Collectors of sound

Whilst researching a story recently, I took an unexpected path into the online world of field recordings. Until a couple of weeks ago I had no idea that people hunted sounds, collected them and blogged about them. I didn't know that I could so easily listen to the sounds inside a tree in a Russian town called Sergiyev Posad, or the sound of an Icelandic stream called the Úlfsá (wolf river), or a merry-go-round in a English town centre, or even the inside of the men's toilets at London's Victoria Station.

I almost hesitate to give the link to my favourite of the sound blogs I've come across because discovering it felt a little like stepping through an overlooked gate into a hidden city garden. I feel as though its whereabouts should be guarded rather than casually passed on (but as blogging thrives on the sharing of links I know that is a ridiculous notion). Some of the sounds to be enjoyed there include birdsong beside a disused railway track, the sounds of a Parisian secondhand book market and the creaky wooden floor inside the Musée Carnavalet.

Listening to these sound clips is a calmer than usual online experience. I've found I can't skip over them, onwards to the next link, the next page. I have to stop and listen. And, similarly, I've started to listen more in my own life. Writing this, I can hear the steady hum and wayward ticks of my laptop, the plonking percussion of my fingertips on the keys and my neighbour laughing at something on the other side of the wall, which makes me smile even though I've no idea what's amusing her. The other day, I probably looked very strange as I spun round in a busy shopping street trying to determine the source of a creaking sound. I was certain it was a gate, no matter how improbable that was given the location. It was actually the swinging of a sign belonging to 'The Queens Head' pub.

My hearing isn't perfect and I can struggle to determine the direction of sounds. I wonder if that's why I don't remember ever stopping to listen to everyday noise before (and also why I'm prone to referring to it as noise rather than sound) or if it's something most people neglect. Exploring these blogs and sites I've realised noise (or sound) is rarely 'everyday', it is characteristic of a specific time in a specific place. It tells stories.

The image (via the BL sound blog) is the sleeve of 'Songs of Wild Birds' (1936) recorded by Ludwig Koch, a pioneer of wildlife sound recording. He actually made the first ever recording of a bird, when he was just eight years old, in 1889. There's a fascinating BBC radio programme about him here.