CC Interviews Part III – London Sound Survey

CC Interviews Part III – London Sound Survey

This is part 3 in a series profiling SoundCloud users using Creative Commons licenses. to see the whole series, click here.

The London Sound Survey is trying to make the job of future historians a little bit easier. Setting out with a few microphones and small recorders, the Survey is attempting to document all the different aspects of contemporary life in London and preserve the contemporary soundscape. While many of the recordings are truly extraordinary moments in the life of a city, there are also plenty of sounds that manage to capture the remarkable in the mundane. We caught up with the London Sound Survey’s Ian Rawes to talk about the project, and how it uses SoundCloud and its Creative Commons license support.

London Sound Survey bullseye logo

Hello, Ian! Can you breifly describe what the aims of the London Sound Survey are? What are you doing to accomplish those?

The main aim is to build up a big collection of sound recordings of all different aspects of life in London, and to give someone in the future a good idea of what it sounded like to live here in the early 21st century. That means going out with recording equipment and trying to beg and borrow recordings from other people. I also dig up old historical accounts to find out what everyday sounds were like in the past and how they’ve changed between then and now.

What is the actual process of field recording like? Who are the people submitting tracks, and why are they doing this?

You have to put yourself in a listening frame of mind when you’re out and about and pay close attention to what you’re hearing. It’s usually a slower, more patient experience than going around with a camera taking pictures. But it’s a great feeling when you do come across some good sounds. For example, I’m always pleased to encounter street preachers holding forth, and I must actually look happy, because they often home in on me and go into overdrive.
South London street preacher by London Sound Survey
Only a few others have shared tracks with the London Sound Survey, probably because there aren’t many people purely into field recording. Those that do send in their recordings are of course the best people in the world, in my opinion.

When in the project did you start using Creative Commons licenses? Why did you start, and how have they been consistent with your larger goals?

I went for Creative Commons at the very start, and I wish it had been around 50 years ago. It’s very hard to use any old recordings you might come across thanks to copyright issues, which are a total pain. Now and again I hear of people using some of my London sounds in their own tracks or mixes, or embedding them in their websites. So long as they give due credit I take it as a real compliment: someone liked my stuff enough to make use of it. Creative Commons provides the framework for that kind of sharing and re-use.

How do you use SoundCloud? How have you incorporated it into the project at large, and how do you engage with the SoundCloud community?

I began using it just for the DropBox facilities, as it looked like an easy way for people to send sounds in. But that was based on an old-fashioned view of how the internet works, from when people had a website with a guestbook. Then you could just put up some interesting content on your geocities site about UFOs or whatever, and wait for people to come along and leave comments or link to you. That’s not how things work now. Content is still king, but you have to go out and engage with people. SoundCloud provides lots of ways of doing that, all in one package, and I’m starting to explore and make more use of them.

Do you have any tips for aspiring field recorders, or people who may be interested but not really familiar with the practice?

First off, don’t just think of field recording as an end in itself. Field recordings are also a good way to complement photographs and writing, to add original content to blogs and podcasts, and of course as part of making music. The good news is you don’t need really expensive equipment. There are capable little recorders made by Sony, Edirol and others which cost much the same as a compact digital camera.

The next thing you should do is make or buy a fluffy windcover to go over the recorder’s built-in mics – the supplied foam covers will be next to useless. An unprotected mic can pick up wind noise even in a gentle breeze, and it sounds bad on the recording. Rycote make fluffy windcovers for a wide range of recorders. Be quite tough editing down what you record as well. If you’ve recorded fifteen minutes of ambience, what’s the best single minute?

When uploading sounds to a blog, you’ve got some attractive-looking options with audio players made for WordPress and other platforms. But also consider using the SoundCloud player. It provides more information to the listener, and you can enable embed code on it for more widespread sharing.

What are some of the most interesting sounds you’ve put up on SoundCloud? Do you have any great stories behind any of the sounds up there?

There’s better stories about the sounds I didn’t get. To make the dawn chorus recordings meant having to get the night bus at 4am to get to the recording spot. At that time in the morning the buses are often full of drunks, and you’d hear some amazing arguments, people singing, others getting thrown off the bus for being sick on the stairs, and I now wish I’d recorded some of that. The happiest time was making my first recording of bat sonar. When I first heard the clicks on the detector, I didn’t imagine an animal could make such sounds.
Leislers bat sonar Barnes by London Sound Survey

Thank you to Ian for providing such an interesting insight into the world of field recording. Stay tuned over the next few days for more posts about different SoundCloud users using Creative Commons licenses.

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