British Library Launches Interactive Survey UK SoundMap

Following a successful regional trial in Sheffield, the British Library is launching an interactive survey, UK SoundMap, to cover the whole of the United Kingdom. The survey will map and preserve the sounds of the acoustic landscape (‘soundscape’) for the future.

With the enhanced capabilities of apps on smartphones, 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 17 August 2010, the technology employed by the free Audioboo recording application for smartphones gives anyone the 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 crowdsourcing 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 and referenced on the interactive map displayed on the British Library website.

The project will to run for a year through to the summer of 2011 and is expected to aggregate over 10,000 recordings. Sounds recorded during the pilot have ranged from street and transport noises, the sounds of Hillsborough Barracks shopping arcade and a narration giving a personal angle of how much one particular area has changed.

Iain Broome, contributor to the Sheffield pilot survey said,

“It’s easy to assume that everything’s going to sound the same. But it really doesn’t and that’s one of the benefits of doing something like this. It’s like a snapshot in time, capturing a moment. It brings subconscious experience to the fore: this is your culture, your surroundings.”

The public throughout the UK are invited to become sound archivists, contributing to a permanent archive of everyday sounds for study in the British Library. The sounds will be studied by acoustic ecologists and urban planners from the Noise Futures Network and experts state this type of database will be extremely valuable in understanding the type and distribution of various sounds in our environment. The survey will provide a good opportunity for researchers to access large amounts of soundscape files quickly and easily.

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”.

All of the soundscapes collected will provide a vital record of the UK in 2010 and 2011. 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. Involving the public in projects such as this enables the British Library to collect a wide range of sounds, which are important to people in different ways and have vital research importance.

The UK SoundMap can be found at: http://sounds.bl.uk/uksoundmap

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