May 15th

Somewhere near a field in Oxfordshire

At daybreak, my face still turned to the wall, and before I had seen above the big window-curtains what tone the first streaks of light assumed, I could already tell what the weather was like. The first sounds from the street had told me, according to weather they came to my ears deadened and distorted by the moisture of the atmosphere or quivering like arrows in the resonant, empty expanses of a spacious, frosty, pure morning; as soon as I heard the rumble of the first tramcar, I could tell whether it was sodden with rain or setting forth into the blue.

Marcel Proust The Captive (1925)

Leaning out of an upstairs window I can hear the sound of hedgerow birds, chickens running in one of the nearby gardens; a football bouncing on a paving slab and then being kicked into the shrubbery; a lone car heading West on the A4130 sounding the asphalt; a Red Kite circling overhead. I lean out further, listening into the distance, into the future, waiting for the tide of mechanised sound to return, for the drone of tyres on asphalt, not the phasing passage of a single car, but the sweeping tide of traffic sound flooding across fields, down lanes, through dense woodland. Perhaps it is still here, cars pass in groups, the air vibrates, the X2 pauses at the bus stop. Covid 19 has transformed our sounding environment, but how much is that transformation felt in any one place, in a place on the periphery of the situation? Can I hear it from my window? Is it evident in my everyday? And when will the tide of sound turn? and when it does turn how will we feel about it? As the air begins to vibrate with the phasing of distant jets will we want to step back or will we embrace the return to the normative sounding of the world? The soundscape is ambivalent. It represents the reduction of pollutants in the atmosphere but also signals the absence of loved ones. The temporary absence of friends but also the permanent absence of those who have lost their lives. This is a soundscape of hope and a soundscape of loss. It is a soundscape of a brighter future, one where listening to the world is part of the decision-making process we undertake when we chose to travel or not to travel; but it is also a soundscape of a brighter past, a past where now lost loved ones were still with us, where we could hear the sounds of their voices vibrating in the air and not just in memory.

I made this recording on Friday 15th May:


Distal Bodies 48.7dBSPL (LAeq)

Woodcote Village Green

Location: Village Green, Woodcote, Oxfordshire, UK

Date: 10th May 2020

Time: 08:54 – 09:09

Weather: Sunny, clear skies and light winds

Temperature: 10oC

Average Sound Level: 48.7dBSPL (LAeq)

The skies are clear of aircraft today, but I sense a gradual return to normal. A lady pulls up in an MPV dropping two children at the primary school, repeated a few minutes later by another family of three. The intermittent crests of combustion engines that have drawn my attention over the past few weeks, are morphing back into one forgettable modulating stream. A dog pursues a lady out jogging, surrounding her with barks and intimidation. It’s elderly owner, unable to break the dog’s singular focus with calls, slowly gets close enough to attach a lead. The brief commotion prompts another dog to join in from a car window, its yapping bolstered by reflections off the village hall. Sensing the mood, a crow’s aggressive cawing intimidates a small, but fiercely undeterred bird. Having passed a van and trailer on the way on to the green, the anticipated buzz of hedge-trimming begins. This is swiftly followed by a sit-on lawnmower, taming the green in concentric circles, driven nonchalantly, slumped one-handed to allow for mobile phone conversation.

For those who sit long enough to hear, there is an audible subjugation silently at work. The rising snarl of engines subdue birdsong and psithurism, routines and expectations rekindle old habits, even the fauna, domestic and wild, seem angered by this oppression.

Woodcote Village Green