Audio Travels: Around The World In Sound

By: andrewbowman

November 10, 2010


Following last week’s photo blog from Rick Nunn, we present the second in our series of guest posts from the bloggers shortlisted for our New York trip competition earlier this year.

This week, we move from away from the visual and into the world of sound, with Kate Arkless Gray. A freelance radio producer and journalist, Kate has won an award for her social media outreach work on the BBC Save Our Sounds project. Here she shows us how the spirit of a place can be summoned through sound”¦


“We’re all guilty of coming home from our holidays with hundreds of photos we took trying to capture the spirit of a place, or with souvenirs to help us summon those happy memories on a rainy day. But what about audio? Sound can evoke and bring memories to life in a way that static images and ‘I ♥ New York’ mugs could never manage.


Not many people would think about packing sound recording equipment when they set off for the beach, but as a radio producer, it’s second nature to me. Luckily these days you don’t need expensive microphones, as it’s increasingly easy to record sound on cameras and mobile phones. There are even apps like Audioboo that let you share your recordings, so why not try sending an audio postcard? (Tip: Upload audio using a WiFi connection to avoid facing a hefty data roaming bill when you get home!)


Listening to the sound of a place you’ve visited can instantly transport you back there, be it the bustle of a big city, the lapping of waves, the sounds of carnival or a call to prayer – each place has its own acoustic signature.”¨”¨ Even the everyday things have their own character, like the Underground trains in London. The specific hum on the platform, the sound of the closing doors and rattle of the train through the tunnels is the soundtrack of your journey and central to many a London experience. It’s always the first signal that I’m home from my latest adventure, back where I belong.


London Underground London has many iconic buildings, from Parliament to St Paul’s, Canary Wharf to the Tate Modern, but what about sounds? You’ll probably be familiar with the chimes of Big Ben, but how about a taste of the East End? Walthamstow Market is (supposedly) the longest street market in Europe; stretching a mile in length, it bustles with people from all walks of life. A great place to grab a bargain, the market traders shout to attract your attention, tempting you with punnets of strawberries, boxes of mangos or juicy ripe tomatoes. Shut your eyes and feel yourself there…


Walthamstow Market From one iconic city to another: New York. With its tall buildings, bright yellow cabs, impatient pedestrians and the glow of neon advertising signs, Times Square is quite a place to behold. I stopped for a moment to listen to the life around me. This place has a real city buzz about it, that constant hum of traffic and people, the sound of a city…


Times Square, New York City It’s not just the mundane that can be brought to life with a short burst of sound; specific events are definitely worth capturing. While you can’t bottle the excitement of a moment in history and save it for another day, you can record the sound, and you might be surprised how powerful that can be. I flew to Washington D.C. to watch America inaugurate its first black president in January 2008. The hope and excitement in the air was indescribable, I’ve never experienced anything like it and two years on I find myself wondering if it was all a dream, did I really share that moment with two million others? Listening to the following clip puts me straight back in that crowd, surviving the cold thanks to the warmth of feeling in the air and new friends all around me. Here’s my little piece of history…


Obama Inauguration, Washington D.C. From the freezing cold of a Washington winter morning, to the heat of Africa. Have a listen to this next clip and let your imagination take you on an adventure…


Djemaa el Fna, Marrakech Shutting my eyes as I listen to it, I’m surrounded by storytellers, snake charmers, watermen and musicians. I imagine the smell of spices, a dusty muggy heat, and crowds of people all around me. I’m back in Djemaa el Fna, that busy hub of activity that defines many an experience of Marrakech.

Now over to Istanbul, to a sound that brings back memories of Cairo too. The early morning call to prayer, easing you from slumber as the sun rises. The call of the müezzins echoing out across the city from the myriad minarets, the sound bouncing off surrounding buildings before it reaches your ears. The call to prayer is repeated five times each day, and as people stop to pray, a sense of calm descends on previously buzzing streets. I sat outside the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (the Blue Mosque) listening to this sound, drinking it in, listening to the birds while reflecting on a busy day of sightseeing.


Istanbul For many people though, it’s the sound of the sea that moves them most – the crashing of waves against the shore, the rattle of pebbles as the water recedes, and the natural rhythm of it all that can lull you into a state of relaxation. Imagine the fresh air while you take a stroll along the beach all in the comfort of your own home. Let’s take a quick skip over to that classic Victorian seaside resort – Brighton – for our final audio experience. Walking over sea-smoothed pebbles as the seagulls cry out above you, the waves peacefully but purposefully rolling in, inching forward up the beach.


Brighton – sea and stones Hopefully these little snippets of sound have helped whet your appetite a little. If you’d like to hear more audio from around the world, you might be interested in the BBC World Service project Save Our Sounds. Explore the interactive map populated with sound clips that people have uploaded from every corner of the globe – even Antarctica. Perhaps you’ll hear something to inspire your next trip…”


Kate can be found at Her audio diary is here.

Header image of London Underground train by Annie Mole on Flickr. All sound recordings © copyright Kate Arkless Gray.

What do you think of Kate’s sound selection? Do you ever record your travels? Got any audio tips? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.