Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Listen up

When we were creating the Lovemarks and sisomo books, we were determined to have arresting images that would give browsers, as well as readers, that Aha! moment. I had a great time reviewing and selecting some ideas, and requesting new versions of others. This was all possible thanks to the access the Internet gave us to the many picture libraries that are available. We searched through Getty Images and Corbis and discovered everything from desert nomads loading a prized television set onto a camel, to an historical photograph of a corner store in London. If we were making those books now we’d be all over Flickr, of course. Yes, this is a world where images rule.

What the image libraries have done for still photography, YouTube and the explosion of video sources have done for the moving image. Now it is sound’s turn. I’ve just been pointed to a great site that is accumulating the sounds of London. The London Sound Survey puts up free stereo recordings that capture the daily life and events of London along with a growing range of historical sounds. The sound bites are fantastic. A product demonstrator promoting a versatile vegetable slicer at a Wembley market. People protesting against the G20 Summit. And something familiar to anyone who has visited London, a station announcer reciting a list of weekend tube closures. The site also features 'See Hear' where you can check out how different areas of London sound like at different times of the day. You’re invited to explore the city through sound.

Sound has had a rollercoaster ride over the last century. Before television, pure sound as radio dominated home entertainment. Now sound has, in many ways, become commodified as every mode of transport, store, or event pumps out noise. But sound, like the other four senses, remains a powerful link to imagination, memory, and the emotions when we simply stop and listen. At this year’s Venice Biennale, one of the key works by the American representative Bruce Nauman was composed purely of sound and won the event’s Golden Lion. I’ve always believed that great artists point the way ahead and that we often follow. Watch out for sound playing an even bigger part in our lives as we move forward.