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.

The project is currently led by Paul Whitty and is supported by the Sonic Art Research Unit (SARU) at Oxford Brookes University.

Current and Recent projects

Image from Lizze King one of the 2023 Open Call artists

In 2023 we held our second Open Call and the selected arists are currently working on their projects as they prepare for events and publications in May 2024. Here are the selected artists with information about their developing projects:

Our 2019 Open Call project marked ten years of Sound Diaries. 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 (above).

Sound Diaries in the Pandemic

As part of a bid to understand the impact of the current Covid 19 pandemic on our sounding experience we are beginning to work on projects that will map the changes in our everyday soundscapes as the lockdown begins to ease:

Get Rid! investigates the everyday sounding culture of grassroots football.

To listen to the sound of grassroots football matches on parish recreation grounds, playing fields and village greens is to listen to a rich sounding culture. The distinctive practices of on-pitch communication; the whistle; the sound of football boot on ball, of the ball as it lands; the struck crack of the crossbar; studs compressing the soil, brushing the grass, slicing through the turf. Grassroots football is a game of noise, silence, presence, absence, activity, inactivity. The sounding comes in waves — building, receding. Pitches stand empty for days then startle into exuberant sound-making action. Football is present. Football is happening. A substitution is made; the ball takes a wild deflection from a corner — disappears into a garden — and is followed by a player who climbs over a fence and into undergrowth to retrieve it; a free-kick is given and the game stalls; the goalkeeper argues with his left-back about how many players should be in the wall; the central defender argues with the ref about the infringement; the assistant referee checks his phone for messages. There’s an injury and the players stand around in small groups talking or lost in their own thoughts. Then the game crackles into life with a high tackle; a controversial decision; a header that slaps against the post; a counter-attack; a coach barely able to prevent himself from running onto the pitch and who, instead, ends up kicking the dugout. The final whistle. The everyday sounds of the parish recreation ground, playing field and village green return. Football is absent. Football isn’t happening.

You can listen to Paul Whitty talking about the project on BBC Sound’s The Boring Talks; and on the Football Collective Podcast:

Archived projects to explore

Sonic Time Capsule: 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: 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.

Vending Machines of the British Isles: 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.

SOUND BANK: 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.

One thought on “About Sound Diaries”

  1. Very interested in this work – I’ve been recording silences – just at the beginning of this project and want some conversation – will you be running any conferences this year?

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