About this website

The London Sound Survey collects the sounds of everyday public life throughout London and compiles past accounts to show how the sound environment has changed. This page explains more about the site.

Contact details

You can email the London Sound Survey at:

Site background

The idea for the London Sound Survey formed while I was working as a storeman in the British Library Sound Archive. Older members of staff still referred to their workplace by its former title, the National Sound Archive, so the website's name was a hybrid of that and A Survey of London, the book written by John Stow in 1598. The historical aspects of sound can be as interesting as its present-day manifestations, sometimes more so.

I made my first London recordings in April 2008 and the site went online just over a year later. Since then it's grown from about 200 recordings to 2,000 and progressed from a hobby almost to a full-time vocation. Alongside my own efforts I've been pleased to feature work by Richard Beard, Andre Louis, Stuart Fisher, Felicity Ford, Jonathan Prior and others.

I left the Sound Archive in 2014 to be poor but free, with access to daylight and more time to spend on the website and related projects.The London Sound Survey receives no funding other than what comes out of my pocket, but it has been helped in countless ways by many people over the years. The three organisations who've given me a lot of breaks are Resonance FM, Caught by the River, and The Wire magazine.

Talks and appearances

I give regular historical talks under the general title of London's Lost Worlds of Sound, presenting and discussing some of the archival recordings featured here. These are often done in pubs but I've also held forth at a few festivals including Field Day in Victoria Park and the Port Eliot festival in Cornwall.

From time to time I get invited to take part in panel discussions, such as those organised by The Wire magazine at Cafe Oto in Dalston, and have made presentations and read papers at the London College of Communication, the Institute for Historical Research, Bath Spa University, the University of Kent, the Tyne & Wear Archives, and the Museum of London Docklands.

I'm always keen to do more talks, especially for community and local history groups, so drop me a line if you're interested.

Media, journals and books

The London Sound Survey has been featured on Radio 4, BBC Radios London and Essex, World Service, Resonance FM, and BBC1 London news. Sounds from the site have also been used in audiobooks released by BBC Worldwide. The project once got some favourable coverage on the Daily Mail's website, causing a huge if brief visitor surge, and my recordings were also used in a Guardian interactive feature about the Shard skyscraper.

Below is a recording of me addressing the nation for a few minutes on Radio 4's The Today Program in June 2016:

A nice use of the some of the recordings is their inclusion in Sound and Music's Minute of Listening project, which consists of media packs sent out to primary schools. Kids listen to the sounds and are asked to think about and discuss them.

A small number of articles in academic journals have cited the London Sound Survey in their references, and it also receives mention in several books, including Identity and Intercultural Exchange in Travel and Tourism (ed. Anthony Baker), The Impact of History? Histories at the Beginning of the 21st Century (Pedro Ramos Pinto and Bertrand Taithe), Music and Technologies (eds. Darius Ku?inskas and Georg Kennaway), Developments in the Theory and Practice of Cybercartography (eds. D.R.F. Taylor and Tracey Lauriault), and In the Field: The Art of Field Recording (eds. Cathy Lane and Angus Carlyle).

It was listed in Time Out's 2012 edition of Things to do in London and in Adele Emm's Researching for the Media: Television, Radio and Journalism. In 2013, Vittelli Records released a vinyl LP of London Sound Survey recordings titled These are the good times. I'm writing a book which is due to be published in the autumn of 2016.

A recording made of Tower Bridge being lifted was included in the Fermata art show in Washington, USA, and more Tower Bridge recordings inspired and were worked into a musical composition by Iain Chambers which, in a neat cyclical way, was performed inside the bridge itself.

Statistics and research

The inclusion of metadata with nearly all the sound files has made the London Sound Survey's material useful to postgraduate researchers working in fields such as geography and auditory perception. The cluster analysis results produced from census data in the early stages of the 12 Tones of London project were supplied on request to a senior economist in the Civil Service for use in educational planning.

More recently, I've begun to collaborate with the Biosciences department at University College London on audio signal analysis and machine learning, and have been helping beta-test some software they've developed.

Notes about licensing

The 20th-century radio actuality recordings on this site are under copyright and cannot be reproduced elsewhere. The modern-day 21st-century recordings on the London Sound Survey are also under copyright but are made available for reuse through Creative Commons. This allows you to use or redistribute them within the limits set down by the particular licence in effect here, which is a Creative Commons Attribution–NonCommercial 4.0 International, or CC BY-NC 4.0 for short.

The attribution part means if you're going to use or redistribute the London Sound Survey's recordings, then you must state they're the work of the London Sound Survey. Provide a link to this site's home page or, if that's not possible, display its URL. Please also mention the Creative Commons licence. It's very rewarding to learn of the sounds here cropping up in educational settings, music which is freely distributed, and much else. Let me you know what you do with them.

The first proper recording I made was of Petticoat Lane on a Sunday morning. The technique used didn't allow me to listen as I recorded, so I had to wait until I got home to discover how it had turned out. The feeling of surprise and excitement at hearing the outside world brought indoors is one that hasn't diminished over time.

Pleasure and curiosity have been the most reliable motivators, more so than a desire to 'document' the city, which in any event sounds boring and pompous. It's also my way of capturing fragments of everyday experience so that they can be reproduced in the minds of others.

There is an agreement with the Museum of London to lodge copies of the site's recordings with them for long-term preservation (I need to get cracking with this). Perhaps someone decades hence may come across them.

To that future listener, greetings.

Ian M. Rawes

On stage at the 100 Years Gallery in London.

'These are the good times' vinyl LP.

Presentation at a conference in Winchester.

Audience at a talk in The Social, near Oxford Circus.

Council wards grouped by cluster analysis.

The London Sound Survey runs on tea and batteries.