The noise in the city

My ever-unreliable Creative Zen packed in again this morning, as it regularly does; and as usual I didn’t have a paper-clip to hand to reset it. So, my walk to the station was Thunder Road-less, sadly. However: I’m no pessimist, and I decided to make a change and use my ears for a bit. It’s something I’ve neglected to do since finishing my degree in the subject, but to listen out for all the identifiable sounds that are around, and strive to identify the mystery ones: it’s actually pretty fun. 

One of the albums that I have always meant to give more time to, but have never quite found the motivation, is the Autres Directions In Music release, The Noise & The City. It’s an encompassing collection of music created from found sound in different cities, assembled to reflect the point and the power of that city. Hence, The Remote Viewer soundtrack Manchester, Melodium introduce us to Nantes, and so on. If I really pay attention, I can hear the same symphonic crescendos and fascination in the everyday noises as these artists: my soundtrack built this morning more dramatically than any Sigur Ros song, and certainly without the pomp and associated claptrap. 

Commencing at home, the immediate sounds are, as always, a distant wash of motor noise (without which my head would probably feel like a vacuum); the grumbling of a father as he walks past and the off-kilter pattering of his son’s feet. Once or twice, a car goes past: each one’s engine will be quite distinct from the next: here a strained, trebly chattering from an elderly van, there a more restrained, more expensive car, now a booming undercurrent from a rude-boy in a BMW. Add in the occasional squeaking wheel of a push chair, now the sirens which seem to continue for the entire ten minutes, in the background a whining bus brake which holds and holds and holds.

Birds screech from high television ariels, and the wind picks up rustling through the leaves, mostly in the early stages of autumn. We have natural sounds in the city as well, don’t you know. But, they’re quickly replaced by a dial-a-ride bus reversing, then a fat man labouring at his bicycle: he seems not to have grasped that gears are there to make your life easier.

As I walk down the passage to Westbury Avenue, the wind scuttles through, bringing with it an echoing, booming traffic noise which is fully realised as I ascend the steps to the road itself. Now, so many cars, vans, lorries, motorbikes, scooters, each with an individual timbre: the driver will recognised their own straight away. Finally the clattering of retailers bins and the incongrous classical music of Turnpike Lane station filters into my conscious before the climax dies to a steady roar as I descend into the bowels of Haringey. 

Pretty exciting, I’m sure you’ll agree.

The Official Google blog had a post about the future of searching, this morning: I found it very interesting. Marissa Mayer talks about how limited searching actually is at the moment: if I’m looking to find out what that bird was that flew by my window, how cool would it be to take a picture and search on that. Why can’t I search for a piece of music by playing audio at the computer, for example? She mentions finding sound briefly: what’s this song is a market cornered by Shazam, but what if I want to find out what bird is singing, or what kind of engine makes that noise, or what this sound coming from my hard drive means? It’s an interesting discussion: I like google, I’m sure they’ll do good.


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