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SOUND RECORDING CAN often be a solitary business – and I actually prefer it that way.

Photo courtesy of:

Standing recently on the foreshore of the Wherry and later on the Leas, a stretch of the Sunderland coastline in north east England, I had plenty of time to reflect on this whacky interest of mine – recording the everyday sounds around me. Using the minimum equipment and the maximum imagination I explore the sonic environment wherever I go.

I’m a city dweller fortunate enough to live in what is often described as the most romantic city in the world – Paris. And Paris has bounteous delights for the sound hunter but, sometimes, an escape to the country or, even better, an escape to the sea makes a refreshing change.

I specialise in recording the street sounds of Paris, the everyday sounds that we often ignore or, at best, only take a passing interest in. As a Parisian city dweller, I found the sounds of the sea on the Wherry absolutely captivating.

Sounds of the Wherry:

And that set me reflecting about sound.

It’s often said that a picture is worth a thousand words – but what is a sound worth? How would we perceive for example da Vinci’s Last Supper or Géricault’s Raft of the Medusa if we could hear them as well as see them?

This is what the doyen of wildlife sound recordists Chris Watson hears when looking at Constable’s The Cornfield:

“I can hear birdsong billowing out from the leaf cover and a great spotted woodpecker drumming on the trunk of a skeletal tree, which temporarily distracts the Border collie from its herding duties. Unseen and almost unheard a freshwater spring bubbles into the drinking pool, a resource that is shared by animals and people alike on days such as this. Above, a gusting breeze ripples through the tree canopy and out across the open fields where ripe corn heads swish and sigh on dry stems, their slow rhythm accompanying a skylark singing from high above, a pin point of silver sound lost to all sight, in a pewter sky.

In the early 19th century Constable could not only see into the distance but also hear it. From his memory no doubt the warm song of a yellowhammer and drifting tones of the church clock would carry far in the humid air. Noise pollution was yet to reach rural Suffolk revealing a quality of sound that has, like the landscape, passed into history.”

Imagine if we could actually hear the original early nineteenth-century sounds of rural Suffolk as we look at the picture rather than relying on Chris’s imagination however beautifully expressed.

Sound gives us information but it also creates emotion. Sound lets us paint our own pictures. Every sound, whether it’s a street sound of Paris, an award-winning sound by Chris Watson or even the sound of me walking on the Wherry in Sunderland, is an important part of our environment, our culture and of our heritage.

A Walk on the Wherry:

For most of our history we have used artefacts, architecture, pictures and words to create a vision of our past. It’s only in the last thirty seconds or so on our historical clock that we have been able to capture and record sound. Almost all our sonic heritage has passed by unrecorded.

That is why I, and many others, are dedicated to recording and archiving the sounds around us so that future generations will have the sounds of our time to explore, to study and to enjoy.