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10 Mysterious Acoustic Anomalies

by Cara Duke
fact checked by Darci Heikkinen

Sound is a huge part of life, and the world is full of acoustic oddities just waiting to be discovered. From unique forest resonance to baffling sound spots that defy the laws of acoustics, check out the following audio anomalies from around the world!

Related: 8 Incredible Resurrected Ancient Sounds

10 The Bench of Whispers—Alameda Park, Spain

The Whisper Bench

Suppose you stroll through the beautiful Alameda Park in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. In that case, you’ll be treated to some spectacular views—idyllic gardens, stunning tiered steps, and impressive historical statues. You’ll also come across something that isn’t so spectacular at first glance—an innocent-looking stone bench.

But this humble bench is a banco acústico—meaning acoustic bench. Known as the Bench of Whispers, the semicircle shape and physical position mean it has a unique auditorial characteristic.

If you take a seat at one end of the bench, put your head against the back of it, and even just whisper, the sound of your voice will travel to the other end of the bench. Not only that, but your voice will be heard as loud or maybe louder than originally spoken.

The bench was built in the park in 1916, and the unique acoustic properties were quickly discovered by courting couples. The bench became a popular spot for romantic rendezvous during the Francoist dictatorship, where young unmarried couples were banned from touching or even speaking to each other in public.

It’s not known whether anyone sitting in the center of the bench can hear the secrets and whispers being spoken. If they can, let’s hope they can keep a secret!

But if you can’t make it to Spain, you can find similar benches in other places, including New York’s Central Park.[1]

9 The Center of the Universe—Tulsa, Oklahoma

The Mystery Of The Center Of The Universe

In downtown Tulsa, there’s a small concrete circle that sits in the center of a larger brick circle known as the “Center of the Universe.” It has a rather unassuming appearance, but it’s a fairly unknown and acoustic phenomenon.

Stand in the center of the circle, make a noise, and the sound of your voice will echo back at you even louder—like a private echo chamber. Legend has it that something as loud as a foghorn could sound in the middle of the circle, and those standing outside it wouldn’t hear anything.

Although this is probably an exaggerated tale, the sound of the person’s voice in the middle of the circle does sound distorted to those on the outside. It’s a bizarre and fascinating effect that is thought to result from the sound bouncing off a nearby planter. But, although this acoustic oddity has been studied by many people, the definite cause of it remains a mystery.[2]

8 Lake George Mystery Spot—Lake George, New York

Stir the Echoes – Lake George Mystery Spot

Just like the “Center of the Universe,” a stone circle behind the Lake George visitor center in New York is the site of a sound anomaly that defies the laws of acoustics. In the middle of the circle, two metal rails cross over each other, forming an X shape that marks the “mystery spot.”

It’s here that you can witness a mysterious natural phenomenon. If you stand directly on the X and face the lake, anything you shout will echo back to you as if it’s come from another dimension. But there’s a catch—only you will hear it and only on that exact spot, so you may get a few surprised looks from outsiders unaware of this acoustic phenomenon!

Many theories have come up about how this acoustical wonder happens. Some say that sounds rebound off the semicircle stone wall, whereas others say it’s to do with the position of the mountains and the lake.

Probably the most interesting explanation is a local legend from Native American culture. It’s said that long ago, an ancient god appeared at the mystery spot where his wisdom echoed around the lake. Whatever causes this natural phenomenon, the Lake George mystery spot is a well-kept secret hidden in plain sight![3]

7 Grand Central Terminal Whispering Gallery—Manhattan, New York

grand central terminal: the whispering gallery

In the Grand Central Station Terminal in Manhattan, there’s a domed walkway intersection on the lower floor. Put your ear against the tiling of the intersection, and you’ll discover something amazing—a whispering gallery. Even the quietest of sounds can be heard over the bustle of the crowds.

This fascinating acoustical phenomenon happens because of the perfect arches that make up the station gallery. The tiling is a unique and distinctive design known as Gustavino—named after the patented methods of Rafael Gustavino, a Spanish tile worker. Gustavino’s intricate work can be viewed in the station and around the city.

In 2012, the tilework was set to undergo restoration, but the Metropolitan Transport Authority promised that the treasured acoustical anomaly would not be disturbed.[4]

6 The Ear of Dionysius—Syracuse, Italy

Ear of Dionysius cave amazing acoustics with choir singing

The Ear of Dionysius is a teardrop-shaped cavern located in Syracuse, Italy. The cave alone is mightily impressive, but even more astonishing are its acoustic properties. Even the softest sounds can be heard through the top of the cave, around 72 feet (22 meters) up!

Distinguished by a narrow tunnel that opens out into a huge cavern below, the cave is believed to have originated from an early limestone quarry. However, some people think the distinctive shape was caused by a natural process and has been preserved due to respect for its unique acoustic properties, which were thought to be sacred.

The Italian painter Caravaggio named the cave after Dionysius I, the Greek tyrant who ruled the city of Syracuse between 432 to 367 BC. Legend has it that Dionysius used the cavern as a prison to spy on his captives, using the opening at the top where even hushed voices from below could be heard.

But recent investigations have found this to be unlikely. Although the shape of the cave amplifies sound an impressive amount, even the most clearly spoken words can sound distorted. Another more heinous tale says that the sadistic ruler used the amplifying effects of the cave to enjoy the sounds of his prisoners being tortured.

There was a time when visitors were allowed to go to the top of the cave using a rope and pulley system, but because of safety concerns, this is no longer allowed. If you’d like to visit this impressive cave, you’ll have to make do with appreciating the acoustic effects from the cave floor.[5]

5 Echo Bridge—Newton, Massachusetts

Echo Bridge is a sublime architectural wonder that boasts amazing acoustic properties. Built in 1877, the bridge was originally an essential part of the Needham and Newton Upper Falls aqueduct. These days it’s the perfect place to enjoy the stunning views it offers as well as being entertaining thanks to its novelty sound effects.

If you’d like to visit this acoustical anomaly, a platform was built specifically for curious visitors to experience its sound effects. This can be found at the bottom of some stairs located under the bridge. The sound effect is a huge echo that returns around 15 reverberations of your voice—a loud and sharp sound can return 25 times!

This spectacular echo happens because the sound bounces horizontally between the arch and the water; however, another theory says that the echo is due to the shape of the arch. Regardless of how it’s caused, you’re sure to be entertained by this acoustical oddity.[6]

4 Thurgoland Tunnel—Thurgoland, England

Amazing reverb in Thurgoland new tunnel.

In a little village in England called Thurgoland, there’s a tunnel that boasts an incredible acoustical anomaly. A former railroad track, the Thurgoland tunnel was constructed in the 1940s. The Sheffield to Manchester line was electric, and there was no room in the 19th-century-built, two-line tunnel for two sets of electric conductors.

If you enter the Thurgoland tunnel and clap your hands, you’ll hear the sound of a rhythmic reverberating beat that lasts for around 20 seconds. This effect is due to the sound focusing that’s caused by the tunnel’s smooth concrete lining, the horseshoe-shaped cross-section, and the unique 4,000-foot (1,219-meter) radius curve.

If you’re a rail enthusiast, this tunnel is worth visiting purely for its impressive architecture and historical value, but the acoustic phenomenon that happens inside it makes it all the more fascinating.

The tunnel was used as a rail tunnel until the early 1980s, when that line was closed. It’s now a converted cycle/walking path as part of the Upper Don Trail, meaning members of the public can enjoy the acoustic properties of the tunnel—in the past, only railway workers were able to witness it.[7]

3 Växjö Echo Tower—Växjö, Sweden

Echo – Temple Water Tower in Växjö

In the Swedish city of Växjö, you’ll find the Teleborg water tower in the region of Teleborg. This is no ordinary water tower, though—it has a fascinating acoustic effect. If you stand underneath the doomed reservoir in the middle, every sound will be reflected at you—even quiet sounds will be magnified as the echos build up.

The reservoir was built in 1974, and the acoustic effects were a complete accident, only being discovered after it was built. For a while, the Echo Tower was a bit of a hidden gem that only locals knew of. But word got out, and it’s now an incredibly popular tourist attraction.

If you do visit the Echo Tower, why not bring along a kazoo, flute, or a similar instrument to experiment with the sound effects?[8]

2 Sagano Bamboo Forest—Kyoto, Japan

京都の嵯峨野竹林の音 | The Sound of Sagano Bamboo Forest in Kyoto

We’ve had echoing bridges, whispering galleries, and reverberating tunnels, but how about a bamboo forest? Located on the edge of Kyoto in Japan, Sagano Bamboo Forest is a stark contrast to the urban area it’s situated in.

Wooden paths twist and turn through the dense growth of bamboo stalks that measure dozens of feet. As the wind blows through the bamboo forest, the stalks creak, bend, and knock together, creating an incredibly unique, tranquil sound. The sound is so wonderful that the Japanese Ministry of the Environment has made it one of the “100 soundscapes of Japan.”

Unfortunately, the forest is an extremely popular attraction, so it may be challenging to hear this wonderful sound over the clicking of cameras and chatting visitors. But if you can visit the forest outside of peak times or find an area free from tourists, you’ll be treated to stunning views and amazing sounds![9]

1 The Wave Organ—San Francisco, California

The San Francisco Wave Organ: In Sound & Pictures

If you take a walk down San Francisco Bay, you’ll find a wave organ not far from the Crissy Field Recreation Center. Constructed in 1986 by artist Peter Richards, the wave organ is an acoustic structure that magnifies the sound of the waves in the bay.

The wave organ is made up of over 20 concrete and PVC pipes that extend into the water, where the waves crashing against them create the sounds. The resulting sound could be described as liquid music. When the waves hit the pipes, you’ll hear gurgling sounds that flow with the constant movement of the water and the changing tides![10]

fact checked by Darci Heikkinen