Sound hunting

Some of you may remember the top twenty irritating noise chart show that was a feature in The Fantastical Reality Radio Show. In order to collate the top twenty chart, I went in search of the noises people cited as being irritating. I got most of these sounds recorded but one sound in particular was infuriatingly difficult to record; the sound of really loud emergency sirens passing on the street. On countless occasions I went into town with Mark of a weekend evening, recorder poised at the ready, in order to collect the sound. But it was always impossible to capture the noise. Police cars, ambulances and fire engines drive past with such speed that by the time the recorder is out of one’s pocket, booted up and pointed in the direction of the source, the moment has passed and the sound hgas moved beyond recording distance. There is no time in all of this to check input levels either, so once the sound has been recorded it is entirely possible that it will peak out off the scale or be too quiet to hear amongst the white noise that distance creates on a recording.

It is at once an elusive and ubiquitous sound, the sound of an emergency siren. Backdropping many film-noir moments, urban cityscapes and moralistic superhero films, (Gotham city, for instance is full of emergency sirens…) the siren acts in film soundtracks and documentaries as a sort of sonic signifier of urban malaise and All That Is Wrong in Society. I’m not sure what sirens denote to me; there is the practical sense of the sound while I’m driving and a very urgent need to get out of the way, and then there is a sort of cinematic/imaginative element to the sound. Emergency sirens are a strange sound because they denote that there is an emergency happening somewhere quite near, but it is usually a situation I know nothing about. Sirens make me think ultimately about anonymity and dislocation and how something major can happen two streets away that has no real bearing on your life.

Today as I sat in Presto Pizza waiting for my order, I threw the recorder on to capture the sheer banality of the situation and to enhance my experience of listening to exactly where I was, for the duration of the wait. I listened intently to the large extractor fans in the pizza shop kitchen. To the rumble of traffic outside and the casual banter of customers and staff. The telephone ringing. The busy sounds of pizza cooking. And then, without my prompting or hunting or seeking it in any way, a police car came by at full speed with its siren wailing at full volume. By some lucky coincidence my input levels were set in such a way that the sound didn’t peak out or drop away; the siren just went onto my memory card in exactly the way I heard it.

I have heard the expression ‘sound-hunting’ before, but there is something incredibly thrilling about finally capturing a thing I have been seeking for months and which has been so difficult to catch. It thrilled me so much that I totally forgot, until now, that the original reason for finding the sound was to be able to present it within the context of the irritating noises chart. How ironic to find that one of the most annoying sounds I could think of to record, was one of the most joyous ones to eventually find.

2 Responses to Sound hunting

  1. Pingback: The Domestic Soundscape » Blog Archive » Recording Sounds

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