The Sound Book
Loosely based on my website sonicwonders.org the book is about the world’s most amazing sound phenomena, and what they tell us about acoustics and how we listen. The UK and US editions have different titles but essentially the same contents.
The book led me to win the 2015 ASA Science Writing Award for acoustics professionals.
Trevor Cox is on a hunt for the sonic wonders of the world. A renowned expert who engineers classrooms and concert halls, Cox has made a career of eradicating bizarre and unwanted sounds. But after an epiphany in the London sewers, Cox now revels in exotic noises—creaking glaciers, whispering galleries, stalactite organs, musical roads, humming dunes, seals that sound like alien angels, and a Mayan pyramid that chirps like a bird. With forays into archaeology, neuroscience, biology, and design, Cox explains how sound is made and altered by the environment, how our body reacts to peculiar noises, and how these mysterious wonders illuminate sound’s surprising dynamics in everyday settings—from your bedroom to the opera house. The Sound Book encourages us to become better listeners in a world dominated by the visual and to open our ears to the glorious cacophony all around us.
“There’s something of the Victorian gentleman explorer in Cox – a man of ripping yarns, circumnavigating the globe to collect the sonic equivalent of endangered flora and fauna. But in place of bombast, we find a disarmingly modest storyteller who shares his discoveries generously: a David Attenborough of the acoustic realm, whose scientific knowledge is unimpeachable yet worn lightly, whose language is vivid yet without indulgence.”
“[Cox] lets his ears guide him on an adventure to track down quirky, extreme and historically venerated phenomena of our sonic universe. In the process, he makes a lucid and passionate case for a more mindful way of listening to and engaging with musical, natural and man-made sounds…. Anyone who has ever clapped, hollered or yodeled at an echo will delight in [Cox’s] zestful curiosity…. the most lasting impact of Mr. Cox’s book is a gentle reminder to pay attention to — and value — everyday sounds…. Try to imagine that bucket list of travel destinations with your eyes closed. Imagine the muezzin’s call to prayer in Cairo, the sputter of Vespas on an Italian piazza or the roar of Niagara Falls. What do you want to hear this year?”
Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim, New York Times
“Written with wit and clariy, The Sound Book delights in both cacophony and silence, and everything in between”
“We are so used to thinking about the world in visual terms that it is thrilling to have the mind — I was about to write ‘the eyes’ — opened to another sensory world … [Cox] syringes his reader’s ears, and the effect is delightful”
James McConnachie, The Sunday Times
“Cox writes wonderfully, alternating between lyricism, expert testimony and self-deprecating humour to explore the most everyday problems an acoustician faces (how to rescue a badly built concert hall for its audience, say) as well as exotic phenomena such as singing sands and tunnels with such extreme amplification they turn the rumble of a skateboard into something that resembles an approaching freight train .”
“compellingly original book.”
“[Cox] respects his audience and it’s a joy as a reader to follow his captivating forays into this ‘sonic wonderland’ that surrounds us all. … This really is a perfect book for anybody with an interest in sound”
“Cox, a professor of acoustic engineering at the University of Salford, pursues his quarry with geekish glee, revelling in manmade spaces that reverberate for ages, transmit whispers across considerable distances, channel sound in unexpected directions or muffle it altogether, as well as natural wonders such as humming sand dunes and the echolocating oilbirds of Venezuela. The book is loosely organised, but the author’s enthusiasm is infectious.”
Caspar Henderson, The Guardian
“…the Italian fabulist Italo Calvino investigated the network of minuscule sounds with which silence is paradoxically filled (breathing, ambient bleeps, noisy thoughts in our head). Like Calvino, Cox is interested in pretty well anything of sonic concern and puzzlement. Sonic Wonderland, a delightfully instructive book, will make you want to listen to the world anew and with beatifically attuned ears.”
“Cox likes to stress his work’s scientific foundations but some of the book’s most compelling writing deals with what he calls our “subjective perception”. We often respond most strongly not to beautiful noises but ones that we could enjoy every day if we used our ears properly.”
Orlando Bird, The Financial Times
“There is lots to pique our interest in this lively book by an adept science communicator.”
Shaoni Bhattacharya, New Scientist
“He visits the “singing sands” of the Kelso Dunes … where he could feel the ground “vibrating under my bottom” and the dunes break into song. It’s this infectious hands-on (or perhaps bottoms-on) approach to new experiences and new sounds that make Professor Cox’s odyssey such an entertaining one.”
“Cox’s strengths are founded in joyful ardour – a love of unusual sound events – and the scientific knowledge and communicative skills to analyse each of these events as he encounters them on his travels.”
“A riveting ear-opener, Trevor Cox describes in lyrical detail a range of sonic events and new ways of listening that can only brighten our experience of the acoustic world around us. A must-read for sound-lovers of all stripes.”
Bernie Krause, author of The Great Animal Orchestra: Finding the Origins of Music in the World’s Wild Places
A technological travelogue conducted by an expert tour guide, bursting with aural arcana that adds just the right amount of tech-savvy detail, The Sound Book brings into relief a world often obscured in our image-heavy existence. Even as we follow Cox to the ends of the Earth, what makes his book a real rush is that it’s ultimately an ear-buzzing journey to the center of our minds.
Greg Milner author of Perfecting Sound Forever
This small encyclopedia of strange sounds reveals how much art there is in the act of listening. Reading it made my ears more mindful.
An intriguing tour d’horizon of the world of sound.
That book is a must-read for musicians/producers/sound engineers and nerds of all kinds!
Cox reminds us not only of the sonic marvels we often miss, but also how those sounds affect us.
[An] enchanting guidebook. . . Interspersed with witty anecdotes and surprising observations on the nature of hearing, Cox’s work will give readers a new appreciation for both the old and the ordinary noises that form the soundtrack of our daily lives.
“As tourists, cameras in hand, we’re usually on the lookout for the most engaging sight. Cox has made me a convert to better use my sense of hearing when out and about. Three of his sonic wonders, in fact, are located just a short car ride from me: Boston Symphony Hall, a mecca for hearing classical music; Echo Bridge in Newton, Mass., where dogs are driven crazy by their own barks, as seen on YouTube; and the Mapparium, a hollow globe of the world drawn on stained glass, which serves as an acoustical funhouse for Bostonians. I’ll now be keeping my ears wide open for the soundscape, both at home and away.”
Marcia Bartusiak, The Washington Post
UK, Sonic Wonderland: A Scientific Odyssey of Sound, Vintage Publishing
USA, The Sound Book: The Science of the Sonic Wonders of the World, W W Norton
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I like better the American cover! 🙂
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Could you post a list of some of your favorite recording devices that you use to capture sound. I am especially interested in the new, small digital recorders with built in stereo microphones, capable of recording at higher sampling rates (96/24).
(Please remove my above “correction”, since it appears that my original post was automatically rejected, due to the erroneous email address! I’ll begin again:)
Hello, Professor Cox:
I am half-way through your fascinating books, and have two comments:
1) I find myself wishing that there were a CD to accompany the books, with the sounds that are described.
2) My favorite chapter thus far is “going round the bend”, since I’ve experienced the whispering corner at Grand Central Station in New York. I’m sure that you are aware of “whispering benches”, which are not mentioned in the chapter. They allow people at opposite ends of a curved bench to have a conversation. There are a pair of such benches, made of stone, in the Osborne Garden at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden in Brooklyn, New York. Lots of fun!
If you go to http://www.sonicwonders.org/ you’ll find many of the sounds there.
Hi Trevor, enjoying the site. I am teaching Acoustics at dBs Music in Berlin, good info here 🙂 FYI there is an issue sonicwonders link at the top of the page 😉
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Hello Trevor! Your book has been such a joy to read. I am an Electric Engineer with a penchant toward audio processing. I immediately connected to your book ( I already have recommended it to a few people too). Thank you for the effort. My favorite moment was the huge oil tank test in Germany.
I have so many comments, I’ll probably read it again at one point and be more mindful of them. But here I will mention one thing I have been thinking of since I finished the book earlier in January. In Arabic language, there are many words for birdsong. They all depend on the “feeling” of the song. For example, the word “هديل” (pronounced: hadeel) signifies a sad and rather lamenting birdsong, while the word “شدو” (pronounced: shadoo) signifies an elated and ecstatic birdsong.
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