Court of Sound

What is sound? How is it that we hear? Why are sounds muffled underwater? Can sound be heard in space? If sound were visible, what would it look like? Why does a train whistle sound higher-pitched as the train approaches, but lower-pitched after it passes? These questions, and more, will be investigated in the court of sound.

Sound is a physical sensation that stimulates our ears. Hearing allows animals to gather information about their environment, and coupled with the ability to make sounds, this allows humans to communicate with one another. The sounds we hear are produced when vibrating objects cause the surrounding air to vibrate. The human voice is produced by the vibration of our vocal chords, which in turn causes the air we exhaust from our mouth to vibrate. When vibrations occur rapidly enough, they produce sound. Sound is so important that even at birth, an infant, with little bodily control and utterly dependent on others, can make loud sounds at will.

The Court of Sound encourages participants to explore the nature of sound: how it is generated, what it is made of, how it travels. The exhibits demonstrate the wave nature of sound, that moving air can make sound, that a whisper can be heard over vast distances, that sound generation takes time, and illustrate the changing pitch of moving objects. The Court of Sound also encourages participants to explore the sounds produced by natural objects that resonate when struck.

We also create sound when we make music. For a long time, we’ve been making music by striking resonant objects and by blowing air through carefully placed holes in wood we’ve carved. We’ve been studying music for a long time, too; about 2,500 years ago, a Greek named Pythagoras is said to have determined the relationships between the notes of the Western musical scale.

Gallery: