CNMN > Projects > Coronation Sound Bites

Louise Campbell

  • Open (def: scores for unspecified instrumentation)
  • Found objects or art supplies
  • 5 to 12 years of age

1 atelier d'une heure

  • Education

Coronation Sound Bites


Lis­ten­ing Games for Reduc­ing Noise Lev­els in a School Cafeteria

Pic­ture a large room: con­crete floor, low tile ceil­ing, bare plas­ter walls, tables lined with stools, a wall of indus­tri­al fridges and an attached com­mer­cial kitchen. Imag­ine the accom­pa­ny­ing sounds: hums, buzzes and the metal­lic clanks of a busy kitchen. Now imag­ine the same room filled with 100 or so kids eat­ing lunch, antic­i­pat­ing going out­side to play. The enthu­si­asm and effi­cien­cy of this room are laud­able; the sound lev­els impres­sive. I had the plea­sure of being an Artist in Res­i­dence for Sound Bites, a School Hosts an Artist project aimed at reduc­ing the noise lev­el in this room, Coro­na­tion Ele­men­tary School’s cafeteria.

A school cafe­te­ria is sim­i­lar to a restau­rant or a bar – there are a lot of peo­ple in an enclosed space, usu­al­ly with a fair amount of back­ground music and/or noise. Peo­ple talk loud­ly so they can be heard by their friends, which means oth­er peo­ple talk loud­er in turn. In brain­storm­ing with sci­ence teacher and visu­al artist Shelly Sharp, we came up with the fol­low­ing focus questions:

“How does sound affect our well-being? What can we do as artists, stu­dents and adults to under­stand and pos­i­tive­ly impact sound qual­i­ty and vol­ume in the Coro­na­tion Ele­men­tary lunchroom?”

In order to have an effect on noise lev­els in any space, you start by lis­ten­ing. So if the project Sound Bites aims to reduce the noise lev­els in the Coro­na­tion Ele­men­tary School cafe­te­ria, we need­ed to make lis­ten­ing fun and engag­ing for the stu­dents. The fol­low­ing games aimed to do just that.

Ready… set… listen!

Sound Trea­sure Hunt

  1. Before play­ing the sound trea­sure hunt, ask stu­dents to name any sound they hear (e.g. a sneeze, a car horn honk­ing, shuf­fling feet).
  2. Ask stu­dents to iden­ti­fy a sound they hear fre­quent­ly in this room, and not say it out loud. Pick one stu­dent to ‘play’ the sound while every­one else cov­ers their eyes (e.g. eras­er on white­board, chair scrap­ing, per­cus­sion mal­lets clack­ing against each oth­er). Ask for vol­un­teers to guess what the sound was.
  3. Ready… set… lis­ten: Over a two-minute peri­od, sit qui­et­ly and lis­ten. Then, ask stu­dents to write or draw the sounds they heard. If they have trou­ble remem­ber­ing what they heard pre­vi­ous­ly (I do!), they can write or draw any sounds they are cur­rent­ly hear­ing. Ask vol­un­teers to read their list or describe what they heard. Notice the sim­i­lar­i­ties and dif­fer­ences in what stu­dents hear.


  • Use a visu­al aid to show where you are in the two min­utes peri­od to avoid the inevitable ques­tion ‘how much longer?’
  • Adapt the length of time to your group. I pre­fer sev­er­al lis­ten­ing peri­ods of short­er time frames so the trea­sure hunt is dif­fer­ent every time. Giv­en how much how quick­ly sound changes in an ele­men­tary school, one two-minute trea­sure hunt could fea­ture the jan­i­tor walk­ing down the hall­way with a trol­ley, greet­ing a few kids, while the next might be about the sounds of the heat­ing sys­tem start­ing (reluc­tant­ly), and the next bas­ket­ball prac­tice in the gym down the hallway.
  • Brain­storm a num­ber of dis­tinct acoustic envi­ron­ments to lis­ten to that are with­in easy walk­ing dis­tance. Repeat the trea­sure hunt in each loca­tion, writ­ing and draw­ing the sounds of each. Dis­cuss, com­par­ing locations.

For Sound Bites, we chose to lis­ten to a stair­well, the library, and two dif­fer­ent loca­tions in the cafeteria.

The kids floored me with their enthu­si­asm and acute ears. As you can see in the images below, their respons­es are amaz­ing, com­plex and var­ied, and say as much about each indi­vid­ual as it does about their school.

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