Deep in the woods of Estonia, near the Latvian border, stand three large wooden megaphones designed to amplify the sounds of the forest.
Stand in just the right place, and you’ll hear the quiet voices of nature — rustling leaves, snapping twigs, chirping birds — as you've never heard them before.
The megaphones, which span nearly 10 feet in diameter, were constructed by a group of interior architecture students at the Estonian Academy of Arts and are located in the woods surrounding Pähni Nature Centre.
Architect Hannes Praks, who leads the school’s Interior Architecture Department, says the megaphones are located “at such a distance and at a suitable angle, so at the center of the installation, sound feed from all three directions should create a unique merged surround-sound effect.”
Student Birgit Õigus proposed the idea for the megaphones a year ago during a workshop with writer Valdur Mikita, where students tried to define the concept of a “forest library.”
Õigus’ idea was selected, and students built the beautiful wooden megaphones under the instruction of designers and architects. Now the large-scale acoustic installation is open to the public to enjoy as they choose.
In addition to listening to the amplified sounds of nature, visitors can lounge in the megaphones, use them as stages or outdoor classrooms, or even camp in them overnight.
"It’s a place to listen, to browse the audible book of nature — there hasn’t really been a place like that in Estonia before,” Mikita said.
An instrument designed solely to listen to Mother Nature may be just what we need. Research has found that noise pollution is so pervasive in modern society that we actually tend to tune out the sounds of nature.
"This gift that we are born with — to reach out and hear things hundreds of meters away, all these incredible sounds — is in danger of being lost through a generational amnesia," said Kurt Fristrup, a senior scientist at the U.S. National Park Service. "There is a real danger, both of loss of auditory acuity, where we are exposed to noise for so long that we stop listening, but also a loss of listening habits, where we lose the ability to engage with the environment the way we were built to."