THE LONDON SOUND Survey’s sound grid came to an end last week after more than a year of intermittent work. The grid involved plotting a series of regularly-spaced but otherwise arbitrary points on a map of London, then going to wherever they happened to fall and recording what was there.
The last few points on the grid have proved unreachable, and going about everywhere on foot has its drawbacks. What look like quiet country lanes on the map turn out to be high-speed luges for glossy black Range Rovers to hurtle along. After having to leap twice into hedgerows to avoid being hit, I’ve come to think of them as off-limits to pedestrians. Hardly ‘The Hay Wain’ is it? But those missing grid points all land in fields, so it’s not too hard to imagine what sort of sounds you’d have heard.
Otherwise it’s been enjoyable making the grid recordings. A few fences and walls had to be scrambled over to get onto golf courses and the grounds of a fishing lake, and the mic windshield with its furry cover often proved a good way of getting talking to all sorts of people, from fairground showmen to suburban householders.
Although the grid is a very low-resolution map indeed, the results aren’t completely random. Ring-necked parakeets are shown in the areas of south-west London they’ve inhabited the longest, and parts of the main aeroplane flight paths can be seen. (Some of the plane symbols over north-west and south-east London are for light aircraft flying from the aerodromes at Northolt and Biggin Hill.) You can see the signature of traffic on the North Circular and the A12, and well-off neighbourhoods in north London have more sounds of building and house renovation work.
As for what’s a typical London sound, have a listen and decide for yourself.