Monday, 14 December 2009

Turn it Down...

A story causing a bit of a stir in the news today is that of the EU suggesting an enforced cap on the volume of MP3 players due to an increase in hearing damage amongst the young.

I'm not entirely sure how I feel about this. On the one hand it is probably a good idea, it may well stop a few people damaging their ears, and even better it may stop so many people drowning out the sound of their environment with music, increasing public and social interaction, tactility and perception. If volume was capped at 85db, the sound of trains and traffic would seriously impair the clarity of music being played, particularly in cheaper headphones, to the point where people may not find it all that much of an enjoyable experience anymore. But then neither is listening to traffic for prolonged periods of time overly enjoyable either so I'm not sure who wins out of this, because 85db would still completely drown out the more beneficial sounds of our environment anyway.

On the other hand though this has got the smoking ban written all over it. Do we actually need to take away the option of listening to music loudly? Can't we just be a bit more educational about the possible repercussions. In fact, can't we just stop banning things and work harder to grow a society where people feel comfortable and happy enough not to want to walk around in their own private sound world all the time. Can't we work harder to make cities in particular sound better, less abrasive and claustrophobic.

And surely it isn't just MP3 players damaging young peoples ears? Are we not attending many more live gigs than we used to? and from a younger age? Is our daily life not pretty noisy in general, with less quiet time and space than ever before? And is this ruling really thinking of those wearing the headphones, or those who sit across from them, annoyed by the sonic overspill into their own piece of private/public space.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Bells sound out against climate change

Churches across the globe rung their bells at 3pm today as part of the protest against climate change. Read more about it here

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Bass Music Kills Student?

An article on the front page of the Metro today claims that "Loud Bass Music" was responsible for the Death of a student at Londons Koko club on September 27th this year.

Aside from the fact that the article was full of maybes, and that the coroners report suggested natural causes, it is quite a rarity to see a sound related article on the front of a national newspaper.

Condolences to Tom Reids family.

See the full article here

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Quiet Times

Having recently listened to the excellent Trevor Cox Save our Sounds documentaries I have been thinking about how we are losing our quiet times. Trevor discusses the fact that cities are not really getting noisier, but rather that quiet space is becoming harder to find within them as more space is used commercially or for habitation. But how do our changing lives effect quiet times too?

With life in Britain becoming faster, working hours long and varied, and in turn social life too, there are less times to find quiet. Now by quiet I don't mean silent, but rather peaceful, different from the bustle and pace of noisier times.

Here in Central Manchester for example, early Sunday mornings is one of those times, where until about 9.30am it is relatively peaceful. Soon after though it is just as busy as any other day, as the shops open sending their competing Muzak into the streets and crowds of people bring footsteps and chatter.

And yet to many people Sunday is still a day to rest and relax, the majority of office workers are not working, but with people living right in the city centre and the shops open almost a full day, it sounds the same as any other. Until the Sunday Trading Act was passed in 1994 though, the majority of shops did not open at all on a Sunday, giving the day a quieter soundscape, distinct from the other days of the week.

Another law that has had an effect on quiet times is the Licensing Act 2003, which since coming in to play in 2005 has seen a small but steady rise in pubs opening later, particularly at weekends.

By closing their doors at one or two, pubs ensure that the streets are busy and filled with sound well into the next morning, rather than peaking after last orders at eleven and then quietening down after twelve once the majority of people are in a club or back home.

In my opinion it is a good idea, but it is a prime example of what Trevor discusses. The actual level of noise and disturbance at any one time is probably less than it used to be at its peak, but the constant stream of people moving around town throughout the night means that there is actually less quiet time to be found.

It is important to progress, and both of these acts were necessary given the changing working habits in Britain, but I do find it interesting how they can have such an affect on our soundscapes and much more thought needs to be put into ensuring that we do not lose quiet time and space from the public arena all together.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

The Sound of Recession

So what is the sound of recession?

Economic decline can have a major impact on our soundscapes, both in the private and public environment. I know that in a way the recession has made my home a quieter place, as a half finished development stands untouched just a few meters from my window. The sound of workmen, banging metal and sawing wood are all absent, replaced just by the gentle flapping in the wind of the plastic sheeting that hangs from the roof.

I am currently undertaking research into how the current recession has affected the sounds of our lives and would love to hear your thoughts on the subject.

Is your life quieter because of the slowing of construction? Has a new job or unemployment bought about new sounds? Are once bustling streets now deserted and quiet? Does an increased consciousness of money lead you toward different activities with different soundscapes?

I would be really grateful to hear about any of your thoughts and experiences around the subject, so to tell me your stories, or for more information about the project, please email me at or just leave a comment below.


Sunday, 22 November 2009

Noise and Mental Performance

I have just been reading a really interesting report into Noise and Mental Performance by a team of researchers from the University of Belgrade.

They bring together evidence demonstrating that exposure to background noise has a detrimental affect on our ability to carry out mental tasks, but go further to explain how different personality traits tend to react differently to noise.

Those with more extrovert personalities tend to have a higher threshold and can perform mental tasks with a relative amount of background noise without showing signs of reduced performance. Whereas the mental performance of those with more introvert personalities tend to suffer at a much lower level.

They go on to explain how this can cause less extrovert people to perform worse at work, firstly by affecting their ability to think and act and secondly by encouraging them to finish tasks quicker and less thoroughly to escape the uncomfortable situation.

There are many other factors to take into consideration but it is interesting to think about the various components that contribute to our differing personalities and how these in turn can help and hinder us in life.

Click here for the full report

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Wall of Silence

Found out recently why the huge concrete structure dividing Manchester's Piccadilly Gardens and the Tram and Bus station was designed the way it was by architect Tado Ando. The shape and materials were used specifically to reduce noise from the buses and trams into the gardens.

More about it here

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Manchester 24: Sound of the City

Found an interesting little piece of oral history on BBC Manchester; sounds recorded across greater manchester over a 24 hour period with brief interviews with the people there at the time.

Could have focused a little more on the actual soundscapes and less on people explaining them but still worth a listen and interesting that they have chosen to do it.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

The all encompassing sound of the river

Sitting by a shallow, pebbly river in Daisy Nook Country Park on Saturday I realised that I often find the most natural sounds the hardest to describe. Maybe because nature came before language, or maybe because natural sounds can be so all encompassing, panoramic and three dimensional that it is hard to define where one sound ends and the next begins.

From high up the river just sounded beautiful; splashing, trickling and shushing, but in trying to establish the more minute sounds that were creating these more immediate ones I found it increasingly difficult to dissect.

After listening for a while I managed to hear four quite distinct spaces; far off to the right, a couple of metres to my left, the centre, and with a more subtle listening zone to my near right.

To the far right was sharp, breezy, light and hissing like fire with high pitch splatter darting down, sound brazenly batting from the surface. Resistance and absorption. In front of me there were gulps, sucking and releasing. Squelching, soft, translucent, round rather than circular patterns, babbling, chattering and running.

To my near right there were low frequency gurgles, not broken up but synthesised with the crackle and fizz of minute eruptions and bursts, breaks, holes. Mid range dots colliding and multiplying in pools. To the left the sounds rushed away, fast, urgent, fluid and calming, never ending but mutating, glooping and rolling on.

I was amazed by the nuances and how these sounds were all interrelated but also quite separate and individual in their own right, so natural, so much going on, polyrhythmic patterns forming and layering, rushing away and drawing back.

There was so much to hear that it was impossible to comprehend it all, at least to put into words anyway, but for me this is what is so magical about truly natural sounds. My contemplation was disturbed soon anyway, as a grown man showing off in front of his son fell dramatically into the river just a few feet away from me. I could go into the sonic details of this... but I was laughing too much to notice.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Sonic Equality

I have read quite a lot recently about inequality in Britain, and despite improvement in the lives of many during Labours time, the poorest and most vulnerable people are still being shunted into run down estates, many still recovering from having their communities dislodged to make way for roads, or being displaced and dislodged from their existing homes with the promise of better quality housing often miles from where they live.

Hand in hand with modern poverty in Britain come tales of illiteracy, violence, illness and lives ended way below the average expectancy. There are so many factors that contribute to this, but it is worth considering the sonic implications which largely go unquoted beyond the general noise levels of busy roads or unruly neighbours.

From the start estates were built as part of the inner city slum clearances, and people who were used to the hustle and bustle of city life, the variety of sounds that come from living in close quarters to so many other families, the sounds of work, play and everything else that life offers, suddenly found themselves miles away from all of this. Not exactly in amongst the rich sonic texture offered up by true countryside, but rather in a man made between space.

These places are often eerily quiet bar the constant hum of the roads that circle them, and were a huge shock to people. A change of sonic environment can go hand in hand with a change in Psyche and people found this hard to deal with despite an appreciation of the relative peace and quiet it offered. Something was missing, a huge part of people's make up and understanding of the world was taken away. This bleak quietness, particularly during the day, is still a feature of many estates.

It is a complex case though, because just as many estates reside in silence, others are considered noisy and intrusive, with residents complaining that they can get no peace at all. This is also often of the authorities making, building major roads too close to mass amounts of housing or moving notoriously noisy residents to particular estates in order to quieten others down.

Susception to intrusive, uninvited sound can indeed increase stress, induce mental illness, hinder learning and lead to premature death, so these factors need to be considered much more closely than they currently are.

Although being quiet at times is good for us all, there is little evidence that I have seen to suggest that enforced silence is beneficial, indeed it is often used as a method of torture. But, there is evidence that certain music and sounds can have a positive impact on our mental and physical states, and are often used as part of therapy and rehabilitation.

Somewhere a balance must be found between the anguish of living in a barren sonic landscape and one that is so sonically intrusive it is detrimental to people's health.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

I Wonder...

I wonder what a busy modern city would sound like to someone bought up in an aurally dominant tribe?

Would the unnatural and unidentifiable sounds that we encounter daily be distressing or would they help to explain the environment?

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

it's been a while

Wow, it seems like a long time since I've sat down and posted a blog. I've had a few things going on but its good to get back writing again. One thing that has kept me busy recently is a night I've started organising at Nexus art cafe called Tactile Affection, where a couple of times a month i put on some inventive live acts, play a few interesting records and dare people to enjoy a night of live music without any alcohol. Some people this think its great and that it encourages people to focus more on the music, others get drunk outside first. If anyone would like to find out more please visit

I have also been busy making field recordings around Manchester and am working on a project writing music based around the natural rhythms found around the city. Roadworks, trams, escalators, anything really, its all in there and I'm working hard to construct these sounds into interesting pieces.

I took my portable recorder to the Spanish countryside for a few days too and have some beautiful recordings of crickets, dogs, goats and birds, all surrounded by light breeze and the sound of peace that you just cannot find in a city. I'll post some of these soon.

Anyway, the thing that really made me want to write today was when sitting in work the air conditioning suddenly cut out and I literally felt my body and mind relax within what appeared like a vacuum of quiet. I physically felt the tension run from my body, my posture changed as I became looser and my mind felt calm.

I find it quite frightening that I and many others are surrounded daily by sounds that after prolonged periods cause our bodies to become tense and stressed. The whirring sound in my office soon started up again, at first noticeably annoying but after a minute barely noticeable at all until it cut out again and I experienced the same feelings of relief and relaxation. This cannot be good for our health.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Can the Sonic Save Gordon?

So what with the labour party seemingly disintegrating before our eyes, and despite whispers of minority parties being the main beneficiaries, the Tory's now looking firm favourites to take charge within the year, I question how different things may be if our society were less visually dominant.

I pose this question because way before recession, expenses and party infighting there was the nagging doubt that Gordon Brown was not the charismatic, photogenic poster boy that Blair was and that Cameron strives to be. Brown is a man of thought and policy, and although many of us would still disagree with the direction taken by Labour over the last few years, there is no real suggestion from the Tory's that they have any better ideas, and I would seriously question any sweeping statements they make about being the new party of the people.

But this appears not to matter because the Tory's are fronted by a man who is younger, smilier and never one to miss out on a photo opportunity. Pit this against the only pictures we seem to see of Brown these days, either head in hands or grinning like a mad man and it is easy to see why people have lost faith in him.

I have no doubt that take away Cameron's smug, smarmy face and Browns jowly tautness and actually listen to the two men and things wouldn't appear quite so black and white. To listen is to consider, to let vibrations pass through your body, to think and engage. Images can be too easily constructed to tell a different story altogether. I believe that as a nation we are largely focusing on the visual, the bold headlines and striking images whilst letting the sonic content wash over us. This has to change.

So how would British politics fair if it weren't for the imagery? I suppose we would still live in two party system given their hold over the media but it would be interesting to see how we voted. Would the majority of us even engage if our thoughts weren't already constructed for us? Can we even engage with a topic without visual accompaniment anymore?

Yes, we do it when we read, we construct our images based on the text by using our minds and imaginations, engaging our brains, digesting information and making informed choices. Based on this theory I think that Gordon Brown would look like a dignified professor, probably wearing a tweed jacket, definitely sat in a grand old chair in the corner of a family living room, a trustworthy man with our best interests at heart. And Cameron...yeah he'd still look like a smarm faced simpleton. I know who I'd vote for.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

The Sonic Organs of the City

Having spent the last few months examining a variety of soundscapes and documenting their sonic components, I have begun to drill deeper, to analyse and consider the make up of the components themselves, to listen to the sounds within the sounds.

Where my fridge hums and gurgles I have delved in with a mic to discover the subtle rhythms, pops and crackles it omits, deciphering how these change in pitch, depth, speed and resonance from one part to another, combining to form the whole audible to the naked ear.

In search of clarity I have explored Manchester's backstreets and alleyways in the early hours to find particles of sound unaffected by crowds and traffic. This is where the most interesting pure sounds can be found and dissected, air vents behind buildings, whistling, grinding, a cacophony of tone and pitch, layers compressed so tight as to give the impression of a single airy blast, actually constructed of infinite vibrations.

There is something about these sounds that draws me towards them, the audible signifier of the life of the building, the hidden engine, the sonic organs hidden beneath the sheen of capitalist venture.

Where the sound of space and machinery is synonymous with certain industry, the retail and service sectors prefer to create their own sonically controlled world, laced with muzak and hollow foyers, pushing the true sounds that power them into the no mans land of non spaces.

So maybe it is the empty spaces that allow these sounds to develop, maybe the lack of capitalist distractions in these forgotten areas allows you to tune into the drone, to hear the true unaestheticised life of the city, breathing, wheezing, choking, laughing.

Monday, 18 May 2009

A Futuresonic Weekend

It's not often that I discuss music on this blog, but then futuresonic was much more than a music festival, it was festival of ideas, concepts, thoughts and feelings.

My first taste of the festival was visiting the cube gallery late on Friday to witness The royal college of art and Yamaha's exhibition of strangely crafted instruments, all requiring quite definate movement and tactility, emphasising the deep connection between sound and body. Part argument against the aparent lack of bodily connection in digital culture, part persuation that everything is sound, from the sporadic rhythmic clipping of a typewriter to the rustling and scratching of clothing, affected both by its material makeup and that of the human orchestrator.

Saturday had me sat in Nexus art cafe for much of the afternoon as people made their own tapes and constructed one off sound pieces with the clunking and rolling pressing equipment as artists performed on the stage. Again this was a physical sonic experience combining heavy machinic movements with careful folding and stamping. It was also participatory and inclusive, the audience interacting with the performers to break the barrier of artist and fan. By the time Denis Jones took to the stage people were purposely using the equipment in a way that heavily influenced the sound and direction of his pieces. It is exciting to see samplers being used in such a comunal and improvised manner, and also to hear interesting live music composed and recorded in front of you out of a mixture of laregly industrial machinary.

After such a relaxing and thought provoking saturday it was then off to Club Underground for the night to let Kode9 and friends transport us somewhere else entirely. I haven't been so immersed in dancing ever before and I can't remember thinking a single thing for the entiraty of Kode9's set, my body and mind completely overtaken by the sheer speed and depth of some of the records he was playing, lost in the pulse and addrenaline of the music, the bass thundering through my chest and deep into my legs, involuntary movement and overwhelming joy.

Walking home we tried to discuss what he'd been playing and how he'd been manipulating records but the night was beyond theorising, again it was physical, tactile and in a different way interactive, bodies and faces coliding and merging to enhance the mood, voices shreeking, little whelps of joy.

A friend realised that there is something about bass heavy music that affects her sinuses, I was reminded that what I love about sound is its physical and interactive possibilities, we all had a great weekend!

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Talking 'bout my Generation

Having just read Michael Bull's essay 'Thinking about sound, proximity and distance in Western experience' I have been led to think about the significance of the increased use of portable audio devices.

Firstly the Walkman and now the mp3 player provide us with the ability to aestheticise our environment, to create our own soundscape wherever we are, to create a private world within the public arena. Never before did we have such ability to control public space in the way that we control the private.

Before the Walkman we certainly didn't have the ability to shut out the sounds of our environment and overwrite them with our own personal soundtrack. The Walkman provided us with round the clock control of our environment and the choice to hear what WE wanted wherever we were. What was previously experienced in the private domain was taken to the streets.

Maybe this doesn't sound like such a big deal until you consider what would happen, if bored with seeing the same things everyday we all decide to strap TVs to our faces. Chaos. I mean it would completely change the way that we experience the world. And the sonic equivalent has already happened!!

The mp3 player is obviously very much of its time, but in terms of the Walkman I think that in providing people with the chance to finally control and aestheticise their place in the public arena was hugely significant in creating the self centred culture that we experience today.

Saturated with choice, we demand the right to choose what we do and when we do it, sped up by increasingly fast Internet, TV on demand, instantly accessible libraries of music, we long to be in control, dictated by mobile phones, laptops and wi-fi connections.

The birth of the Walkman was the birth of the private within the public, the self centred, detached from auditory contact with our surroundings and those that we share the environment with. This was the birth of the me generation.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

The Physical Affect of the Firework

"you must be the only person to go to a fireworks display and close your eyes... apart from them kids that are scared of fireworks"

I had to close my eyes for periods of the display to focus myself on the sounds, something which can be hard to do in such a visually intense environment, and realised that hearing a fireworks display without seeing it can be a scary experience. And I have full sympathy with those kids that find it terrifying.

When you can see light firing off into the sky, the puff of smoke and the wonderful array of colour in the sky it is easy to place the sound that accompanies it. When you take away the visual element you are left with a succession of sporadic bangs, pops, fizzes and whistles.

The bangs just make you jump when you're not expecting them, but the screamers are trully terrifying as the constant change in pitch and intensity that accompanies their journey gives the impression that they are about plant themselves in your head at any second. Seriously give it a go.

I imagine this must be what it is like to live amongst war, the sound of explosions and rockets all around, often out of sight but sounding much closer than they are, a constant tension in your body caused by sonic vibration.

This physical affect on the body and mind is also evident within tonights display. The gathered crowd are notably calm and gently wowwed by the fireworks as they set off one at a time to be admired, but as more are set at once and the bangs become more frequent, less ordered and more intense you can feel the crowd becoming more overpowered by sound, drawn in, excited and intense.

The samba band begin to pick up the rhythm, to which the fireworks add a counter, extra beats thrown in to jerk the rhythm, crackles and fizzes to heighten the ambience. The crowd of strangers are physically closer to each other than they were at the start, exchanging glances, shoulders touching, legs moving to the rhythm.

To me this is the sign of sound physically affecting the human in a positive and beautiful way, bringing people together and helping them to lose their precomposed ideas of public behaviour. This makes me very happy indeed.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

The Art of Sonic Navigation

I have been reading lately about echolocation, an awareness that a relatively small proportion of people develop which allows them to navigate their environment sonically by becoming hyper aware of the echoic reactions of the surfaces surrounding them. Or as Barry Blesser and Linda-Ruth Salter put it in their wonderful book Spaces Speak, Are You Listening?

Human echolocation is actually a collection of independent abilities to perform a variety of tasks, from hearing spectral changes produced by a nearby wall, to hearing the acoustic shadow produced by a telephone pole, to hearing the reverberation arising from two coupled spaces

This sense is largely developed by the visually impaired (although not a large percentage) but can be mastered by anyone dedicated to the art. Of course most of us will never develop the necessary skills because it is always easier to open our eyes and navigate visually as we have been taught from birth. What I find interesting though is that without thinking, we actually use many of the same techniques already in our day to day lives.

For instance, when I'm cycling to work along busy roads in morning traffic I can't see the cars behind me but I know how close to me they are, I'm well aware when one of them is about to overtake me, and I can hear their frustration and impatience when they want to pass me but don't have the option.

Obviously this is an extreme example as cars are notably loud and their engines sound different dependent on speed and proximity, but I know when not to pull out across lanes purely based on sonic vibrations in the air, I can sense density through tone, and this is surely a starting point for us all.

Although many people will find the idea of navigating sonically through their environment a pointless exercise, I believe that having the ability to hear surfaces that without careful consideration appear to make no sound at all is one of the most amazing things, opening up a whole new world of sound and vibration to be explored.

Monday, 27 April 2009

The Psychosis of the Modern Workplace

The office, the modern workplace of the masses, cleaner, quieter and safer than the factory. The passive "head" jobs of the communication and information era replacing the physical manual labour of an industrial past. We are led to believe that the office and the modern way of working is an all round healthier alternative to the dangers of a heavy manufacturing industry.

But is this really the case, especially when it comes to sound? The noise in the average modern office still reaches levels to which prolonged exposure is damaging, not specifically to the ears but to the body and mind.

When we converse, our brains actually work very hard to filter out background noise to enable us to focus on the voices of those we are speaking with? So what is the effect on our brains of overhearing so many one sided telephone conversations? I imagine it is making it work overtime and therefore limiting out ability to think.

Add to this the constant airy hum and drone of air conditioning, the fidgety, arhythmic clatter of a 100 keyboards, the high pitch ringing, beeping and pulsing of telephones, the disjointed banging of cups, draws and doors, and the erratic, unintelligible beep of computers and i think we are part way to understanding the psychosis of the modern workplace.

I hear rhythms in most situations these days and they help me to find my own pace, to lock in and synthesise with my environment, but I don't hear them in the office, every sound is random, sporadic and chaotic.

The basis of office work is communication and analysis, yet sonically the conditions of the workplace are the opposite to what is required to carry out such tasks effectively and without putting undue strain on the brain and body.

Could this be another contributing factor to the headaches people quickly put down to excessive computer usage? the increase in psychological illness? Is the strain put on the brain in the office the new opium of the masses, gradually wearing people down until they can think no more?

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Its oh so quiet

There are so many sounds that we encounter everyday that we barely notice, all of which have subtle affects on our bodies and minds. Often they are the sounds of our most familiar environments such as home and work. It is common to notice these sounds when they appear unfamiliar and new; I am always driven to distraction by strange whirs and creeks when I move into a new house, but within a month i can no longer hear them, or rather I no longer listen to them. They are still there, still playing on my mind and affecting my body, the vibrations are still changing my temperature, mood and tension, I am just no longer aware of them in a sonic fashion.

Bearing this in mind I spent a quiet Wednesday afternoon laying still and listening to the sounds of my apartment and its immediate soundscape. It takes a while for the sounds to begin to filter through, to realise that there are a succession of hums and drones surrounding me, constructed from a multiplicity of sonic granules, but after a few minutes I begin to break them down into pockets and particles, and to gain an understanding of their construction and relationships.

Most noticeable is the layered fuzz, crackle and whir of the computer fan, which lends a granulated distortion to the air, moving, jumping and vibrating when listened to closely, still and drone like when the listening is more casual. High pitch gurgles meet the wispy exhalation of air, stabs of mid range electrical fury and low continuous whir.

This is joined by the lower and more ferocious bluster of the fridge, bubbling, whirring and rumbling gently before stuttering and grunting to a standstill only to start up again a few minutes later with a high pitch drone. I can hear my finger and the soft fabric of my sleeve gently scraping and dragging abrasively against paper, and further afield the awkward high pitch drone and clunking stop of the lift.

Outside, sporadic high impact mid range bangs, the sound of heavy steel on steel, tense my body and increase my heart rate, long drawn out gloopy sirens swirl around, near and far provoking intense images of a high action police chase and the immediate thoughts of crime and violence. Softer low pitch metallic bangs spurt outside the window as car doors are shut, followed by the raspy air of moving cars increasing swiftly in pitch and intensity as their location changes.

The distant chainsaw buzz of a bike engine mixes with the intonation of incomprehensible voices, varying rhythms and pitches symbolise gender and mood without words or visual accompaniment. Back inside, my head is fuzzing and clouded with the drones of my apartment, and despite a state of near meditation it is pulsing, throbbing and cluttered with noise.

Finally I notice a close and high pitch glistening sound, crackling and pulsing just around my ears, the sound of my own body? Tinnitus? Wi-fi? I can't be sure but after several minutes of deep still listening I have definitely broken down the drones around me into fragments, and am now hearing subtleties, frequencies and movements that I have never listened to before.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Welcome to the Jungle

With the trams currently kept out of the city centre and many of the roads blocked off for road works, there was a whole new soundscape in Manchester centre today. Instead of the usual fuzz, roar and heave of engines it was the confused mumble of a thousand voices that circled around my head.

A Bass heavy wave of cross rhythmic and incomprehensible voices swept through town, bubbling, jolting and circling in panorama, occasionally penetrated by clearer, higher pitched voices cutting through the mass, but still largely incomprehensible amongst the clutter.

It is a joy to hear the human voice in such a way, stripped of recognisable language but full of nuance, tone and interaction, telling the story of space and time through sound rather than words. It is the same when we communicate with people who we do not share a common language, through echoic mimicry we listen to and replicate tones, intonations and sounds rather than words.

By closing your eyes and listening to such scenes you can really sense the space around you, mood, size and materials are all audible if you listen carefully enough and you can draw a solid mental image of your surroundings.

Doing this today though I realised that things can easily get confusing when sound synonymous with another environment is suddenly inserted where it is not expected. People were selling whistles which replicated the various calls and screech's of the howler monkey, and they sounded fairly realistic amongst the noise of the crowds. So when I closed my eyes I had the bizarre sensation of hearing what sounded like a thousand people trekking through the jungle.

This demonstrates to me that although it is important to understand sound in relation to place, it is also good to think about sounds simply as sounds. Try not to always associate them with particular objects or settings, think as well about their pitches, rhythms, movements, moods, reverberations and timbres.

Think about how you can get a feel for your environment through sound without automatically converting your hearing into stored images and signified knowledge. Allow yourself to learn something new from sound as well as using it to better understand what you already know.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

What a difference a day makes

My exploration of our sonic world has led to many discoveries, but I think that the most important so far is the recognition that every tiny event and action, be it natural or man made, has a huge impact on our sonic landscape.

And so despite common themes and repetitions, any particular place is likely to provide different soundscapes from day to day, with most varying several times throughout the day as well. Much of my listening is done quite early in the morning as I find more clarity and definition earlier in the day, but the same places sound completely different as the day progresses and more factors begin to impact on the soundscape.

This point was made all the clearer to me this morning when I returned to Grosvenor Square, the site of the futuresonic birds for regular readers, with my newly acquired portable recording device hoping to capture the birds in full flow and work their sounds into a track to post on here.

Little did I know there would be pneumatic drilling and roadworks so close to the park that at first the birds were barely audible. I realised that my futuresonic track of birdsong was not going to be recorded today but after a little mic placement I found an intriguing balance and juxtaposition within which the heavy, bassey, jarring sounds and vibrations of the roadworks provided a roaring backdrop for the sweet, high pitched and harmonious bird song and the two factors combined together to create layers of sonic interest.

I recorded for about seven minutes and couldn't wait to get home to listen again and do some editing on my computer, so I jumped on my bike and eagerly cycled home, connected my new machine, booted up the PC and accidentally deleted the lot. I can't believe it. Oh well, there is a learning curve with all new toys, back to the manual.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Everything is tactile

Walking through Picadilly Gardens early this morning, during that period when the city is just waking up, everything and everyone is drowsy, there is calm in the air. Sounds which are normally abrasive when contributing to an intrusive barrage of city noise are clear, soft and understandable. I feel much more in tune with the machinery of the city than I ever have before, everything is tactile.

A hundred Footsteps fall in and out of rhythm, varying materials, weights and speeds each creating uniquely audible sounds, but also acting the role of multiplicity in this grand travelling soundscape. The distantly walled space of Picadilly Gardens provides a perfect space to hear all the individual steps gently touching concrete, subtly reverberating, merging and dispersing.

They are joined by the rhythmic lap and drag of plastic wheels rolling over jagged terrain, exhales of air from the lonely buses, some sharp and loud, others soft and drawn out, interrupted by the high pitched aching squeal they emit upon start up, overtaken by the low warm pur, roar and stutter of the engine breaking into motion.

Its a lovely feeling to be able to appreciate and feel in touch with sounds that so often irritate and confuse me, and also to hear so clearly how the pieces of my daily soundscape fit together. Give it another hour and many of these sounds would be inaudible, or at least their subtleties would be as they merged together making it difficult to hear how everything finds its place.

I guess this is also what it means to hear space, the space between sounds that enables us to distinguish one from another, to locate its source, hear its impact and resolution, but also to hear the acoustic space of our immediate environment, the walls, buildings and pathways that absorb and reverberate in their own special ways.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Lets all go down the pub

I haven't been in a Wetherspoons pub for a long time but on Friday night I found myself in there on someones leaving do and was immediately struck by a sound that was instantly familiar, the sound of Wetherspoons.

Walking in from outside is like stepping into a filtered world where all of life's sonic nuances are stripped out and replaced by an echoey din, a high pitch whir that is at once disconcerting.

At first it is easy to think that this is just what it is like in pubs when they don't play music, but it isn't, I've been in plenty of pubs that don't play music and they are full of intricate creaks and vibrations, not standardised white noise.

The reason that Wetherspoons sound like they do is of course partly to do with not playing music, but it is equally because they all have the same carpets, chairs, tables, fittings, cutlery, and glasses, and they are almost always large glass fronted buildings. Their pricing policy also attracts a certain type of clientele, particularly at the weekend, and encourages fast, heavy drinking which brings with it it's own noise in the shape of glasses constantly banging on the bar and tables, and also in the form of loud and boisterous conversation.

People spend a lot of time acoustically designing bars and restaurants these days to encourage people to eat and drink quicker with loud music and bright reverberant rooms, or to slow them down with soft fabrics which soak up the din and make you more relaxed. It's worth thinking about this the next time you're in a pub or restaurant, what does it sound like and why? Is this what attracts you to it?

As for Wetherspoons, well for a pub that doesn't play any music it's a pretty intrusive sonic space, and from everyone I know its not somewhere you go for more than three drinks if you can help it, whether this is because of its sonic makeup is for you to decide.

Monday, 23 March 2009

The Soundtrack of our Lives

I have realised that in documenting the sound of my environment over the last few months that I have largely ignored my own sonic impact on the world. I have noticed recently though that particularly on work days I have my own soundtrack, and I think that however spontaneous we consider our lives to be, we probably all have at least a small period of repetition within our days in which we create a sequence of similar sounds from day to day.

Mine begins in the morning with the same jittery high pitched alarm gradually increasing in volume, intensity and closeness, followed by the gentle creek of the bed as i stretch to turn it off and a little bang as i place my phone back on the table. My bare feet then make a soft padding sound as i cross the wooden floor, less rhythmic than my normal walking pattern, before the soft wispy scraping of the bottom of the wooden door drags back and forth, ending in the click and clunk of the door shutting again.

Into the reverberant tiled bathroom and there is the startling shudder of the shower door vibrating fiercely as it is pulled open, the thudding clunk of the steel tap pulled on and then the rushing pixelated fall of streaming water, battering off of the hard plastic tray, hissing, dripping and bouncing, a whole array of frequencies building a wall of sound. The shower door shudders again upon exit, and soft drips patter onto the floor.

In the kitchen the kettle boils with rumbling intensity, a cereal packet rustles as my breakfast plinks into the bowl and juice pours softly and fluidly into my glass. The kettle hisses and stutters as it boils whilst a metallic spoon chinks and chimes against my china bowl. Coffee soars into my flask enveloping its way upward and the lid bumps and screws into place before sharply clipping in dead mid range.

Back to the bathroom and the brushing of teeth like scratching vinyl meets glugging water flowing softly from the tap, hard soled shoes bang abruptly against solid wood and brittle, cold sounding tiles. A zip scrapes gently as my bag shuts, wavering in pitch and meeting the sound of man made fabric brushing metalically. Finally my keys jangle brightly and reverberantly before the hard clunk of the lock turning over, the solid bump of the door closing behind me and a couple more clunks as it locks.

There will be more of my daily soundtracks to come, but if anyone wants to leave a comment documenting any of theirs it would be really interesting to read.

Friday, 20 March 2009

The Weekly Report: Sound in the News

Welcome to my weekly roundup of sound in the news.

Firstly we have reports from Chicago that a school has installed a mosquito devise to stop kids loitering in the corridors. For anyone unaware of the mosquito, it is a devise which emits a distressing high pitch sound supposedly only audible to the under 25s. These devises are commonly used by shop keepers to keep kids from hanging around their shops but are also craftily used as ring tones because they are largely inaudible to teachers. Not sure I agree with these devises at all, they seem too close to sonic torture to me, although its good to see the kids turning them to their advantage.

Secondly we have a bar owner in Barcelona jailed for five and a half years for continually playing music so loud that he caused physical and mental pain to his neighbours. Makes living near Sankeys seem like the middle of the countryside.

Thirdly someone has developed an app for the trusty iPhone which will supposedly suck up all the unwanted noise that surrounds us and spurt it back out as something altogether more soothing. Once again top marks for an Apple product encouraging us not to engage with our environment. If it isn't enough that most people don't even hear what's going on around them anymore because they have a pair of tiny white earphones blocking it all out, now their phone can decide what their environment should sound like for them. Nice one.

And finally, how about Boris Johnson not quite understanding why the good people of East London are just about fed up with city airport, surely not. I went to university right across the dock from that airport Boris and have never heard such noise.

More news next week, hope the stories have entertained.

Monday, 16 March 2009

The Silent City

In a bid to give people some peace they are creating 1000 silent zones in Mumbai, places where people have to be respectful and quiet so that others can escape the constant noise of the city. Check it out here

Its an interesting idea but I can't really imagine how they will manage to police it, and given how far sound travels I can't exactly envisage 1000 pockets of absolute tranquility amongst the hustle and bustle of city life, but I do like the idea and it's definitely something that needs to be considered given the ever increasing noise of city life and the adverse effects this Can have on peoples health.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

How Noisy is Your Area?

Just found a pretty interesting government site where you can type in your postcode and find out how much your area is affected by noise from road, rail, industry and aircraft. It makes for some interesting viewing, check it out here

The Sound of the Future

I have long considered electronic beat music to be pretty futuristic, using technology to create sounds and arrangements that are unnatural and machinic, pushing the boundaries of sonic exploration in the dark area between noise and music and creating sounds almost impossible for human replication.

Many artists involved in experimental electronica, dubstep and techno talk of the influence of the urban and industrial landscape on their work, synthesised with science fiction and the desire to create a space beyond the city, beyond the here and now.

I have always tended to agree with this theory, believing that the best music is created through understanding and borrowing from what has come before, synthesising this with the sounds and emotions of the current environment and the vision and philosophy of the creator.

But listening to the birds today in Grosvenor Square opened up a whole new dimension to my thinking on electronic music. The intricate rhythms, indescribable sounds and unfamiliar arrangements that i associate so heavily with technology and electronic music making were being created by the orchestra of birds that surrounded me.

Short high pitched stabbing bursts interspersed with long, soft drawn out whistles. Mid range ratcheting triggers, like rounds of gun fire, interrupting melodic whistles and sharp grating screams. Distant warm low warble providing the sub bass over which a mid range call brings to mind the sound of snare drums stacked close together on a Cubase grid, stretched and clipped.

At times many of these sounds dispersed, leaving space for melody to chirp through, joined by soothing whistles and reverberant spacious calls, before gradually building again in call and response until i was listening to a complex layered arrangement coming together quickly and intensely as if the filters had suddenly been removed.

This was syncopation and polyrhythm as i have never heard it before, so many interesting sounds and movements, spaces and intensities, all fitting together intelligently and intricately, as nature intended, leaving me listening to the most enjoyable and cacophonous beat i have ever heard.

In our exploration of the possibilities of technology it is important not to lose sight (or sound) of the possibilities of nature too, because those complex futuristic sounds that many of us seek are already out there, you've just got to know where to find them.

Saturday, 7 March 2009


A comical but slightly sad story here about the council in Stoke-on-Trent building a library next to a loud speaker shop (you couldn't make it up could you).

Shop owner Simon Boote claims that the shop is well known to the council having supplied and tested PA equipment for the mayor, and cannot believe that instead of buying him out the council have built the library next to his shop and are now threatening his living with visits from environmental health officials instructing him to keep the noise down.

All quite funny on the face of it except that Mr Boote believes that this will lead to him having to lay off staff. As he says himself, this isn't exactly in line with the government's policy of protecting small businesses in the economic downturn

This Town is Bringing Me Down

Saturday morning by the waterside in Sale was a strange sonic experience. Whereas everywhere I have listened before has had something distinct which has grabbed my attention, be it the overpowering noise of rush hour outside Central library, or the cacophony of bird song in St Johns Gardens, today's sonic field immediately struck me as nothing more than a dull amalgamation of now familiar sounds.

The airy whoosh of traffic merged blandly with the hum and rumble of the tram, whilst the exhaling shush of a bus engine combined unremarkabley with the shudder and screech of it stopping. There was faint birdsong in the air but it wasn't beautiful as it had been last week, it merely synthesised with the beep of traffic lights and indecipherable high pitched drones that rung in the air.

After previously hearing these sounds close up and en mass, today they seemed tame and distant, uninspiring and insignificant in comparison. But perhaps this is the most interesting thing about them, perhaps this is the thing that helps to explain the relationship between sound and place.

Sale is not an inspiring place, it is neither small and beautiful nor vast and imposing, it is average, ordinary, full of chain stores and soulless pubs, it is like any small town anywhere. The older people who wander around look comfortable and content, but the youth look troubled, bored and claustrophobic. Emotions this soundscape evokes at once. The sound of average.

I felt so unenthused that I was about to leave, but realised that gradually one or two sounds were breaking through and creeping into my more immediate hearing. The dragging, scraping and ricketing of solid plastic pulling over a rough concrete car park, the high pitched translucent chime of rolling glass, the faint sweeping softness of a brush, and the immediate mid range banging of metal.

A still car across the water became apparent to me with the stuttering, ticking air of a low running engine, soft and peaceful, regular and constant. The thin plastic film of a cigarette packet danced around me, fluttering, scraping and fidgeting as it bounced on the concrete, short crackling, crisp sounds ruptured by time in transit.

As the church bells began to strike out across the town, bridging the gap between distance and immediacy, I set off on my bike wondering just how different Sale would feel if it sounded different, and whether the blandness of its overall soundscape perhaps enabled me to hear the more minute sounds that I eventually engaged with.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Birdsong in the City

Having read Bernard L Krause's lovely book Wild Soundscapes last week, I set off this morning in search of the sound of nature in the city centre. I found it at 9.45 in St Johns Gardens in Castlefield.

Although the engulfing ambient fuzz of traffic was still apparent, as soon as I stepped into St Johns Gardens I was immediately struck by the array of bird song that surrounded me, at first creating an alternate backdrop to compete with the mechanic hum of the city, and soon providing a cacophony of rhythms, melodies and intensities as I became more attuned to my new sonic environment.

High pitched, soft, sweet melodies, whistled, twinkled and reverberated around me, audibly bouncing off of the surrounding buildings. Call and response played out in the air above me in darting panorama, sweet songs frequently interrupted by abrasive stabs of stark, brash, inharmonious mid frequencies.

The low, warm, throaty warble of pigeons created rhythmic flutters on the ground in front of me
whilst the ratchety, mid range clacking of wings soared above, loud, quick and intense as they neared; low, soft and peaceful as they flew away.

Bushes rustled gently as the drawn out dongs of a church bell sounded in the distance, whilst the faint sound of laughter and soft chatter briefly entered my ambient hearing, only adding to the overall peace of my environment.

What amazed me about this array of bird song was how so many layers, pitches, speeds and intensities fit together so effortlessly. Every sound had its place; warm, sweet warbles and melodies naturally filtered to dance amongst raw, brash stabs of noise.

The only intrusion today was a long, high pitched airy burst which grated its way into my hearing for a few seconds before disappearing and leaving me once again to the natural sounds of a Sunday morning in Manchester.

Monday, 23 February 2009

He Thought of Cars

Standing outside Central Library at 5.30 this afternoon provided an interesting juxtaposition between an area of constructed quiet and a world of man made noise.

A cacophony of traffic noise circle and whir around me forming a reverberant, distorted ambiance, housing swirling sirens stripped of their harshness by distance, lending them a smooth, pleasant tone as they gently swell and constrict, each drawn out intensity appearing to last an age amongst the more immediate chaos.

Trams scuttle into the station, metal grinding and rattling together on the tracks, synthesised with a drawn out aching mid range screech and the unbroken sound of the horn, disrupted by the spontaneous thuds and bangs that break their enchanting rhythms.

But today it is the buses that really grab my attention. Their engines purr like tigers. Vibrating, warm and inviting, rumbling low frequencies seeping into the lower regions of my torso; shuddering high pitched wails, the sound of metal straining, bursting, stretching and screeching into almost ultrasonic territories. It is inescapable. Beautiful. Intense.

Heals clop brashly on the concrete amongst rushing bodies and booming voices, all fighting to be heard amongst the commotion. It is proven that loud and uncomfortable sounds lead to increased stress and annoyance and it is all the more evident from this scene.

It is worth noting though that by focusing on the sounds around you and actually listening to them you can reduce their adverse effects, and I must admit to finding it peculiarly relaxing listening to the sonic heave of rush hour unfold before me.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Down at the waterfront

On my way to buy the paper this morning I stopped to sit by the Rochdale canal, about half way between Great Ancoats street and Piccadilly Basin, to have a listen to the sound of a Saturday morning in Manchester.

Tearing water from the nearby lock lapped and fizzed; a constant sound with varying intensities, crackling and hissing to create the textured distortion prevalent in my hearing. This was mixed in with the low rumble of distant traffic that surrounds you wherever you are in Manchester city centre; soaring, pulsing and bubbling away in the background. Then there is the airy, higher pitched lapping of closer vehicles panning their way across my sonic spectrum, synthesised with the growl, grumble and heave of heavy lorries. There was also a constant unidentifiable mid range hum present, only clearly audible with concentrated listening.

These sounds combined provide a sonic landscape made up of varying levels of hum, fuzz and distortion, equivalent to the white noise on a Jesus and Marychain record or the prevalent crackle of old vinyl; they provide the basis from which the melodies of the environment can spring.

The sporadic and startling squawk of birds and ducks, the distant high pitch chime of metal clanging in the distance, indecipherable voices, the faint ting of a dogs collar and the soft padding of its feet. The low beep of a car's horn and the changing timbre of its engine as it shifts from ambiance into my peripheral hearing, gradually increasing in pitch and clarity as it moves closer, drowning out the distant stretching roar of sliding heavy metallic shutters.

This was a fairly peaceful spot on a quiet morning and it is interesting to note that even in moments of apparent sonic calm we are still interacting with so many sounds when we actually listen for them. The world is filled with drones, constants and distortions which surround us, providing a three dimensional ambiance for the more prevalent rhythms and melodies to interact with.

Without this ambiance, be it from wind, water or the distant rumble of engines, the sounds which we are more aware of would sound alien to us. It is through embracing and sharing these sonic undertones and ambient spaces that we form a better connection with the world and everything within it.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Sonic Panopticism (an update)

Since enquiring to the council about the use of a sound recording surveillance system on Munshill street I have noticed that the sign notifying us of it has been removed, although the actual devise remains firmly in place. The council have failed to respond to any of my queries regarding the devise.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Morning Glory

Walking to work this morning was wonderful. I stepped off the tram listening to the gentle shuffle of morning footsteps break from a heaving cluster in the station, spreading out in polyrhythm into the crisp damp morning. The sound of forty soles padding away at different speeds, velocities and intensities at the start of their sonic day.

I only catch a snippet of the audio collage that each of these people will create today, but it would be amazing to be able to tune in closer, because even from a relative distance each persons walk sounds unique, and is dependent on factors such as mood, gender and weight, style of shoe, weather and terrain.

Today was bright but the ground was damp, meaning that instead of sounding fierce and mechanical the cars zipped past me lapping and fizzing like waves, the sound of calm emanating from the warm growl of their engines, the glitch and crackle of tyres fighting to grip the road.

The sound was repetitive, circular, and rhythmic, aided by the time and space between vehicles lending a bustling but unhurried feel to the occasion, allowing me to hear subtle nuances, changes in pitch and panorama as vehicles came closer or moved further away, how sounds interact, combine and breed as one vehicle passes another.

Just as I near my place of work I hear the church bells ring out behind me and I think a little about how sounds symbolise times, cultures and behaviours. I felt relaxed today, and I truly believe that my morning sonic experience had a lot to do with that.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Songs for the Deaf

Check out news of the first concert for the deaf courtesy of "The Emoti-Chair, an audio-tactile device developed by Ryerson University" which promises to translate live music into mechanical responses which can be felt instead of heard.

Monday, 26 January 2009

The city at night

Manchester city centre is a noisy place, with trams, buses and an endless stream of cars all competing to be heard amongst the bustle of the people filling the streets. But there comes a point in the evening, when the shops have closed, the crowds have dispersed and the traffic has ebbed away, when the city becomes enriched with sonic beauty.

The beat of the Djembe, no longer suffocated, finds space to spread out amongst the heavy night air, soaking into the architecture, its deep thud reverberating into a three dimensional field of all encompassing sonic beauty. The natural filters of the environment drawing you close and then chasing you away, lazily pursuing you as you walk.

Even the lonely trams sound peaceful and tired as they heave themselves along, aching metal creaking gently along the tracks, all the violence of their daily noise subdued and replaced by heavy groans thrown desperately to the wind.

The drone of the crowd is replaced by its components; voices, fabrics, footsteps, air. Textures of sound interacting in space, bringing clarity and understanding to a dense and complex environment.

Friday, 23 January 2009

Sonic Panopticism pt2

I've had a bit of a scout around Manchester and so far can't find any more Audio Recording Devices although I'm out tomorrow for a better look, and as the council don't appear to mention them anywhere on their website I have written to them with a few questions about the one I found.

There's not too much in the news about these devices lately either, although there appears to have been a bit of a debate in 2006 when it was suggested by police that they be installed at the 2012 olympics.

David Blunkett came out in staunch opposition of the idea, appreciating the delicacy of the sonic and realising that although an inclusive medium, sound is also deeply personal, and not something to be tuned into by the control towers of the city.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Non Auditory Effects of Noise

Just browsing through the web and found this pretty interesting report into some of the non auditory effects of noise.

The evidence suggests that noise can effect the body both Physiologically and Psychologically; well worth a read if you've got the time

Sunday, 18 January 2009

And the crowd say...

In his essay 'Sonic Dominance and Reggae Sound System Sessions', Julian Henriques discusses the power of Sonic Dominance in affecting the body and bringing people together. I had the pleasure of experiencing this first hand this weekend as I went to watch Skelmersdale FC in the Unibond North.

Amongst about 300 fans, much of the game was a visually dominant experience bar the occasional shout from the crowd, thud from the pitch or warming smell of hot bovril. But, with the game tied at 1-1 with fifteen minutes to go and the rain beginning to hammer down, something clicked in the stands and we came together to drive Skem on to a 3-1 victory.

The isolated stabs of "come on" became more frequent, husky voices gradually overlapping, subtle differences in accent merging closer together to form a murmur, a whir, a roar, louder and louder, words becoming less decipherable, feelings of warmth, togetherness, belonging, passion overtaking my body.

Suddenly we are furiously banging on the metallic stands, feet are stamping and the noise is engulfing, echoing, tripping, all encompassing. The team begin to find their rhythm, and as the decisive 2nd goal goes in for Skem the banging is synthesised with cheering and screaming, the feeling of complete elation.

It's easy to see how these things can occasionally erupt into violence; I've never even seen the team before but the sound and togetherness of the occasion drove me delirious, noise took control of my body and threw it to the crowd.

For fifteen minutes I was in a sonic bubble, protected, invincible, hidden, no longer self, but an indistinguishable multiplicity living amongst the body without organs of the crowd. This was my heaven.

Sonic Panopticism

Seemingly not content with already having more CCTV cameras than any other country, the streets of England are now being patrolled by audio recording surveillance. I'd heard about this long range recording technology being used on the public before, but it wasn't until today that I saw with my own eyes a sign on a lamppost in Minshull street Manchester which read "Audio is also being recorded in this area".

I'm going in search of more over the next couple of weeks but if anyone else finds any please add a comment with the town and street name so that we can find out just how common this latest invasion of our privacy is becoming.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Sonic law

I heard today that although the proposed expansion of Heathrow airport is all set to go ahead, new legal documents have recently been drawn up to ensure that the new runway doesn't breach acceptable noise levels. It amazes me that this ruling has come so late in the day, but it appears that so much focus was put into making sure that a huge new runway wouldn't be in any way detrimental to the environment that the impact it would have on our sonic spectrum was overlooked.

In some ways this surprises me, but in others it just reiterates the fact that the sonic is so often ignored, we are almost oblivious to it until it becomes unusually intrusive. I have never heard people discuss the sound on the tram before, despite the fascinating daily whir discussed in a previous post, but today all other sounds were engulfed by an abrasive blast not dissimilar to the sound of sheering metal, which throbbed through our bodies, pulsed and battered our heads for the entire journey, only briefly interrupted by the crackling voice of the driver announcing the next stop.

And everyone discussed it! People got off before their stops, the carriages were filled with chatter, people mentioned deafness, headaches and pain. Having paid close attention to the sound inside the tram before though, I was fully aware that this was merely an exaggeration of a normal journey. It just happened to cross that boundary where noise can no longer be accepted as normal, it shifts from being an indescribable background drone to a pain inducing machine. Pain that is subtly inflicted during every journey.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Sound Control

Rumour is spreading that the British government have put plans in place to enforce all venues applying or re-applying for an entertainment license, to have a noise control device fitted which will effectively cut power if what is considered acceptable volume is breached.

I'm not personally fond of extremely loud music but I do like to know that I'm experiencing it, and these devices tend to cut out at such low volumes that they are nothing but detrimental.

But, if it is perceived that we need protecting from these intense volumes, lets get noise control devices on building sites, road works, trains, aeroplanes, see how it affects them, and what about thunder, volcanos, hurricanes, probably best to do something about them too before we all go deaf.

And the wars that we are so fond of, better start monitoring the explosions, the bombs, the gunfire, and while we're at it, better get some devices fitted in the prison camps to protect the ears of those subjected to sonic warfare.

We have a choice to avoid loud music if we want to. We can only hope it remains one.

There is a petition in place to oppose this ruling if anyone is interested:

Monday, 12 January 2009

Confined in Carriage

I always feel confined, tense and slightly on edge on the Manchester Metro. Understandable considering the uncomfortable seats, overcrowding and claustophobic nature of public transport, but I've always suspected there is more to it than this. There is always that drone, the whiring lurking in the background, the sound of my journey, and these are its components.

The heavy rhythm of the wheels lock me into a momentous groove, shifting speeds but never escaping from the repetitive blast of chugging low end emanating from the sub frequencies that drive into my body. The sound of bursting, stretching, clenching metal pushes against my skull and my head feels like its trying to expand.

Sporadic jerks and clatters filter in and out, coming close and then jumping away, my body twitches slightly as each one comes near. Continuous humming and mechanical air intensifies in pitch as we pick up speed, drawing the chest tighter and the body taught before gradually shifting back as a station approaches.

A mid frequency whir enters the sonic spectrum and never seems to leave, has it always been there, gnawing at my mind, weighing down my eyes? Beep beep beep beep, swooosh, eeergh, thump. Doors close in, creating a vaccum of sound once more, an exhale of air, a rumble, chatter, noise.

By the time I get off I am completely disorientated and overwhelmed by the sheer complexity of what I have just heard. I wonder if subconsciously I feel like this when I don't purposely listen, confused, aching, lost.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Explosions in the sky

Watching fireworks erupt amongst the crowds at Heaton park, on the day that Obama became president of the united states, I felt a magical sense of hope. Not hope for America, but hope for humanity, as for those brief moments that the skies were alight with colour and rupture, thousands of people came together, all facing whatever lies above, all in awe and all in a moment of temporal peace.

As well as looking up to see sparks and colours disappear into the night we were also surrounded by sound in its most natural form, without barriers, without walls, and without the constraints of technology. The sonic boom created, reverberated with a natural time delay before crashing back to us from afar. Pops, crackles and whirs immersed the sky, whistles and soft thuds turned into puffs and screams.

As well as the sounds of the rockets and candles, were the whoops and wows of the crowd, the screams of frightened children, the splendour of human laughter, the soft chatter of friends and families, the distant pounding of the fair all combining to provide a hypnotising sonic field.

This is sound without limits, uncompressed bass, unconstrained fizz and flare. This is the soundtrack to our lives, and one we rarely choose to listen to.

I have decided to dedicate myself to exploring the soundtrack of my life, my sonic environment, how it makes me feel and how it affects me. Combining theory, stories and sounds I hope to provide valuable insight into the world of the envirosonic.