Hearing London afresh

August 16, 2010 / London, Showcase, Writing / 5 Comments /

Selective hearing is a great thing, especially living in London where so many noises assault our ears and compete for our attention throughout the day. But selective hearing can block out the good with the bad.

Which is why it’s so refreshing to discover someone who helps us to hear the sounds of the city afresh. Ian Rawes’ London Sound Survey has re-opened my ears to the audio world of the capital.

Ian’s recordings are, to me, like photographs that capture a moment in time and forever allow a viewer or listener to focus on something that would otherwise have passed them by.

Check out the sound map as well – an inspired a series of regularly-spaced recordings across London. I can see many arts and communication outlets for this work.

People can contribute their own recordings to the project under Creative Commons licence through the Sound Survey dropbox . I know this is the kick up the arse I need to sort out and edit my own recordings from the last few months as a London beekeeper and allotment holder.

London Sound Survey is a great filter of day to day noise. It also reminds me of a piece I wrote some time ago – inspired by a world where the ease of communication leads to a loss of quality communication.

The Word

© Miranda Waugh

In the beginning was Silence. Into the Silence came the Word. And the people Listened. They Understood.

The Word was rare. It was valued. It had possibility.

In the Word was contained all the world. All that was good and all that was bad. And all the infinite variety between. And the people saw the Word had many faces. In each of those faces was the possibility of another word.

And the Word became many. Each of the many became more. And words conjoined to express ideas. And ideas allowed thought. And expression. And conversation. All were heard. All were absorbed. And all grew.

And people offered up thanks for the Word. The thanks became prayers which became songs and the songs were sung in praise of the Word’s Creator. And the Creator was Quite Pleased.

Then songs were sung in praise of love. In praise of people. Of false idols. And hate. Of gurus and of guns. And the people became careless. The Word was taken for granted. It was no longer special. People ceased to listen. They did not have time to understand. And words were wasted and became lost.

The Creator took pity on the lost words and offered them a new home in Sanctuary. And employed an angel guard to keep them safe.

But the songs became many. And the people bought MP3 players to hold the songs and keep them to themselves on buses and on trains. And in the streets and in the market places people plugged themselves in, filled their ears with sound, and forgot to listen. And the songs were so many that the words ceased to have sense. And the words became louder, seeping from blunted ears in search of those that would listen – fighting each other into the edge of new hearing.

And the songs became the swish-swish-swish of leaking headphones. And the chou-ticka-chou-ticka-bhoomf of musics mixed in air. The MP3 players and the mobile phones grew speakers to make themselves heard. They shouted across buses and across trains heating the air with frustration. They bullied and pleaded.

The Word became the email and the text and the tweet. And the email and the text and the tweet met and collided and lost their course. And the lost messages bounced around the ether, getting ever more angry. Messages never received, never read, found themselves jostled together to the gates of Sanctuary.

And they looked inside and saw that they belonged. And they demanded access. The Creator heard and saw that they had had a Rough Time and commanded that the angel guard open the gates of Sanctuary to allow the refugee words a home. And the angel guard grumbled a bit at the extra duties, but did as they were bid.

And Sanctuary was full.

The residents of Sanctuary became anxious. They demanded that the Creator say no to  further immigration. And the Creator heard and decided that yes – Sanctuary was getting a bit crowded. And that the refugee words should apply for asylum. And attest to their value to Sanctuary’s existing residents. And the asylum words were held in medium-term detention camps until their case could be decided.

The Word was no longer sacred. It had become ordinary, mundane, every-day and misunderstood. And the people no longer listened. They shut their ears and their hearts. Thought became opinion. And opinion was regurgitated. And shouted. And still the people pumped out more and more words. And fewer and fewer of the words were heard. And the Word was lost. The simplicity of meaning forgotten.

And the Creator was cross for he felt his greatest work had been taken for granted. And that everyone thought they could do just what he had done, but they couldn’t and had buggered the whole thing up.

And still more words arrived at Sanctuary.

The Creator cursed the planning regs that had seemed a good idea at the time, but that prevented Sanctuary’s expansion into the ether belt. And he cursed his failure to foresee the population explosion.

And the words became restless. And the angel guard decided that grumbling to the Creator was getting them nowhere and that since He had no time to listen to their worries they may as well join the Union and grumble to them.

And the Union said the working conditions were intolerable and that the Creator was breaking at least three different sections of the Universal Convention on Angelic Working Rights and that something really must be done or they would have to take this to a higher authority.

And the Creator was puzzled. For He saw that the buck stopped here.

And revoked the Word.


  1. Angelica

    August 16, 2010
    / Reply

    That Sound Survey is brilliant. Makes me miss London a tad more than usual, but it's still brilliant.

    And The Word? I've used brilliant twice already. It is awesome. Beautifully written, and it made me giggle a few times. I really do love reading what you have to write.

    • Ask Auk

      August 16, 2010
      / Reply

      Good, good. Giggling is what we aim for.

      I think the Sound Survey site should be universally know - not just within London.
      I think it's a great advert for London. I can see partnerships between London Sound Survey and the London tourist board for one. Or between LSS and local authorities, LSS and market trading associations, nature reserve managers, history societies, museums etc.

      Who wouldn't want their own personal sound map of their world?

  2. Ian Rawes

    August 16, 2010
    / Reply

    Those are kind words, thank you! It always makes me happy when someone says they get pleasure from listening to the recordings on the London Sound Survey.

    It isn't the first online sound map, but as far as I know it's the only one for London to date.

    The picture of the city on a tree stump's good - where's it from please?

    Very best wishes

    • Ask Auk

      August 16, 2010
      / Reply

      It's my very great pleasure, Ian. There's something magical about listening to something familiar through someone else's ears.
      The stump illustration is one of my own - created for the London Biodiversity Partnership to illustrate green London.

      Do keep in touch. I'll be keeping close tabs on your work. :-)


  3. Annie

    August 18, 2010
    / Reply

    Love it Miranda! Reading it felt like going on a journey. I sighed in recognition of how we bugger things up and laughed at your lovely, light, playful way with words.

    There's a Satyam yoga centre in Norbury (there are also two new ice cream parlours, yes, two, not sure what's happening in Norbury which is also the Mecca of the south for Latin American dancing - not many people know that) and I go there for meditation classes when I can. To the yoga centre, not the ice cream parlour. The centre is a beautiful, calm and warm place but it's a shop front opening onto the A23. In our meditations, we become aware of the sounds around us, starting with outside and moving to inside, and after a while the different tones of traffic noise blended with a chorus of sirens and bursts of argument or lively conversation become a kind of symphony and the dissonance becomes harmonious. It was like that practising yoga in Mysore in India, the constant honking of the traffic providing background music to our meditations...

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