British Library Capturing the sounds of Sheffield

The British Library is initiating an interactive survey, UK SoundMap, launching as a regional trial in Sheffield. The survey will map the sounds of the acoustic landscape (‘soundscape’) and preserve the sounds of 2010 for the future.

With the enhanced capabilities of cheap apps on smart phones, new and exciting possibilities for acquisition and content management are opening up for the British Library. In collaboration with the Noise Futures Network and Audioboo, the British Library is embarking on a mass observation exercise to create a significant body of audio data for environment researchers.

Launching on 13 July 2010, the technology employed by the Audioboo recording application for smart phones gives the general public a chance to get involved with this innovative research project just by recording their surroundings and then describing them with simple tags and comments. The recordings and data will be retained permanently and made accessible to everyone for generations to come.

Richard Ranft, Head of British Library Sound Archive, said,

“Finding innovative and cost-effective ways to collect data is crucial for the future of research. The aim of this project is to create a significant body of audio samples for environment researchers as well as capturing the imagination of the public to celebrate their favourite sounds.

Displaying them on an online map will allow both contributors and users to interact and have access to a variety of sounds. We anticipate a variety of recordings from home to leisure, at all different times of the day and year. Some will be noisy, some will be tranquil but all will provide a unique record of sounds throughout the UK.”

The recordings are generated as high quality audio files with GPS data embedded. These files are then made available almost instantly on Audioboo FM as MP3 versions, which are also referenced on the Google map displayed on the British Library website.

With a pilot survey launching in July in the Sheffield area, extending to Barnsley, Doncaster, Chesterfield and the eastern margins of the Peak District National Park, the public are invited to record their surroundings and track what the UK really sounds like. The diversity of ‘England’s greenest city’, which also has an international reputation in industry, makes Sheffield the perfect area to begin gathering the sounds of 2010.

Recordings will be studied by experts from the Noise Futures Network and stored in the British Library to create a permanent archive of everyday sounds for study. This survey launches with a view to expanding to a full national study later in the year.

Professor Abigail Bristow of Loughborough University and Joint Chair of the Noise Futures Network said,

“We have been very keen to explore effective ways of involving the public in research on soundscapes. UK SoundMap could play a valuable role in raising awareness of a fascinating and rewarding but so far neglected aspect of environmental quality”.

Mark Rock, CEO and founder of AudioBoo added,

“We see ourselves very much as being a part of a living archive of the sound of our time and as such are pleased to partner with The British Library on a number of future projects. Their usage of the platform in the collection of John Berger’s archive in June 2009 showed very simply how powerful high quality, geolocated audio could easily create a compelling narrative”.

Given the wide scope of soundscapes, it is important to gather and maintain a repository of sound data that can be re-analysed and studied in the future. According to the experts, this type of database will be extremely valuable in understanding the type and distribution of various sounds in our environment, providing a good opportunity for researchers to access large amounts of soundscape files quickly and easily.

The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and one of the world’s greatest research libraries. It provides world class information services to the academic, business, research and scientific communities and offers unparalleled access to the world’s largest and most comprehensive research collection. The Library’s collection has developed over 250 years and exceeds 150 million separate items representing every age of written civilisation. It includes: books, journals, manuscripts, maps, stamps, music, patents, newspapers, photographs and sound recordings in all written and spoken languages.

The British Library Sound Archive is one of the largest sound archives in the world. It holds over a million discs, 200,000 tapes, and many other sound and video recordings. The collections come from all over the world and cover the entire range of recorded sound from music, drama and literature, to oral history and wildlife sounds. Collection material comes in every conceivable format, from wax cylinder and wire recordings to CD and DVD, and from a wide variety of private, commercial and broadcast sources. The British Library Sound Archive also operates a wide-ranging recording programme of its own.

The files for the UK Sound Map will be generated as Free Lossless Audio Codec (FLAC) files to preserve the full fidelity of the original recordings.

Pilot work on the UK SoundMap has been supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council-funded Noise Futures Network, whose primary purpose has been to facilitate interdisciplinary (multi-interest) research on future soundscapes.

AudioBoo, the award winning service, available at launched in March 2009. Audioboo is a mobile and web platform that allows for the simple recording of broadcast quality audio, the ability to add a picture, title and location details which is then uploaded to, where it can be instantly shared with friends, family or the world. The platform supports posting to Twitter, Facebook and other social platform as well as the ability to record via the web.

AudioBoo provides an App for iPhone and Android smartphones, (described as the No.1 such application by PC Pro). Notable users include Stephen Fry, BBC Radio 1, 3 & 6, The World Service, The Guardian and the British Army. AudioBoo’s professional version users include The Royal Opera House, British Library and Open University.

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