Making a Soundmap

Maddy, a TerraCorps member who started her service term this year at Moose Hill, creates programs and activities that engage adults and youth alike in exploration of the natural world.

A soundmap is a cartographic representation of our auditory awareness, essentially, a map of what we hear in a place. Naturalists use soundmaps to distinguish species’ presence, habitats, movements, and the proximity of noisy elements such as streams or roads. Before getting started with our soundmaps, there are two important vocab words to know: 1) acoustic environment and 2) soundscapes. All of the sounds one hears in a particular location is called their acoustic environment, but their perception of  those sounds is called a soundscape. In other words, a soundscape is the mental imagery, emotions, thoughts, and ideas that each person experiences while absorbing their acoustic environment.  

Now that we have an understanding of soundmaps, acoustic environments, and soundscapes it’s time to make a soundmap of your own backyard!  

To begin, take a piece of paper and pencil and find a place to sit in your yard. Sit for a minute and listen to what sounds you are hearing. Make a key for your map on the back of your paper with symbols that represent the types of sounds hear. For instance, a triangle to represent the sound of a bird, or wiggly lines to represent water 

Now mark an X in the center of your map, this represents you! For the next two minutes (have a timer or a parent with a watch to help keep track), close your eyes and listen. Whenever you hear a new noise, you can open your eyes to mark it on your map in the approximate location of where you think it came from. Note: while making your map, if you hear a sound you didn’t think to make a symbol for ahead of time – no problem! Just make up a new symbol when you hear it. 

Think you can do this for longer? For a more advanced soundmap, try sitting and listening for 5-10 minutes. If you want to get more in touch with your soundscape (your perception of the acoustic environment), try coloring the sounds you hear, or writing down the textures, feelings, or thoughts you associate with a sound. For example, I can hear a lawn mower from my backyard. The color I think of when I hear a lawnmower is red, and it makes me think of a dragon!   

Have fun and be sure to share your maps with us on Facebook and Instagram!

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