magazine_ Reportage

Go out and listen

Marion Pedron
© | Marion Pedron
by Rachel Wolffe

Soundscapes are the acoustic environment as we perceive them and their impact on our wellbeing should not be undervalued.

“Like all human beings we are listeners and sound makers in this world and therefore active participants in the creation of our soundscapes. Soundwalking is a practice that wants to bring our existing position-inside-the-soundscape to full consciousness.”

Hildegard Westerkamp

Press play and close your eyes.

Where did you just go? Nope. Wrong answer, it wasn’t a bar, a supermarket, the school run, a busy street. It was here.

alt© Eurac Research | Annelie Bortolotti

This is Lago di Braies. One of South Tyrol’s most popular tourist destinations and the most instagrammable lake in the Dolomites. Weighing in with close to half a million tagged posts the beauty spot comes with a warning. Actually, it comes with several. The lake, made famous by Terence Hill and the TV series "Un passo dal cielo" (One step from Heaven), witnessed an alarming phenomenon over the Easter weekend. 14 people fell into the water because they dared to venture onto the very thin sheet of ice that still covers it. Six fell in two separate incidents on Easter Sunday and eight others during the day of Easter Monday. Although carelessness and underestimation of the risks are a massive factor of the drama, so is another – the quest for the perfect snapshot. This quest is the driver of the unfortunate overtourism now associated with the area. And you just heard how that sounds.

This sound clip was taken from a soundwalk organised under the auspices of "Silenzi in Quota" a project created to showcase the alpine territory of Trentino-Alto Adige, in collaboration with the MONTURA brand and MUSE - Science Museum of Trento. And Eurac Research’s very own Simone Torresin who is conducting research on behalf of the Institute of Renewable Energies to ascertain how sound impacts our wellbeing and could be used as a resource for designing better buildings in smarter cities.

Interestingly enough, aside from heightening aural perception, a soundwalk also alerts all other senses.

Hildegard Westerkamp

Composer, radio artist and sound ecologist Hildegard Westercamp explains: Simply put, a soundwalk is any excursion whose main purpose is listening to the environment. It is an exploration of our ear/environment relationship, unmediated by microphones, headphones and recording equipment. It is an exploration of what the ‘naked ear’ hears and how we relate and react to it. Such a soundwalk can be done as a regular practice, in a group or alone. Invariably in my experience, its effects on the participating listener are immediate, whether a walk is done for the first time or the listener is a veteran soundwalker: it opens ears to the sounding details of a place and listeners notice the unique soundscape characteristics of a location. Interestingly enough, aside from heightening aural perception, a soundwalk also alerts all other senses.

alt© | Marion Pedron

The project aims to capture and share through mixed media and in-presence participation, the heritage of natural wealth of the alpine landscape, representing the mountain as an ecosystem of natural balance to be respected to encourage conscious and responsible tourism. And to highlight how disparity between what we see and what we hear can shift human experience and impair our contact with nature. The beauty of a soundscape depends not only on its decibel sound level, but on our perception of it and its sound sources that define it’sspecific context. In fact, what you just heard could have actually been a beautiful sound environment for a vibrant and bustling square. On Sunday 24th April this was made evident to me. It was a cloudy and grey day. Drizzling rain was intercepted by flurries of snow and I swear I even felt some hail too. One could easily be mistaken in thinking that such gloomy weather would have meant few tourists to the lake. However, as you heard this was far from the truth.


And though still reeling from the contrast of the first listening point on our soundwalk, our group advanced.

alt© Eurac Research | Annelie Bortolotti

At each station we were encouraged to stop, be still and just listen. After a couple of minutes of being silent, we recorded our observations. And as the sound of the crowd diminished, our sense of calm increased.

© | Mario Pedron

Hit play, close your eyes and listen again

Now, how did that make you feel and what did you hear? Could you hear the birds and the gentle ripples of the lakesounds of the wind? Were you able to sense the gentle rain around you? Isn’t that what Nature should sound and feel like?

alt© Eurac Research | Annelie Bortolotti

What remains

Relaxed we moved on to our final listening destination.

It feels different, doesn’t it? Perhaps it’s just me, but the effects of immersing myself in the true sounds of nature had stayed with me. I had reset, destressed and slowed down. Something we all need to do more of. That, and to realise the true value of silence in nature.

Sign up for the next walk

More about

Simone Torresin

Main research interests are soundscape,acoustic comfort and multi-domain indoor environmental quality. Simone is a building engineer, qualified acoustician, and a post-doctoral researcher at Eurac Research with a passion for the relationship between sound and building occupants. Granted the title of PhD in Civil, Environmental and Mechanical Engineering cum laude at the University of Trento, in cooperation with Eurac Research, Institute for Renewable Energy, and with the Institute for Environmental Design and Engineering, The Bartlett, University College London (UK). His research focuses on the characterization of acoustic perception in indoor built environments, namely indoor soundscapes, and how it relates to thermal comfort and ventilation strategies in buildings. In addition, Torresin is an Advisor on the 2022 WELL Sound Concept Advisory.

The author

Rachel Wolffe loves nature. And writing, and working as the English editor for Eurac Research's communication team.

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