Documenting Britain

The Visible and the Visual

As part of Documenting Britain, I will develop a series of sound works that uses field recordings from the British landscape. The land and the sea, the culture, people, and spirit that lay in the present, the past, and the imagined.

A non-pedestrian city

On New Year’s Day 2015 I was in Aberdeen. The city was quiet, asleep. I took this opportunity to record a short walk in the city centre – a document of the city at rest.

From the corner of John Street, down George Street, through Loch Street and Harriet Street, across Schoolhill, Belmont Street, Back Wynd, across Union Street, down to the Green, Hadden Street, Market Street and back through St Nicholas Mall Terrace.

This was a very short walk, and I thought the soundscape would mainly feature church bells, strollers, and seagulls. I walked past a few people, but mostly ATMs, scrolling billboards, air conditioning units, and many cars. When I listened back to the recording at home I was surprised by how heavily polluted the streets were. Not only by the constant sound of cars, but also by the constant presence of electrical interferences, signals, and mechanical sounds.

I went back to Google maps and checked my itinerary. Central Aberdeen has no pedestrian areas and a very few short pathways. There are four shopping malls (six if we include John Lewis and Aberdeen Market) within a stretch of 0.7 miles. People are contained within these indoor spaces; everywhere else outside is dominated by cars (and lorries a little further towards the harbour).

The pedestrian stretch between Sauchiehall Street and Argyll Street in Glasgow it’s one mile. And it’s busy. With people. Outside.