If you were to type ‘sounds of London’ into a search engine you’ll find references to traffic, trains, the Tube, in effect the hustle and bustle of an animated city like London as you might expect. Then pause for a moment and think about what Thomas Dekker wrote about London in 1606:
“In every street, carts and Coaches make such a thundring as if the world ranne upon wheeles: at everie corner, men, women, and children meete in such shoales, that postes are sette up of purpose to strengthen the houses, least with justling one another they should shoulder them downe.”
It’s easy to complain about noise, we’ve all done it, but the noise of this city is part of its character, the very voice that speaks to you. When that iconic assertive voice warns you to “Mind the Gap” you know exactly where you are, at that moment, unquestionably.
Having grown up in London noise has always been around me, moving from place to place is a way of navigating the surrounding sonic debris. I love walking under the bridge close to where I live and hearing my footsteps suddenly echo and spiral out in reverberant bliss as the architecture resonates with my every step. To stroll into one of the countless parks around London and immerse yourself in the (almost) tranquillity as the electricity of the city vibrates around you in the distance.
The shouts, sirens and screams of the night streets as revellers return home, late night buses carrying them to their beds, and the hum and clatter of the cleaning vehicles preparing the city for the next day, isolated and alone in the early hours of the morning. Then the morning begins again with birdsong and the howl of a train in the distance, drawing commuters to and from their beds to work.
London never sleeps and the noise never takes a holiday so embrace this if you can, and if you continue to struggle with it, then consider what John Cage, the celebrated American musician and thinker wrote “Wherever we are, what we hear is mostly noise. When we ignore it, it disturbs us. When we listen to it, we ﬁnd it fascinating.” So take off those headphones, open those windows and listen.
Want to experience Scanner’s sounds of London further? Scanner will be taking over the Museum of London docklands on Friday 5 September 2014 for the Late London: sonic city event.