Sound and vision blog

Sound and moving images from the British Library

17 September 2010

Some early statistics from the UK SoundMap

With Autumn officially beginning next week, now seems a good time to take stock of the UK SoundMap's progress so far.

As of September the 17th, we've received and cleared nearly 650 recordings from around 220 contributors. The median or mid-way number of recordings per contributor is two. The mean value is higher at just over three, because some contributors have uploaded two or three dozen recordings each.

Under duress, one could draw a weakly predictive stereotype of the typical UK SoundMap recording. It would most likely be made during the daytime, in a built-up urban area, in the street, with one or more voices present, and the sound of traffic in the background.

But this would do no justice to the great variety of sounds which have been captured. More than 90% of all recordings have indeed been made during the day, and half of them were in cities and large towns. 27% were also made in villages, small towns and suburbs; 12% in the countryside; and 11% by the sea and in seaside resorts.

Within these broad geographical categories are more precise settings. The street accounts for 21% of recordings; fields, footpaths and towpaths 13%; homes and gardens 12%; railway stations, airports and other transport hubs 8%; 8% were also made inside road and rail vehicles; pubs, cafes, restaurants, and shops 7%; parks, playgrounds and playing fields 6%; 5% were made on or by a beach; and 5% in museums, libraries and art galleries. Smaller numbers have come from settings as diverse as boats, offices, hospitals, places of worship, shopping centres, street markets, outdoor festivals, fens and woodland.

The voice in some form is the most common sound, appearing in over half of all recordings. In 40% it consists of a single voice (other than that of the recordist) or several voices, and in 10% a hubbub of many voices. 9% include the sound of an electrically amplified voice, including loudhailers, PA or tannoy systems, radios and televisions. A disproportionate number of street recordings are made in pedestrianised areas too, where the speech of passersby can rise above the background growl of traffic.

In another 9% of recordings the recordist's own voice is heard, often describing the scene for the benefit of the listener. But this rarely occurs in built-up areas. More often the recordist speaks at home or when in the countryside, sometimes with humour, sometimes to express pleasure at what they're hearing.

The sounds of water occur in nearly 15% of recordings, including rain, dripping taps, fountains, the guttural noises of drains, and the sound of the sea. Water in its gassy state is represented with nearly a dozen recordings of steam-driven vehicles, and the sounds of coffee machines and whistling kettles. Perhaps this winter we'll hear the sounds of cracking ice and snowball fights, too.

As more contributions come in, so the data set will grow richer, and more in-depth statistical explorations will become possible.

Ian Rawes
Editor, UK SoundMap

hashtag: uksm


This is an exciting project! If anyone out there is in a position to influence the makers of mobile phones, please can they raise awareness of the added value of good audio capability. Some phones record wonderfully (albeit mono) while others have what sound like terrible microphones, truly telephonic. Maybe Which could take this up?

Great stats! And a very good uptake of the soundmap - well done.

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