Clocks – 23 December

For this advent calendar sound, I am re purposing this blog post from the Sonic Wallpaper blog.

BADDA 4770 in the MoDA wallpaper collection, image © MoDA and used with kind permission

BADDA 4770 inspired many comments about time and about rhythm. I contacted Sir George White – who is the keeper of the Clockmaker’s Museum at Guildhall – to see if they might have some suitable clocks for me to record in their treasure trove of horological devices.

I could not hear this clock through its thick glass case, but doesn’t it look amazing?

I’ve wanted to visit the Clockmaker’s Museum ever since listening to Ian Rawes’s recording of the clocks striking noon there on the London Sound Survey website, and since they house the oldest (and many consider the finest) collection of watches and clocks in the world, it seemed an obvious starting point for the quest to find just the right ticking sound.

Sir George explained to me, however, that the Museum’s tiny size, lack of quiet study rooms, and the fact that it does not have loads of staff to keep it going might make it difficult for me to record the clock sounds that I am hoping to acquire there.

Nonetheless I decided there would be no harm at all in my making some preliminary investigations into the practicalities of recording clocks, and so I made an excursion to the Museum during my Sonic Wallpaper recording adventures.

There is an air-conditioning system at the Clockmaker’s Museum – presumably to protect and conserve the priceless clocks – and so underpinning the delicate sonorities of all the clocks and their internal mechanisms in this recording, you can hear a droning sound. Hopefully, this recording nonetheless gives you some idea of what it’s like to be in a room which is filled floor to ceiling with watches and clocks!

This recording was made with binaural microphones, the capsules of which have an omni-directional pick-up pattern. Without getting into too much technical detail, this means that they “hear” everything around them, which means it is impossible to single the ticking of one clock out from the throng using them. However by attaching an AKG C411 contact mic to the surfaces of the Grandfather clocks over in the corner of the Museum, I was able to get some insights into the different sonic qualities of different clock mechanisms! This is because the contact microphone picks up vibrations running through the wood and glass of the individual clock to which it is attached.

I may have mixed up which clocks were which in my notes, but these are some of the ticks and tocks that I heard with my AKG C411 microphone in the Clockmaker’s Museum.

I think this is the oldest clock I recorded; it was made in 1705 by George Stratford, in London.

This next clock was made in 1720 by Christopher Pinchbeck.

Next up are two clocks from 1750; the first was made by George Graham, and the next one by Justin Vulliamy.

However my favourite recording of the day is this one, and it’s the only one I have no idea about! I wonder if anyone at the Museum could tell from the sound which one it is?

As you can hear in the final Sonic Wallpaper piece created to accompany BADDA 4770, I used some of these clock recordings there, and also repeated some of the things people said to build up a sense of repetition and rhythm in sound.

I have one copy of the Sonic Wallpapers book to give to someone who would like to have a domestic listening experience for themselves! The book has all 18 wallpaper designs from the MoDA collection used in this project, and a CD in the back which contains all the soundpieces. There are introductions both by myself and Zoe Hendon who is the curator of MoDA, and notes on what people said, and what sounds were recorded, for each wallpaper included in the project.

Sonic Wallpapers book

Sonic Wallpapers CD

To win a copy of the book, you just need to leave a comment here about a wallpaper that you remember from your life, and one sound you recall from the room where that wallpaper was. If you cannot think of a wallpaper design and a sound, you could also leave one thought/response you have to this project. On 24th December, I will draw a number at random and post out a copy of the book to the winner!

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