SFH-142136 RMIT Acoustic design innovations for  managing motorway traffic noise by  cancellation and transformation

RMIT Acoustic design innovations for managing motorway traffic noise by
cancellation and transformation Research synopsis Transurban awarded an Innovation Grant to RMIT University (RMIT) in 2016 to undertake research into managing motorway noise using active noise cancellation and
transformation. The research, completed by RMIT was the first international example of
applying 'noise transformation' using live electroacoustic technology in noise-affected
      environments to improve community perception of urban noise


Urban environments are increasingly
saturated with noise from a wide range of
sources, including motorways. Improving
the liveability of densely populated areas
directly adjacent to motorways is a key
part of our sustainability commitment
to be good neighbours and deliver long
lasting benefits to the environment and
communities we serve.
Current methods of reducing motorway
noise involve engineering approaches to
reduce the noise emitted from vehicles
and pavements or the installation of
physical barriers or acoustic treatment to
buildings to reduce noise propagation

The RMIT research explored a new
approach to managing propagated
motorway noise. Through noise
transformation, motorway noise is turned
into a musical or aesthetic experience
that is pleasing to the human ear. Rather
than adopting a traditional engineering
approach to quieten motorway noise, the
transformation aspect of the research
used noise as a source in musical
composition, and recorded the response
of neighbouring communities.
The research findings demonstrate the
effective application of these alternative
noise mitigation techniques can reduced

the impact of motorway noise. Positive
community response to demonstration
sites established along Transurban's
CityLink (Victoria) and Hills M2 (New
South Wales) motorways highlight the
potential for such technologies to play
a role in managing motorway noise.
Used in existing or new motorway
environments, such technologies could
be applied to relieve noise impacts on
sensitive receivers or in conjunction
with urban design principles to activate
public spaces.
The introduction of additional sound,
albeit subtle, into the listening
environment is contrary to current noise
management policy, which historically
has centred solely on sound reduction.
The positive community response to
the environments created during the
trial however, shows the potential for
renewed policy discussion and reform
into how noise impacts and mitigation
initiatives are measured.
The full research report contains
several key findings from the
12–month research project and
provides an exciting new direction
for improving human perceptions
of motorway environments and
the habitability of public spaces
and backyards and balconies of
private homes.
Speaker array
Live motorway noise recording
Transformed noise
Transformed noise
Noise transformation

Acoustic design innovations for managing
motorway traffic noise by cancellation and

Acoustic design innovations for managing
motorway traffic noise by cancellation and


| Transurban Innovation Grant
2.3. The experience of sound transformation
2.3.1 The experience and generation of value through the four sound
Most participants did not find the existing freeway sound in the park and in their homes/
gardens to be unexpected, and it was therefore tolerable or an annoyance to them rather
than provoking dramatic reactions
(see Clip 4).
However the participants generally found
the sound transformation possibilities to offer them a positive and desirable experience
of the park, and its environment and found the idea of the use of sound transformation
in this and other park contexts an appealing possibility.
In this sense the application of
sound transformation technologies can be seen as a way of creating new value from
existing elements of the environment that are taken as given and are tolerated or
got used to but not valued.
In this section we explain how each of the four different transformations were experienced,
and which ones participants preferred. Each transformation title links to its corresponding
description in the sound design report. In common we note that most of the participants
did not understand the transformation process as being an actual transformation of live
freeway sound before they were interviewed. Instead they often assumed that we were
using previously composed soundscapes to transform the freeway sound by playing over
or alongside it. Generally we found that participants concurred regarding the experiences
afforded by each transformation:
Transformation 1: Relaxing melodic
Participants described the sound of this transformation as subtle and relaxing. As one
participant expressed it, this sound was part of the mix of the sound in the park, something
that would 'blend into the background' to make him feel calmed rather than being annoyed
by the traffic, and another noted that it allowed him to hear the birds, and another that it
invited him to focus in order to listen.
Listen 5
Figure 10: Sitting on a bench in the park
was a good place to hear the different
transformed sounds.
Photo credit: (Elana Vasileva-Kovac ).
| Transurban Innovation Grant
Transformation 2: Microtonal soundmass
When discussing this transformation participants emphasised its capacity to evoke spatial
qualities. They referred to it as 'echoey' something that changed 'the feel of the space
around my body', and enveloping. For most this experience was questionable in some
ways, and they described it in this sense as tense, intense, uncomfortable, invasive,
penetrating and even sinister in one case. It was also described as 'at odds with the space',
and its strangeness in this sense was emphasised when another participant referred to its
'science fiction feel'.
Transformation 3: Seaside
This transformation was generally considered pleasant and to resemble a 'natural
environment'. One participant used the natural metaphors of 'waves' or 'whooshing
through the trees', and here the sound was seen to seep into the soundscape to fill in
the gaps. One participant said that it sounded like the traffic and this person focused on
trying to hear the difference, while another said it was 'too similar to the traffic noise and
they merge'. Even a participant who was not so keen on this sound felt it was 'a better fit to
the environment'. However the extent to which this sound was popular also depended on
individual expectations or desires of the participants. Those whose evaluations were less
positive related to this sound being less 'interesting', but nevertheless concurred in many
ways with those of the participants who preferred this sound. For example a participant
who felt it was like background white noise, at the same time told us that 'I feel it cuts it all
and blends [the road noise] ...it evens it all out a little bit' and another felt that they would
not notice it if it was in the park.
Transformation 4: Pan-diatonic soundmass
The final transformation was understood by participants as being more complex and they
more often emphasised that the felt this was composed soundscape, or piece of music.
One participant imagined that the traffic participated as a small part of this composition.
In relation to this they said that it reminded them of a combination of natural and musical
sounds, such as: it being flowing, moving the breeze and the trees; wind chimes; chanting
and bells; it sounded musical; and it was uplifting. Participants also noted a sense of
'resonance' the idea of being underwater, said the sound was calm/calming, relaxed and
immersive. Generally participants had a positive experience of this sound transformation,
while one participant felt that it imposed sound on him.
Key Findings
Participants tended to concur in relation to the experience of each sound transformation. In
general they were in favour of sound transformation as an enhancement of the experience
of the park in relation to traffic noise. Sound transformation was appreciated for its 'natural'
feel, and often understood as a composition rather than a live transformation.
Sound transformation involves a process of creating value out of something that was
previously an annoyance. The value or potential value of sound transformation lies mainly
in its capacity to create more pleasant versions of existing annoyances, and to make
relaxing, and calming environments.
Listen 7
Listen 8
Listen 6
| Transurban Innovation Grant
2.3.2 The experience of sound cancellation
Fewer participants engaged with the sound cancellation experiment, however those who
did found it interesting and in some cases an 'amazing' experience. They felt that this
would be a valuable experience to make available in specific locations where there was a
particular noise annoyance, or where a specific experience was desired.
Key Findings
Sound cancellation was appreciated as a valuable experience that could be potentially
offered in site-specific contexts.
3. Implications
3.1. The appeal and wellbeing benefits of sound transformation
What is most striking about the sound transformation experiences is the way that
participants were able to feel attuned in different ways to the transformed freeway
sounds. There are three key points to consider here:
Freeway sound was considered by participants to be 'normal' and if anything
annoying, but not dramatic. Therefore, when they were listening to freeway sound
transformations, participants were experiencing another rendering of a sound that
they have already acquired some degree of attunement to, or that they have come
to consider familiar or normal in their lives. This is significant because it indicates to
us how freeway noise is in fact a form of everyday sound that people already have
a relationship too. Once it is transformed - that is, it is made pleasant, rather than
annoying - people find it easy to feel comfortable with. This research suggests that this
is because they are already used to this sound and attuned to it. However because in
its usual form (as freeway sound) it is perceived culturally and actually experienced as
annoying, then it is not valued. By transforming something that people already relate
to into something pleasant, the process of transformation creates value in new and
surprising ways, and importantly it creates value were it did not previously exist.
role of sound transformation in producing new forms of value is highly significant.
Participants understood most freeway sound as being the outcome of other human
activities and reactions to traffic or road conditions and as being related to the driving
of particular types of vehicle. While there was sometimes a moral dimension to their
judgement about people making noise, the fact that they interpreted freeway noise
in this way emphasises that the sound of freeways is something that emerges as an
outcome of relationships between humans, technologies (vehicles) and environments
(road conditions, weather and the built/natural environments around the freeway).
When people hear freeway sounds they are therefore listening to this relationship, and
it is indeed one that as humans they can also relate to. In this sense it should not be
surprising that when participants listened to the transformations they often assumed
they were composed and already recorded pieces, when in fact they were listening
to live transformed sound.
The musical qualities and compositional elements
they thought they heard are important to keep in mind since this means that
Urban Design
| Transurban Innovation Grant
Urban Design
Studio Summary
Eleven students from the RMIT Master of Design Innovation and Technology (MDIT) were
part of a studio that researched ways that the successful noise transformation methodology
might be applied as an urban design solution to parklands adjacent to motorway noise walls.
Students were given the unique opportunity to engage with the researchers during the
Sydney-based test site installation, during which they could hear the noise transformations
in-situ and liaise directly with the researchers.
They were asked to design a fully landscaped motorway parkland that embedded
electroacoustic infrastructure into a noise wall. The primary intention of the designs is
to encourage local residents to utilise the parklands as spaces of play, recreation and
During the design sessions three motorway noise wall parkland typologies were recognised:
the corridor, the wedge and the field. The studio was split into three groups, with each
group assigned a typology. The following section includes the designs, which incorporates
feedback from the research team, Transurban and VicRoads personnel, presented on April
21 2017.
These designs should be viewed as real opportunities for future infrastructure projects.
Full presentations can be found on the
companion website.
Urban Design
MDIT studio with research team at the Epping, Sydney site.
Typology 1 | Corridor
Leixin Du
Ben Sahadan
Komal Lakhanpal
Michelle Suprapto
Fast Path
Designed keeping cyclists in mind.
Slow Path
A meandering path encourages passers-by to slow down
and immerse themselves in the soundscape.
Tranquil Transitions
A primary feature of the corridor typology are houses built very close to an adjacent noise wall. Sound reflects between the hard surfaces,
which increases the overall sound level. These spaces are often devoid of proper vegetation, making the landscape feel 'hard' and uninviting.
Our design strategy aims to soften these spaces with interventions that invite people to play in an interactive sound park. Green mounds,
made of artificial turf, create a meandering slow path that encourages passers-by to slow down and immerse themselves in the transformation
soundscape. Children can add to the soundscape by calling into hidden microphones. On the adjacent path a moss pattern plays with the
cyclists visual perceptions of speed. T-capped noise walls are designed to increase overall attenuation.
y 2 |
Jiayi Liu
Yunkai Zhao
e wall
Waterfalls and herb gardens aim to encourage people to enjoy
Water & Herb Ga
Sound transformation aims to create positive perceptual changes for communities adversely af
along the top of the noise wall to give transitioning pedestrians and bicycle riders a unique sound experience. On the far side of the wedge water
and vegetation augment the transformed soundscape to induce positive emotive responses, which focus on the auditory and olfactory senses.
The stacked structure and seating edges give users an intimate feeling in which they are encouraged to stay and enjoy the peaceful environment.
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