To celebrate World Listening Day on 18 July 2020, the National Science and Media Museum launched a collaborative map to collect the ‘sounds of quarantine’. The museum’s social media followers were invited to share the sounds they’d been listening to or noticing during Covid-19 lockdown.
More than 50 contributions have been already shared—from the unusual silence of cities to some peculiar sounds of lockdown heard from home. Although many of us have lived similar experiences, we discovered that there have been as many lockdowns as people. In this post you can explore some of the experiences collected so far and find out how to upload your own sounds to the map!
1. The unusual silence of our cities
One of the first feeling reported by people was the absence of sounds. “What was absent,” says one of our Twitter followers, “was the cacophony, the merging of the constant din and rattle of the city.”
Not everyone had the same reaction to this unusual atmosphere. For some, like one of our museum volunteers, it was fearful: “I went into Bradford town centre two times. So quiet. It was kind of scary, because silence can be deafening. It was the lack of sound. That’s the strange thing.”
For others, this absence represented the rediscovery of sounds that used to remain unheard in the background: the sounds of nature, the sound of a lady feeding the seagulls, or of a rolling suitcase.
Others became aware of people-generated noises, and how they represent a key element of our city soundscape: “Most of the times there will be a performer or musician in this circle, grabbing the attention of shoppers, there will be your fast walkers, your slow walkers, those who zoom past you with their bicycle. On this day, nothing. Only a few instances of signs of civilisation.”
2. Nature sounds back
Have you ever spotted wild animals in the city centre? Among the sounds that emerged from the hidden background, there were birds. “My flat is on a usually busy and loud road. However, with the reduction in traffic one sunny Saturday morning I finally heard the birds singing.”
Indeed, birdsong has been a big feature of the lockdown soundscape. “Obviously, there’s been less traffic to drown it out but there also seem to be more birds around when there are fewer people.”
Below you can enjoy a special recording of our Curator of Sound Technologies, featuring birdsong accompanied by John Coltrane’s ‘Lazy Bird’!
3. My home soundscape
Many people had an immersive experience at home, discovering sounds they were not aware of before. Our Curator of Television and Broadcast has created a special compilation of the sounds of her lockdown life: “Coffee grinder, growing traffic noise, boiling water on the stove (kettle broke), typing and Netflix. A very boring life.” What is the weirdest sound that you heard at home?
4. Sirens and clapping
The lockdown has its peculiar sounds. “The most present sound in the lives of those who were locked at home in Bergamo was that of the ambulance sirens,” says an Italian PhD student living in the UK. “My parents and several friends wrote to me during the first days of the pandemic referring to this unceasing sound. Many reported that, after a while, the sirens were replaced by the silence of the ambulances.”
Together with this alarming sound, there was also the sound of hope and encouragement, as recalled by one of our museum volunteers: “We have had a lot of clapping every Thursday night. People all over the UK clapped to thank the NHS workers for their work. We will always remember the sound of these applauses!”
5. Radio emergency broadcast
One of our Facebook followers shared a compilation of East Leeds FM emergency broadcasts. “This station kept us company, broadcasting governmental information as well as local news.” This reminds us how sound technologies have helped us to stay connected during isolation: what lockdown would have been liked if it had happened 100 years ago, a period when we didn’t have any platform to communicate with each other or to access streaming TV, movies and online music? You really would have been locked down!
6. The sound of home schooling
Home schooling has been an everyday part of quarantine for many parents. In the map you can explore a lot of unexpected sounds, from the intro themes of educational programmes, to a sound-based game created during the breaks…
“My own lockdown has involved me and my 10-year-old inventing a game called ‘Duff’ which is basically football ‘keep-em-ups’ but focused on the sound of it—the ‘duff’ of a clean foot connection. The noise also involves ‘Doh’ which is the sound of a half-bounce and ‘Doing’ when you keep the ball up with your head. We have played ‘Duff-Doh-Doing’ every day at 10.40 as part of home school.”
7. Rediscovering music
We’ve been listening a lot of music over quarantine. Our map features examples of songs rediscovered during lockdown, and even of rediscovered instruments: “During lockdown I found it very relaxing and helpful to try to play piano again. The concentration required diverted my mind from other worries.”
Music has the power to resonate with us and the situation we are living: “I started to listen to the album The Slow Rush during lockdown. It is a very introvert album and it made me think about how and where we will be in one year from now, one year from the beginning of the pandemic, and how precious one year of our lives can be.”
8. Singing from the balconies
All over Europe, people have arranged flash mobs and spontaneous performances from their balconies. And again, technology was fundamental to share this experience all over the world!
In our map, you will find a special recording made in UK for the Italian flash mob: “At the time of the beginning of the health crisis in Italy, I was in Kenilworth. I could not turn back in March as I planned and I felt shocked and terrified by the situation. I recorded a little video with my flute to virtually take part in the Italian flash mob. I decided to play the first phrase of a traditional local song to express my closeness to friends and family.”
9. Recording at a distance
Together with new places to perform, we also discovered new ways to enjoy and create music together. “The lockdown has ironically allowed me to attend quite a few online events which I could never have been part of in the real physical world,” says one of our Facebook users. “It’ been very exciting (and weird under the circumstances), plus there’s been the added surprise of unexpected collaborations and new approaches to music and sound art by all sorts of people.”
During the lockdown it became quite common for groups of musicians to record music together, but at a distance from one another. As our Curator of Sound Technologies points out, “this is a common technique but it has quickly spread during the lockdown. Traditionally the band would have been in the same studio, then it became more and more common starting recording the album with someone on the other side of the Atlantic.”
The project ‘Life in quarantine’ collects performances specifically created during the lockdown. Below you can listen to ‘Balos Quarantine’, a traditional Greek tune performed by 100 violins.
You can still add your sounds to the map! Share with us what you have been listening to in lockdown: what sounds have kept you in touch, cheered you up, calmed you down, made you think, brought back memories, inspired you for the future? You can upload audio files, pictures, videos, YouTube/SoundCloud links, and any other web content.
Thanks to all those who have already contributed to the project. A special thanks to the PhD students and professors that, during the M4C Research Festival, shared their lockdown sounds on the e-poster ‘Sounds of my quarantine’ hosted on the Learning Toolbox platform.