Field recording, sound mapping and audio production

Often during site study the visual and the tactile of the space are the focus of the investigation. The other aspects such as familiar sounds and smells tend to fade into the background because they are taken for granted. Other times they have been removed (designed out) from the site because they were considered to be a negative element. On the other hand the Hockley site consists of the flyover, the circus and the underpass, all of which were designed in the 1960’s by civil engineers, who have given vehicles the top priority, leaving pedestrians to find their way ‘between pillars, underneath bridges and through dark tunnels’ (A. Clawley, 2013). The sounds become a dominating quality to the space and a key attribute of the site character. This was an opportunity for us to look at the site from a unique viewpoint, or sound point rather, as part of the audio group.


Fig. 1 Hockley flyover – ‘traffic is the priority’

The site had an overcasting ambient background sound which consists of general traffic noises. The field recording sub-group collected sound clips at various locations within the site such as the pedestrian tunnels, the flyover, the circus and the basin of the site where some landscape design is present. In closer range the sounds were much more vibrant and unique at each location. The quality of the sounds was affected by factors such as the orientations of the tunnels, the prevailing wind directions, the finishing materials and textures of the spaces and many others. The sounds were recorded with a Tascam DR-2d Field Recorder which captured the richness of the auditory qualities such as the expansion joints driven by cars, the wind blowing through the tunnels and driving dry leaves to scrape over the concrete floor, rustling leaves in the tree, muffled conversations inside the tunnel, birds tweeting, etc. These clips gave us an unfamiliar yet unique insight into the world of the sounds which is usually not easily detectable through a visual media such as an image.

The next stage was to produce a sound map that would represent the audio qualities of the spaces. The comments on the first draft sound map was followed by some alterations and improvements. For example the dot work was strengthened and the stylised symbols were removed.

Soundmap making week 2 general

Fig. 2 Map of ambient sounds

Soundmap making RevA.jpg

Fig. 3 Soundmap (daytime typically 11am)

The field recording clips were refined in Ableton Live and imported into the Unity game work which intended to use the clips as part of the ‘existing’ level of the site conditions.

The other audio production exercise was making a soundtrack in Ableton Live using the essence of the sounds recorded on site, to illustrate the site conditions in an audible language. The process in principle involved extracting, refining and articulating the original clips to build the basic auditory ingredients. The rhythm of the soundtrack was determined in the way that it would reflect the rhythmic pace of the site under the traffic pressure in daytime. The pad, consisting of several individual notes, were the identifiable added ingredient which made the soundtrack a piece of cohesive audio work.

Screenshot 2018-03-14 12.29.12_preview

Fig. 4 ‘Underpass’ audio production – Ableton Live screen shot

As the interview sub-group has developed a short film of interview with William Mitchell on the sculpture works at the Hockley site, the sound track was used as intro and background track for the film. The soundtrack has been uploaded and can be played here:


Fei Luo



Sarah Barns, 2014. Sounds different: Listening to the City. The Architectural Review

Alan Clawley, 2013. The art of the underpass. The Birmingham Press

Victoria Henshaw, 2014. Scents of Place: The Power of the Olfactory. The Architectural Review


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