Tag Archives: British Library

Making waves

A few weeks ago I went on a walk along the southern side of Gower. The sky was full of heavy cloud and there were small glimpses of better weather in the distance.

This coastal wander was dominated by the soundtrack of the sea and in particular the waves. At different spots you could tune in to the repetitive and reassuring sound of the waves lapping against the limestone cliffs or the tidy little beaches. Sometimes the sound was very faint and it was a bit like when you’re listening out for the claps of thunder when you’re counting the length of time between the bangs.

Hunts Bay on Gower as the waves gently lap against the beach

Hunts Bay on Gower as the waves gently lap against the beach

As we joined the old route into Swansea – a kind of cross between a footpath and drovers lane – you could hear the waves before you could see the coastline. The small wood either side of the path was filled with the sweet melodies of birdsong and as you descended from the hill-side the sound of the sea grew in intensity and clarity. And then through an opening you reached a beach – littered with stones from the old quarry. Hunts Bay is a sheltered little spot and the waves sounded just like you’d imagine waves would always sound.

Arriving at a beach like this took me back to the days of GCSE geography. This small bay with its stones and little summit before falling away into the sea is a lovely spot.

When on the beach I recorded the sounds of the waves. The full-on sound of the waves on with the direct impact on the sand and stones and then also the sounds from a sheltered spot next to the limestone cliffs. There was a clear difference in the sounds of the waves even though they were only a matter of metres apart.

For World Listening Day (Saturday 18 July) this year (the theme is water) as part of the sounds of our shores project we want as many people as possible to record the sounds of waves at noon. This will create a lovely snapshot, a kind of sonic postcard, of how waves sound and what differences that there might be. It will be interesting to see how the size of the stones affects the sounds of the waves or the nature of where the beach is – it might be a big open flat beach or a small narrow beach surrounded by sand dunes.

The sound of waves are so intrinsically linked to the sounds of our shores. There is something timeless and comforting about that sound as you first reach the coast – whether to spend a family day at the beach or walking along a coastal cliff.

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A sonic postcard from the coast

Close your eyes for a minute. Think of a favourite place on the coast. Tune into your memory soundbank and start to imagine the sounds that fill the airwaves. It could be the sounds from the days spent at the coast as a kid when the day felt like it would never end. Or it might be a trip to a seabird colony clinging to the cliffs and creating an intense wall of sound.

Seaside towns are full of fascinating sounds

Seaside towns are full of fascinating sounds

There is something really powerful about the sounds of our shores. Our sensory experience of being by the sea can fill our life with powerful memories.

This summer the National Trust, British Library and the National Trust for Scotland wants people to record sounds from the whole coastline of the UK – helping to crowd source a sounds of our shores coastal sound map. And it’s not just the wild stretches of coast but the 15 per cent of coastline that is developed too – villages, towns and cities; ports, urban beaches or classic seaside towns.

It’s a project that aims to capture a snapshot of how our coast sounds and also a chance to reflect on the changing relationship that we have with the coastline.

The tapping of a bucket to create a sandcastle is a powerful sound of childhood. Me on a beach in Devon with my Gran

The tapping of a bucket to create a sandcastle is a powerful sound of childhood. Me on a beach in Devon with my Gran

In the last century the relationship that we have with the coast has been transformed. It has shifted from a place of work to a place that we go to play. Yes there is vibrancy still to the working coast – busy fishing harbours and mega sized container terminals – but for most of us it about those special places that we like to visit time and time again.

Recording sounds couldn’t be easier and it’s a great way of creating a sonic equivalent of a postcard or photo. And best of all the sounds that make it up on the coastal sound map will end up in the British Library Sound Archive (one of the biggest in the world no less).

So this summer use some of your screen time to record the sounds of our shores. You’ll be helping to crowd source for a project that will capture the sounds from the UK coast for future generations to hear.