Noise Mapping London: Audio Tourism.

November 26, 2007

noisemap
(Image: London Noise-map. The arrow points to my house)

” Noise can cause annoyance, interrupt conversation, disturb sleep and, in extreme conditions, cause physical damage to those affected. The types of noise that are experienced can be classified into some fairly broad categories. For example, occupational noise which is experienced at work, neighbour or neighbourhood noise and environmental (aka ambient) noise caused by transport and industry.”

My cousin does this – standing on a street corner all day in some bland suburb of London, microphone in hand, recording the average volume of environmental sound. The data is collected and projected over a London street map to form a graphic visualisation of the changing volumes throughout the city. this is part of DEFRA’s “National Ambient Noise Strategy” who’s aim is to provide us and ‘policy makers’ with a source of sound data for the whole of England.

The map, though fascinating, seems to me to be of little value because volume is not the only parameter in determining the annoyance factor of ‘noise’. Equally relevant are duration, repetition, pitch, timbre, time( the noise of the city animated over one day), and frequency. And, DEFRA assume that all noise is inherently annoying. My thesis is that the map should become a tourist map of London defined by it’s unique sound as much as by it’s geography, architecture and so-on. At the same time as capturing volume data, all other aspects of noise can be measured and visualised giving an invaluable and unique ongoing audio-visual symphony of London.

London is noise:For instance where i live in east London ( marked a dark brown on the map for ‘reasonably quiet’ ) is bathed in an ever present low volume but high pitched susurrus generated by traffic on the A12 – the sound spill from the motorway gives this area a unique feel and interestingly where the noise peters out, the social demographic radically changes. Time plays it’s part: in the morning the low almost inaudible mumbling of the underground trains at 6am in Whitechapel and the sounds of the first aeroplanes circling the city, a descending tone as they drop down to Heathrow (Sarah says the sound of the banking planes changes from summer to winter and that the winter sound she finds depressing – i had never noticed the difference). Each city has it’s own audio fingerprint: the time i spent in Lisboa had the backing sound of the Ponte 25 Abril (inaudible to the Lisboans), the sound of angry bees made by cars on the resonating bridge (i heard this sound again later in Oxford where the noise from the unusually corrugated surface of the a34, several miles away, drove my friend from his rented, supposedly tranquil rural bolthole). Hanoi is the scooter horn and the early morning rumble of a single advancing tidal wave of noise as the traffic en mass, enters the the sleeping city.

London Noise Map Link here 

10 Responses to “Noise Mapping London: Audio Tourism.”

  1. Tyrone Slothrop said

    Interesting, but a couple of fairly major basic factual errors get in the way:

    1. The noise map was not produced from actual noise measurements, as collected by your cousin and others. It was in fact produced using computer modelling.

    2. Your point about the other ‘parameters’ of noise is mis-placed. The measurement of noise used in the map which you screengrabbed and posted here is clearly marked as ‘Lden’, which is a 24-hour average, so therefore does take duration into account.

    Noise is of course a distinctly nebulous and endlessly subjective concept. However, i feel it is a little unkind to suggest that Defra “assume that all noise is inherently annoying”. The value for policy-makers of such maps are primarily to identify areas of potentially disruptive consistent noise levels, which have to potential to be harmful to health, particularly to the most vulnerable sections of the population. I suspect there is neither the will nor (financial) means available to our benevolent/evil (delete as appropriate) political overlords to turn our towns and cities into hushed urban libraries.

    When it comes to alleviating ‘noise’ ‘problems’ (note the emphasis on the subjective nature of each!), solutions are more usually targeted (e.g. sound insulation) than broad-brush, and thus are unlikely to impact too greatly upon those for whom the sounds of the city are an essential part of the experience of an urban lifestyle. In essence, i don’t think you’ll be having to live without the dull rumble of the early morning tube any time soon…

  2. David Sheldrake said

    The process in which noise maps are made is rather more involved than someone standing on a street corner with a sound level meter in their hand, see below for details.

    The current maps produced for London are based on vehicle noise only and are calculated using traffic flows based on the description below, as well as many other layers of information and modelling based on the ‘Calculation of Road Traffic noise’.

    This process is to be repeated for other sources which are:- Rail, Industry and Air.

    The purpose of the maps is to allow Local Authorities/Central Government to produce action plans on how noise within a particular area may be tackled and to allow the key source/sources of noise to be identified.

    Issues such as ‘soundscape’ are also considered, i.e. how annoying is a noise, what noises are liked, disliked, what noises can be used to mask others etc. The difference in noise through the seasons, different weather conditons, wind direction, temperature, reflections, are just a few of the factors that affect noise levels on a day to day basis.

    All major roads which fall under the descriptions below and major roads which are located within agglomerations (definition below) have been mapped, further more detailed maps are to be produced in future years. The term ‘mapped’ means that calculations are undertaken, which will produce maps showing the annual average levels of noise exposure to which residents are subjected from various noise sources.

    During this first phase no actual noise measurements will be taken at the roadside. The noise levels are calculated based on the traffic flow levels. Various other factors are taken into account such as heights of roads and surrounding buildings (which cause noise to be reflected) etc. The calculation of road traffic noise is based on approved calculation methodologies, such as CRTN and CRN.

    There are 3 further noise sources which need to be mapped before an overall noise picture can be buit up, these are air, rail and industry. It is envisaged that the current stage of mapping will be finished before 2008. The aim of the maps is to allow noise management areas to be developed, probably at a local level by Local Authorities, for example; these may allow Local Authorities to plan where development can and cannot take place, where traffic calming is required, schemes to redirect traffic, where industry can be built, etc. However further mapping is to be carried out and is infact an on-going process till 2012.

    Major Roads: The END defines a major road as: ‘[a] regional, national or international road, designated by the Member State, which has more than 3 million vehicle passages per annum’ (approximately 8,200 vehicles per day) (Article 3(n)). However, for the first round of mapping the qualifying threshold is 6 million vehicle passages per annum (Article 7, paragraph1). The Government understands ‘vehicle passages’ as meaning the number of vehicles passing in either direction past a given point along a length of road. The END requires that, no later than 30 June 2005, Member States shall inform the Commission of the major roads which have more than 6 million vehicle passages a year (Article 7, paragraph 1). Therefore to do this we will need to assess each regional, national, and international road in terms of the number of vehicles using them (i.e. traffic flow).

    Agglomerations: The END defines an agglomeration as ‘part of a territory, delimited by the Member State, having a population in excess of 100,000 persons and a population density such that the Member State considers it to be an urbanised area’ (Article 3(k)). However, only agglomerations with a population in excess of 250,000 need to be mapped in the first round of mapping in 2007 (Article 7, paragraph 1).

    I hope that the information above has been of use, i.e. more informative and more accurate.

    Regards

  3. crab said

    Oh No! a DEFRA Fatwa! I’d better hide somewhere quiet for a while (or rather somewhere with an averagely noise reading for mapping camouflage…).

    The article was intended less as a critique of DEFRA’s obviously complex but tax efficient data collection methods, but a whimsical jumping of point for a thought piece on urban soundscapes. And although i’m actually a fan of the Noise Map i’m not REALLY suggesting that DEFRA have missed something by not making it into a audio tourist destination.

    My comment about microphones and street corners wasn’t dissing the technology and methods but showing the complexity and scope of the job at hand i.e there are lots of street corners (and ‘bland suburbs’ come to that)…but surely even if you so use ‘computer modeling’ at the end of the day you still collect the data with a microphone?

    cheers

    crab

  4. Andy Wilson said

    I’m very interested in the notion of a ‘soundscape’ and whether and how it is useful. The analogy with vision would / might be the notion of a ‘lightscape’, which seems vague as opposed to, say, a ‘view’ or a ‘scene’. The audio equivalent of an scene would not be a ‘soundscape’ but something more determinate. I don’t know what you’d call it, but it’s representation might be a location recording or audio montage – in the same way that the visual representation of a ‘scene’ would be a photograph, a video documentary, a montage or a painting.

    No doubt my confusion about this is partly personal, but there’s also a more general confusion about where sound fits into our experience of the world. What is it that interests us about environmental audio experience? Partly it has to be raw volume (in an industrial / environmental health sense), but that’s only the beginning; partly it would be something that characterises a particular audio scene – the typical ambience of a special place – for documentary or political purposes; partly it would include untypical events that strike us an aesthetically (philosophically, politically) interesting for some reason.

    How you could map all of these things together defeats me. Doesn’t the idea of a ‘soundscape’ just mask our confusion about the complexity of auditory experience and the place of sound in our world? Perhaps the soundscape is just some aggregated sum of all the ways we might hear in some location, the visual equivalent of which would be some sort of scrapbook of images (eg. I have a book at home called ‘Scenes From Seaham Life’….) In either case you wouldn’t call these things either lightscapes or soundscapes but audio/visual journals or documentaries coming from a definite point of view – as they would only be of interest as a record of inter-subjective, political experiences.

    Basically, talking about a unitary soundscape seems to me to invite the mistake of assuming some sort of unitary experience that doesn’t exist.

  5. Shame they do not do something about the noise and monitor noise indoors in public spaces such as tube carriages when the sound of the breaks nearly deafen us (as with bus brakes), neumatic drills on roadworks, car alarms, skip trucks and lorries with loose cargo-holds going over large holes in the road level with our ears, or riduculously loud public announcements on rail platforms, most sirens (especially in the background of a mobile phone you are talkgin to), or gigs where only the mad venture without their own earplugs…

    This kind of map might draw a picture of a race that mismanages and willfully harms itself because it is far easier to ignore than to address an issue.

    Once the state controlled interference is taken out, the noise of a pbulic space might be far more enlightening.

  6. Andy Wilson said

    This book may be of interest if you are interested in the ‘qualitas’ of the sounds around you: http://tinyurl.com/26w9x6

    Sonic Experience: A Guide to Everyday Sounds

    “Never before has the “everyday soundtrack” of urban space been so cacophonous. Since the 1970s, sound researchers have attempted to classify noise, music, and everyday sounds using concepts such as Pierre Shafer’s “sound object” and R. Murray Schafer’s “soundscape.” Recently, the most significant team of soundscape researchers in the world has been concerned with the effects of sounds on listeners. In a multidisciplinary work spanning musicology, electro-acoustic composition, architecture, urban studies, communication, phenomenology, social theory, physics, and psychology, Jean-Francois Augoyard, Henry Torgue, and their associates at the Centre for Research on Sonic Space and the Urban Environment (CRESSON) in Grenoble, France, provide an alphabetical sourcebook of eighty sonic/auditory effects.Their accounts of sonic effects such as echo, anticipation, vibrato, and wha-wha integrate information about the “objective” physical spaces in which sounds occur with cultural contexts and individual auditory experience.”

  7. Andy Wilson said

    mboi: ‘Sonic Experience: A Guide to Everyday Sounds’ by Jean-Francois Augoyard and Henry Torgue.

    “Never before has the “everyday soundtrack” of urban space been so cacophonous. Since the 1970s, sound researchers have attempted to classify noise, music, and everyday sounds using concepts such as Pierre Shafer’s “sound object” and R. Murray Schafer’s “soundscape.” Recently, the most significant team of soundscape researchers in the world has been concerned with the effects of sounds on listeners. In a multidisciplinary work spanning musicology, electro-acoustic composition, architecture, urban studies, communication, phenomenology, social theory, physics, and psychology, Jean-Francois Augoyard, Henry Torgue, and their associates at the Centre for Research on Sonic Space and the Urban Environment (CRESSON) in Grenoble, France, provide an alphabetical sourcebook of eighty sonic/auditory effects.Their accounts of sonic effects such as echo, anticipation, vibrato, and wha-wha integrate information about the “objective” physical spaces in which sounds occur with cultural contexts and individual auditory experience.

    “Sonic Experience” attempts to rehabilitate general acoustic awareness, combining accessible definitions and literary examples with more in-depth technical information for specialists. ”

    on Amazon

  8. […] DEFRA are at pains to point out that “No actual noise measurements have been made in the production of these strategic maps” (i.e. the maps are generated from computer modelled audio data) no doubt triggered by our scandalous assertions in previous noise-mapping posts. […]

  9. nevinerafa said

    Hi,

    My name is Nevine, a postgraduate student from the University of
    Westminster, London. I am doing Interior Architecture course and now I am working on my research for thesis regarding street performance spaces. Due to it, I have to map things, such as, sound, weather and lights which can affect the street performances.

    I interest on your methods for mapping the noise for your thesis. Do you mind if I contact you personally, to ask further about your project? I really appreciate it.

    I look forward hearing from you soon.

    Thank you.

    Nevine

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