THE LONDON SOUND SURVEY BLOG
Occasional posts on subjects like field recording, London sounds past and present, other websites worth looking at, articles in the press, and news of sound-related events.
Occasional posts on subjects like field recording, London sounds past and present, other websites worth looking at, articles in the press, and news of sound-related events.
If you’ve come here from the Daily Mail link, then hello and welcome. There’s two things I want to point out from the off: first, I run the London Sound Survey in my spare time. It’s got nothing to do with my day job. Second, I pay for it all out of my own pocket because it’s my hobby.
As a youth I was always stumped by the ‘What pastimes do you have?’ question on job application forms. Did going down the pub and listening to records count? Nowadays I’ve at least got that bit worked out.
The article gives a pretty good description of what the sound map is like. It took me just over a year to make all the recordings and it was time pleasantly spent. Hope you enjoy the results.
SALOME VOEGELIN AND Mark Peter Wright are two well-respected sound artists and researchers based at CRiSAP in the London College of Communication. They’re responsible for an exciting new series of talks, workshops and other activities under the title Points of Listening.
It was a real pleasure to be asked to run the second session on Wednesday the 12th of February at 3.30pm. It’ll be a public event to which everyone’s welcome. Keep an eye on the Points of Listening blog for for full details of venue location, times and how to book your place. You can also keep up to speed with what’s happening via Facebook.
I’ve decided to focus on the sounds of shopping centres. All right-thinking cultural commentators like to take an ostentatiously dim view of such places (there’s a good example of this in Iain Sinclair’s London Orbital when he visits Bluewater in Kent) but it’s one that’s evidently not shared by the huge numbers of people attracted to them.
Shopping centres are among the most significant 21st-century urban gathering places. There are interesting contrasts to be heard between the latest ones which function as well-integrated top-down systems, and the older ones where the public are left more to their own devices.
Here’s the official blurb:
Amongst the thirty thousand souls that peopled it the day I was there not one loud noise was to be heard, not one irregular movement was seen; the living tide rolls on quietly, with a deep hum like the sea heard from a distance.
So wrote Charlotte Bronte after visiting the Great Exhibition of 1851. Today’s global exhibitions are the capital’s shopping malls, and the goal of managing public behaviour within them exists just as it did in Bronte’s time. How is such top-down control manifested through sound, and what can be heard when that management becomes less certain and less focused?
Ian Rawes of the London Sound Survey will be leading a listening exploration of two very different locations: the Elephant and Castle shopping centre and Westfield Stratford City, with time en route and afterwards for discussion. Westfield Stratford City is London’s newest and largest shopping centre and it forms a major hub in a part of the city already well advanced in its redevelopment.
By contrast, the Elephant and Castle shopping centre, built in 1965 and now scheduled for demolition, has taken on many unforeseen uses. These include becoming a de facto community centre for the Colombian diaspora, as well as the growth of a surrounding hinterland with its open-air market and the occasional unlicensed minicab office.
Participants are welcome to bring along discreet, pocket-sized recorders or binaural microphones. But thoughts and impressions jotted down with pencil and notebook will be just as valuable as recordings. Please also bring an Oyster Card topped up in advance to allow you to travel to Zone 3. Bulky, eye-catching equipment like DSLR cameras or microphones housed in blimp-style windshields should be left at home.
Suggested reading in advance: Anna Minton (2009), Ground Control: Fear and happiness in the twenty-first century city.
Hope to you see there and then!
LAST YEAR I met Maria Papadomanolaki for the first time in London. She’s a sound artist and researcher based at CRiSAP in the London College of Communication, and she was kind enough to interview me for her radio series Sensing Cities. A new set of broadcasts is due to begin this Friday on Resonance 104.4 FM and so I’m pleased to pass on this announcement from Maria.
Sensing Cities is a series of interviews curated by Maria Papadomanolaki and broadcast on London-based arts radio station Resonance FM 104.4. The show investigates the themes of urban exploration and narrative through the use of sound, writing and new media art.
It aims to create an initial understanding of the processes behind artists and specific projects and to raise questions about perceiving, creating and narrating place, be that fictional, real, internal or external. Sensing Cities brings together different creative approaches that engage with personal or collective memory and history, transience, listening, recording, sensing, voice, words, walking and locative art. Past interviewees include Viv Corringham, Daniela Cascella, Dan Scott, Iain Sinclair, Francesca Panetta, Tom Wolseley, Olivia Bellas, Joel Cahen and Ian Rawes.
A new cycle of interviews (episodes10–13) will begin on Friday, 10th of January, at 5:00 to 5:30pm on Resonance FM. The conversations expand the show’s focus on the urban by further exploring notions such as storytelling, contemplative listening, participatory and locative practices.
More information about the show as well as links to audio from past episodes can be found at sensingcities.wordpress.com.
JUST BEFORE CHRISTMAS I found a pile of books in the street, including a large volume of Samuel Johnson’s writings (a good find) and A.N. Wilson’s After the Victorians: The Decline of Britain in the World.
Wilson says Edward Thomas’s 1914 poem Adlestrop is an attempt to fix in memory a fragment of pre-war England:
Yes, I remember Adlestrop—
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.
The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop—only the name
And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.
And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.
The presence of sound turns this from a slide into a loop to be played over and over, like in Malcom Le Grice’s 1970 short film, Berlin Horse:
What other poems use sound to help spin the memory loop? On Twitter, Craig Ennew recommended Seamus Heaney’s Death of a Naturalist:
All year the flax-dam festered in the heart
Of the townland; green and heavy headed
Flax had rotted there, weighted down by huge sods.
Daily it sweltered in the punishing sun.
Bubbles gargled delicately, bluebottles
Wove a strong gauze of sound around the smell.
There were dragon-flies, spotted butterflies,
But best of all was the warm thick slobber
Of frogspawn that grew like clotted water
In the shade of the banks. Here, every spring
I would fill jampotfuls of the jellied
Specks to range on window-sills at home,
On shelves at school, and wait and watch until
The fattening dots burst into nimble-
Swimming tadpoles. Miss Walls would tell us how
The daddy frog was called a bullfrog
And how he croaked and how the mammy frog
Laid hundreds of little eggs and this was
Frogspawn. You could tell the weather by frogs too
For they were yellow in the sun and brown
Then one hot day when fields were rank
With cowdung in the grass the angry frogs
Invaded the flax-dam; I ducked through hedges
To a coarse croaking that I had not heard
Before. The air was thick with a bass chorus.
Right down the dam gross-bellied frogs were cocked
On sods; their loose necks pulsed like sails. Some hopped:
The slap and plop were obscene threats. Some sat
Poised like mud grenades, their blunt heads farting.
I sickened, turned, and ran. The great slime kings
Were gathered there for vengeance and I knew
That if I dipped my hand the spawn would clutch it.
Many thanks for that example, Craig. Does anyone know of any others?
A POPULAR PIECE of wisdom for those being attacked or mugged is to shout Fire! instead of Help! That way more people are supposed to come out and look for what’s going on, although it’s maybe not such a good idea if someone’s pointing a gun at you.
Shouting Fire! in a crowded theatre is a different matter and in the US it’s become a metaphor evoking the act of inspiring unnecessary panic in general. The term arose from the judge’s summing-up of the case of Schenck v. United States 1919 in which leafleters who’d urged men to dodge the draft were prosecuted.
For a long time our own laws had little to say about false warning cries, despite the 1856 stampede at the Surrey Gardens Music Hall in which 15 people were killed. The Fire Services Act 1947 comes close in Section 31:
Later, more stringent penalties were introduced under Section 51 of the Criminal Law Act 1977 for any fool communicating a bomb hoax.
Luckily the law places much more emphasis on what sounds you shouldn’t make rather than specifying those you should. This post digs around the statute books to find examples of both.
Local laws hedging noisy activities, such as metal-working, to within daylight hours have existed since the Middle Ages. The setting-up of the Metropolitan Police in 1829 soon led to standardised definitions of noise nuisances which applied across England and Wales.
The amended Metropolitan Police Act 1839 describes these nuisances at length in Section 54:
Every person shall be liable to a penalty not more than [level 2 on the standard scale], who, within the limits of the metropolitan police district, shall in any thoroughfare or public place, commit any of the following offences; (that is to say,)
[. . .]
12. Every person who shall sell or distribute or offer for sale or distribution, or exhibit to public view, any profane book, paper, print, drawing, painting or representation, or sing any profane, indecent, or obscene song or ballad, or use any profane, indecent or obscene language to the annoyance of the inhabitants or passengers;
13. Every person who shall use any threatening, abusive, or insulting words or behaviour with intent to provoke a breach of the peace, or whereby a breach of the peace may be occasioned;
14. Every person, who shall blow any horn or use any other noisy instrument, for the purpose of calling persons together, or of announcing any show or entertainment, or for the purpose of hawking, selling, distributing, or collecting any article whatsoever, or of obtaining money or alms;
15. Every person who shall wantonly discharge any fire-arm or throw or discharge any stone or other missile, to the damage or danger of any person, or make any bonfire, or throw or set fire to any firework;
16. Every person who shall wilfully and wantonly disturb any inhabitant by pulling or ringing any door-bell or knocking at any door without lawful excuse, or who shall wilfully and unlawfully extinguish the light of any lamp;
And it shall be lawful for any constable belonging to the metropolitan police force to take into custody, without warrant, any person who shall commit any such offence within view of any such constable.
A near-identical list of misdemeanours appears in the Town Police Clauses Act 1847 applying to the rest of England and Wales. The Act is still in force and can be resorted to by local councils.
For decades those Acts appeared sufficient to place some boundaries around the urge of every male urchin to turn their neighbourhood into a mini war-zone thanks to the magic of fireworks. The importation of powerful and excitingly unpredictable Chinese fireworks starting from around the late 1980s led to the Fireworks Regulations 2004 which imposes limits on how loud fireworks can be:
1. No person shall supply, or offer or agree to supply, any category 3 firework which, when used, produces a maximum A-weighted impulse sound pressure level exceeding 120 decibels when measured in accordance with paragraph (2) below.
2. For the purposes of paragraph (1) above, the sound pressure level is to be measured –
a. at a horizontal distance of fifteen metres from the testing point at a height of one metre above the ground; and
b. using a sound measuring device which conforms to type 1 of BS EN 61672 with a free-field microphone.
Suspicions that law-makers are out to stop young people having fun arose the previous decade with the widely-mocked repetitive beats Section 63 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. Somehow the Act avoids handling the word rave within inverted commas, much as you might imagine an elderly dowager would remove a dog turd from the croquet lawn with a pair of sugar-tongs, but the sense of a slight forensic pause before uttering the word still seems implicit:
63. Powers to remove persons attending or preparing for a rave.
1. This section applies to a gathering on land in the open air of or more persons (whether or not trespassers) at which amplified music is played during the night (with or without intermissions) and is such as, by reason of its loudness and duration and the time at which it is played, is likely to cause serious distress to the inhabitants of the locality; and for this purpose –
a. such a gathering continues during intermissions in the music and, where the gathering extends over several days, throughout the period during which amplified music is played at night (with or without intermissions); and
b. “music” includes sounds wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats.
Further satisfaction came a few years later for those who thought the era of raves and free festivals embodied the worst excesses of unbridled bacchanalia. Regulation 4 of The Stonehenge Regulations 1997 prohibited solstice-celebrating crusties and Druids from:
Several statutory instruments are available to local councils for the more mundane tasks of dealing with raucous and thoughtless residents. Section 77 of the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 defines when a burglar alarm starts being irritating rather than useful (20 minutes if sounding continuously), and lays down the conditions under which council officials can force their way into someone’s home to turn it off.
The recognition that high levels of noise at work could pose real and cumulative dangers to people’s hearing came relatively late. The Factories Act 1937 lists numerous hazards from poorly-secured trapdoors to unacceptably high levels of humidity, but makes no mention of noise.
Much progress has been made since. Regulation 4 of the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 tells employers to begin to take action if their workers are exposed to constant noise of 80dBA with peak levels of 135DbA. It imposes absolute limits of 87dBA and 140dBA respectively.
Concern with the harmful effects of loud and persistent noise has even been extended to farm animals. Schedule 3D of the Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2002 gives protection to chickens, up to the point of their demise at least:
The keepers of London’s Royal Parks had all the powers of police constables under the Parks Regulation Act 1872 until they were absorbed into the Metropolitan Police in 1974. Even so, they didn’t have quite the same scope of authority assumed by the Viz comic character the Parkie, who was only happy when doing things like putting up signs reading No ball games in the tennis courts.
Many parks regulations place limits on noise-making and give special attention to activities like busking and soapbox oratory. Royal Parks police can, under the the Royal Parks and Other Open Spaces (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2012, prevent people from operating ‘amplified noise equipment’, which includes loudspeakers and megaphones.
With a bracing climate comes stern rules and, in Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Garden, you must obtain written permission before playing any kind of musical instrument or, bizarrely, making a sketch or painting. The Forestry Land Byelaws (Northern Ireland) 2013 forbid shouting, singing, and playing a musical instrument if someone deems it a nuisance.
As if sensing there’s some kind of competition going on, Section 9 of the London Cable Car Order 2012 gets in on the action by stipulating that:
(1) A person on the cable car system must not –
(a) sing; or
(b) use any instrument, article or equipment for the production or reproduction of sound,
to the annoyance of any person on the cable car system except with written permission from the operator or an authorised person.
Nearly all the sounds that the law says must be made refer to warnings to help prevent collisions and other accidents. Numerous railway orders applying to individual level crossings and light railways have much the same wording as Article 11 of the Level Crossing (Coldagh) Order (Northern Ireland) 1998:
Life gets more interesting at sea. The Merchant Shipping (Distress Signals and Prevention of Collisions) Regulations 1989 require that a vessel of 12 metres or more in length carry a whistle and a bell. A vessel 100 metres or longer must carry a whistle, a bell and a gong – that’s almost a folk group.
But just because you’ve got a whistle to hand doesn’t mean you can sail aboard HMS Ramrod tooting it whenever you like. As Article 12 of the Dockyard Port of Plymouth Order 1999 states:
A whistle shall not be used within the limits of the Dockyard Port except –
(a) in accordance with the Rules contained in Schedule 2 to this Order;
(b) as a signal of distress;
(c) to prevent collision;
(d) in any condition affecting visibility;
(e) to test the whistle, provided that permission to do so has first been obtained from the Queen’s Harbour Master.
Shouting for help works on the assumption that you won’t have to do it for very long and someone’s near enough to hear, whether you use the fire ruse or not. In remote places shouting isn’t the best strategy because you’ll quickly become tired or, if you’ve fallen and injured yourself, you may not have the strength to begin with.
Wise hill-walkers and mountaineers carry whistles with them and the internationally-recognised distress signal is six short blasts in quick succession, repeated at one-minute intervals.
The serious business of rescuing people from accidents in mines has its own pattern of signals laid down in the Escape and Rescue from Mines Regulations 1995. One blast on a whistle or ‘other audible device’ means help wanted, two for halt, three for retire, four for advance, and five to call attention.