RECENTLY I’VE been walking all the way round London’s perimeter to make recordings for a new sound graphic. This leaves a little time to make a few recordings elsewhere on a whim, and here are the most recent of those additions.
Stratford in east London has large pedestrianised areas around the station complex and the older of the two shopping centres. Quite often there is something to listen to: buskers, street preachers, a man who once tried to entice me into a palm-reader’s booth set up on the pavement. The other Saturday a woman was preaching about Jesus Christ as she paced around next to one of the entrances to Stratford station.
The Westfield Centre, with its elevated walkway entrance like a castle’s drawbridge, splits Stratford into its older, poorer and newer, wealthier parts. It’s full of things I can’t afford so I’m happier avoiding it. The Stratford Centre is more a poor person’s shopping centre, complete with market stalls set up inside one of its broad corridors where a couple of the traders raise cries for their goods. An entrance in the centre’s North Mall leads to a bazaar of tiny shops and cafes called Market Village.
This kind of warren has become more widespread in London in recent years. Usually they’re set up in premises which were formerly occupied by a single large shop, the retail equivalent of subdividing a house into bedsits. This recording was made while walking slowly around Market Village.
The following is a quick-and-dirty recording made using the on-board mics of an Olympus LS-14, a small hand-held recorder which is very easy to operate in a hurry. My friend Chris and me had been wandering around the South Bank and we’d made our way to Borough Market, where we encountered a busker playing tunelessly on an accordion. Next to him, a dirty-looking St Bernard dog lay on the ground rolling bloodshot eyes at the passersby. An upside-down hat was placed to collect coins, most of which were probably given out of sympathy for the dog.
High levels of noise on the London Underground were the subject of several news stories this year (for example, see this piece in Wired) as well as a planned (but finally abandoned) go-slow action by the RMT tube workers’ trade union. But the Thameslink platforms at St Pancras station probably reach rather higher noise levels, although for shorter periods of time.
There, the trains’ wheels really grind against the tracks and the effect can be earsplitting. I can’t think of noisier station platforms anywhere else in London.
Oxford Street attracts a lot of buskers, many of them the kind of eccentrics who’d never make it past the Transport for London selection committee which decides who’s allowed to play inside tube stations. This woman had perched a small drum machine on top of a telephone junction box near Selfridges. After a while she began accompanying its rhythm by blowing alternating notes on a child’s plastic recorder.
The winter months generally aren’t so good for recording around town because of the windier weather. This makes necessary some sort of protection for the microphone, such as an eye-catching fluffy windshield, which in turn makes it difficult to record discreetly.