During April 2009, we cycled from Worcester to Cricklade along Route 45 of the National Cycle Network. On our ride we were joined at various stages by both our collaborators on the project and also by members of the public who had signed up for our Diagnosing the Sound of the Landscape sound cycle-ride.
We began work on the Tranquillity is a State of Mind project in September 2008. Working in partnership with Sustrans, the sustainable transport charity, and with funding from the Wellcome Trust, we brought together a research team comprising a cognitive neuroscientist, a clinical audiologist and two acousticians to explore the relationship between sound, health and the environment. As part of the research we undertook a four-day cycle ride. During the first three days, collaborators on the project joined us on the ride, while on the fourth day, we were joined by the public on a sound-cycle ride called Diagnosing the Sound of the Landscape.
On the ride we explored various listening techniques; some derived from the ‘ear cleaning’ exercises developed by R. Murray Schafer, published in his book of the same name, while others were devised more recently, including some that evolved directly out of our conversations with the research team. Borrowing techniques for the treatment of hearing loss and tinnitus from clinical audiology, we conducted a ‘noise handicap inventory’, extracting questions directly from the Tinnitus Handicap Inventory developed in the 1960s as a means of ascertaining the severity of a tinnitus sufferer’s condition, and applying them to a diagnosis of sound in the environment. We made sound pressure level readings at the sites where we stopped and we compared these findings with the more subjective responses gathered through scoring exercises in which participants attempted to transcribe the sounds that they heard. These exercises conveniently illustrated the limits of our aural perception and highlighted the brain’s capacity to filter out sounds not usually deemed important. The exercises could themselves be thought of as ‘listening aids’, functioning as they did as means by which we might listen reflexively, concentrating our attention on the limits of what can be perceived, recognized and remembered.