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  • Writer's picturePeter Rogers

We all know what "Noise" is but what should we call sound we want in our valued soundscapes?

Natural sound has been shown to have health and wellbeing benefits

Noise is unwanted sound, and is generally taken to be a negative thing. Quiet, is clearly the absence of sound. Tranquility is a little more tricky, but generally is understood to be an absence of man-made sound, but need not be quiet if the visual aspects are calming. All good so far, but with the emerging field of "soundscape" - the sound environment as perceived by a listener (defined in ISO 12913-1:2014), there now comes the need to find the language that goes with it, so that we can properly begin to design better soundscapes, as acousticians.

So - what do we call sound that we want in our soundscape? - We don't have a word for it.

As unbelievable as that is, and it is time that we did.

Please let me know your thoughts in your comments, but here are mine.

The word "Acoustics" came from the Greeks ἀκουστικός (akoustikos), meaning "of or for hearing, ready to hear" .. makes sense so far... so why not go back to the Greeks? They might now be wishing they could have Grexit , but a while back they led the way!

The most suitable fit I can find (which I must acknowledge was assisted by a friend who is an English teacher) is the word "Euphony" from the Greek euphōnos meaning sweet voiced or musical. The evolved meaning as it influenced Latin and then English has become sounds that are pleasing and harmonious, often associated with vowel sounds in speech. The opposite is Cacophony, which is far more commonly used, meaning harsh and discordant.

Applying this not just to speech and poetry, but to environmental sound as the voice of the soundscape seems a sensible step, and one that I offer up. If you are in agreement then tweet or make a virtual cacophony using the tag #voteEuphony, and if there is enough support I'll take the idea to the UK's acoustic professional body and start a campaign to have it adopted formally.

Designing and protecting our valued soundscapes, outside and inside, are areas which will become as normal as protecting the landscape in the future. This is necessary as we live close to each other, and noise sources where before the luxury of space allow us to put buffer zones in place. The evidence base for the benefits of quality soundscapes is now well established.

Peter Rogers is an acoustics with 25 years experience, and currently a trustee of the Institute of Acoustics. He formed his own company called Sustainable Acoustics, where he uses his knowledge about sound to make things better through acoustic design. If you are a member of the IOA Peter is standing for re-election to Council, and would appreciate your vote via the website, and a supportive tweet to #voteRogers.

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