat with lots of energy. Instruments like drums, cymbals, and the harmonium are played by members of the temple and everyone sings along in a call and response fashion. One becomes completely immersed in the beautiful instrumental music and the performative, participatory aspect of Bhakti Sangit keeps one engaged. The offering of bhakti music consisting of the names, attributes, and praise for the deity is an important element of puja (Beck, 1948, 106) and is a simple way for Hindus to demonstrate their devotion.

Hindu music emphasizes the benefits of the participatory aspects of religion. Those who participate in the delivery of worship music play a dual-role of receiving a religious message and delivering one to the deity (Moebus, Wilke, 2004, 79). Participants receive a religious message because the performance of the hymns produces an infinite series of vibrations that brings on a sensory experience of Nada-Brahman (Moebus, Wilke, 2004, 37). In ancient texts describing the guidelines of musical worship, music was described as “essential” for invoking the divine during ritual (Beck, 1948, 78). Many sects of Hinduism consider music to embody sacred-sound (Nada), while also being an alternative form of God (Moebus, Wilke, 2011, 840-841). Since Nada is considered the essence of the highest divine being in Hinduism, music also carries this divine essence. When Hindus perform or listen to devotional music, they do so not because they are knowledgeable about the principles of sacred-sound vibrations, but because the music is a way for them to express their love for the divine. Devotional music is a central part of every Hindu’s practice because it produces an emotional connection with the deity that mantra worship cannot evoke.

The Implications of this Research for Practicing Hindus

The connections I am able to draw between my Hindu beliefs and practices and the principles of sonic significance in Hinduism has enlightened me in regards to my faith. Taught my Hindu beliefs and how to practice my religion at a young age, I have taken for granted my religion without questioning it or exploring the significance of how I practice it. Now that I understand the significance of sounds in Hindu practice, I understand why I practice Hinduism the way I do. When I chant mantras or sing devotional songs, I will do so in two “spaces”: the shower or my bed right before I go to sleep. Since a young age, I have “prayed” in the shower because it was a time-efficient way to devote part of my day to Hinduism. However, I also enjoy chanting in the shower because of the acoustic benefits of the space. The shower creates resonating sound and echoes that make the vibrations of the mantras I chant much more powerful and rejuvenating for me. Just as people sing in the shower because it makes their voice sound better, chanting mantras or singing Hindu music in the shower resonates more with me. I also like to repeat mantras silently in my head before I go to sleep. The repetition of the same precise syllables yields a calming effect and removes my mental clutter that has built up throughout the day. Before embarking upon this research project, I had thought that my personal Hindu practice was solely based upon time-efficiency and personal quirks. In actuality, the significance of sound-vibrations and repetition as a means of attaining internal harmony with the external reality and an eventual spiritual release speaks for the way I conduct my practice. The importance of sound in Hinduism has silently guided my interpretation of my faith and will continue to do so.

Hinduism is a participatory, performative religion. One cannot simply read texts or sit in front of the altar and expect to feel a connection with the divine. Hindus need to interact with their faith sonically to truly experience it. I cannot imagine feeling any connection to a higher spiritual being without actively performing acoustic worship acts. The mantras I chant and the devotional music I sing are the reasons I am able to engage with Hinduism. Now that I have investigated the significance of sound in Hindu theology and the more detailed aspects of acoustic worship, my worship feels more purposeful and informed. Chanting mantras and singing bhajan songs after this investigation, I focus on the actual resonating vibrations produced and each separate syllabic pronunciation. Before undergoing this research process, I did not understand why Hindu acoustic practices consisted of such drawn-out syllables, nonsensical syllables, and such precise rhythms. Now I realize that these elements of acoustic practice are intended to invoke the transformative influence of sacred sound-vibrations, not just the divine presence. This knowledge has prompted me to focus more on the sound-vibrations produced when I practice, which has given me stronger feelings of a connection with the divine. I strongly believe that having more knowledge about the theories behind acoustic beliefs and practices would benefit every Hindu’s relationship with their faith. As emphasized by many texts analyzing the sonic aspects of Hinduism, the most important part of mantra chanting and devotional music practice is active pronunciation and focus on the sounds produced. This is emphasized in Hindu religious education, while the actual semantic meaning of what is being performed is deemphasized; however, it is never explained to Hindus why this is. While being a performer and participating directly in acoustic Hinduism automatically produces an intimate connection with the divine, not understanding the theology of sacred sound-vibrations or the divine essence within the syllables of mantra devalues the practices for Hindus who have taken them for granted. I highly encourage Hindus to investigate the “why” behind our acoustic worship practices; doing so enhances the worship acts and brings about a more intimate, thoughtful connection with the divine.


 Beck, Guy L. 1948. Sonic liturgy: Ritual and Music in Hindu Tradition. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press.

Beck, Guy L. 1993. Sonic Theology: Hinduism and Sacred Sound. Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press.

Coward, Harold G., and David J. Goa. 2004. Mantra: Hearing the Divine in India and America. 2nd ed. New York: Columbia University Press.

Gonda, J. 1963. “The Indian Mantra.” Oriens. 16 (Dec. 31): 244-97.

Moebus, Oliver, and Annette Wilke. 2011. Sound and Communication: An Aesthetic Cultural History of Sanskrit Hinduism. eds. Gustavo Benavides, Kocku von Stuckrad and Winnifred Fallers Sullivan. Vol. 41. Berlin, Germany: Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co.

Simms, Robert. 1993. “Aspects of Cosmological Symbolism in Hindusthani Musical Forms.” Asian Music 24(1) (Autumn, 1992 – Winter): 67-89.

Strickland, Lily. 1931. “The Mythological Background of Hindu Music.” The Musical Quarterly 17 (3) (Jul.): 330-40.



Noise Exposure in Sports: Studying How Noise Affects Fans, Players, and Personnel in Stadium Settings

As defined by Steege, acoustics can be thought of as “a way of knowing about sound, one that brings into focus quantifiable aspects of matter, force, and motion involved with it” (Novak and Sakekeeny 22). It both “exceeds and falls short of sound” (Novak and Sakekeeny 23). What does this exactly mean though? The notion of acoustics in this sense is that it is “simply the physics of vibration”. Or in other words, the scientific, measurable part of the energy of sound waves themselves. The other aspect of the equation of acoustics details the aural element. That is, how the energy of the sound waves is perceived by people and the subsequent effects it has on them (Novak and Sakekeeny 23). The former aspect is intriguing as it defines the way mankind experiences the world around us. How we choose to judge, how we interact, how we make decisions, seemingly everything is connected to this idea of the perception of sound.

A field in which acoustics in this sense of perception and reception is heavily influential is the realm of sports. Walking into nearly any sporting arena in this country and across the world, you can find one thing in common: jumbotrons exclaiming for people to be “LOUDER!”, “MAKE NOISE!”, or any similar rendition of those phrases referring to people cheering. More than ever, the idea of sound and noise level at sporting events has come into the forefront and for a variety of reasons. The louder you are, the more you give your team the advantage, right? Momentum, drawing players offside, making players miss free throws—all represent ways in which screaming as loud as you possibly can will benefit the teams that you love. However, this may not always be the case. The following post will analyze how noise exposure in stadium conditions affects not only how the players and personnel on the court/field respond to noise, but how fans are affected by it as well.

The millions of fans that flock to stadiums across the world on game day can be described as somewhat of “next-level fans”. Instead of sitting at home on the couch and watching the teams they support on TV, they take the extra step and want to “live” in the atmosphere and be in the stadium on game day. With this in mind, it is reasonable to expect that these fans are more knowledgeable and care more about the sport they paid so much to consume in person, so they will do whatever it takes to see their team win. Yet, being a fan, there are limitations to the contribution you can provide your favorite team. The only meaningful way that a fan can affect the outcome of a game is to cheer. Making noise, for better or for worse, will have a tangible affect on the game being played on the field. The consequence in this case could not only be damaging to the opposing teams record, but also to the well-being of the fans themselves.

For instance, in a study of the noise levels produced at an NCAA arena, it was found that one-third of the participants that were tested over the course of 3 home games for the Murray State Racers were exposed to noise levels above the OSHA action level 8-hour average (the Occupational Safety & Health Administration level of 8-hours of exposure to noise of 85 decibels or above) (Morris, Atieh, Keller 16). Additionally, when measuring the noise exposure of fans at a FIFA 2010 World Cup training stadium, Swanepoel and Hall found that 8 of the 10 participants had felt peak exposure to noise over 140 dB(C) (C-weighted decibels measure the frequency sensitivity of the human ear at high noise levels) with the average across all participants being 100.5 LAeq (LAeq is a way to average the noise exposure that varies over a certain period of time). In a post-test evaluation of those same participants, it was determined that they had a significantly reduced range of hearing, reflecting a temporary shift, yet still showing that “auditory physiology is affected by the sound exposure levels experienced at a football match where vuvuzelas are the major source of acoustic energy” (Swanepoel and Hall 12). These go to show that even though the excitement of the stadium and feeling the need to express support for a team will cause people to cheer, it can have some serious consequences to the health of many people.

The most frightening part about this phenomenon is the culture that surrounds it. The “culture” being that the fans do not have a concern for their hearing as they are largely unaware that it is being affected in such a negative way. In the environment of an NFL or NBA game for example, the fans are only concerned about how their team is doing on the field or court respectively, and they will respond to that in an appropriate way. Such is the case in football on third down when the home team is on defense. It is a general rule of thumb that the fans get rowdy in an attempt to throw the opposing team off and cause them to fail to convert a first down. This can be seen with the University of Tennessee Volunteers having a coordinated cheer of “3rd down for what” (a play on Lil’ Jon’s hit song ‘Turn Down for What’) to use in third down situations. The new-found tradition is documented in this video (video has since been removed, reference this video for another example). Head Coach Butch Jones states in the video that “the players get excited…it’s an overall awareness, all of a sudden the song comes on, our fans get on their feet, it creates a great home field advantage for us.” Naturally though, the louder the fans become, the more significant damage is being caused to the individual. The culture that is present in today’s sporting society has been ingrained to the point in which people take pride in their stadiums being renowned for being the loudest and most hostile environments to play in rather than taking care of their own health.

University of Tennessee fans cheering. Credit:
University of Tennessee fans cheering. Credit:

The idea of having a loud environment is not a new development however, as evidenced by the early practice of architectural acoustics (the principle of acoustics that seeks to improve the hearing of sound in a built space) recorded in De architectura libri decem. The use of resonant cavities were employed in the design of Greek and Roman theaters in order to “improve the acoustics by serving as ‘sounding vessels’, separate sources of sound resonating with the sound from the stage” (Ams and Crawford 105). In modern times, one of the more notable examples of this can be found in Seattle, Washington in which Century Link Field, home of the Seattle Seahawks, was specifically designed so that “big-roof parabolas coupled with the seating bowl design keep the sound [of fans cheering] focused inward directly towards the field” (Newcomb 6).

Century Link Field featuring the parabolic arches mentioned above. Credit:

ESPN’s Sports Science did a video explaining this design and how the engineers behind constructing the stadium made it so that they take into account crowd noise.

And why not? This kind of attention to detail pays off, as the Seahawks boast one of the highest home-game winning percentages and have lead the league in most false-start penalties in recent years.

Like the Seahawks above, it becomes increasingly evident that neither parties (fans nor teams) share the interest in safety as some teams have even began to take matters a step beyond engineering to boost their own chances at succeeding. Recently, the Atlanta Falcons were caught pumping artificial crowd noise into their stadium to give themselves the greater “home-field advantage”. The validation of this advantage is given by the NFL docking the Falcons of a 2016 5th round pick and fining them $350,000, cementing the notion that crowd noise does in fact give one team an advantage over the other (or at least it does in the eyes of the NFL). The balancing act between a competitive advantage and a reckless overdose of noise is difficult to achieve as each have their own respective benefits. One allows for a higher win total, and the other ensures the safety and protection of individuals’ hearing. Yet, with there being studies such as the one conducted by Barnard, Porter, Bostron, terMeulen, and Hambric of measuring crowd noise generated at Penn State football games reaching peak levels of 123-140 dB and Cranston, Brazile, Sandfort, and Gotshall detailing that the mean noise peak levels at a collegiate hockey game ranged from 105 to 124 dBA (A-weighted decibels express the loudness of sounds perceived by the human ear), it is clear that safety should take precedence.

Nevertheless, it would be naïve to think that such a vast culture change could take place in the confines of an arena or stadium as this is simply contradictory to the nature of sports. They are exciting, and the most common reaction is to yell when excited. Instead, the compromise here should be one that pushes for awareness of this issue. Never will there be a time in which the PA announcer at a game will tell people to be quiet as it is getting “too loud” because the noise is all for the benefit of the team. What the above researchers have concluded and sports fans across the world need to realize is the knowledge that prolonged exposure to noise at such high levels can cause damage to one’s hearing and as a result, preventative measures such as ear protection need to be self-administered.

With the information that noise exposure has harmful affects on fans, players seemingly would have an increasingly compounded effect due to the nature of the sound being directed towards the court and it being the loudest closest to it (England, Larsen 19). It is the job of athletes to go out on the field or court every day and perform to their full potential, yet a big role in their performance is largely influenced by this external factor as noise can affect players in a multitude of ways across all different kinds of sports. Hitting free throws, shooting penalty kicks, kicking a field goal, even down to calling an audible—all are made more difficult with the addition of screaming fans.

As mentioned earlier, some stadiums are notorious for causing miscues amongst players due to the influence of crowd noise. Seattle’s famous “12th man” (their title for the fan base in the stadium referring to the fact that they see the noise as such an advantage that the team seemingly has an additional player on the field) causes more false start penalties than any other fan base/stadium in the National Football League. Throwing off timing and communication in a player’s mind due to the inability to focus on the game at hand will cause such miscues to occur. The aforementioned is the very reason why the millions of NBA fans that sit in the sections behind each hoop are distributed “thunder sticks” when they enter the arena. When a player from the opposing team attempts a free-throw, it is the expectation that the fans will  make as much noise as possible in order to disrupt the rhythm of the player so that he or she misses the shot. Establishing this link between fans and the performance of players only fuels the proliferation of this practice if it is successful. Thus, there will be an increasing presence of fans, or at the very least, a perceived increase in the presence of fans as a positive association is founded.

"Thunder Sticks" in use at an NBA game.
“Thunder Sticks” in use at an NBA game. Credit:

While this effect of noise on players will always be felt, the degree to how much influence they have will vary depending on several factors. One such variation can be caused from the “importance” of the game that is being played. For example, if it is a playoff game or rival game, it will be expected that the fans will produce noise that will exceed the noise of a “standard” game. This is evidenced by 3 of the 5 participants experiencing noise exposure at levels above the OSHA action level 8-hour average during a nationally televised Murray State Racers game compared to 0 of the 5 participants in the stands experiencing noise exposure at a normal home game versus a “weaker” opponent (Morris, Atieh, and Keller 13-14). In its basic form it breaks down to the greater the reward (in this case beating a team on national TV or winning a playoff game), the greater the incentive fans will have to produce noise in order to negatively affect the opposing team. The more danger the fans, players, and personnel have to their health, the bigger the chance the opposing team faults.

Sound does not just negatively affect players, however, it can also be the catalyst for increased performance. On a November 9th game versus the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Atlanta Hawks found themselves in a 34-point deficit at it’s highest mark. The crowd was seemingly non-existent as they had lost interest in the fading team in what looked to be a sure-loss. Yet, when the Hawks started to make a comeback to the point where the deficit was entirely erased and they had actually regained the lead, the fans suddenly became revitalized. With every make, an explosion of roars could be heard throughout the Philips Arena. Watching through the course of this video depicts the phenomenon described. Cross-reference minutes 2:52-3:04 to minutes 4:27-4:44 to compare the relatively low crowd noise level before and the higher noise level after the comeback. This positive association with a successful shot and the cheers of the home crowd leads to the players feeding off of this energy, thus leading them to performing with more confidence and tenacity. The crowd noise played a huge role in the momentum shift from one team to the other, representing the weight of the sound and how it can impact the players on the court in a positive manner.

This dynamic can also be illustrated with the Duke Men’s Basketball team in Cameron Indoor Stadium. According to ESPN Magazine, the stadium is the 2nd loudest in the nation based on a “noise potential” metric that factors in total fan capacity and room reverberation (Shepard, Hambric, Evans, Domme, Christian, Cranage, Poulain, Orr, Barnard, and Gardner 4). The conditions inside Cameron can be very polarizing on both ends of the spectrum: benefitting the home team and impairing the away team. The fans, dubbed “The Cameron Crazies”, have the reputation for being one of the most raucous and energized fan bases in any sport, thus leading to the incredibly unique environment that Cameron Indoor creates.

Being in the stadium myself, I have a firsthand understanding about how the conditions may be so influential to the outcome of a game. From the graduate students on either end of the court displaying their antics to get opposing players to miss free throws, to the constant stream of aggravation created by the Crazies’ various chants, experiencing the energy of this fiery fan base with a prime seat amongst fellow students elucidates how fans can have a real impact on the players’ performance. Below I have provided an audio clip of a game played in Cameron Indoor on 11/13/15 when Duke took on Bryant. Though this will not give a completely representative view of the noise level in the stadium, it can provide a general glance at such conditions.


The above audio clip was recorded in student section at the location shown in the picture in Cameron Indoor Stadium on 11/13/15.
The above audio clip was recorded in student section at the location shown in the picture above in Cameron Indoor Stadium on 11/13/15.

Sharing the court with the players are the personnel to officiate the game and the respective coaching staffs, both of which also have to endure the effects of the noise in the boisterous conditions of a stadium. When coaches are subjected to the high levels of noise, they may not be able to convey instructions to their players on the field accurately. Miscommunication between the coaches on the sidelines and players on the field has led to the usage of hand gestures and signs in order to give direction, thus eliminating sound from the equation.

Chip Kelly’s Oregon Ducks often used such signs to relay the plays from the sidelines to the quarterbacks on the field. Credit: Bleacher Report, ESPN

The need for such measures illustrates the magnitude of the impact noise can have on a game and the way that teams need to prepare for them. The other and more controversial aspect of this however, is the referees on the court being affected by the noise. Referees are trained to not be influenced by crowd noise and to make objective calls at all times based on what they see. However, sometimes the human body cannot be denied of its natural reaction, as detailed in the the study conducted by Balmer, Nevill, Lane, Ward, Williams, and Fairclough in which it was determined that there is statistically significant evidence to show that an increase in cognitive anxiety and mental effort due to crowd noise leads to an increase in the bias towards the home team when officiating. One may subconsciously fear the consequences of making a call against the home team (being showered with boos), whereas a call in favor of the home team will be rewarded with cheers, thus leading to a bias being developed which gives the home team the so called “home-team advantage”.

Further evidence has been given to suggest that 15.5% fewer fouls are given to the home team versus the away team (Nevill, Balmer, and Williams 29), giving even more justification to the fans to increase their noise level as there is a marked difference they can make simply by screaming. This also clarifies why major sporting leagues are designed so that certain teams are awarded with the right to play at their home-field over others. In theory, it should not matter where two teams play a game; if one team is superior to the other, they will be victorious. However, the fact that the statistically higher winning percentage team is awarded with the ability to play certain big games at home (such as playoff games) denotes how this bias (along with other factors that affect the players) due to crowd noise is taken into account and plays a role significant enough to warrant such a format.

The connection between the three groups in a sports stadium (fans, players, personnel) can now be drawn upon in that they are all apart of one large feedback loop. For instance, if a referee makes a supposed “bad” call, or a call that the fans do not agree with as it might be detrimental to the team they support, their reaction will be to drown the court with boos to express their distaste. Because of this, the referees will now be put under more stress when making future calls as they are biologically under more pressure and consequentially are more anxious in an effort to not upset the home crowd once more. The players will either be positively or negatively affected depending on how they each personally respond to the now increased noise level in the stadium. And still the fans will be affected by this increased noise level as they will make the conditions more conducive to damaging their own hearing. Each part is dependent on one another, with the crowd noise being the basis of the web.

Works Cited

Arms RG, Crawford BE. 1995. “Resonant Cavities in the History of Architectural Acoustics.” Technol. Cult. 36(1):104–35

Balmer, Nigel J., Alan M. Nevill, Andrew M. Lane, Paul Ward, A. Mark Williams, and Stephen H. Fairclough. 2007. “Influence of Crowd Noise on Soccer Refereeing Consistency in Soccer.” Journal of Sport Behavior 30 (2): 130.

Barnard, Andrew, Scott Porter, Jason Bostron, Ryan Termeulen, and Stephen Hambric. 2011. “Evaluation of Crowd Noise Levels During College Football Games.” Noise Control Engineering Journal 59 (6): 667-80.

Cranston, Cory J., William J. Brazile, Delvin R. Sandfort, and Robert W. Gotshall. 2013. “Occupational and Recreational Noise Exposure from Indoor Arena Hockey Games.” Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene 10 (1): 11-6.

England, Beau, and Jeffery Blythe Larsen. 2014;2013;. “Noise Levels Among Spectators at an Intercollegiate Sporting Event.” American Journal of Audiology 23 (1): 71-8.

Morris, Gary A., Bassam H. Atieh, and Randal J. Keller. 2013. “Noise Exposures: Assessing an NCAA Basketball Arena on Game Day.” Professional Safety 58 (8): 35.

Nevill, A. M., N. J. Balmer, and A. Mark Williams. 2002. “The Influence of Crowd Noise and Experience upon Refereeing Decisions in Football.” Psychology of Sport & Exercise 3 (4): 261-72.

Newcomb, Tim. “What Makes Seahawks’ CenturyLink Field the Most Raucous Stadium in the League?” January 15, 2014. Accessed November 12, 2015.

Novak, David, and Matt Sakekeeny, eds. 2015. Keywords in Sound. Durham: Duke University Press.

Shepherd, Micah, Stephen A. Hambric, Neal D. Evans, Daniel J. Domme, Andrew W. Christian, Bryan P. Cranage, Kieran Poulain, Andrew J. Orr, Andrew R. Barnard, and Michael D. Gardner. 2011. “Rating of the Loudest College Basketball Arenas for ESPN Magazine.” Proceedings of Meetings on Acoustics 12 (1).

Swanepoel, De Wet, and James W. Hall III. 2010. “Football Match Spectator Sound Exposure and Effect on Hearing: A pretest-post-test study.” South African Medical Journal 100 (4): 239 42.

Issues Among Animal Communication


I’ve always thought that animals communicate similarly to the way humans communicate: one speaks, the other listens, the other responds. As a high school student, I often would find myself in the woods trying simply to escape from my reality and its stresses. Consequently, I found myself constantly listening to the different and fascinating noises of animals. I have always been interested in animal communication unknowingly, but I have never really considered the science of it. Looking deeper into the world of animals and their communication networks, I notice that these networks have far more depth than my natural intuition lead me to believe. Animal communication is an extremely vast and flexible system of senders and receivers. Multiple types of animals can adapt to certain environments to produce optimal signals. Certain species of animals even have elements of human communication to improve signal reception. After doing much research on the efficiency of these systems, I wondered, what could the flaws possibly be? This train of thought lead me to thinking about younger years in the swamps and woodlands of Tallahassee, Florida. I recalled the bullfrogs on the edge of a lake nearby being extremely noisy throughout the nighttime. One early morning when my friend and I set out to go fishing on the same lake, we witnessed a water moccasin, an extremely deadly and poisonous snake native to Tallahassee, swallow one of these bullfrogs. Was it the sorry frog’s signals that eventually led to its own death? What other ways is animal communication harmful to the two parties participating? First, one must understand the foundation that animal communication is built on.

To create a platform on which I can describe the problems within animal communication, I firstly want to explain the fundamentals of the art. To understand signal interference, one must first understand the signals themselves. Signal Detection Theory is the basis of almost all animal communication. In nearly all forms of animal communication, there is a distinct sender and receiver. The sender emits a signal for the receiver to interpret. A signal is defined as something that merits a response. If one animal clearly receives a signal from another animal, the receiver must show an observable response, whether it is subtle or blatant. Despite the importance of the sender, the majority of the burden is put on the receiver.

Signal detection theory states that there are four possible outcomes to a signal reception: correct detection, failed detection, correct rejection, and false alarm.  If an animal correctly detects a response (correct detection), it will realize either a potential threat or mate in the area. Failed detection, on the other hand, is the failure to detect a potential threat or mate. Correct rejection is the realizing of a suboptimal mate or threat in an area, while a false alarm is the response to a suboptimal threat or rival (Brumm, 2013, 8-12). Sometimes signals are totally ignored within a species. For example, juvenile California ground squirrels and vervet monkeys’ signals are often completely ignored for a just reason. These juvenile creatures emit warning signals when there is no need to, so the older members of the groups adapt to ignore these signals (Kaplan, 2014, 91-92).

Not all animal communication is limited to this four-outcome table, however. Other forms of communication come in forms of gestures and non-verbal communication. Researcher, Gisela Kaplan, discovered that these gestures were used not only in primate communication with their hands and arms, but also unpredictable animals such as the Australian magpie. These birds point their beaks at a potential predator until the entire pack realizes the threat (Kaplan, 2014, 98-100).

magpie point

Another unusual, and quite possibly the most astonishing, means of animal communication is by elephants. Until fairly recently, most scientists concluded that elephants communicate only in the range of human hearing capabilities. Katy Payne’s research has debunked this claim. By sitting next to elephants for extended periods of time, she began to feel a certain irregular vibration. With more advanced equipment, Katy Payne discovered a low frequency signal between elephants that humans are unable to hear. This form of communication is so unique and so effective because low frequencies travel much further than high frequency signals, giving elephants the ability to communicate miles away (Katy Payne, “Elephant Songs”). Different animals adapt to make their communication as effective as possible, but what are the factors that these animals must overcome to communicate? What is getting in the way of fail-safe animal communication? In many cases, the answer is noise.

For the purposes of this paper, noise is defined as any sound within an environment that is not the signal being detected by a receiver. For example, if a frog sends out a signal in a marshy lake to another frog, the sound of the wind, the water, the other animals’ signals, and other animals’ unintentional sounds would constitute as noise. In a real world environment, noise is almost always inevitable. Marc Naguib explains the most outright consequence noise has on communication as “the most straight forward effects of noise occur when the noise is actually masking the signal. A low signal-to-noise ratio will directly reduce the probability of detecting and recognizing a signal, leading to errors in communication” (Naguib, 2013). Noisy environments also raise other issues for animals trying to communicate. Naguib, discusses that noise can affect not only the signal itself, but also the mental state of the receiver. He elaborates,

“Noise disturbance, moreover, can affect attention and cognitive performance, a vital component of communication… Animals require attention to various environmental stimuli and such cognitive load can involve more than one sensory modality. Attention generally needs to be divided up, depending on the urgency (Parasuraman, 1984; Dukas, 2002, 2004; Chan & Blumstein, 2011), and noise can influence these attentional processes. In order to make use of information in a signal, a receiver not only needs to be in hearing range of the signal and able to detect and recognize it, it also needs to be sufficiently attentive to the signal, to memorize relevant information as well” (Naguib, 2013). Naguib goes into further detail about the way certain amplitudes and frequencies of noise can be more distracting than others. Much like humans, if a noise is steady, animals will adjust and divide their attention efficiently. If a noise fluctuates and can not be predicted, animals are more distracted and are far more likely to lack the attention to properly detect a signal.

Another trouble with animal communication is a third party receiver intercepting a signal. Many predators use this to locate a potential prey by hijacking the sound to determine the prey’s position. William Searcy, a scientist and researcher at the University of Miami, reports such interactions between crickets and geckos. Male crickets let off their mating calls while geckos sneakily follow this signal to the location of the cricket. An extraordinary example of this interception can be seen with the tungara frog. Tungara frogs’ mating calls end with a series of ‘chucks’, which are dependent on the size of the frog. Female tungara frogs tend to respond to mating calls with lower pitched chucks. This system in which pitch of mating calls corresponds to size of frog cannot be faked. It takes more energy to produce a lower pitched call, and Tungara frog’s size is directly correlated to it’s potential energy for producing a call. Thus, it is a true vocal system to display a tungara frog’s size. Unfortunately for these bigger frogs, fringe-lipped bats, their natural predator, can also hear these chucks and are more inclined to approach a frog with lower chucks. The bats intercept multiple frog signals and find not only where their prey is, but also which is the most optimal prey to consume (Searcy, 2005, 182). Noise and other factors have proven to hinder animal communication, but likewise multiple animals have found ways to adapt to it.

Certain animals have found different ways to deal with habitat noise and other signal-altering factors. For example, a sender can manipulate its signal to increase the probability of a successful reception by the receiver. A sender must consider four things when creating a signal: the frequency, energy or amplitude, directionality, and the point of origin. (Pijanowski et al, 2011). Species can also use a visual warning signal in places that have low visibility and high noise to prompt a more audible information-based signal being sent. This allows the receiver to prepare to take in an informational signal. A great example of this technique is the Anolis lizards’ communications. Scientists, Terry Ord and Judy Stamps, conducted an experiment in which a robotic lizard played its mating call with and without the preemptive warning signal. The Anolis lizards’ warning signal is characterized by a pushup motion. Results of the experiment showed that lizards responded more quickly when the alert signal was emitted before the mating call than just the mating call alone (Ord and Stamps, 2008).booyah

Certain animals obtain a special ability dubbed ‘the cocktail effect’, which is the special adaptation to single out a certain audible signal, even when there is a heavy load of background noise. One observable example of this cocktail effect is observed within king penguin colonies. Juvenile king penguins must find their parents in a colony of thousands of penguins by detecting their call. Aubin and Joventin experimented with baby chicks by using a speaker to replicate the parent call and the surrounding background noise. In a young penguin’s natural environment, the background noise and other adult calls should drown out and distort the signal of the parent penguins. Young juvenile king penguins, however, always seem to find their parents even in the noisiest, most unforgiving circumstances. (Aubin and Jouventin, 1998).

Studying animals and their communication can do more than just explain the way penguins find their mother or other species alert their tiding of danger. Many of these animals have communication abilities that humans don’t possess, and we have the amazing opportunity to learn from them. By observing the way noise and other factors affect communication, we can also comprehend certain animals and ecosystems relationships to one another, whether it is a predator-prey or mutualistic relationship. Animal communication opens the doors to understanding more about the unseen or unheard relationships between and within different species.




Aubin, T., and P. Jouventin. 1998. “Cocktail-party Effect in King Penguin Colonies.” Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 265 (1406): 1665-673.

Klein, Barret, 2009. “Robotic frogs: male tungara frogs calling female frogs” Youtube video, 0:58, accessed 11/12/15.

Brumm, Henrik. 2013. “Signal Detection, Noise, and Evolution of Communication.” In Animal Communication and Noise. Springer Berlin Hedeilberg.

Ewing, Arthur. 1989. “The Functions of Arthropod Sound.” In Arthropod Bioacoustics: Neurology and Behaviour, 129-139. Ithaca, New York: Comstock Publishing Assosciates.

Kaplan, Gisela. 2014 “Animal Communication.” Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Cognitive Science WIREs Cogn Sci 5(6): 661-77.

“Katy Payne: Elephant Songs,” Youtube video, 18:06, posted by “poptech,” last modified Mar

17, 2010, accessed 10/28/15.

Naguib, Marc. 2013. “Living in a Noisy World: Indirect Effects of Noise on Animal Communication.” Behaviour 150 (9-10): 1069 – 1084.

Ord, T. J., and J. A. Stamps. 2008 “Alert Signals Enhance Animal Communication in “noisy” Environments.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: 18830-18835.

Pijanowski, Bryan C., Luis J. Villanueva-River, Sarah L. Dumyahn, Farina Almo, Bernie L. Krause, Brian M. Napoletano, Stuart H. Gage, and Nadia Pieretti. 2011. “Soundscape Ecology: The Science of Sound in the Landscape.” Bioscience 61(3): 203-16.

Searcy, William A., and Stephen Nowicki. 2005. “Honesty and Deception in Communication Networks.” In The Evolution of Animal Communication Reliability and Deception in Signaling Systems, 181-207. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press

Seyfarth, Robert M., and Dorothy L. Cheney. 2003. “Signalers And Receivers In Animal Communication.” Annual Review of Psychology: 145-73.


The Marriage of Music and Medicine

Music is unavoidable. Like Daniel J. Levitin stated in his book, “This is Your Brain on Music”, music is unusual among all human activities for both its ubiquity and its antiquity (Levitin, 2006). Music is deeply rooted. The oldest artifacts found in human excavation sites are musical instruments. Music is also all encompassing. It can be found unique to cultures, diverse as an art, evident in economics and politics, rife in our natural environment, and now, even powerful in medicine.

Music and medicine? Why medicine?

For individuals, the diagnosis of any medical disease is one of the most feared and serious life events. It disrupts social, physical, and mental well-being in the individual and their respective families. Although many scientifically sound techniques exist as treatment options, the development of modern medical care has brought openness to new trends of holistic thinking and rationale.

One such trend is the impact of sound and music in medicine. Although often overlooked, music in medicine is much more viable than typically recognized. Consider this: how often do you turn to a song for strengthening your immune system? What if you could dispose of those vitamin supplements and just pick up an instrument instead? Have you heard that sound waves can possibly stagnate cancer cells? The idea that patients may benefit from musical experiences has been supported by a sufficient amount of music therapy and music in medicine research. It’s undeniable that music is able to act as a supplement to our recoveries. However, can music entirely replace medicine in certain situations?

The growth and emergence of music in medicine provokes many questions: what is music’s evolutionary role and why do we respond to it? How does sound’s mechanics influence cell communications and biological systems? Finally, in what ways can we use musical applications to benefit, direct, or recover the human body and its various processes?

Music in an evolutionary perspective

Levitin’s book on music and the brain discusses evolutionary musicology in two perspectives. One perspective proposed by Steven pinker, a cognitive psychologist and scientist, is renown for issuing the challenge that states, “music is a by-product, an evolutionary accident piggybacking on language.” In his proposal, he notes that music is a pleasure seeking behavior that exploits one or more existing behaviors, presumably linguistic communication. Music can affect humans because it pushes buttons in the auditory cortex system that responds to the emotional signals in sounds such as a human voice crying or cooing, and the motor control system that injects rhythm into the muscles when walking or dancing. But biologically, music is useless and exists simply for the pleasure that it produces (Levitin, 2006).

However, Levitin’s debunks the view that music is biologically useless. He believes that music has evolutionary survival value because musicianship is a sign of sexual fitness (Levitin, 2006). The ability to sing advertises overall good health and resource wealth. Music making is an overt display of good health because it involves an array of physical and mental skills. It is theorized that evolution has also selected creativity as a marker of sexual fitness. Improvisation and novelty in a music performance would indicate the cognitive flexibility, signaling an individual’s potential for strategizing. Music expertise, which takes dedication and time, is also a demonstration of wealth. It suggests that an individual is well off enough to be able to afford to spend valuable time on developing an entirely unnecessary skill. Further evidence also shows that interest in music peaks during adolescence when men are most sexually potent. A parallel can be also be drawn between interest in music and ownership of cars and jewelry, suggesting that music is related to these high status materials that display the owner’s sexual fitness. Together, human specific behaviors such as music production and artistic ability may have evolved principally to advertise intelligence and opulence during courtship, handing musicianship an evolutionary advantage.

Although different, both viewpoints advocate that the presence and endurance of music can be attributed to its link to survival value. In Pinker’s perspective, music is not itself an evolutionary advantage, but instead, a companion or additive to ones such as pleasurable activities. Such activities, such as eating and sex, have clear links to survival because they stimulate brain mechanisms specifically evolved to reward and encourage adaptive behaviors. Music itself may not enhance human survival, but it exploits one or more existing pleasure channels that evolved to reinforce some other adaptive behavior(s) (Levitin, 2006). Likewise, Levitin alleges music as a marker for sexual fitness. Music’s advantage in increasing the survival of an individual’s genes enabled its existence. Both perspectives offer critical points on why we respond to music and why it has been kept alive.

The mechanics of biology and music

The ability of sound frequencies and rhythm to affect physiological processes and to treat physical ailments is also a relatively new domain. A wealth of new studies is publicizing the benefits and impact of music and sound on health.

In his ted talk, Tim Ringgold, a renowned music therapist, introduces the idea that music and sound are intersected. The reason is because like music, our whole bodies are composed of rhythm from the cellular level to the systems. “We are rhythmic beings,” Ringgold explains, “Consider our heartbeat, breath, and sleep cycle. We are built on rhythm.”

To understand the mechanical influence of music on biological systems, we must explore how physical stimuli provoked by music is assimilated in living organisms.

Firstly, the basis of music is sound and sound is a vibration. It is possible for sound to manipulate biological systems because sound is a repeated pressure wave that travels through matter. In living organisms, there are many mechanical interactions and oscillations in cellular systems, such as cell communications and cell divisions, which can be plausibly modified by sound waves (Butler 2012).

One such sound frequency is ultrasound, which is prevailing in medical applications. Many prior studies have suggested ultrasound’s ability to affect pathways and cellular development through the mechanical effect of waves pushing cells together or through local heating (Butler 2012). This ultrasonic trapping allows the moving and gathering of cells in vitro. These mechanical similarities in sound waves and biological pathways gives sound its ability to influence.

Screen Shot 2015-11-17 at 12.09.43 PMFigure 1: this image shows cells forced together in an ultrasound trap (Butler, 2012)

In 2012, three researchers at the University of Auckland conducted a study on the effect of different sonic wave frequencies on yeast cell’s basal metabolism and growth. The choice of a unicellular organism helped eliminate the influence of nervous and auditory systems and allowed more focus on the physical aspects of sound on biological cells. Using metabolomics and shake-flask cultivations under ideal growth conditions, the physiology of yeast cells was measured under the presence of music, high frequency, low frequency sound waves, and silence. It was found that certain frequencies affected different metabolites such as ATP formation and rotation. It was confirmed in the study that all sound stimuli increased the growth rate of yeast cells and affected cell metabolism (Aggio, 2012).

Another application of sound in medicine is through vibroacoustic therapy. This intervention involves using low frequency sound to produce vibrations applied directly to the body. In a study led by Lauren K. King of Wilfrid Laurier University, researchers found that short-term use of vibroacoustic therapy with Parkinson’s disease patients led to improvement in symptoms (Novotney, 2013). Additionally, this group of researchers is also examining thalmocortical dysrhythmia, which is a disorientation of rhythmic brain activity that plays a role in several conditions like Parkinson’s and fibromyalgia. Low-frequency sound is currently being used to restore normal communication among brain regions and there have already been signs of improvement in symptoms.

These studies show that through mechanical interactions, sound frequencies alone have a direct impact on cellular systems and physical processes. The ability for sound to physically move cells, increase metabolite processes, and alter cell communications and signaling shows that sound can play an important role in treatment methods. However, the mechanical influence of sound waves is just one direct way music can affect biological systems. In other cases, music’s ability to influence health is based on its impact on cognitive pathways and production of emotion.

Cognitive effects of music and its impact on health

Music therapy interventions are often utilized to affect emotions and moods. These alterations can be designed to promote wellness, govern emotions, manage stress, reduce pain, and promote physical rehabilitation. This is because music and sound can regulate structures involved in cognitive, sensorimotor, and emotional processing.

Neuroimaging and lesion studies have shown that emotions evoked by music are involved in core structures of emotional processing. Because the activities of the autonomic, endocrine, and immune systems are under modulatory control of emotional processes, the emotional effects produced by music are important for possible music interventions in illnesses related to these systems.

Supported by the German Research Foundation, a study conducted research on the emotional impact of music. Data obtained from Profile of Mood States (POMS) indicated that during the experiment, music group participants felt more pleasant, more aroused, happier, less angry, less sad, and less anxious compared to the control group (Table 2). Chiefly, the largest difference in emotion ratings was observed for happiness (Koelsch, 2010).

Screen Shot 2015-11-17 at 10.27.18 AM

Emotional processing can produce physiological effects on the human body. In 2002, Dawn Kuhn from Willamette University conducted a study that measures SIgA levels in saliva samples after active and passive participation in music. SIgA is an enzyme found in saliva and other body secretions that is one of the first line of defense against upper respiratory tract pathogens. The study not only found that SIgA levels increased in participants who engaged in musical activities compared to those who weren’t but it also elicited a difference in increased SIgA levels between passive and active music participation. The findings showed that active musical engagement enhanced an individual’s immunocompetence more than passive participation, but overall, participation in music enhanced immunocompetence. The study proposed several crucial conclusions. First, it showed that a minimal intrusive environment is important to allow subjects to play an active role in choosing, which promotes a stronger positive emotional influence. Second, the result of allowing personal choice produces a sense of control that is responsible for the increase immune response. Activities that are met with greater personal significance produce a more intense emotional experience, and thus, increase the release of immune hormones.

A 2012 pilot study conducted on older adults with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, individuals who showed signs of restlessness and agitation became calmer and more involved in-group activities after active engagement in singing. Singing served a regulative function with the capacity to soothe individuals who were disorganized or anxious at abnormal levels. Extensive inquiry researched whether pre-meal singing could also combat malnutrition in ADRD individuals. Furthermore, ADRD diseases affect a person’s ability to complete critical daily activities such as eating (McHugh).

In an interview with music expert Daniel Levitin, Levitin exposes studies that have shown that music can not only alter brain chemistry but also influence the production of cytokines, immunoglobulin A, and other components of healthy immune system. The span of research goes even further, uncovering the involvement of music in advancing wound regeneration, improving nutritional intake, reducing pain perception, inducing cancer cell apoptosis, and aiding nocturnal restlessness (Levitin).

Because emotions are closely linked to peripheral physiological effects, they can always have an impact on health through influence of the autonomic nervous system, the endocrine system, and the immune system. Supposing sound is found to be particularly important in cells, what does this say about cellular origins and the position of sound in evolution?

The consensus that acoustic effects are important in cellular development and processes seems to be building. Understanding that music has been preserved due to its evolutionary advantage has unveiled its foundation and purpose in human life. Furthermore, the ability of music to physically and emotionally influence our bodies exhibits its capacity and scope of function. The goal of all these studies is to help develop “prescribable” music therapy and “music medicine” protocols that can attend to deficits resulting from disease and health conditions. From analyzing the beginnings of music through the evolutionary perspective to modern implications of music in medicine, these studies collectively support the execution of music in health and medicine. Besides viewing music only as a cultural phenomenon, the art should be seen as a vibratory stimulus and a cognitive influencer that has many medical applications and biological dimensions (Novotney, 2013). When we look at music in this perspective, we start to see the interface to how the brain and body work together.


Aggio, R.B.M, and Victor Obolonkin, and Silas Granato Villas-Boas. 2012. “Sonic Vibration Affects the Metabolism of Yeast Cells Growing in Liquid Culture: a Metabolomic Study.” Metabolomics 8 (4): 670–678.

Blood, Anne J, and Robert J. Zatorre. 2001. “Intensely Pleasurable Responses to Music Correlate with Activity in Brain Regions Implicated in Reward and Emotion.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 98 (20): 11818-11823.

Butler, Michael. “Cells and Sound: An Introduction.” 2012. Accessed October 12, 2015.

Huron, David. 2001. “Is music an evolutionary adaptation?” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 930: 43-61.

Koelsch, Stefan, Kristin Offermanns, and Peter Franzke. 2010. “Music in the Treatment of Affective Disorders: An Exploratory Investigation of a New Method for Music-Therapeutic Research.” Music Perception 27 (4): 307–316.

Kuhn, Dawn. 2002. “The Effects of Active and Passive Participation in Musical Activity on the Immune System as Measured by Salivary Immunoglobulin A (SigA).” Journal of Music Therapy 39 (1): 30-39.

Levitin, Daniel J. 2006. This is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession. New York: Dutton Penguin.

McHugh, Larisa, Susan Gardstrom, James Hiller, Megan Brewer, and Wiebke S. Diestelkamp. 2012. “The Effect of Pre-Meal, Vocal Re-Creative Music Therapy on Nutritional Intake of Residents with Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias: A Pilot Study.” Music Therapy Perspectives 30 (1): 32-42.

Novotney, Amy. 2013. “Music as Medicine.” Monitor on Psychology, November 10. 

Effects of Sound on Marine Animals

I spent the majority of my summers growing up in Hawaii. Due to the Hawaiian lifestyle and proximity to the ocean, I became fascinated with marine life. This fascination has led me to research the effects of sound on marine animals. I believe that sound affects marine animals’ communication, location abilities, and mating habits. Marine animals depend on sound for a variety of different things, such as communication, hunting, and echolocation. Sound serves different functions for different species. Do these different species interfere with each other or are they separated by sound frequency?

The major problem for scientists studying marine life is the ocean’s vastness. They cannot properly explore and perform experiments so they rely on sound to study life in the ocean. Sound travels efficiently underwater, allowing it to reach far and deep where humans cannot reach. The use of acoustics to study marine life is called marine bioacoustics. Scientists can use acoustic energy to study marine animals’ communication, prey detection, locating obstacles, and navigation (Au 2008, 3). Marine animals use all sounds to aid their survival whether they are from a biological, natural, or a human source. Some sounds such as those produced by predators, prey, or conspecifics, carry special meaning to animals.

For example, dolphins communicate using “a complicated system of whistles, squeaks, moans, trills, and clicks produced by muscles within the blowhole” (Adriazola 2011). Each dolphin has its own unique sound that they use to find each other. Dolphins hunt using echolocation, or sonar. They send out a series of clicks that travel up to 600 feet along the sea floor. As the sounds bounce off objects, they reveal the location of the prey. (Dolphin Communication – YouTube)

dolphin hearing

Humpback whales sing songs for up to twenty minutes and repeat the same song again and again. Males in a region will sing the same song but the song changes each year. The exact purpose for these songs is unclear. Marine biologist Nan Hauser believes that whales use these songs to mark their territory. Other scientists believe that they use songs to hunt and find a mate. Submarines and ships produce sounds that interfere with whale song. This forces the whales to be up to ten times louder, or they are left in confusion.

Katy Payne is a prominent researcher of whale song. She discovered that whales actually compose songs that change each year. Katy Payne did an interview for On Being with Krista Tippett in 2015. In this excerpt from their conversation, Ms. Payne discusses how she discovered that whales compose songs.

PAYNE: Well, nobody told me I was going to have to earn my living through what I did in college. And I loved music, and I wanted to learn a good deal more about that than I’d been able to learn back in the farming days. And then after college, I was married to a biologist, Roger Payne, who became very interested in studying whales and when we went to sea, we heard for the first time the wonderful sounds that humpback whales make in the ocean. At that time, nobody knew about them.

TIPPETT: Really? Nobody knew about the song?

PAYNE: No, they didn’t, they didn’t know it was a song. This was something we realized. You listen for a very long time and you hear these long sequences of phrases and notes begin to repeat and you say, “Oh, that was a song.” So, we were the first, and I spent 15 years then listening to these ever-changing songs of whales, and by the time I was through, people were calling me a biologist.

TIPPETT: Is that what it means when you are referred to — they call you a self-trained acoustic biologist?

PAYNE: Oh yeah, that’s pretty good.

TIPPETT: Is that what it means, that you just started doing this?

PAYNE: Well I guess it does!

PAYNE: Of course, many animals make sounds, everything from crickets to humans to whales, birds, of course, frogs. And these sounds, in the case of animals, are thought of in relation to reproduction and courtship. In humans, although they may serve exactly the same function, they’re thought of in relation to aesthetics.


PAYNE: And one of the aspects of my work has been to say, “Look, we don’t have to have two languages for this.”

TIPPETT: So something that’s written about you is that you discovered that whale song is always changing. I mean, what is the significance of that?

PAYNE: Well, the significance is that whales, like people, are composers. The songs are very complex. They consist of six to eight themes. Each theme has a melodic phrase that repeats over and over again and then changes to the next one.

[Sounds of whales singing]

PAYNE: And so it would continue as a sequence of events, which then, as a whole, repeat song after song after song. But if you keep listening for months on end, and then for years on end, you discover that the song — each facet of it — is continually evolving to something slightly different. And all the whales in the ocean or in that singing population are changing their song in the same way. So that was something I discovered, and at the end of the day, I had studied 32 years’ worth of songs, many of them in two different populations.

In the Presence of Elephants and Whales

The underwater acoustic environment contains a multitude of competing sounds. Marine animals are constantly interfering with each others’ communication. Though interspecies communication is very limited, it is a crucial aspect of survival. Predatory sounds serve as a warning for prey to avoid and, on the contrary, predators use their prey’s sounds to hunt. Not only are marine animals competing with each other for sonic communication, they also have to deal with manmade sounds. Ocean noise continues to increase drastically due to ships, oilrigs, and underwater construction.

The propulsion of ships causes the dominant manmade sound in the ocean. Ship noise is falls between the frequencies of 20-Hz to 200-Hz which is the same frequency band as baleen whales. Due to ships, the ambient water noise in this frequency band has increased 10- to 100-fold (Tyack 2008, 549). This causes concern from scientists that the range of baleen whale communication has been significantly reduced. Other human sounds interfere with marine animals. Often marine animals avoid manmade sounds by kilometers, preventing them from inhabiting certain areas of the ocean. Also scientists have noticed that animals react to manmade sounds similarly to sounds from predators.

The underwater acoustic environment contains many sounds. All these sounds affect marine animals in some way. Some are used for communication, others provide a warning, and others just interfere with communication. The drastic increase of manmade sounds in the ocean is a serious problem. These sounds reduce the distance that marine animals can communicate and displace animals from certain regions of the ocean.


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