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Occasional posts on subjects including field recording, London history and literature, other websites worth looking at, articles in the press, and news of sound-related events.

02 August 2011

East London Line recorded by John Bingham Hall

ANOTHER SOUND RECORDING arrives at the London Sound Survey DropBox and it’s a cracker. Simply entitled East London Line, this twenty-minute piece by John Bingham Hall is a kind of audio lyric documentary.

A series of field recordings made both above and below ground are woven together to take you on a trip along that isolated spur of the tube network. The sounds were captured on the day before the East London Line’s three-year closure beginning in December 2007.

The line seemed almost as detached from the rest of the Underground network as the Waterloo & City line, or the Northern City line which runs from Moorgate through the once gloomy and much-vandalised Essex Road station to Finsbury Park. The East London Line served the wharfs of Wapping and the Surrey Docks and was oddly named since five of its nine stations lay south of the Thames. It was the original Docklands railway.


This is the longest recording to date on the London Sound Survey, yet it seems to be just about the right length. If East London Line was shorter it wouldn’t convey the sense of a journey nearly as well. Here are all the groans, squeals and creaks made by the old A-class stock which remain for many Londoners the depersonalising signature tune of the Underground system. At full pelt one of those trains could sound like a tumbledryer full of steel bolts.

There’s only one sound I miss from there, and which I’ve been trying to track down for a long time, and that’s the brief and abrupt rattle made by a stationary train, perhaps by air being released from the brakes. It’s like the noise made by a vibraslap, a percussion instrument often used in 1970s and 80s TV thriller scores to signal suspense.

Many thanks indeed to John for sharing this.

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