What Does The Thames SOUND Like?

By M@
What Does The Thames SOUND Like?

If you thought the river only goes 'splash', then listen up.

Millennium Bridge with ears for some stupid reason.

As the man behind The London Sound Survey, Ian Rawes has been chronicling the capital for more then a decade. Not with words or photographs or videos, but with field recordings.

These are everyday sounds: a whistling passer-by; the sudden acceleration of traffic; or the far-off thump of a piling rig. The trill of an urban songbird, and the squark of the usurping parakeet.

Ian recently turned his microphone to the Thames. London's chief river offers plenty of material for the attentive ear, as it flows past areas of leisure, light industry, transport jetties and marshland. He's even taken his equipment deep inside Tower Bridge, to record the sound of the great bascules rising.

The fruits of his labour are now available on an LP, called simply Thames. The work has also attracted the attentions of Radio 3's Slow Radio strand. An episode on Sunday 15 December 2019 will play some highlights that reveal how the Thames soundscape is ever-changing:

"...we hear the wash of passing boats at an old coal jetty in Greenwich, then the clattering of flagpoles in the wind at the mouth of the Royal Albert Dock. Since the recording was made, the flagpoles have been removed during the Dock's redevelopment into a marina surrounded by new housing. Further east, there are the bangs and pops of a clay pigeon range on the Dartford Marshes heard from across the river. They're among the last audible survivors of the river's gunpowder age of wildfowling and cannon batteries."

If you fancy whatever the aural equivalent of a 'taster' is, then have a listen to the excerpts in the Estuary section of The London Sound Survey.

Ian Rawes sampling the River Brent. Image by M@

A tube map of river sounds

The London Sound Survey has long impressed us, not only with the breadth and depth of its coverage, but also the artful way in which field recordings are presented. Here, for example, is a tube-style map of the other waterways of London, such as the Brent, Lea and Regent's Canal. Over on London Sound Survey, you can click/tap on any of the names to hear a local sound recording.

Elsewhere on the site, you can find a collection of recordings from London's street markets, historical recordings from the 1920s-1950s and, even further back, written accounts of street cries going back to the early 17th century.

Thames is on BBC Radio 3, Sunday 15 December 2019, 11.30pm. The LP is available on vinyl or download from Persistence of Sound.

Last Updated 08 June 2022