Five Places to Find Quirky Acoustic Phenomena on a Road Trip from Boston
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When looking for new places to visit, we often jump straight to visually, intellectually, or historically interesting destinations. Most of us don’t think about all the cool sounds we haven’t heard yet. But there’s a world of rare sounds and acoustic phenomena to discover, whether manmade or natural, intentional or by accident, not too far away from Boston. These five places let you experience some of them.
Location: Newton, MA
Driving time from Boston: 20 minutes
The 500-foot-long Echo Bridge can be found in the Hemlock Gorge Reservation. The pedestrian-only bridge consists of seven arches that span the Charles River between Needham and Newton. From the walkway, you can see the hemlock-lined gorge and a waterfall. But as pretty as the views are from the top, you’d be missing out if you left before visiting the platform below. A walk down some stairs leads you beneath the largest arch, where you can witness some of the most astounding echoes anywhere. Human voices can echo up to 15 times while piercing sounds like firecrackers can be heard up to 25 times at four echoes per second. One theory behind the echoes suggests that the arch was built at the perfect angle to bounce sound along its walls. Others believe the echoes come from sound waves ricocheting between the arch and the water.
Location: Manchester-by-the-Sea, MA
Driving time from Boston: 40 minutes
Singing Beach has everything you’d want in a beach. It’s clean and family-friendly with clear water and soft sand. But what makes this beach extra special are the sounds you can hear when you walk on dry sand. The name is a bit deceiving—you won’t exactly hear any arias—but the squeaks from the sand are still fun to listen to. While it’s uncertain what makes these sounds, it’s been posited by biophysicists that they’re caused by one layer of sand grain rubbing against the layer below it. The phenomenon has been reported in dunes and beaches around the world, but it’s rare because the conditions have to be perfect to produce the effect. The grains of sand have to be uniform in size and shape, and free of pollution, but also contain silica and be under a certain level of humidity. As one of the few places in the world that provides these conditions, Singing Beach should be on every Bostonian’s travel list.
Location: North Adams, MA
Driving time from Boston: 2 hours 40 minutes
As part of an art installation for Mass MoCA, artists Bruce Odland and Sam Auinger transformed this bridge into a giant musical instrument. If you walk underneath the Route 2 overpass between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m., you’ll hear a low, meditative hum in the key of C. Two 16-foot-long tubes collect noises from vehicles and pedestrians on the bridge. They then send them to speakers down below. The tubes, equipped with microphones placed at different harmonic intervals, amplify the sounds and transform them into musical hums with no electronic effects needed. The qualities of each hum are determined by the pitch of the input. Sharp and high-pitched sounds like sirens and loud voices create higher harmonics than the low-pitched rolling of tires along the pavement. Cars passing over potholes generate a calming drum-like sound. Harmonic Bridge produces a piece of ever-changing music composed by the city, inviting us to rethink the sounds we hear every day.
The Whispering Statue
Location: Barre, VT
Driving time from Boston: 2 hours 50 minutes
Officially titled “Youth Triumphant,” locals aptly nicknamed this statue the Whispering Statue. The war memorial statue depicts a man kneeling with a sword in one hand and a shield in the other, and it’s known for its ability to seemingly transmit whispers through its solid body. It stands in the center of a plaza partially enclosed by a semi-circular bench. To experience the weirdness, sit on one end of the bench while another person sits opposite you about 50 feet away. The statue should block your view of each other. Whisper a message, and the other person will hear it as clearly as if you had whispered it in their ear. While the statue gets the credit for this trick, it actually comes from the bench’s curved shape. The bench creates a whispering gallery, a structure that allows sound to travel long distances by clinging to its walls. Several exist worldwide, but this little-known gem is the closest outdoor whispering gallery (the Mary Baker Eddy Library’s Mapparium in Boston is another).
Machimoodus State Park
Location: East Haddam, CT
Driving time from Boston: 2 hours
In the village of Moodus in East Haddam, you may hear bizarre sounds you’ve never heard before. The odd booms, crashes, and rumblings that reverberate across town terrified people for centuries and inspired many folklore tales. Native Americans named the area Machimoodus, meaning “Place of Bad Noises,” and believed the violent god Hobomoko was responsible for the noises. When settlers arrived in the late 1600s, they tied the sounds to witchcraft and the Devil. Since then, science has attributed these eerie noises to micro-earthquakes in the area, now Machimoodus State Park. There’s no guarantee you’ll hear the noises when you visit, but it’s a beautiful and worthwhile trip even without them.