Immerse Yourself in the Sounds of the National Parks

Jarek Tuszynski, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
Jarek Tuszynski, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0 / Jarek Tuszynski, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

The splendor of the National Parks is often broadcast through photographs—and with good reason. The vistas of mountain tops, geysers, and river flows from sea to shining sea are truly spectacular. But what about the auditory experience of these protected lands?

To capture that experience, a team from Arizona State University has created The Listen(n) Project, an online database for the many sounds of the National Parks of the American Southwest. Since 2013, the group has been collecting sonic samples from seven different sites including Joshua Tree, Death Valley, and Sequoia National Park. On the site you can hear everything from birds chirping to a car door slam for a well-rounded documentary-style soundtrack.

It isn’t just about the audio, either. To make the experience as real as possible, Listen(n) has created the “EcoRift experience.” Using an Oculus Rift headset, they’ve create a virtual reality immersion with 360-degree imaging and spherical audio technology so you get context with your soundbite. You can turn your head to peep the landscape and the noises will adjust as if you’re experiencing them in real life. Pitch or resonance with change as you shift virtually in your environment.

The team plans to continue building the database and providing park visitors and communities with audio recording devices so they they can help add to the sonic story of a particular place. That includes working with rangers, who can help collect sounds from protected areas that are inaccessible to the public.

“One of the most inspiring things is when we did one-day workshops during National Park Week,” associate professor Garth Paine told ASU News. “When you give the kids a microphone, a recorder and a pair of headphones, they are just blown away. I’m endlessly dumbstruck by how they direct attention and really investigate.”

On October 16, Listen(n) will add another dimension to the project by releasing three pieces of music derived from the park recordings. Just another way to immerse yourself in National Park vibes even when you’re hundreds of miles away.