UK Soundmap – How the country sounded 2010/2011

General information

Domain: People’s heritage and cultural participation (intangible heritage)
Title: UK Soundmap
Launch: 2011
Country: United Kingdom

Project focus

From July 2010 to July 2011, the UK Soundmap project invited people in the United Kingdom to record and provide to The British Library’s Sound Archive everyday sounds – at home, work, play or during any other activity. Many throughout the country, in urban, rural and coastal areas participated. The result is an accessible online collection of sound recordings that give users an idea of how the United Kingdom “sounded” in those years, and how its contributors wanted it to sound to others. The collection of citizen recordings complements other British Library collections of various origins and types such as sounds of industrial environments or nature and wildlife. Indeed, the library holds one of the largest collections of audio recordings in the world, including oral history and music from different world regions.



For the UK Soundmap The British Library’s Sound Archive cooperated with other projects interested in recording and analysing everyday sounds: the interdisciplinary Noise Futures Network, working on future sound environments (e.g. helping to inform environmental planning), Sound Diaries, a project of sound researchers and practitioners, and Audioboo Ltd. who provided a simple tool to capture and share recordings of sufficient quality for sound archives and researchers. Moreover, and most importantly, some 350 people across the UK contributed to the project by recording and uploading recordings.

Financing / funding

UK Soundmap was financed by the British Library and received in-kind support by research groups and the creative media company Audioboo.

Content & IPR / licensing

The UK Soundmap is the first online soundscape populated with contributions of many people across the UK. As the project was somewhat experimental in nature, the providers were not given instructions which sounds they should record (only how to ensure the quality of the recording). The project was as much interested in what people chose to record as well as in the recordings themselves.

Of the 2000 uploads only 7% had to be rejected, most of which because of copyright issues (e.g. lengthy excerpts from pop songs), poor quality (especially strong wind noise) or lack of geo-referencing. As the editor of the UK Soundmap noted, “the low rejection rate underlines the great effort and goodwill shown by the contributors towards the project” (Rawes 2011).
The largest part of the recordings was made in urban areas (52%), followed by residential suburbs and villages (27%) and inland rural areas (11%). Seaside towns and rural areas together achieved 10%. Some examples of titles are “Waves on rocks - Eccles beach, Norfolk”, “Aberdeen station” or “Honeybee vibrations in Newtown”. Overall the most common sound type in the collection is the human voice, e.g. conversations, cheering and singing, announcements, radio and TV broadcasts heard in the background. Other types often present are traffic noise, birdsong, footsteps, sirens, beeps and bells, and live music.
The British Library preserves the UK Soundmap collection and makes it accessible online on Google Maps to anybody interested. Each playable recording comes with information about who made the recording, however many provided a name as used in social media networks (e.g. Alextronic, ForestBoy or swiftly). The name links to further information on the Audioboo platform (e.g. other recordings made, comments, etc.)

Technologies used / innovative features

The UK Soundmap project used mobile technologies and social media in a crowd-sourcing approach, thereby addressing many potential providers. In December 2010, the project was awarded the “some comms” award for the best public sector use of social media. The Audioboo app for Apple and Android smartphones was a key element in the project approach as it enabled easy capture and sharing of the recordings.

Target users

The UK Soundmap involved people in the UK and the map they helped to create is also mainly of interest to people living there. The recordings give users an idea of how the country “sounded” in 2010/11 and can inspire people, not only UK citizens, to make and share sound recordings on Audioboo or another social media platform. Such recordings are also relevant for environmental, social and cultural researchers. Similar projects on particular areas might inform environmental planning or reveal cultural changes; for example, an analysis of the UK Soundmap collection suggests that there is a decline of whistling in public.

Lessons learned

Cooperation / content: The project demonstrates that an archive, a creative company and citizens together can create a unique collection of content and information that is of interest to citizens as well as researchers (e.g. what perceived citizens as relevant to record where).

Technologies used / innovative features: Crowd-sourcing of the content with mobile and social media tools allowed cost effective gathering and sharing of the collection.
Content & IPR / licensing: Content collected in this way still needs to be curated to some extent. For instance, content might be submitted that violates existing copyrights or the privacy of other people.

Sources and links