Friday, January 15, 2021

The Sound of an Epidemic

Life has definitely become a lot quieter for me since the Covid-19 outbreak. During 2020 my social life became almost non-existent. I therefore no longer regularly hear the background noise of music and people that I am used to hearing in cafes, pubs and clubs. In London there is also a lot less plane noise than usual. Unfortunately road noise, which at one point during this epidemic had fallen drastically, seems to be returning to 'normal' levels. 

One thing that hasn't changed for me during lockdown has been my daily walk around my local park. However the soundscape of my local park has definitely changed. Now there is no noise from organized team sports. There are no encouraging shouts from eager players on the field of play or from supporters on the sidelines. There are now no players or fans. However there are lots of people. Before Covid in my local park I would normally see four or five other walkers and a handful of joggers. Now there are hundreds (or what seems like hundreds to me). So now I hear the occasional snatches of passing conservation from strolling couples and single walkers on mobile phones.

All of this is of course anecdotal. I haven't measured the change in noise levels from different sources in my local park and compared them to the noise levels from before Covid-19. I have left that to MIT's Senseable Lab. 

In Sonic Cities Sensable Lab has compared the levels of sound in five famous city parks in cities around the world and measured how their soundscapes have changed during the Covid outbreak.Using the Sonic Cities interactive map you can explore how sound has changed in New York's Central Park, London's Hyde Park, the Public Garden in Milan, Marina Bay in Singapore and Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.

In each park you can view a graph of how noise from human activity, bird song, city sounds and sirens has changed from before and after the Covid outbreak. Each map also includes levels of these noises visualized on top of a walk around the park. The pre-Covid noise levels (for each type of sound) were extracted from the audio of YouTube videos of park walks from previous years. These audio levels have then been compared to recordings captured by volunteers during the epidemic.

MIT are not the only ones making sound recordings during lockdown. The Listening Passport is an interactive map of sounds recorded during Covid-19. The Listening Passport project was originally designed for people in Cornwall, England to record the sounds that surround them during the isolation of lockdown. However the map is actually being used to record the aural soundscapes of coronavirus by people throughout the UK and even further afield.

Anyone can contribute a recording to the map by completing a short form and sharing their location on an interactive map. All recordings submitted to the Listening Passport can be listened to via the project map. Just click on any of the yellow markers on the map and you can listen to the submitted recording.

The Listening Project is not the only map which is interested in recording the sounds of the coronavirus lock-down. Over the last few months many of us have witnessed a dramatic change in our aural landscapes. The huge reduction in air and road traffic has allowed other sounds, like birdsong and the wind blowing through the trees, to come to the fore.

Pete Stollery has created a Google Earth sound map which aims to capture the new soundscapes which have emerged as a result of the huge reduction in normal human activity around the globe. The Covid-19 Sound Map includes recordings from all across the world. These sounds include recordings of now empty city centers, people clapping for health workers, croaking frogs and traffic free streets.

You can add your own sounds to the map by sending recordings and a short explanation of the recording to Pete Stollery. The instructions for how to record your sounds and the form for submitting your recordings are on the Sound website.

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