Sarah-Joy Maddeaux, You Are Hear Project Officer at the Essex Record Office, talks about the sounds of our county:
For the past six months, the You Are Hear project team at the Essex Sound and Video Archive has been asking the public what Essex sounds like. Whether stopping innocent passers-by in shopping centres, appealing to the public through newspapers, or calling for suggestions through e-bulletins, we have been asking you what noises you hear in your daily routine; what noises you associate with the county; what sounds represent your community.
Now we have the answer! Well, to a point. We have compiled the results with our sound recordist, Stuart Bowditch. Based on your suggestions, he has been venturing into the far corners of the county, braving all weathers, to capture those soundscapes. And now you can hear some of the results on our audio map, Essex Sounds.
From church bells to firework displays; the sounding of ship’s horns at Tilbury to bring in the New Year to the annual New Year’s hunt parade through Maldon (yes, he managed to capture both, and more besides that day!): see if your suggestion of an Essex sound has been recorded.
In our public surveys about Essex sounds, many people commented on a perceived difference between the north and south of the county. Commonly, people considered the southern part of the county to contain more industrial noises, more hustle and bustle, more crowded atmospheres: with more people speaking with a London or ‘TOWIE accent’. The north was depicted as quieter, more rural, where the people are more likely to speak with a ‘traditional’ Essex accent.
Is this an accurate depiction of the county, or is it over-generalised? Why not consult the Essex Sounds map to see if it reflects this north-south divide?
The map also enables comparisons between old and new sounds of the county. We have uploaded some historic recordings from the Archive. For example, you can listen to an auction at the Chelmsford cattle market in the 1950s.
You can then compare it with a recording made on that site in 2015, capturing the busy atmosphere of High Chelmer on a Saturday. Try it out here
If your sound suggestion has not yet been added, do not fear: our site is still a work in progress. Stuart will continue to record Essex sounds over the next few months, gradually uploading them to the audio map. We will also keep adding historic recordings as they are digitised, as part of this Heritage Lottery Funded project. We are happy to receive further suggestions of places and events to record, though we will not be able to include everything within the scope of the project.
In the next phase, our web developers will build an app version. By the autumn, you will be able to take the map on location, listening to the clips in the very spot where they were first recorded.
In the meantime, why not contribute your own recording to the site? We want the map to fully reflect your experiences of what Essex sounds like. You will find instructions on the ‘contribute’ page, but please get in touch if you have any questions.
We would be delighted to talk to any museums that want to use the Essex Sounds map for engagement activities. Maybe you want to host a recording day, encouraging people to venture out into the surrounding area with their phones and tablets to capture what your community sounds like in 2016, then upload the fruits to the map. Or perhaps a workshop is more up your street: inviting theorists and practitioners to review the material and discuss how the sounds of Essex are changing, and what this means about bigger socio-cultural shifts. How does sound affect our sense of place? What sounds are absent in our collections, and how can we redress that for future generations?
We would love to hear any feedback you have, so that we can continue to improve the site and pass on your comments to our website developers, Community Sites. Please be gentle with us, though: we are still in the development phase! We would also be grateful for any volunteers to test the map more extensively, particularly if you are using accessibility software. Please get in touch find out more.
From summer 2016 to summer 2018, we will be showcasing a selection of our recordings on interactive touchscreen kiosks and listening benches that will tour public locations across the county. We are also looking for volunteers to help us with installing listening benches in the following areas:
- Great Baddow
- Great Chesterford / Clavering
Please get in touch if you want to be a part of our tour, or if you can help with the community benches.