Recreation Grounds, Playing Fields and Village Greens have fallen silent – football isn’t happening. A twenty-eight day suspension is in place as part of measures to reduce the incidence of Covid-19. On each of the twenty-eight days I will be visiting a football pitch and recording the sounding absence of football.
It might reasonably have been supposed that she was listening to the wind, which rose somewhat as the night advanced, and laid hold of the attention. The wind, indeed, seemed made for the scene, as the scene seemed made for the hour. Part of its tone was quite special; what was heard there could be heard nowhere else. Gusts in innumerable series followed each other from the northwest, and when each one of them raced past the sound of its progress resolved into three. Treble, tenor, and bass notes were to be found therein. The general ricochet of the whole over pits and prominences had the gravest pitch of the chime. Next there could be heard the baritone buzz of a holly tree. Below these in force, above them in pitch, a dwindled voice strove hard at a husky tune, which was the peculiar local sound alluded to. Thinner and less immediately traceable than the other two, it was far more impressive than either. In it lay what may be called the linguistic peculiarity of the heath; and being audible nowhere on earth off a heath, it afforded a shadow of reason for the woman’s tenseness, which continued as unbroken as ever.
Throughout the blowing of these plaintive November winds that note bore a great resemblance to the ruins of human song which remain to the throat of fourscore and ten. It was a worn whisper, dry and papery, and it brushed so distinctly across the ear that, by the accustomed, the material minutiae in which it originated could be realized as by touch. It was the united products of infinitesimal vegetable causes, and these were neither stems, leaves, fruit, blades, prickles, lichen, nor moss.
The Return of the Native (Hardy: 1878)
Alongside the sound of the wind the sound of birdsong is – as mentioned – one of the most dominant aspects of the soundscapes that I have experienced during the project. Up until this stage I haven’t really attempted to go beyond the description of the phenomenon as just that – birdsong. There has been no attempt to identify species or consider whether the song is coming from a long distance, from the treetops or from the hedgerows. I began to think that I should seek to rectify this but have precious little knowledge of bird calls beyond the most common participants, the Chaffinch, Blackbird, Jackdaw and Wood Pigeon. In order to begin to decode the birdsong in the recording featured below I enlisted the help of ChirpOMatic – an app that automatically identifies bird calls. It was developed by computer scientist Alex Wilson and biologist Hilary Lind. In 11″ episodes I applied the app to the recording. ChirpOMatic provides three top matches and two runners up for each recording it makes. I have included the top matches in the transcription below.
What soon became clear was that ChirpOMatic was perhaps hearing birdsong that wasn’t there – possibly as a result of the multiple sounds present – and was also missing some birdsong as a result of it being too distant or obscured by other more dominant sounds. For example, there is a constant chirp of Sparrows in the background of the recording and these are not picked up by ChirpOMatic and the call of the Peacock also fails to register. The combination of birdsong, shouts from players and managers and other sounds in the soundscape make ChirpOMatic‘s task a tough one. The Mallard identified at 1’50” is almost certainly the result of one of the substitutes walking to the carpark to get the mud off his boots by knocking their soles together; whilst the Lapwing’s alarm call identified on several occasions is probably the result of – amongst other things – a player calling hey! hey! hey! hey! at 2’45”. What I did establish through reference to the identifications of ChirpOMatic and my own research was that there were almost certainly calls from the Chaffinch, Blackbird, Wren, Robin, Peacock and Sparrow plus some that remain unidentified. Despite ChirpOMatic‘s insistence the presence of the Curlew, Green Woodpecker, Starling, Song Thrush, Pheasant and Mallard is unlikely on this occasion!
The recording in question was made on the threshold of the car park next to the gate post:
The drone of distant traffic can be heard from the A34 to the West and the A475 Abingdon Road to the North. There are occasional sounds of local traffic on the High Road.
A dog barks.
The muffled thud of boot on ball.
The ball is closer now. A clear sound of contact.Car keys.
The soles of a pair of football boots are tapped together to clear them of mud.
The sound of clapping.A distant peacock.
The muffled thud of boot on ball.
Football boots on tarmac.
A car passes by.