An experiment in listening by Dr. Kim Foale (2014)

Play full screen, total duration 17'30". Refresh the browser to generate a new playlist.


It's commonly stated that all broadband, or "white" noise sources essentially sound the same to the human ear -- in other words, a main road is acoustically very similar to the sea, even though we generally consider one very stressful and the other relaxing. During my PhD research, I wondered to what extent this is true: and to what degree our eyes can fool our ears, and vice versa.

This film consists of audio and video recordings of seven locations, played back in random combinations. These are: a kettle; the Mancunian Way; a weir at Etherow Park; Formby beach; a detuned radio; someone hoovering; and a computer lab at Salford University.

Each entire playthrough takes 17 minutes 30 seconds. You can refresh the page to get new combinations. Play fullscreen, listen, tune in and out, put it on in the background: how does it change your experience of the audio? Does looking first, or listening first, make a difference? Even if you're sure what it is, can you convince your brain otherwise?

Note there is no correct answer to any of these questions: I'd be delighted to hear what you think.

Credits and Thanks

Originally produced for and premiered at Be Live at The Penthouse.

  • Dr. Kim Foale: Director, audio and video recording, code
  • Sylvia Kolling: Location spotter, key grip
  • Michael Roberts: Chauffer
  • Josh R: Camera loan
  • Nichola Hallet: Hooverist

Technical Notes

Video was shot on a JVC DR-760, and audio recorded on a Tascam HD-P2 with a Pearl M&S stereo mic. I deliberately wanted the audio to be very high quality compared to the video, compared to most amateur video production where the reverse is true.

Videos were edited in Sony Vegas, and audio using Reaper. Audio and video batch processing was done using the sox and avconv command-line tools.

Initially I wanted to simply have seven videos and seven audio files and use JavaScript to combine them in the user's browser, however there is currently no code solution I can find that works reliably across the major operating systems (especially iOS) -- I tried Popcorn.js, the YouTube API, Mediaelement.js, and some custom ideas to no avail. Therefore all 49 possible permutations of audio and video are uploaded to YouTube. Suggestions to improve this more than welcome!