Playing with Sound in the Garden - Doug Hollis

As a child, when I went to the beach, the first thing I would do was try to find a shell that I could put my ear to and 'listen to the ocean'....

We can do something like that too in a garden....and why not? Gardens are meant to delight...

The exploratorium in San Francisco offers a unique feature in their on line catalog that can be recreated in a garden  :
A Hole In A Rock

The hole in this rock invites you to put your head in it.

The acoustic effect is similar to listening to a seashell although, in this case, it is much more encompassing.  The rock amplifies the natural frequencies for the visitor to explore and enjoy.

I can imagine someone doing this with varying size rocks and varying size holes....wouldn't that be fun? You can arrange them around a garden.. I might do that if I can figure out how to chisel into a rock.

Here is an ancient hole in a rock at Dunadd is in Argyllshire, Scotland. High atop a hill, this is where the first Kings of Scotland were coronated. No one knows why this hole is here  but  I think they made it for listening.

Another way to reflect sound in a garden is to create a variation on another Exploratorium idea:

Listening Vessels 

It consists of two large parabolic reflectors set at least 50 feet apart which act as mirrors to reflect sound from one to the other.  

Two people sit opposite each other at approximately the focal point for each reflector, so that the sound coming from each reflector is focused at this point, allowing each visitor to clearly hear the other's voice in spite of the distance separating them or the noise around them. 

Doug Hollis, the sculptor, used this idea to create two parabolic limestone 'Listening Vessels' in Discovery Green in Houston.  

 These "passive found structures," as Hollis calls them, are concave sculptures which collect and focus sound in space.  The Urban Garden in Discovery Green is a perfect setting for these intriguing sculptures.

They are spaced 60 feet apart and visitors are delighted to  hear the words of another speaking at a normal volume, a great distance away.

Douglas Hollis calls himself a public artist. His primary objective is to make "places that have an oasis-like quality where people can catch their spiritual breaths..."

Wow....I like this guy!

Hollis says he creates sound structures that "integrate the participant into the dynamics of landscape, using the structures as sensory extensions of the body."

You must look at his website for some great and fun things he does with sound outdoor: click here  - Doug Hollis Website. 

I particularely like his indoor rain colum - shown here:



  1. These are some really great things to have around....I like the rain feature inside the building...very different, but I'd love to see it in action.

  2. So nice to hear about using sound in the's another great way to surround ourselves with serenity!

  3. thank you! i love to share these cool ideas....

  4. Hi Gray Hair - thanks! the ideas are so great...we should have listening vessels in all parks - such fun.


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