What does the sound in hospitals do to us? Is there a way to influence it? And is it really important?


The concept of “healing environment for healthcare buildings” has been described as:

“… a physical setting and organizational culture that supports patients and families through the stresses imposed by illness, hospitalization, medical visits, the process of healing, and sometimes, bereavement. The concept implies that the physical healthcare environment can make a difference in how quickly the patient recovers from or adapts to specific acute and chronic conditions” (Stichler, 2001).

It is not only the room’s architecture, materials, colours and light design that effect patients and personnel. Acoustic conditions, the soundscape, are no less influential than these aspects: “soundscape regards the complex sound environment, embracing positive sounds as well as annoyance“ (de Ruiter, 2015).

All these varied sensuous influences tune the atmosphere of a room, they modify the actual psychological state. And vice versa: the inner “framing” – the circumstances and reasons for sitting here – are influencing the perception of a situation.

Although music therapists were amongst the instigators of this project, this kind of sound intervention is not to be called music therapy. Music listening and sound interventions can be part of music therapy, but a definition of music therapy that is most commonly agreed upon is that a therapeutic relationship is needed to call a musical intervention music therapy. “Music therapy is a reflexive process where the therapist helps the client to optimize the client’s health, using various facets of music experience and the relationships formed through them…” (Bruscia, 2014).  In our case there was no therapist, no therapeutic relationship, no treatment agreement contract  involved. But our interest in observing the everyday soundscape in hospital waiting rooms can be seen on the background of therapeutic sensitivity: the soundscape is an important part of the “healing environment” – for patients as well as employees.

Atmosphere, a key concept of German philosopher Gernot Böhme and other authors of the so called “New Aesthetics” movement, could bridge the physical and the psychological conditions of situations in waiting rooms: the emotional condition of a person in a waiting room and the physical environment of the room are both influencing the atmosphere as perceived. Böhme (2013) places atmosphere within “the relation between environmental qualities and human condition” (p. 22f).  So we have an object-pole and a subject-pole as two sides of the evolving atmosphere in a given situation. The atmosphere is not in the room, like a substance; but the specific conditions of the room allow us to perceive (or project?) atmospheric “tuning” – against the background of my emotional situation. Atmospheres are relational in-between-phenomena. Sound interventions modify the acoustic conditions of a room, they influence the atmosphere in a room and thus may modify the mood and increase the well-being of listeners, patients and staff.

Written by: Georg Hajdu, Eckard Weymann, Goran Lazarevic and Benedict Carey