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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.

10 August 2011

Sound-mapping London's waterways

A NEW SOUND map is on the way consisting of auditory scenes recorded along London’s canals and lesser rivers. It’s very pleasant wandering the paths of the Dollis Stream, Ravensbourne, Brent and other waterways, and now’s a good time of year to be doing it.

So far I’ve followed the length of the Wandle, the Ravensbourne as far as Bromley, part of the Lea and its furtive tributaries in Stratford, all of the river Brent, the Dollis Stream as far as Totteridge, all of the Regent’s Canal and a small part of the Grand Union Canal.

This leaves plenty more including Beverley Brook, the Roding, the Crane, the New River, the Darent and more obscure watercourses such as Salmon’s Brook, the Silk Stream and (best name of all) the Quaggy. Doing all this is a way to evade the worst of the traffic noise and also to venture into parts of London I’d never visit otherwise.

River Ravensbourne


The new set-up using the DPA 2006C mics mounted on a Beyerdynamic headphone band is really working out well. It’s very portable and convenient. The mics, Sound Devices MixPre-D preamp and Sony PCM M10 recorder all fit into a modest-sized canvas manbag bought for a tenner from an army surplus store. The cabling is just the right length and the whole lot can be pulled out of the bag, put in place and switched on in under a minute.

Here are a couple of sample recordings. The first was made in a derelict barge shed on the river Brent in west London. It goes back to when waterways like the Brent and the Lea were working rivers with barges carrying cement, timber and other heavy cargo well into the 1950s. Now the shed provides an echoing shelter for ducks and pigeons:


One of the pleasures of London’s minor rivers are the neglected patches of land adjoining them for which no purpose has been found, not even as managed nature reserves. An overgrown path like a green tunnel branched off the river Wandle as it neared its source west of Croydon. There were the promiscuous smells of damp earth and foliage before the path opened out onto a clearing covered in tall grass.

In the middle was a weathered concrete plinth and on that a black cat was playing with a captured vole; the rites of an old religion. I shooed the cat away and the vole lay still for a short while before creeping off into the grass. Crickets and grasshoppers dried the air with their stridulation:


The beginnings of the waterways sound map should be up within the next week or two.

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