Last updated: 1 september, 2011 - 11:53 GMT

Sounds diary

Thank you! – 31/7/09

People from all around the world have sent in their sounds. Thanks to your efforts, I've been transported away from my desk all over the globe with your sounds!

Who knew acoustic ecology would be so interesting? Until a few months ago I didn’t even know there was such a thing if I'm honest.

If you're keen on other sound-related endeavours, read click Johnclick Levackclick Drever’s Q&A on acoustic ecology and check out some of the links that he suggests.

Here are some sites that you might also enjoy:

For more on acoustic ecology:

click - The World Forum of Acoustic Ecology

click - The Acoustic Ecology Institute

Some good sound sites:

click - another great sound map, based in Germany

click – this site really will transport you with sound. Choose your departure point and destination and it will mix together sounds along the journey to create a track for your delectation

click – a collaborative database of sounds all licensed under Creative Commons

click - a project to encourage schools to help children to create and share sonic postcards

click - a user created database and reference project for everything audio or sound related

Some from the SOS community:

click – listen to some "sound photographs" from SOS contributor Ollie Hall

click – Belgium-based site specialising in sounds of nature, from SOS contributor Dominique Laloux

click – Professor Pete Stollery kindly shared many of these sounds with us.This is his original project page

click - Dallas got in touch right at the start of SOS and has consistently provided us with high quality sounds for our map

click a social place to share and discuss your recordings. Relatively new but growing community and kind supporters of Save Our Sounds

Do have a play. I hope in future that you'll not only take time to smell the roses, but also make some time to stop and listen to the sounds around you.

Nee-nor! Nee-nor! – 26/7/09

Today I received an email from Gloria Elliot from the Noise Abatement Society in the UK. Now you might think that they're not the sort of people that Save Our Sounds should be acquainting with, we're all about saving sounds not silencing them after all, but she raised an interesting point.

I don't know about where you live, but sirens from police cars and ambulances are a frequent part of the soundscape that I'm immersed in. According to Gloria, the Noise Abatement Society (NAS) help-line has received hundred of complaints about these sirens.

Ambulance (AP Photo/Kaspar Wenstrup/Scanpix Nordfoto)

Ambulance in Roskilde, Denmark

"Without exception, they are all excessively loud and induce a feeling of fear to our crowded urban areas" she says. In response to these complaints, NAS is trying to find a more "hearer friendly" siren.

She's asked if we can find out a little bit more about sirens around the world. This ties in nicely with a click Sound Scavenger challenge that I had waiting in the wings.

I'm pretty sure that sirens have changed even during my lifetime. Ambulances, fire-engines and police cars used to have their own distinctive sound, but now there's just one blanket siren for them all. Do sirens in your city "induce a feeling of fear"? What would you prefer to hear?

What are these sounds like where you live? Please let us know by sending us your sounds!

Continental full house! - 09/07/09

We've done it - we've got sounds from every single continent, including Antarctica. I can't even begin to tell you how pleased I am. The final piece of the jigsaw was supplied by my colleague Martin Redfern from the BBC Science Radio Unit. He's had the privilege of visiting Antarctica and was kind enough to share some of the sounds he recorded with us here at Save Our Sounds.


Martin Redfern met some penguins

I've always been a fan of penguins, so I felt a prickle of excitement hearing the sound of King penguins in The Falklands and Gentoo penguins in Antarctica. The most amazing sound though, is that made by a huge lump of ice falling off a glacier. Incredible, and I mean really incredible. I asked Martin how he captured this sound:

We had landed by helicopter from HMS Endurance with a team of scientists. They'd collected their samples and I'd completed my recordings for the BBC. It was a glorious sunny day, not even very cold. I'd noticed some small lumps of ice falling off the glacier across the bay so, while we ate our sandwiches and waited for the helicopter to return, I placed a recorder on a rock away from our chatter. Just a few minutes later an overhang of ice the size of a bus broke away and crashed into the sea, sending waves across the bay. I was probably 200 metres away and quite safe. But it was an awesome reminder of the power of ice.

Antarctic ice

Antarctic ice glacier

As someone commented on Twitter, this is probably a sound that is going to become more common in the next few decades, but after that, if all the ice melts, it will never be heard again.

Have a listen, it's truly breathtaking.

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Hear the sounds around you – 29/06/09

Throughout my time working on Save Our Sounds I have been persuading people to stop and listen to the sounds around them. Many people have come back to me to express their surprise at what they heard when they really listened. One such person was Trit, who tweeted "Conscious today of many little sounds that usually disappear into white noise of city traffic. Give full credit for this to @BBC_SOS influence".

I'm really pleased to have inspired people to take the time to listen. Sound is such an important thing in our lives, but we do tend to take it for granted. Lou Lesko tried wearing noise-cancelling headphones for a couple of hours in San Francisco and reported on the surreal experience of visiting familiar places with the sound effectively muted. You can read about it in his click blog.


Continuing on the theme of encouraging people to listen, Colin Billyard got in touch to say he had written a song for his children in order to get them to think about sounds. The Save Our Sounds team really enjoyed listening to it and he’s very kindly agreed to share it. Here it is for you to hum along to...

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The long-lost Lituus – 26/06/09

At the beginning of Save Our Sounds a click news story caught my eye. It said that researchers at the University of Edinburgh had recreated a long-lost instrument called the Lituus, which hadn't existed for 300 years. I was fascinated by the idea that a sound that had died out was now being reintroduced to the world.

I emailed Professor Murray Campbell to find out if we might be able to get a recording of the instrument for our map. Then rather cheekily, I asked if his team could play the World Service music on it, for a bit of fun.

Amazingly, he didn't just tell me to go away, but put me on to Mike Diprose who organised the Lituus project. Mike and his team took on the challenge and I'm proud to announce the world premiere of the World Service jingle played on the Lituus. Enjoy!

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Toot Toot! – 23/06/09

Well so much has happened since I last wrote! People have been sending in all sorts of wonderful sounds from around the world, and thanks to Ian Birch and Dallas Simpson, we really are “full steam ahead!”

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Keep up the good work people!

While we’re on the subject of trains – I thought you might be interested to compare the sounds of the London Underground and the New York Subway. They’re subtly different.

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Full Steam Ahead! - 09/06/09

What a week! Our interactive map has launched and already we're getting sounds in from around the world. I've been interviewed on The World Today and done a piece for next week's Digital Planet. Outlook have interviewed acoustician Trevor Cox about the project too.

The Save Our Sounds website is getting mentions all over the World Service and people have been sending me requests for sounds that they'd like to hear again for click Desperately Seeking Sounds. In a word: Brilliant.

So now I guess it's over to you. We need your help to populate our map with interesting and endangered sounds from all around the world. Or perhaps you can help make someone's day by recording a long-lost sound that they've told us they miss?

We really want as many people involved in this as possible, and we're giving you plenty of options to send us your sounds - you can send them online, by phone or even by post!

The sounds I've heard already are great and I'm so pleased that people are as excited about the project as I am. We'll keep updating the site with new sound challenges and match-making successes, so be sure to keep checking for updates.

I used the common phrase "Full steam ahead" as the title for this piece - can anyone provide the sound of a steam train to go with it?

Turn it up (send it in!) - 05/06/09

We are getting excitingly close to the launch of our interactive map. All systems go on Monday - I can't wait!

I've been looking through some of the sounds that I've collected on my travels and I've come up with a corker, a really unique sound.

Crowd Obama inauguration concert

The crowds at the inauguration concert for Obama

Two days before Barack Obama was inaugurated as the 44th President of the United States there was a huge concert at the Lincoln Memorial. Thousands and thousands of people waited for hours in the freezing cold (the reflecting pool was solid ice!) to hear a range of musicians, speakers and even Obama himself.

As Bishop Gene Robinson opened the proceedings, there was some problem with the sound system, and many of us couldn't hear what he was saying. After a few moments, the crowd started chanting "Turn it up" and "We can't hear" whilst pointing upwards. Eventually it had the desired effect and they turned up the volume. Power to the people!

It was an amazing thing to be part of, and here's a little clip of what it sounded like:

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Wow. Just listening to that puts me right back in the crowd again. Amazing.

So that's my sound I'm sharing today. I'd love to hear yours. You've got a whole weekend to get recording. Go to it sound scavengers!

Hot or Cold? - 03/06/09

While sitting in the office yesterday, I heard two interesting things. Firstly, that my boss, currently an Editor at the World Service, started out at the BBC making sound effects for a famous radio drama. Secondly, that hot and cold water sound different when being poured.


Lots of tea!

My boss learnt this the hard way when a producer shouted, "That's not a believable cup of tea!" at him one day.

I had no reason to doubt the truth of what he was saying, but being the curious type I wanted to test it myself.

Here are the results - first cold water, then hot. Can you hear the difference?

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Name that noise! - 01/06/09

Yesterday I was thinking about the type of sounds that might be considered "endangered". It occurred to me that the insistent march of new technology is not only responsible for the creation of new sounds, but the extinction of others.

Just a few years ago the unmistakable "click-click-whir-buzz-dongy-dong-crrssshh" noise of a 56k modem was the signal that my computer was connecting to the internet. Nowadays it connects not only automatically, but silently, thanks to the advent of broadband.

I asked people for suggestions of endangered sounds and the majority that came in were technology-based. Traditional ringing phones, monophonic mobile ringtones, computer disk drives, video recorders, manual shutter winders on 35mm cameras, needles on records - all sounds that are at risk of being lost forever.

With this in mind, I went round my house recording a few pieces of electrical equipment that I own. Just for fun, see if you can identify them. This is not a competition, there are no prizes, but if you're lucky I'll drop you a line and say hello!

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Email your guesses to and I'll reveal the answers later this week.

What is Save Our Sounds? - 01/06/09

If you've been following Save Our Sounds on click Twitter and you'd like to know a bit more about the project, read on...

Save Our Sounds

Save Our Sounds

The BBC World Service has two fascinating documentaries about acoustic ecology coming up in July. We were so interested in the idea of saving endangered sounds and sharing soundscapes that we thought it would be great to get more people involved. We came up with the idea of Save Our Sounds so that everyone could try their hand at being an acoustic ecologist.

We're hoping that people from all over the world will help us take an audio snapshot of the sounds that they hear. There are plenty of words and pictures recording the history of the globe, but much less in the way of sound. You can help us put that right!

Next week we'll be launching the full project website which includes an interactive sound map. This will allow to you to upload sounds to the place where they were recorded. I'll be setting you some recording challenges and we'll try and reunite people with sounds that they can no longer hear, via a feature called "Desperately Seeking Sounds".

Is there a sound that you would like to hear again? Let us know and we'll see if someone can record it for you. Perhaps you've had to move house and you're missing the sounds of your hometown? Maybe it's the distinctive hum of traffic, the sound of clock bells chiming or the swish of branches in a forest. Or maybe there's a sound that is dying out that you'd like captured?

Drop us a line telling us which sound you'd like to hear, and why, and we'll do our very best to match-make you with it.

The Sound Store - 27/05/09

Sound Archive

British Library Sound Archive

We've been thinking about what we should do with all the sounds that we collect during Save Our Sounds. Some of them will be useful in the BBC sound effects library and others will be of interest to the acoustic ecology community. We're very keen to share them, so when I heard about the British Library Sound Archive I thought I should get in touch.

The head of the British Library sound archive, Richard Ranft, was kind enough to invite me over for a tour. Based at the British Library in central London, the sound archive is home to over 3.5 million different recordings. According to Richard if you played them end to end it would take you more than 65 years to listen to them all, and that's without including any new sounds added after you started listening!

Their vast collection consists of thousands of interviews, radio shows, sound clips and music, some dating back over a hundred years.

Deep down in the basement, where you can not only hear, but feel the underground trains rumbling by, there are tall shelves stacked high with records and tapes. Each one has an individual barcode that links it to their catalogue, which you can search online.

As you emerge from the basement stores you find the sound labs and studios where the team are undertaking the time-consuming process of digitising all of the archive's content. You can listen to a selection of their audio via the Sound Archive website at click

Walking down a corridor lined with reel-to-reel tape decks, a gramophone and even a couple of jukeboxes, Richard and I talked about Save Our Sounds. I was pleased to find that he shares my enthusiasm for the project.

"It's often the sounds that are too familiar now that will be missing in years to come" he commented, adding that "we'll be saying we should have collected those".

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A good example of this is the sound of the iconic London Routemaster bus, which has now been almost completely taken out of service in favour of more modern vehicles. Richard was kind enough to lend us a recording of that sound, so if you'll lend me your ears, here it is!

Stop and Listen - 22/05/09

When was the last time you stopped and listened to the sounds around you? I mean really listened? For me it was when I started working on the Save Our Sounds project. I did a little experiment and wrote down every sound that I heard on my way to the office. By the time I arrived here I’d filled two whole pages with notes.

From the jangling noise of my keys, to the quiet crunch of the gravel in the church yard that I walk through. The sound of children laughing on their way to school, suddenly drowned out by the deafening judders of a pneumatic drill.

The underground train station had a distinctive hum that I would certainly notice if it wasn’t there, but hadn’t really listened to before. The unmistakable clunk of the doors closing, the rumble of the train as we disappeared into the tunnel on the way to the next station. Hasty footsteps dashing up stairs and metal escalators leading to the racket of automatic ticket barriers slamming shut behind people.

Back outside I picked out buses, lorries, cars, taxis, motorbike and cyclists, each with their own sound, and each a small part of a bigger soundscape unique to here and now.

As I walked the last little way to the Bush House my attention was drawn to the gentle “flip-flop” of a lady’s summer footwear and the clackety-clack of wheely suitcases being pulled over the paving stones.

As a radio journalist and producer I have to think about the sort of sounds that will bring reports alive and take you on a journey. It’s amazing how you can be transported to different worlds through sound, and yet I’m sure I’m not the only one who takes sound for granted a lot of the time.

Taking the time to just stop and listen is refreshing. You should give it a try.

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Everyone’s journey will have its own mix of sound and we’d like to hear yours. We want to capture sounds from all around the world, record them and keep them safe for future generations. The more people that take part, the better it will be, and we'll be relying on your sounds as the basis of some exciting interactive projects we're putting together.

So maybe don't watch, but listen to this space.

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