Nicholas Glover, Student ASLA, Arizona State University
Faculty Advisor: Ken McCown, ASLA
Entrance to Biophones. Sensory deprivation inside an anechoic chamber results in a period of hyper sensory hearing and auditory recalibration. Animals obtain a keen sense of smell. Masking human scent will aid in the observation process by allowing animals to venture closer.
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Biophone Node. Birds of prey hunt when the sun is at its highest point so shadows do not interfere with visual perception. The observer experiences a gradient of sound and light when traveling between biophones. A marble inset, cold to the touch, acts as a guide through the dark tunnels.
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Biophone Node. Day: a hydrophone, placed in the creek, captures the sounds underwater and is played through a speaker in the corridor. Night: A bat detector captures the echolocation sounds made by bats and steps the frequency down into the human hearing range.
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Biophones serves as an environmental measuring device and also trains the human ear to notice the subtle nuances in our soundscapes. It connects people to the natural habitat through sound as animal calls become an indicator of environmental health. Biophones trains people to be advocates of natural soundscape awareness and preservation by teaching observers how to listen.
What is a Landscape Observatory?
A landscape observatory as described by my instructor “reveal[s] a natural feature and incorporate[s] a natural process… including some capacity to observe and measure change over time in the process .” The studio calls for a design which promotes sustainability by allowing each user to experience environment change while incorporating a space to eat, sleep, and bathe. My landscape observatory explores the aspect of sound as it differentiates the unique riparian landscape from its surroundings. The animal calls within this landscape act as an indicator to the health of the riparian corridor depending on the volume and frequency of calls.
Biophones is located in the Oak Creek riparian corridor at Red Rock State Park in Sedona. The meandering creek lined with sycamores, elders, and cottonwoods provides a year-round home for rich biodiversity and a safe haven for migratory birds. Aside from the 200 different aviary residents, a wide range of insects, reptiles, amphibians, rodents, and mammals use and rely on the creek daily. The plethora of biodiversity attributes to a unique concert of animal calls within the corridor. Red Rock State Park is a small 286 acre natural reserve, but faces contamination by residential encroachment along its perimeter.
Only 10% of the natural riparian area in the Southwest remains. Residential encroachment, logging, mining, agricultural run off, etc have decreased riparian zones. In the state of Arizona, 1% of the total land area is riparian. However, 75% of animals rely on the riparian area at least once in their lives and 66% on a daily basis (Red Rock State Park). As Sedona grows in a population and popularity as a tourist destination, creek overuse and residential development alter the conditions of Oak Creek. Biophones, as a landscape observatory, measures the growth or decline of the riparian area at Red Rock State Park raising awareness of ecological health through animal calls. The sound in the landscape is recorded digitally and in the experiential memory of each observer.
Why Is Sound Important?
“Sight isolates, whereas sound incorporates; vision is directional, whereas sound is omnidirectional. The sense of sight implies exteriority, but sound creates an experience of interiority. I regard an object, but sound approaches me; the eye reaches, but the ear receives. Buildings do not react to our gaze, but they do return our sounds back to our ears. ” Juhani Pallasmaa
Biophones, using the study of biophony, applies animal calls (a commonality among most animals) as its means to measure the riparian corridor. Since animals depend on the riparian zone for energy, shelter, and their survival, they can be thought as bioindicators - the more populated and diverse the animals, the more healthy the landscape. Sound (animal calls), however, brings data to the observer instead of tediously counting animals individually and establishes a relationship between the corridor and the sounds heard. The corridor is growing if there are more animal calls heard more frequently with a greater diversity. The corridor is declining If there are fewer animal calls heard less frequently with a lower diversity. The experience of listening to the soundscape ingrains an aural awareness in each observer which cannot be taught through hearing a series of recordings. The learned awareness can be used to analyze other environments.
Biophones presents a sequence of events to provide an experience of re-learning how to listen. A procession into the earth shields the observer from familiar visual stimuli during the learning and recalibration process. Four different biophones: Node, Central, North, and South provide different perspectives upon the sounds of life in the Oak Creek riparian corridor. Sounds of each space change drastically as the observer travels underground between biophones throughout the course of 24 hours.
Entrance Procession and into the Biophones
The experience begins as a observer approaches the site and takes a path off the main trail. The perennial grasses reach five and a half feet tall and the trail descends nine steps into the ground. A small concrete seat in the path prompts the observer to sit and listen with eyes and ears at ground level - indicative to how animals perceive the world. Time slows as elongated, shallow steps move the observer down a curved path surrounded by horizontal reinforced board formed concrete walls. Two modest doors are at the end of the descent, one with a handle and one without. The observer enters the one-way door into a bathing space to remove the manufactured scents, apply a scent mask, and put on scentless clothes. This prevents animals from identifying human presence. Animals evolved to have a keen sense of smell since they walk with their heads close to the ground. The observer’s places his or her belongings within a cabinet which is also accessible through the auxiliary washroom. The observer proceeds through another one-way door into an anechoic chamber. The silent chamber prevents exterior noise from entering. Depriving a person from noise for an extended duration results in a period of hypersensitive hearing where one can begin to discern sounds otherwise unnoticed. After three hours a light gradually illuminates the room prompting the observer to exit the room.
The Node is a twelve foot deep inverted cone open to the sky to receive and focus the sounds from the riparian area. This space is a hub to access the other biophones accessed by two underground tunnels. The cone also has a sheltered outcropping provides a place to eat and an auxiliary washroom provides a toilet, sink, scent mask rinse, access to belongings, and the one-way exit from the Biophones. The anechoic chamber can be reaccessed to rest and re-heighten auditory sensitivity during afternoon and evening.
The Central Biophone nestled within the Node provides a more focused space to observe the soundscape. A circular, concrete structure with benches forms a view to the sky. At noon, birds of prey can be heard soaring high in the sky. At night, bat chirps fill the meadow as they feed on insects.
Two underground tunnels lead to the North and South Biophones . These curving tunnels create a gradient of light and sound to heighten auditory sensitivity. A six-inch marble veneer, cold to the touch, is a guide in the dark. In the north tunnel, during the day, a speaker plays the sound from a hydrophone placed in Oak Creek to reveal the burps and grunts of fish. During the evening, the speaker plays the sounds from a bat detector placed in the meadow which steps the high frequency of bat’s echolocation chirps down to an audible human frequency. The south tunnel is silent except for the echoes imposed by the observer.
The South Biophone is a small concrete structure located near an existing engineered drainage ditch. Shaped like a megaphone, three openings facilitate sound entering from the ditch, the meadow, and the trees above. The observer can hear javelinas and other mammals walking through the ditch during the day. Mule deer visit the watering hole in the meadow during the cooler hours of the day and birds sing as they fly from the tree tops. During the evening, the soundscape changes to include coyotes, foxes, ring tailed cats, bobcats, and mountain lions.
The North Biophone is a small steel structure located on the side of the creek. Water hits the steel shell around the space creating a soft sound which changes seasonally depending on creek height and flow. The creek is most alive during dawn and dusk when the birds, amphibians, fish, reptiles, rodents, and mammals come out to feed. This space is the most pleasurable during the emergence into the day and the orchestra of all the animals which fades at dusk.
“The centering action of sound affects man’s sense of cosmos,”Juhani Pallasmaa
Biophones provides a means to recalibrate an observer’s sensitivity to environmental soundscapes and to factually measure the growth/decline of the vital, fragile riparian corridor. In a world full of excessive noise burdening our quotidian urban lives and deteriorating our natural habitats, Biophones trains advocates of natural soundscape preservation by teaching observers how to listen. With the specific skill-set of analyzing an environment through listening, new information can be inferred from everyday situations to make informed daily decisions to lessen the impact of excessive noise.
Additional Project Credits
Worked in collaboration on plan during site analysis.
Google Earth Imagery
“ASU Landscape Observatories Integrals Syllabus”
Work in collaboration on animal cut-outs during site analysis.
“The Eyes of the Skin — Architecture and the Senses.” Wiley Academy