On the Covid 19 Shoreline

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.

Somewhere near a field in Oxfordshire

This is where I am, so this where I listen. If I lived in Drayton near the A34; close to the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford; in Greater Leys close to the Kassam Stadium; on Old Greyfriars Street opposite the Westgate Shopping Centre, the differences in the soundscape would be immediately noticeable with the presence and absence of sound charting the transformation of our behaviour. But here, just South of the A4130 between Wallingford and Sires Hill the change is more subtle, harder to measure, but evident nonetheless.

On April 22nd 2020 the Chief medical officer for the UK government, Chris Whitty, made it clear that some of the social distancing and lockdown measures designed to slow the spread of Covid 19 may be in place until the end of the year. As a way of trying to understand how our sounding behaviour has changed and how that has impacted on our domestic soundscapes I will be leaning out of an upstairs window to record my local sounding environment every day until all social distancing and lockdown measures are removed.

I made the first recording on Thursday 23rd April 2020: