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THAMES ESTUARY SOUND MAP

A small collection of recordings made along the Kent and Essex sides of the Thames estuary. Here are the sounds of marshland, industry, the river itself, and the towns along it.

The recordings are divided into three geographical sections going from west to east. They are: Greenhithe Gravesend Tilbury, Canvey Island Hoo Peninsula Southend, and Shoeburyness Isle of Sheppey. For the time being, all the recordings in the Estuary sound map are directly linked to further down this page.

VISITING THE ESTUARY

'City air makes you free after a year and a day' runs an old German saying. Yet it sometimes feels like there's greater freedom to be found along the Thames estuary than in London. The skies are open and people are usually more approachable. The river fills out and grows independent after its buttoned-up adolescence between the city's embankments.

The Kent and Essex sides of the estuary have been among my favourite places to visit for the last fifteen years or so. Here are some recordings from the clay-pigeon ranges of Dartford in the west to the empty expanse of the Maplin Sands in the east. All this will change if plans go ahead to build an airport at the estuary's mouth.

THEY GOT THERE FIRST

Two years before Bill Fontana's well-publicised 'River Soundings' show at Somerset House was 'Soundings from the Estuary', a more intimate depiction of the Kent side by sound artist Dave Lawrence, writer Germander Speedwell and photographer Frank Watson.

The southern shores of the estuary also star in the 1952 British film noir 'The Long Memory', set in Gravesend and the marshes to its east. John Mills plays an ex-con trying to lead a quiet life with a draughty old barge as his home. Of course, the past won't leave him alone.

Julien Temple's recent documentary 'Oil City Confidential' is about the pub rock band Dr Feelgood. The film pays nearly as much attention to the band's spawning ground of Canvey Island as it does to the band itself.

GREENHITHE, GRAVESEND AND TILBURY

Abandoned pier Greenhithe. Where: Abandoned pier on the shore of the Swanscombe Marshes, near Greenhithe. Description: Water sloshes around the concrete pillars beneath a disused pier as the tide comes in. Background traffic and industrial noise from Thurrock on the opposite side of the Thames. When: 20 June 2010. Duration: 1:05. Technical guff: Stereo. Audio Technica BP4025 mic and Fostex FR-2LE digital recorder.

Bluewater. Where: Bluewater shopping centre, Greenhithe, Kent Description: Voices of shoppers inside Bluewater shopping centre, faint background music from a shop unit. When: 22 July 2009. Duration: 0:50. Technical guff: Head-worn stereo. Sonic Studios DSM-6S/EH mics and PA-3SX preamp, Edirol R09-HR digital recorder.

Dartford clay pigeons. Where: On the south side of the Thames, overlooking the clay pigeon shooting range on the Dartford Marshes. Description: Loud pops and cracks from guns being fired at the clay pigeon shooting range. Echoes can be heard bouncing back across the Thames from a row of houses facing the river in Purfleet in Essex. When: 18 October 2009. Duration: 1:00. Technical guff: Stereo. Audio-Technica BP4025 mic and Fostex FR-2LE digital recorder.

Gravesend voices. Where: Pedestrianised section of New Road, Gravesend. Description: Voices of adults and children recorded while walking along New Road, Gravesend's pedestrianised shopping thoroughfare. When: 14 August 2010. Duration: 2:00. Technical guff: Head-worn stereo. 2 x Shure WL-183 mics and Edirol R09-HR digital recorder.

Industrial estate with cicadas. Where: Industrial estate on Wharf Road, Gravesend Description: Chirping of cicadas and grasshoppers, distant sound of an electric saw. When: 8 August 2010. Duration: 1:00. Technical guff: Stereo. Audio Technica BP 4029 mid-side mic and Fostex FR-2LE digital recorder.

St Clements churchyard Thurrock. Where: East of the Riverside Industrial Estate, Thurrock, Essex. Description: Constant industrial noise from the Procter & Gamble factory immediately behind St Clements church, faint rasping of grasshoppers in the churchyard. When: 23 August 2012. Duration: 1:00. Technical guff: Headworn stereo. 2 x Shure WL-183 mics and Sony PCM-M10 recorder.

Thames at Purfleet. Where: On the Thames path at Purfleet, Essex. Description: A gas freighter's engines idle during loading, sound of waves on the Thames shore, a child's voice from a housing estate nearby. When: 23 August 2012. Duration: 1:00. Technical guff: Headworn stereo. 2 x Shure WL-183 mics and Sony PCM-M10 recorder.

Tilbury ferry. Where: On the Tilbury–Gravsend ferry. Description: Sounds of the ferry's wash recorded from the fo'c'sle, the ferry comes alongside the quay and the passengers get off. Voice of a man greeting a friend. When: 14 August 2010. Duration: 2:04. Technical guff: Head-worn stereo. 2 x Shure WL-183 mics and Edirol R09-HR digital recorder.

CANVEY ISLAND, HOO PENINSULA AND SOUTHEND

Allhallows Marshes. Where: Allhallows Marshes, Hoo Peninsula Description: Cries of gulls and waterfowl, skylarks hovering the Marshes, buzzing of flies, a distant humming sound, probably industrial in origin. When: 16 April 2011. Duration: 3:00. Technical guff: X-Y stereo. Audio Technica BP4025 and Fostex FR-2LE recorder.

Belfairs Woods. Where: Belfairs Woods, Leigh-on-Sea, Essex Description: Quiet ambience with the trickling of a brook and birdsong. When: 27 May 2010. Duration: 0:42. Technical guff: Not known.

Bowls at Southend. Where: Southend-on-Sea, Essex Description: Clacking of bowls, voices of players, a motorbike goes past. When: 29 June 2010. Duration: 1:53. Technical guff: Not known.

By the Yantlet Creek. Where: At the mouth of the Yantlet Creek, Allhallows Marshes. Description: Bird calls nearby and further away, small waves from the estuary roll onto the shore, a deep humming sound, probably industrial in origin. When: 16 April 2011. Duration: 1:00. Technical guff: X-Y stereo. Audio Technica BP4025 mic and Fostex FR-2LE recorder.

Coryton refinery siren. Where: Western side of Canvey Island, overlooking the Vange Creek and Coryton oil refinery. Description: An eerie siren from the Coryton oil refinery sounds at 25-second intervals, audible across the western half of Canvey Island. Sounds of gas flares being burnt off at the refinery, and birds and insects at the recording point on Canvey Island. When: 27 June 2010. Duration: 3:53. Technical guff: Stereo. Audio Technica BP4029 mid-side mic and Fostex FR-2LE digital recorder.

End of the pier Southend. Where: At the end of Southend pier. Description: Waves crash against the pier's struts below, voices and footsteps of passersby. When: 13 May 2012. Duration: 1:00. Technical guff: Headworn stereo. 2 x Shure WL-183 mics and Sony PCM M10 recorder.

Isle of Grain shore. Where: On the eastern shore of the Isle of Grain, facing Blue Town in Sheerness. Description: Strong sounds of a tug's engines at the beginning, a seabird calls at length, constant industrial noise from the docks at Blue Town. When: 25 June 2010. Duration: 4:00. Technical guff: Stereo. Audio Technica BP4025 mic and Fostex FR-2LE recorder.

Outdoor Caribbean religious service. Where: Bandstand at the seafront, Canvey Island, Essex. Description: A small group of older Caribbean worshippers hold an outdoor Sunday service on the bandstand at Canvey Island's seafront. A Communion table has been set up in the middle of the bandstand, around which the worshippers sing and dance. When: 27 June 2010. Duration: 3:15. Technical guff: Head-worn stereo. Sonic Studios DSM-6S/EH mics and PA-3SX preamp, Edirol R09-HR digital recorder.

Outside the British Pilot. Where: By the British Pilot pub, Allhallows. Description: Birdsong all around, voices from people inside and outside the pub, a clattering noise as a delivery van is unloaded. When: 16 April 2011. Duration: 1:00. Technical guff: X-Y stereo. Audio Technica BP4025 mic and Fostex FR-2LE.

Southend Pier train. Where: Aboard the narrow-gauge 'Sir John Betjeman' train on Southend pier. Description: Voices of passengers inside one of the train's tiny carriages, the door closes and the train starts on its journey back to the Southend seafront. When: 13 May 2012. Duration: 1:00. Technical guff: Headworn stereo. 2 x Shure WL-183 mics and Sony PCM M10 recorder.

SHOEBURYNESS AND ISLE OF SHEPPEY

Bowling alley Sheerness. Where: Bowling alley by the seafront, Sheerness-on-Sea, Isle of Sheppey. Description: Loud thumps as two families send bowling balls rumbling along separate alleys, clatter of skittles being felled, voices, a radio plays over a PA in the background. When: 7 April 2012. Duration: 1:30. Technical guff: Headworn stereo. 2 x Shure WL-183 mics and Sony PCM M10 recorder.

Cuckoo at Cupids Corner. Where: Ministry of Defence land at Cupid's Corner, Great Wakering. Description: Birdsong from trees and shrubs all around, a cuckoo repeats its call, faint distant traffic. When: 13 May 2012. Duration: 0:30. Technical guff: Stereo. Sony PCM M10 recorder, internal mics.

Maplin Sands. Where: On the Maplin Sands near Wakering Stairs, Great Wakering. Description: Very quiet ambience with the sound of a distant ship's engine, cries of a wading bird, faint popping close by from sand drying in the sun. When: 13 May 2012. Duration: 2:00. Technical guff: X-Y coincident stereo. Audio Technica BP4025 mics, Sound Devices MixPre-D, Sony PCM M10 recorder.

Seafront at Sheerness. Where: Seafront near Beach Street, Sheerness-on-Sea, Isle of Sheppey. Description: Waves crash onto a shingle beach near high tide, cries of a seagull, some wind noise. When: 7 April 2012. Duration: 1:30. Technical guff: Headworn stereo. 2 x DPA 2006C mics, Sound Devices MixPre-D preamp, Sony PCM M10 recorder.

This concludes the list of Thames estuary sound map recordings.

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