AN ILLNESS in the family requires me to become a full-time carer for a while. Little or no new material will be added to the London Sound Survey during this time, although I’m able to make a few modest recordings around where I live. You can hear them on my Soundcloud account.
An album of my Thames recordings is due to be released later this year or early next year by the composer Iain Chambers. I’ll post more news on this when I know a definite release date.
IN APRIL this year the BBC put online around 16,000 of its sound effects recordings, making them available for non-commercial use at no cost. The BBC presents the recordings in a plain-looking list here: bbcsfx.acropolis.org.uk. Expressions like ‘no cost’ or ‘free’ have a certain resonance, so I examined the collection to see what could be done with it.
A large majority of the recordings are from unknown places or else are studio creations. Around 400 are from named locations in the United Kingdom, and of these I judged just over 300 to be worth presenting and reproducing here. The results range in time from 1940 to 1986 and access to them is through a simple sound map on this page:
The map took me a while to draw, but the way the red link spots are made and positioned is easy: each spot is a DIV element that acts as a link, made round-shaped with the CSS radius property.
I AM very sorry to report that the wildlife recordist Richard Beard died a few days ago. We first met in 2010 at the British Library Sound Archive after we’d been introduced to each other by Cheryl Tipp, the Archive’s curator of wildlife sound recordings. He was then working as a part-time volunteer to help Cheryl compile the metadata of who-what-and-where for digital sound files.
For hours at a time he’d sit in one of the Archive’s small recording studios and patiently work his way through batches of nature recordings, listening and noting. Many were ones he’d made himself, for Richard was a very knowledgeable and skilful recordist, although he wore his expertise lightly. After we got to know each other a bit better, he kindly offered to share some of his London wildlife recordings with my website. The first batch appeared here in 2012 under the title of Richard Beard’s Hackney wildlife.
These were good recordings and Richard clearly knew a great deal about birdsong, so I was keen for him to contribute more. He mentioned something he called the ‘Breakfast Project’, which seemed to involve him recording birdsong quite early in the morning, and which at the time was a work in progress. Eventually he completed it, and offered me details of around 360 recordings, each made at 6 a.m. in his back garden and representing nearly every day of the year. I was both taken aback and excited at the scale of the task he’d accomplished.
After some head-scratching I suggested having a single webpage linking to and presenting around a hundred of his morning recordings, and the result was titled The Hackney year.
I was never entirely sure what Richard felt about this treatment of his work, and suspect it may have seemed austere compared to the experience of birdsong among hedges and garden fences, trees and bramble patches – all the living, untidy intricacies of Darwin’s ‘tangled bank’. If so, Richard was too polite and good-natured to tell me. His recordings made a very significant contribution to the London Sound Survey, and I will always be grateful for them.
What is lacking from this appreciation is a photo of Richard, and I can’t find one online. He cut a good figure of a man, looking as if he’d been keen on playing sports when he was younger, and with a broad, friendly face. He spoke with a gentle Cockney accent. I would guess Richard to have been in his late fifties when we first met, but he seemed younger because of his openness and lack of cynicism.
Richard didn’t only record in and around London, but he felt a strong connection to the green spaces of east London, in particular the Hackney and Walthamstow Marshes running alongside the river Lea. Much of this arose from his family having lived there a very long time, going back to at least the beginning of the 19th century when an ancestor had owned a farm near the Marshes, most likely keeping a herd of cattle grazing among the riverside meadows.
In later years, Richard and his wife Fern spent a lot of their time on the Isle of Wight, where Richard continued to make recordings. His death is a sad loss to wildlife sound recording in Britain and to all who knew him.
A NEW site section on historical street cries has been set up and you can see what’s been gathered so far by going to this page. The eventual aim will be to integrate this material with other kinds of site entries, such as recordings. The historical part of the site now has the page-top banner of ‘Sound and History’ so it doesn’t look so odd when adding stuff about places beyond London’s confines.
THE FIRST proper field recording I made was in April 2008 and it featured the sounds of Petticoat Lane market on a Sunday morning. Since then I’ve tried to come up with a variety of ways both to guide the making of recordings and present them on webpages. I hope my efforts have given at least some pleasure to site visitors over the years.
The website is becoming a bit long in the tooth now, and needs to have its content management system upgraded if it’s to keep working. This will mean it going offline for around a week sometime soon while all the templates are rejigged. The audio players too will need a lot of attention to make them compatible with the ever-growing variety of tablets and smartphones.
Another long-hoped-for change will be a move from field recording to oral history interviewing. Seeking out and presenting the city’s sounds can be very enjoyable but subject to the law of diminishing returns, so that the site ends up like an obsessively detailed theatre set onto which no actors ever emerge. Time for a change of approach.
Interviews for the first oral history project begin in July this year so hopefully it shouldn’t be too long before you can start to see and hear the results.