Ian Rawes from the London Sound Survey, on vending machines

Many of you will be familiar with the London Sound Survey project by Ian Rawes. If not, you really must go and listen to some of the fantastic recordings Rawes has made, check out the exciting ways that he is mapping the sounds of the capital, and read the rich and informative writings about sound on his project blog.

Rawes has a unique talent for capturing everyday sounds both in prose and on his recording equipment, and his posts about London Street Markets and old-style London cafes led me to wonder if had ever explored the mundane sonic world of the vending machine. I penned him some questions relating to the sonic world of vending machines, and the results of our correspondence are presented below.

1. As a sound-recordist, what do you see as being some of the technical challenges involved in recording the sounds of a vending machine in operation?

Probably just finding vending machines in fairly quiet places or at times where there wasn’t a lot of background noise – presuming that you’d want to keep that to a minimum.

2. How would you set about recording the sound of a vending machine?

Best to use head-worn stereo mics to keep the hands free for operating the machine, and get up close to the sounds.

3. Have you ever had a personally significant vending machine in your life? For instance, at a swimming pool where you swam as a child, or in a place of work?

There was a machine at school that sold you an orange for tuppence, but at that age I preferred things that were fruit-flavoured rather than the actual fruits themselves. There was a cigarette machine bolted to the outside wall of the local newsagents, and it was a very solid-looking chrome-plated effort of the kind that’s now disappeared. It had the allure of the forbidden. Also, a shop in Neasden where I sometimes went as teenager and which had no staff or counter, just lots of vending machines. One of them sold hot chips, and they weren’t microwaved chips either, so how it worked was a mystery.

4. If you try to imagine the sound of a vending machine, what is the first imagined sound that pops into your head?

Maybe the noise made by those machines put outside shops and which sells trinkets aimed at kids. You have to put 20p into a slot and turn a handle all the way round. It makes a good sound of gears and springs being engaged out of sight.

5. Have you ever felt cheated by a vending machine?

Lots of times! The ones on the London Underground used to dispense Paynes chocolates in those little cardboard boxes and they were notorious for not working properly. It was more like using a fruit machine without the jackpot. There was a phone number on the machine if you weren’t happy, so I once rang it and got some books of stamps in the post a couple of weeks later.

6. Have you ever purchased an item from a vending machine purely so that you could record the sound of it being dispensed?

Not yet, but I’m tempted to now you mention it.

Thank you, Ian!