Image: Street advert in Hoxton, London, displaying real-time decibel level. March 2008.

“Let us cross a great modern capital with our ears more alert than our eyes, and we will get enjoyment from distinguishing the eddying of water, air and gas in metal pipes, the grumbling of noises that breathe and pulse with indisputable animality, the palpitation of valves, the coming and going of pistons, the howl of mechanical saws, the jolting of a tram on its rails, the cracking of whips, the flapping of curtains and flags. We enjoy creating mental orchestrations of the crashing down of metal shop blinds, slamming doors, the hubbub and shuffling of crowds, the variety of din, from stations, railways, iron foundries, spinning wheels, printing works, electric power stations and underground railways.”

Luigi Russolo excerpt from “L’arte dei Rumori” 1913

Russolo’s eulogy to the sonic city was inspired by the urban clamour of turn of the century Milan.  “L’arte dei Rumori” betrays a fascination with novelty of noise, the signature of modernity and the promise of the future in the form of the industrial city. Russolo argued that music has reached a point where it can longer excite when pitted against the real world sonic complexity of new metropolis. In turn, this statement led to the formation of a new type of music based on machine inspired atonality and stochastic composition.

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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