The Exploratorium in San Francisco is one of the (if not the) coolest hands-on science and discovery museums in the country. The Exploratorium’s app Sound Uncovered (2013) lets you experience what makes the place so great without having to hop a plane.
An intro — “Hear Here” — gives an overall explanation of sound, concluding: “Ultimately, you owe your sense of hearing not so much to your two ears as to what’s between them. And it’s there, in the mind’s ear, that sound gets interesting.” The app’s contents appear alongside the intro: fifteen sound experiments (each labeled “interactive,” “article,” or “video”) including “Find the Highest Note,” “Eyes vs. Ears,” and “What’s Making This Sound?” Select one to bring in ‘da noise.
“Maim That Tune,” for example, features a picture of a girl playing a violin. Touch the “Listen” arrow while you ponder the question: “What’s strange about this familiar song?” (It’s “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” played in a minor key.) The “Tell Me” button brings you to a page about musical scales. Two one-octave keyboards let you listen to the differences between major and minor “Twinkle” and to play around a little on your own. “Try more scales” to hear “Twinkle” played using a Whole Tone Scale, a Minor Blues Scale, and an In (Sakura) Scale, along with information about those scales. From there, a “What’s Going On?” page gives even more information about scales, using old-school pop music examples; “Beat It” and “Hey Jude” sound really weird in minor keys — but not as weird as “The Godfather Love Theme” sounds in a major key.
This is just one of the fifteen entertaining sound-related activities. You can also experience the McGurk effect (“With your eyes open, you hear one word, but with your eyes shut, you probably hear another”); test “How Old Are Your Ears?”; ponder the acoustics of bedtime stories; and discover how engine noise shapes your perception of cars (and how auto manufacturers manipulate you into buying them!).
Just like the Exploratorium itself, it’s all great fun — and that’s ok! But you’ll also come away knowing a little more about aural perception — or a lot more, if you follow all the screens. The ears have it: this app rocks!