Alumni Relations Management

Acoustic word art meets Breakfast at Tiffany’s - the Night of Acoustics at Kiel University

Have you ever painted words with sounds? Quite a challenge, but also a very entertaining and fascinating experience, as I discovered on 8 March 2017 at Kiel University’s first Night of Acoustics. read more

From sounds to words

If you paint the course of the high and low tones, letters appear and then even entire words! For example, a short, choppy, sneeze-like tone makes a vertical line, and a long, constant tone makes a horizontal line. A ‘sneeze’ followed by a ‘sinus’ followed by a ‘sneeze’ draws the letter H. As the playing progresses, the word HALLO materialises. The person to correctly guess the words can win real records made of chocolate in a prize draw. The word solutions and the tones that made them are displayed on the side of the university tower building by Project Lighthouse. The audience standing in front of the doors to the Audimax can hardly believe their eyes and ears. What they can see and hear is extraordinary!

Nacht der Akustik
Night of Acoustics at Kiel University (click to enlarge)Photo: M. Mika, Uni Kiel

Where does an idea like this come from?

By wanting to make research accessible to a broad audience in an entertaining and simple to understand way. The Night of Acoustics is a cooperation project between Kiel University, the Kiel Science Outreach Campus (KiSOC) research project, and the Chair for Digital Signal Processing and System Theory. Eleven renowned participants from the DAGA Conference make excellent research up close and personal in their short presentations today.

For example, in Lecture Hall D, Janina Fels explains how selective hearing works. Using a scene from the classic American film, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, she explains the so-called ‘cocktail party effect’. Although the room is full of distracting background noise, it is still possible for two people to completely concentrate on their own conversation. A healthy sense of hearing is fully capable (even in the presence of several sources of sound) of extracting the parts of a particular sound source from the mixture of background noise. The sound source which the people are concentrating on is then perceived as two to three times louder than the environmental noise. So you really do only hear what you want to hear!

Vortrag während der Nacht der Akustik
Talk during Night of Acoustics (click to enlarge)Photo: M. Mika, Uni Kiel

How intonation influences behaviour

By using intonation, on the other hand, specific attitudes can be conveyed and behaviours influenced. Oliver Niebuhr explains this in the Frederik-Paulsen Lecture Hall: if your voice rises at the end of a sentence, this signalises to the other person that he or she can freely decide on an answer. This is actually the case with most when, where, how and why questions - the curious exception is a marriage proposal: Strangely enough, people lower their voices towards the end of this question - which then signalises that there is no room for discussion, and only one correct answer. Persuasive communication at its best and laughter echoing round the hall! Oliver Niebuhr and his team are currently developing an app for smartphones which analyses intonation and measures charisma. You can speak to the app and it will give you concrete digital feedback on which areas you need to adjust your intonation to come across as convincingly as possible. This will surely not only help a few speakers in future, but will also help avoid lots of misunderstandings between people too. We will see what happens!

Präsentation während der Nacht der Akustik
Presentation during the Night of AcousticsPhoto: M. Mika, Uni Kiel

On that note: don't just listen selectively next time, but look out for the finer intermediate tones. It’s worth it!

Best wishes from Kiel University

Signature M. Mika


Mareike Mika M.A. 
Alumni Relations Management
Kiel University (CAU)