Listen to the Lockdown

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One of the things that struck me most when we first went into lockdown back in March 2020 was the silence. It was so very quiet outside. Eerily quiet? Or blissfully quiet?

No traffic. Barely any planes. No hustle and bustle of people.

It’s not particularly noisy where we live at the best of times (at the end of a cul-de-sac in Heslington, on the outskirts of York) but even so, this change in the ambient soundscape was very noticeable.

And so, as I thought it would be difficult to conjure up in memory afterwards, I decided to record it.

I recorded one minute on my phone in our (small) back garden at around the same time each day. I thought if I opted for between noon and 1pm, that would make it easy for me to remember, and though I forgot over the first weekend, thereafter I did remember to record every day. Up to and including lockdown day 100.

I’ve stitched all these one minutes together in video form, creating two versions.

One version orientates you by providing the date on which each minute was recorded.

The other version provides a little more orientation, in the form of three lines describing what was happening that day, personally, locally or nationally. That version is part personal lockdown, part local lockdown, part national lockdown. I offer it as my social and acoustic history of the first 100 days of lockdown.

Of course you may wish to ignore the visuals altogether and just close your eyes and … listen to the lockdown.

So, I invite you to journey through Spring lockdown and into Summer lockdown 2020 as they sounded here in our garden in Heslington, on the outskirts of York, UK.

Here are the birds and the bees, the rain and the breeze, the hail and … the silence of our first 100 days of lockdown 2020.

(N.B. There is no sound during the 35-second introduction.)

Version A: With just the date to orientate you

Version B: With the date and a three-line description of events each day

How many different birds did you hear? There were, amongst others, blackbirds, goldfinches, chiffchaffs, woodpigeons, oystercatchers, wrens, collared doves, bullfinches, robins, dunnocks, magpies, great tits and blue tits.

And how many different species of bee did you hear?!

Of course, I wasn’t the only person to realise that lockdown presented a unique opportunity to listen to our surroundings unfettered by the usual sounds of the modern world. Here’s a fascinating article about scientists who used the international lockdown as an opportunity to ‘hear the oceans as they once were’. They were able to record the ‘chit-chat between blue whales hundreds of miles apart’ and ‘the familiar chirps and clicks among a pod of dolphins’ without the background thrum of the usually ubiquitous propeller-driven ships and boats.

Reading this article lent weight to my initial thought that perhaps the audio I was recording here in my little garden on dry land may have some value to science. (I’ve had the privilege of collaborating with bioacoustics electronic engineer Dr Dave Chesmore on various occasions,  Through him I’ve seen some of the ways in which recordings of goings-on in the natural world can be used.)

I actually recorded more than 1 minute each day, and selected a representative minute of audio for the above video. So, if any researchers are interested in using the complete data set of audio I accrued during the lockdown, they are welcome to contact me.

Of course comparing and contrasting this lockdown audio with ‘normal times’ would be of more value. So, let’s see if I can carry on this daily recording. Or if ‘normal life’ gets in the way …

Meanwhile, I’m intending to submit a copy of this video to some COVID-19 archives.

And I’m also wondering about how the audio might be used in an arts installation … Watch this space! (Or get in touch if you have any further ideas on that front!)

I hope that despite the dark times that lockdown brought, you too were able to hear and appreciate the beauties of the natural soundscape around you.

I’ll finish here with a poem from my Flying High! book, in which a Cuckoo laments the noise of the modern world. Who would have thought that a global pandemic would give us an aural glimpse of the ‘life pre-petrol engine’ that it yearns for?

Cuckoo poem from Flying High! by Anneliese Emmans Dean
From Flying High! Discover the poetry in British Birds by Anneliese Emmans Dean

Anneliese Emmans Dean – theBigBuzz – Bringing poetry to life

2 comments

  1. When I was a baby in Stepney, 1949-50, the dawn chorus was horses’ hooves and metal tyres on cobbles, and I guess that had been true for a few hundred years.

    • Such a different soundscape! How lovely that it lives on in your memory. I wonder if children nowadays could even imagine what that sounded like …

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