Museum of London releases first ever recorded soundscapes of London alongside new recordings of London in lockdown as part of Collecting COVID project

28 July 2020

The first ever recorded soundscape of London was captured in September 1928 as part of a campaign led by the Daily Mail calling for noise restrictions on London's increasingly loud streets. Now, almost 100 years later, as part of the Museum of London’s ongoing Collecting COVID project, the same five locations were re-captured in collaboration with String and Tins to record, in contrast, the rare sound of an extraordinarily silent London in lockdown. Both the historic and modern recordings are available to listen to on the Museum of London’s website here. The 1928 recordings, now digitised, are available to listen to in entirety for the very first time.

The five central London locations recorded in both September 1928 and May 2020 were Whitechapel East, St George's Hospital (Hyde Park Corner), Leicester Square, Cromwell Road and Beauchamp Place in South Kensington. The 1928 recordings were capturedby the Columbia Graphophone Company in collaboration with the Daily Mail and intended to provide objective evidence of the concerning rising noise levels on the capital’s central streets considered to be a 'real menace to public health'. At one point, the voice of Commander Daniel RN DSO can be heard narrating:

That was a large lorry with building materials, very noisy. There’s a motor bicycle without a proper silencer!” and“That was the self-starter of a small seven-horsepower car . . . that was an awful vehicle on solid tyres.”

Though considered ‘portable’, the 1928 recording process was laborious with the production team needing a whole room to set up the equipment per location and producing seventeen gramophone records. The modern 2020 lockdown recordings, captured by Will Cohen of String and Tins, are binaural recordings - a method of recording sound that uses two microphones, arranged with the intent to create a 3-D stereo sound sensation for the listener. Alongside the modern recordings, photographs of the areas and the almost empty streets were captured by photographer Damien Hewetsonand have also been collected as part of the ongoing Collecting COVID project.

Foteini Aravani, Digital Curator at the Museum of London, said: ‘The1928 anti-noise campaign occurred when the effects of sound pollution in central London were only starting to be understood. Almost a century later, sound levels in the capital are still an issue despite existing legislation, but the marked reduction in street noise has become a distinct aspect of London in lockdown. We felt it was our responsibility to capture this rare and significant moment to not only contrast the 1928 recordings in our collection, but to also provide a record of London’s rarely ‘silent streets’ for future generations. The 1928 recordings have always been a significant part of our collection as the first ever recorded soundscape of London, and we are very excited to finally be able to share them in response to the modern recordings captured during the lockdown by String and Tins as part of our Collecting COVID project.’

Both the 1928 anti-noise campaign recordings and 2020 lockdown recordings are available to listen to at the Museum of London’s website here, alongside photography by Damien Hewetson and historic imagery from the museum’s archive.

To stay up to date with the Museum of London’s Collecting COVID project and all other Museum of London online updates and announcements please visit www.museumoflondon.org.uk or follow us @MuseumofLondon #MuseumforLondon.

ENDS –

Notes for editors

For more press information please contact Emily Brazee at the Museum of London on 020 7814 5502/077 1356 5805 or [email protected]

About the Museum of London

The Museum of London tells the ever-changing story of this great world city and its people, from 450,000 BC to the present day. Our galleries, exhibitions, displays and activities seek to inspire a passion for London and provide a sense of the vibrancy that makes the city such a unique place.

You can explore the Museum of London with collections online – home to 90,000 objects with more being added. www.museumoflondon.org.uk.

About String and Tins:

String and Tins are a multi-award winning, dedicated team of sound designers, music composers, sound supervisors and mix engineers, obsessed with creating innovative and powerful sonic storytelling. Be it for advertising, film, branding, gaming and immersive content – String and Tins’ central London studios offer a range of facilities from cutting edge audio design and composition suites, through to their flagship Dolby Atmos theatre, with global partners around the world.www.stringandtins.com

About Damien Hewetson

Damien Hewetson is a photographer based in London with a passion for photographing abandoned spaces. As a key worker out on the streets every day during lockdown he took the opportunity to capture images of London's deserted landmarks without the usual crowds.You can follow Damien’s work atwww.facebook.com/DamienHewetsonPhotography/.