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.

11 November 2012

Make Sound Here: a new collaborative sound map

IF YOU’VE FELT the urge recently to rattle a stick along a row of railings or tap some bit of metal street furniture to hear what noise it makes, then make your way to James Saunders’s Make Sound Here sound map.

James is a composer based at Bath Spa University, and you can read more about his wide range of interests and projects on his personal site. Make Sound Here is a new venture in which he’s asking people to make sounds using whatever’s available nearby and record them.

The map uses the Audioboo sound platform so contributors can dig out their smartphones to record, take a photo, and upload both to the map. The same system was used by the British Library’s UK Soundmap. It’s a good choice considering how ubiquitous smartphones are now.

Make Sound Here sound map

According to Make Sound Here‘s instructions: “All the sounds are created through human interaction, rather than being ambient and always present.” This is a different outlook to that of field recording, where the goal is usually to avoid capturing any effect the recordist might have on the auditory scene, bar that of selection.

Make Sound Here seems on a similar wavelength to existing practices which make playful and opportunistic use of the built environment, such as freerunning or parkour (is there a difference?), guerilla gardening, and urban explorers who like to find their way into sewers and other out-of-bounds places.

James’s project might also help focus attention on the general absence of permanent outdoor objects which are designed to sound a certain way. Although quite a few sound art projects have intervened in the outdoor auditory environment, they’re not usually around long enough to become what the Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer termed soundmarks. Rare exceptions include wave organs, tidal bells, sensory gardens and the Singing Ringing Tree sound sculpture in the Pennines.

There are plenty of possibilities with water alone. One of the traps for field recordists is to try recording fountains, but they rarely sound as intriguing as they look. It would be worthwhile to design fountains which make rich use of all the different sounds water can make depending on the control of its flow and the surfaces it meets.

In the Sheffield city centre there’s an attractive feature where water races down a short course and into a basin, where it then gurgles down a hole and away out of sight:

Howard Street water feature, Sheffield

This smartphone recording, made a couple of years ago during windy weather in Sheffield, gives some idea of the hollow, guttural noises made:

It’d be pleasing to the ears if such examples of outdoor sound design were more common. Otherwise, why not make your own and let Make Sound Here know about it?

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