While browsing the other day I came across the wonderful website of The London Sound Survey, a miscellany of audio treasures from across London, including location and wildlife recordings, historical recordings including early BBC radio, and all sorts of other audio curiosities.
The LSS website features interactive sound maps, including a Tube-map style diagram of London’s waterways, which allow users to focus in on specific locations in the capital, and to access local audio.
As the LSS’s Ian Rawes enthuses on the site’s About page:
Amongst the daily urban hubbub there’s information about who lives here, what they get up to, how they enjoy themselves and what they believe in. … Listening to a recording of the sounds of a place or event gets the imagination working and recreates some of the sense of being there. It feels like a worthwhile end in itself simply to share those experiences with whoever’s willing to listen.
For instance, if you want recordings made in daylight in the Dalston area, go to the “Sound Map Recordings” page, and click on Grid 6 (the screengrab above isn’t interactive; you’ll have to visit the LSS). For the real flavour of Dalston, here’s a recording Rawes made in 2009:
“while walking slowly eastwards along the whole length of Ridley Road market. Stallholders’ voices and cries, music from stalls and small shops”:
More of Rawes’ work in the Dalston area can be accessed via the Night Map, Grid 11 (City, Spitalfields). Here you will find recordings made on both Bow Street and Barbican Highwalk at night, and his most quirky selecton, “Gents toilets London Bridge station”, on which you will hear the following sounds:
“Toilet ambience with sounds of men urinating, footsteps, a man apologises needlessly then farts a short while later, drone of the hand-drier.”
Find time also for his recording of Arran Walk, Canonbury, which is described thus:
“A street in a housing estate. A woman walks past, talking on her mobile phone. A crow caws, distant sounds of a bottle bank being emptied, a man cycles past, footsteps.”
If you want to gaze at a map while you listen, the LSS helpfully provides OS grid references.
If you are inspired to get out recoording for yourself, there’s some “Technical guff” to guide you. Rawes eliminates a good deal of ambient noise by using Shure WL-183 and Audio-Technica BP4025 mics with, respectively, Edirol R09-HR and Fostex FR-2LE recorders. However, note that the Dalston area’s most recent recordist Shane, aka thehandthatclaps, used an iPhone, and relied on its internal mic. The results are authentically grimy, but his “Outside Dalston Kingsland Road station at lunchtime” proves that you probably have all the kit you need to get started right there in your pocket.
You can follow Ian Rawes on Twitter @LondonSounds, or via his blog: http://www.soundsurvey.org.uk/index.php/survey/blog/