Everyday sound has had a curious and extraordinary year in the midst of some of the toughest of times. Amongst the sounding memories we have of the last eleven months is the shuffle of papers, hushed voices and birdsong on the live feed from the Rose Garden at number ten Downing Street as journalists waited for Dominic Cummings to make a statement about his visit to Barnard Castle; the sound of rain falling on the turf at Elland Road, home of Leeds United, audible only because there was no crowd, no sound in the stadium other than the sporadic shouting of the players and coaches and the falling rain; the still quiet of the fields alongside the A34 usually saturated with the deafening sound-making of tyres on asphalt but during the first lockdown in England filled instead with the sound of birdsong and children playing.
Since its inception in 2008 Sound Diaries has sporadically had an advent calendar – 24 seconds of sound everyday from December 1st to December 24th. We considered doing that this year but it didn’t really sit well with us. Instead we thought it could be interesting to mark the end of the sounding year by posting audio documentation by a different contributor each day in December. The contribution could be a recording, a text, a photograph, a drawing, a diagram, a sentence scribbled on the back of a beer-mat, a few words – anything that could be used to document an aspect the everyday sound experiences of twenty twenty – a year of strange soundings.
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.
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.