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Doctor in sound design: ”Insects can buzz and brooks gurgle in cities”

Published on 19.2.2019
Tampere University of Applied Sciences
Only two doctoral theses have been made on sound design at the Finnish Aalto University's Department of Film, Television and Scenography. One of them was made by Principal Lecturer Ari Koivumäki, Tampere University of Applied Sciences. Now he is excited about soundscapes related to urban planning.

Ari Koivumäki defended his doctoral thesis on the relation between sound design and soundscape research in June 2018. That was the second doctoral thesis made in the field at Aalto University, Finland.

Koivumäki, who has taught the subject for a long time, established in his research how soundscape research can be applied to practical sound design. For his doctoral thesis he gathered words with which people express sounds and tones of voices they hear. He also used the Finnish soundscape project (100 Finnish soundscapes/Sata suomalaista äänimaisemaa) results for the task.

“I collected words with which people describe for example wind, rain or forest into a tone map. This information is always needed when editing sound for films, TV programmes or games.”

He tested applying soundscape research to sound design by analysing student projects, such as a hypermedia radio play in a city park, Näsinpuisto, in Tampere.

Cities can have a rich soundscape

Koivumäki recalls that in the 1990s culture researchers became interested in sound environments, for example noise, and feelings and atmospheres created by sound.

“I already then networked with university researchers. As a teacher I wanted to expand sound design from technology to its wider context.”

Nowadays Koivumäki leads two master's degree programmes in the field of media and arts at TAMK Mediapolis. As a relationship manager he participates in many projects and RDI groups interacting with partners outside the university.

“I am very satisfied that TAMK has always supported soundscape projects and research,” Koivumäki says.

He is now particularly interested in urban planning which takes soundscapes into consideration. In Koivumäki's opinion, ordinary people should be included when the urban soundscape and quiet areas are developed.

“Soundscapes can be built in cities by preparing the land and adding plants – to build walks in areas where birds are singing, insects are buzzing, leaves are rustling in the wind and brooks are gurgling.”

Koivumäki does, however, not hope more sound to be brought to cities, at least not artificially.

“Events, schools and day-care centres bring sound and joy to the city and are a part of the urban culture.”


Ari Koivumäki

  • born in 1959
  • principal lecturer and relationship manager at Tampere University of Applied Sciences (TAMK)
  • doctoral degree at Aalto University in 2018, Maiseman äänittäminen: Äänimaisematutkimus äänisuunnittelun tukena, abstract
  • Licentiate of Arts (Theatre and Drama) at Theatre Academy in 2001
  • married, two adult children
  • hobbies: guitar playing, singing and reading especially history literature and detective fiction

Text: Sabina Mäki
Photo: Anna Vättö

Photo: Ari Koivumäki used ZOOM H6 microphones to save his research material.