About Sound Diaries

Make an effort to exhaust the subject, even if that seems grotesque, or pointless, or stupid. You still haven’t looked at anything, you’ve merely picked out what you’ve long ago picked out. (Georges Perec; Species of Spaces; 1974)

In 2008 Felicity Ford and Paul Whitty set up a project with the aim of recording everyday life in sound – to resist the overwhelming tide of visual images of the everyday and to meet it with the abundant soundings of vending machines, luggage carousels, toasters, escalators, boilers, garden sheds, wheeled luggage. We followed the writer Georges Perec’s instruction to exhaust the subject, not to be satisfied with a cursory glance, not to be satisifed to have identified what you already know – what you have already heard – but to look again or in our case to listen, to keep listening, to listen long after it would probably have been more sensible to stop. That project was Sound Diaries.

Sound Diaries expands awareness of the roles of sound and listening in daily life. Exploring the cultural and communal significance of sounds, Sound Diaries forms a research basis for projects executed both locally and Internationally, in Beijing, Brussels, Tallinn, rural Estonia and Cumbria; within local institutions in Oxford including Schools; and within cultural organisations such as Sound and Music, BBC Radio and Boring 2011.

The project is currently led by Paul Whitty and in January 2019 he introduced his current project Get Rid! as part of the BBC Sounds Boring Talks .

Current Sound Diaries projects include:

Open Call 2019: To mark ten years of Sound Diaries we placed an open call for participants. Of the fantastic array of resulting submissions we selected twelve artists: Richard Bentley, Hannah Dargavel-Leafe, Aisling Davis, Atilio Doreste, Lucía Hinojosa, James Green, Sena Karahan, Marlo De Lara, Fi.Ona,  Beth Shearsby, Jacek Smolicki and Kathryn Tovey.

Get Rid! or the Sounding Cultures of Grassroots Football (2016-): this project takes an exploratory approach to the soundscapes of grassroots football in Oxfordshire and focuses on recordings made during matches in the North Berks Football League and recordings of my experiences as a coach; groundsman; and committee member of a youth football team who play in the Oxford mail youth Football League.

Some significant archived Sound Diaries projects include:

Vending Machines of the British Isles (2010-2011): this investigation explored the context of the vending machine and how the sounds of the everyday can engage a broad audience through popular media. It culminated in an appearance at Boring 2011;

SOUND BANK (2008-): this exploration of field recording as a text based activity commenced in 2008, when the Sound Diaries site formed, and Ford was inspired by the act of writing texts to accompany field-recordings on the Sound Diaries website to create an archive of sounds recorded purely in notation, drawings or words.

Sonic Time Capsule (2011): this project engaged the British Library UK Sound Map project and formed the basis of a themed session at the British Forum for Ethnomusicology 2013 hosted by the Pitt-Rivers Museum.

Hûrd (2012): this project formed part of a body of work examining differences within the soundscape of the international wool industry. For the Hûrd Diaries, recordings created in Cumbria in January 2012, and in Estonia in May 2012 were presented in pairs with accompanying texts reflecting on the differences, similarities etc. of each pair, and on the cultural significance of such different sounds as Herdwicks running in Cumbria and smaller Estonian native sheep grazing underneath trees. This research activity underpinned the ‘cultural exchange’ theme of a British Council and MoKS funded residency in Estonia undertaken by Ford (also in 2012) and provided an invaluable online platform for Ford’s sonic investigations concerning relationships between the UK and Estonian woollen industries

Sound Diaries online

The continued development of Vending machines of the British Isles; SOUND BANK; Sonic Time Capsule (2011); and Hûrd (2011-2012) through Sound Diaries has generated opportunities for public engagement through social media, popular conferences and events, exhibitions, and podcast and media appearances.

Vending Machines of the British Isles (2010-2011) was featured at “Boring 2011”, a popular conference and subsequently in episode 60 of the cult technology podcast ‘shiftrunstop’. An installed version of the work also featured in the audio architecture exhibition in Beijing and London.

When Ford devised SOUND BANK she was volunteering on BBC Oxford’s cultural magazine show, “The Hub” where she publicised the project in a short entitled “Sounds from Life”. Additionally, a special edition of SOUND BANK was produced for a public gallery show in Reading called “Love is Awesome”, and in 2009, Ford published records from December 2008 daily on her own website as an advent calendar blog-post series. SOUND BANK also drew the attention of Rutger Zuydervelt, who asked Ford to contribute a text to “Take a Closer Listen”, 250 copies of which were printed and distributed internationally. SOUND BANK archival envelopes were handed out to audience members during a soundwalk co-presented by Ford along with Peter Cusack and Pascal Amphoux as part of the “ARTEFACT” festival in STUK, Leuven in 2013. Additionally, SOUND BANK featured in the lecture presentation Ford gave at that event. Different outputs and incarnations of SOUND BANK have impacted across multiple platforms – local radio; gallery exhibition; web-based projects; books and festival event programmes; all underpinned by the research activity of writing textually about sounds on the Sound Diaries website.

In 2010, Ford attended a meeting about public engagement with the British Library’s “UK Sound Map”. Sonic Time Capsule was a themed recording project conceived through Ford’s exposure to the concepts behind the UK Sound Map, and recorded sounds were made available to the public via the map and an associated audioboo account required for contributing to it. These sounds were in 2012 repurposed for a “framework:afield” radio show foregrounding the key issues around archiving field recordings for posterity in advance of a related presentation at the British Forum for Ethnomusicology’s conference. The show was broadcast on Resonance fm (UK); Concertzender (NL); Radio Nouspace (Canada); Soundart Radio (UK); Radio Zero (PT); Radio Marš (SI); Radio Campus (BE); WGXC (US); and Radio Paisagem (Br).

Hûrd takes its name from a sound and textiles work presented by Ford in Cumbria in January 2012, and is part of a series of projects conducted by Ford under the KNITSONIK moniker. These projects engage stakeholders in the working wool industry through creative uses of sound. Sound-based practices highlight the origins of woollen textiles in distinctive landscapes and social histories, and different strategies are used to draw shepherds, mill-owners and hand-knitters into related discourses. An exhibition held at Rheged arts centre in January 2012 – “Wonder of Wool” – featured a hand-knitted speaker system covered in Cumbrian wool, entitled “Hûrd – A KNITSONIK PRODUKTION”. Through these speakers, field recordings later presented on the Sound Diaries site were played – sounds largely originating from the same farms as the wool used to cover the speakers.

In May 2012, Ford used Sound Diaries as a platform for research during a British-Council funded residency in MoKS, Estonia. Cumbrian recordings were paired with new recordings made in Estonia and presented on Sound Diaries with accompanying texts reflecting on their differences, similarities, and cultural significance. This underpinned the ‘cultural exchange’ theme of the residency, providing an invaluable platform for Ford’s investigations concerning relations between British and Estonian woollen industries. Sounds and ideas presented on Sound Diaries re: links between wool and landscape were repurposed to give a sonic dimension to the popular WOVEMBER campaign website, and Ford’s baa-tone has been downloaded by over 200 users.