THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Sound and vision blog

92 posts categorized "Soundscapes"

25 September 2020

The sounds of Autumn

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Cheryl Tipp, Curator of Wildlife & Environmental Sounds writes:

The days are getting shorter, the leaves are turning colour and there starts to be a definite chill in the air. These changes all point to one thing - the glorious season of Autumn.

Tree in AutumnCountryside in Autumn (Image by Hans Braxmeier on Pixabay)

The familiar sounds of the British summer have almost disappeared for another year as birds such as swifts, swallows, martins, warblers and many others begin to embark on long haul flights to warmer wintering grounds. Crickets and grasshoppers are falling silent and squirrels have begun to power up their nut radars.

Despite these changes there’s still plenty to look forward to as we move further into Autumn. Before long a host of new species will arrive on our shores and add their voices to the soundscape of our natural spaces. Here are just some of the visitors that we can expect to see and hear in the next few months.

Swans and geese:

In a few weeks time our estuaries and wetlands will begin to see the arrival of large flocks of swans and geese. Travelling from breeding grounds in Scandinavia, Iceland, Greenland and Siberia, these highly vocal birds often congregate together in mixed flocks and, though not as pretty as the dawn chorus, create a seasonal soundscape that will continue throughout winter.

Barnacle Geese flock calls, recorded by Richard Beard in Dumfries & Galloway, Scotland on 27 November 2005 (ref 146749)

Whooper Swan flock calls, recorded by Ian Christopher Todd on the Solway Firth, Scotland on 3rd December 2011 (ref 216057)

Whooper Swans in flightWhooper Swans in flight (Image by Rihaij on Pixabay)

Ducks and waders:

The British coastline offers a safe haven for many ducks and waders who decide to spend the chillier months with us. From swirling flocks of Knot to bobbing groups of excitable Wigeon, these spectacles are another great excuse to visit the coast after the summer has faded away. 

Mass take-off and circling of a flock of Knot, recorded by Nigel Tucker in Norfolk, England during November 1995 (ref 124981)  

Eurasian Wigeon male whistles and female growls, recorded by Simon Elliott in Northumberland, England on 6 November 1994 (ref 43466)

Male Eurasian Wigeon on the waterA male Eurasian Wigeon on the water (Image by Mabel Amber on Pixabay)

Thrushes:

The UK has four resident species of the thrush family - the Blackbird, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush and Ring Ouzel. As we move into Autumn, these birds are joined by two more relatives, namely the Fieldfare and Redwing. Often seen together, these birds are a classic sound and sight of the British countryside in Autumn and Winter.

Fieldfare contact calls, recorded by Richard Margoschis in Warwickshire, England on 16 April 1967 (ref 06770)

Redwing calls, recorded by Richard Margoschis in Staffordshire, England on 15 October 1972 (ref 07433)

RedwingRedwing (Image by Ingi Finnsson on Pixabay)

The sounds of Autumn are not produced by birds alone though. The annual deer rut is another seasonal highlight and two of our most abundant species are gearing up for some serious vocal duelling. Red Deer stags will spend the next couple of months bellowing and strutting in an attempt to keep hold of their harem and ward off potential rivals. For Fallow Deer bucks, the mating season lasts for only a few weeks, however the spectacle is no less impressive. Constantly on high alert and calling both day and night, the males of both species are shadows of their former selves by the end of the mating season. It’s an exhausting process. The following excerpts give you some idea of the effort required.

Bellows from a Red Deer stag, recorded by Alan Burbidge in Leicestershire, England on 22 October 2000 (ref 146241)

Fallow Deer rutting calls from two rival males, recorded by Phil Riddett in Kent, England on 23 October 2013 (ref 250012)

Fallow Deer buckA Fallow Deer buck (Image by Hans Benn from Pixabay)

You’d be wrong in thinking that birdsong is well and truly over for another year. Though some of our favourite songsters won’t start up again until early next year, there is one little songbird who can be relied upon to bring us some cheer over the coming months. Robins are determined little characters who use their voice in Autumn and Winter as a kind of avian alarm system. Behind those pretty melodies is a fierce warning advising other birds to think twice before coming into their territory. Both male and female robins sing during this period of year, which is unusual for British birds, and though the Autumn song lacks the exuberance of the Springtime version, it is still a very welcome sound.

European Robin song, recorded by Kyle Turner in Dorset, England on 15 October 2000 (ref 143171)

European Robin singing from a fence postEuropean Robin (Image by Public Domain Pictures on Pixabay)

The natural world has been an absolute lifeline for many of us during the past few months and there’s no reason why this shouldn’t continue to be so. So grab a jacket and a good pair of boots and get out there.

Follow @CherylTipp and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

19 August 2020

Walking in the archive

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Cheryl Tipp, Curator of Wildlife & Environmental Sounds writes:

As you might expect, our wildlife collection is brimming with the sounds of animals communicating with each other. From songs and calls to bill snaps and tail quivers, this assortment of messages provides a rich overview of the types of conversations taking place in the natural world.

What may come as a surprise is that we don’t just collect vocalisations. Though this is a core aspect of the collection, we’re not just interested in what animals are saying. We’re also interested in what they’re doing.

A small subsection of the collection is dedicated to the sounds of animals moving through their environment. From African Buffalo wading through a river in search of food to stampeding Blue Wildebeest on migration, these recordings make you feel as if you’re part of the journey. Below are just a few examples of animals walking in the archive:

African Elephant walking through dry grass. Recorded in the Imire Safari Ranch, Zimbabwe during September 1998 by Nigel Tucker (BL ref 125581)

African Elephant walking through dry grass

Blue Wildebeest migration flow. Recorded in the Maasai Mara, Kenya on 18 August 1988 by Claude Chappuis (BL ref cc23811) 

Group of Blue Wildebeest on migration

Domestic Horse trotting on tarmac. Recorded in Yorkshire, England on 31 December 1985 by Simon T.Elliott (BL ref 29170)

Horse hooves

Semi-domestic Reindeer herd on migration. Recorded in Finnmark, Norway on 10 May 1980 by Ray Goodwin (BL ref 12509) 

Close up shot of a Reindeer

African Buffalo feeding on and walking through reeds in a muddy, shallow river. Recorded in the Imire Safari Ranch during September 1998 by Nigel Tucker (BL ref 125626)

Close up shot of an African Buffalo

It's a bit of a professional prerequisite, but wildlife sound recordists are usually absent from their recordings. Occasionally though, recordists turn the microphone on themselves, offering us a tiny sonic glimpse of their own journeys through the landscape.

Walking on shingle. Recorded in East Sussex, England on 11 August 2013 by Phil Riddett (BL ref 212343)

Small pebbles on a shingle beach

Footsteps in snow. Recorded in Kent, England on 2 February 2009 by Phil Riddett (BL ref 111375)

Footsteps in snow

For those of you interested in learning more about the sonic aspects of walking, next month's Sound Walk September is definitely something to investigate. For four weeks this global celebration of sound walks will present a varied programme of events designed to inspire and educate. More information can be found on the walk.listen.create website.

Follow @CherylTipp and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

03 August 2020

Recording of the week: Evening by Lake Siemianówka

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This week's selection comes from Cheryl Tipp, Curator of Wildlife & Environmental Sounds.

Lakeside at dusk

Lake Siemianówka is one of the largest artificial lakes in Poland. Created by human hands in the upper stream of the Narew River, this body of water is now home to a wealth of wildlife that live on, under and around the lake.

The following recording was made at dusk during May 2001 by Ian Christopher Todd. The rapid chattering of European Tree Frogs (Hyla arborea) and the haunting calls of Fire-bellied Toads (Bombina bombina) dominate this lakeside ambience. Amphibians aren’t the only voices drifting over the water though; the ‘dripping tap’ call of a Spotted Crake (Porzana porzana) and the faint booming from a distant Eurasian Bittern (Botaurus stellaris) can also be heard.

Evening by Lake Siemianówka (BL ref 90986)

This recording is part of a much larger collection of wildlife and environmental field recordings that have been preserved as part of the Unlocking our Sound Heritage project.

Follow @CherylTipp and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

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22 June 2020

Recording of the week: Underwater sounds from Cromer Pier

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This week's recording of the week comes from Emma Burman, Learning and Engagement Coordinator.

Having spent many a childhood holiday on Cromer Pier in Norfolk, you’d think I would know the sounds of the area well. However, having never been adventurous enough to fully submerge myself in the freezing East Coast waters, I was unaware of the beauty of its underwater sounds until now.

Cromer Pier
Courtesy of BurlyBullet via Pixabay

This Underwater recording from Cromer Pier captures the entrancing rhythm of the waves as they flow between the pillars of the pier. The sound of the swirling water moving weathered stones is almost orchestral, like a delicate percussion section, with tinkling xylophones.

Underwater recording from Cromer Pier

The ability to capture these underwater sounds is possible thanks to a device called a hydrophone. The modern hydrophone’s development can be traced back to the First World War, as scientists were developing methods to sense and reveal the bearing of enemy submarines. By the end of the war, Britain had thirty eight hydrophone officers and 200 qualified listeners. The hydrophone continued to be the sole method for submarines to detect targets while submerged until the introduction of the active sonar in the early 1920s.

Modern day recordists still use hydrophones to document and learn more about the underwater world. Sadly, through this research, they have identified that recordings are often ‘polluted’ by the sounds of human noise, which has now become a recognised global problem. Shipping noise has been shown to cause chronic stress in certain species of whales, construction noise has forced porpoises to leave feeding grounds and naval sonar can cause mass stranding of beaked whales.

One of the parts that stands out so much about this recording is the clash between the calm swirl of the natural waters and the metallic creaking of the Cromer Pier. To my ears, the pier didn’t seem like a ‘polluting’ sound in this musical underwater rendition. Nonetheless, this recording does highlight the question of how much our human lives impact upon the watery world below.

This recording was made by Peter Toll in 2012 and forms part of the British Library's wildlife and environmental sounds collection.

Discover more sounds from beneath the waves on the British Library’s Coast website.

UOSH

Follow @BLSoundHeritage and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

04 June 2020

Sea sounds

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Many of us find comfort in the sounds of the sea, particularly when we're feeling anxious, stressed or overwhelmed. Though it's not as easy as it was to just pack up and head to the coast, there are still always in which you can bring the sea to you.

The British Library has almost 400 recordings of waves in its sound archive. More if you count those recordings where they are just one element of a larger soundscape. Recorded on beaches and along coastal areas all over the world, these recordings demonstrate the sheer variety of sounds that the sea can produce. So many factors come into play here; the weather, type of coast, time of day, season etc. No two recordings of the sea will ever sound the same.

Below is a selection of some of our favourite recordings. So put on your sunglasses, grab an ice cream and let us transport you to the coast.

Gentle waves, Isles of Scilly, September 2009, Richard Beard (BL ref  163300)

Waves breaking on sand

Waves bubbling through rocks, Australia, November 2007, Richard Beard (BL ref 148677) 

Rocky coast

Waves flowing over seaweed, Republic of Ireland, August 1996, Nigel Tucker (BL ref 124878)

Seaweed

Lapping waves on Pak Bia Island, Thailand, March 2009, Richard Beard (BL ref 149165)

Small waves on a sandy beach

Waves breaking on rocks and shingle, New Zealand, February 2005, Richard Beard (BL ref 148299)

Waves breaking on a sandy beach with rocks

Some of these recordings were digitised as part of the Library's Unlocking our Sound Heritage project. The project has also created a new web space dedicated to the sounds and stories of Britain's shores. Visit Coast to discover more.

Follow @CherylTipp and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

15 April 2020

Sounds of your world

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During this time where we’re cooped up at home, we’ll all be missing something. The big things go without saying. Family, friends, loved ones.

But what are the small comforts that you’re finding yourself longing for? Your commute. The bustling school gates. The triumphant thumbs-up when you find a free table in a busy pub.

While our buildings have gone quiet for now, our sound archive is still open, sharing with you recordings and stories from across our audio collections. And we’ve compiled a few sounds you might be missing, to give you a taste of what our archive has for you to explore.

Beautiful birdsong

Singing wren perched on a branch.
bearacreative/iStock/Getty Images

The merry tunes of our feathered friends follow us through all seasons. Wrens are a staple of British countryside, parks and gardens, particularly in spring. Listen to the beautiful song of a wren recorded in Culver, Devon – one of thousands of birdsongs in our collection.

Relaxing waves

Sandy beach with rocks and gentle waves.
naumoid/iStock/Getty Images

For thousands of years, humans have believed in the healing, calming powers of water. Check out this recording of rolling waves on the Isle of Mull, Scotland. You can listen to more vibrant and soothing sounds of Britain’s coastline at Sounds of our shores, the first ever coastal sound map of the UK.

Sound staycation

Hammock tied between two trees near a beach on a tropical island.
Marco Ramerini/iStock/Getty Images

Cancelled trip? Our World and Traditional Music recordings bring your holiday to your home. First up, be whisked away to an island paradise by a school choir in Suva, Fiji. Where will you go next?

It’s coming home

Raised hands in a football crowd.
ALFSnaiper/iStock/Getty Images

While the Premier League, Olympics and Wimbledon are on hold, you can still experience the atmosphere of supporting your favourite players. Feel the tension rise in the crowd with this recording of a football match in 1994 – will it be a goal?

20 January 2020

Recording of the week: Night in a várzea forest by boat

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This week’s selection comes from Cheryl Tipp, Curator of Wildlife & Environmental Sounds.

Rainforests are noisy places, even after dark. This recording was made in one of the Amazon’s many várzea or floodplain forests, in the dead of night, by wildlife sound recordist Ian Christopher Todd. Based in a boat in the middle of the Amazon River, our recordist found himself surrounded by a cacophony of sound.

Night in a várzea forest recorded by Ian Christopher Todd (BL shelfmark 201326)

Giant Marine Toad

The rattling calls of Giant Marine Toads (Bufo marinus) can be heard alongside the calls of other amphibians. In the distance, unknown sounds emerge from the darkness beyond, creating a multi-layered soundscape. And, as with many recordings of this type, the more you listen the more you’ll hear.

Follow @CherylTipp and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

13 September 2018

Listening to mammals with the Batek

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Coleridge Research Fellow Dr Alice Rudge writes:

The Batek are hunting and gathering people who dwell in the lowland rainforests of Peninsular Malaysia. During my fieldwork with them, I played  some recordings of mammal sounds which are held at the Library. Batek people have extremely detailed ecological knowledge of the rainforest, and this is reflected in their in-depth understanding of its soundscape. I therefore played them these recordings with the idea that hearing these sounds might inspire people to give additional vocabulary or information about these sounds, based on their extensive knowledge.

You can listen to the recordings below:

Siamang duet recorded on Sumatra by Ashley Banwell (BL ref 62323)

White-handed Gibbon calls recorded in Malaysia by Reg Kersley (BL ref 06512)

Clouded Leopard calls recorded in Thailand by John Moore (BL ref 128288)

Binturong calls recorded in Thailand by John Moore (BL ref 61103)

Not only were people aware of what the animals were doing in the recordings I played, but they also accompanied this with cultural information, as well as talking about the emotions that hearing the sounds evoked.

For example, people said that the siamang and white-handed gibbon in the recordings are all running away from predators. In addition, they pointed out that in the siamang recording, the low sounds are the males, but the higher sounds are the females. 

In response to the siamang and white-handed gibbon in particular, people also exclaimed that they felt haʔip ­- an intense feeling of longing, yearning, love, or desire, which is often felt in response to things that are considered beautiful.

Photo credit: cuatrok77 on Visual hunt /  CC BY-SA
Siamang; Symphalangus syndactylus


The beauty of these mammal sounds is reflected in people’s musical instrument playing. The siamang is a favourite sound to recreate on the mouth harp, and the white-handed gibbon is a favourite sound to recreate on the flute. 

However, as well as feeling haʔip,  the white-handed gibbon recording also prompted people to tell the story of the gibbon, including the gruesome part at the end where evil cannibals cook and eat their mother-in-law, which resulted in everyone falling about laughing.

manfredrichter at Pixabay
White-handed gibbon; Hylobates lar

People recognised the sound of the clouded leopard as the yah bintaŋ - yah means ‘tiger’ in Batek, and bintaŋ (or bintang) is the Malay word for ‘stars’, referring to the pattern of its fur.

Photo credit: bobdole369 on Visualhunt /  CC BY-NC-SA
Clouded leopard; Neofelis nebulosa

In the binturong recording, they said that the female binturong is ‘trying to attract male binturongs to mate with’ (ʔoʔ ʔajak tmkal ʔom cycəy).

Photo credit: <a href="https://visualhunt.com/author/e39fc3">jinterwas</a> on <a href="https://visualhunt.com/re/f48d28">Visualhunt</a> / <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/"> CC BY</a>
Binturong; Arctictis binturong

As is also the case for recordings of birds, using wildlife recordings of mammals in the field can therefore be useful for anthropologists, ethnomusicologists, or others who may be interested to find out more about how these sounds are experienced!

The Alice Rudge Collection of Batek recordings is currently being deposited and catalogued, and will be held under the shelfmark C1773.