Posted 21 August, 2009 by robert jarvis
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cropredyRopes s

Cropredy, in the North of Oxfordshire, is one of a few towns in the UK that still regularly ring its curfew bell.  In the case of Cropredy, it is now rung by one of the parishoners after the eight o’ clock chimes on Tuesday and Thursday evenings.

Bells rung by hand make a very different sound than those automatically hit by a mallet, and this difference can easily be heard on this occasion, as the preceding on-hour chimes are struck automatically (being hardwired to the church clock mechanism).  In contrast, the curfew bell is rung by pulling on the tenor bell’s bell rope, which in turn makes the bell in the tower (one of eight) swing, and it is this swinging that accounts for the main difference in the sound.

For me, there are two aspects that make this listening experience so interesting.  The first is the irregularity of the ringing – a natural byproduct of being rung by one person over a sustained length of time (around five minutes) resulting in each ring having a slightly different volume or placement in time – a welcome change to the exacting automation that we are used to these days.  And, secondly, the enharmonic build up as the bell is continually struck for the length of the curfew ringing.  (It is more common to hear a bell struck once and for its sound to die down in between each ringing).

oxford time

Posted 6 August, 2009 by robert jarvis
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19 oxford time

Great Tom Bell hangs at the top of Tom Tower in Christ Church College, and is the loudest bell in the City.  Every evening at five past nine 0’clock it rings out 101 times.  Apparently this custom dates back to the College’s earlier custom of ringing the bell once for each student in order to signal to them that it was time to return to the College before its gates were locked for the night.  The Latin inscription on the bell begins “Great Thomas the door closer of Oxford…”.

The timing of the chimes relates back to a period before the national adoption of Greenwich Meantime, when every town had its local time depending on its distance from zero degrees Longitude.  This was calculated as 4 minutes for every 1º difference, and as Oxford was calculated as being one-and-a-quarter degrees west of Greenwich, Oxford time was therefore five minutes behind London time.  Hence, Great Tom’s ringing at five-past the hour marks this historic Oxford Time at this five-past-nine slot; the rest of the time it refers to today’s accepted GMT.

going underground

Posted 27 July, 2009 by robert jarvis
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18 going underground

The Bodleian Library in Oxford is one of the oldest libraries in Europe dating back more than 400 years, and in the UK is second in size only to the British Library, in London. The majority of its books are stored below ground level underneath the New Library, which in turn is joined by an underground passageway to the older building.  The collection is housed on a series of moveable shelves, the oldest of which were manufactured by the Lucy Manufacturing Plant, now in Thame, that I had visited a few weeks previously.

When users of the library request a book, it is collected from its position on one of the moveable shelves and then taken by trolley to a dispatching room.  There, the book is put into a hard case, marked for the particular reading room it is destined to arrive at, and then put onto a conveyor system.  Whilst readers study in silence above ground then, there is a continuous industry of sound: of books being collected, the reverberant sound of trolleys being pushed along, the deep echo of the tunnels fire doors closing, and the conveyor machinery whirring as the books are delivered to their users.

three for a pound

Posted 18 July, 2009 by robert jarvis
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17 three for a pound

Many towns in Oxfordshire still have a flourishing food market, at least once a week.  My favourite ones are those where the traders call out to the public, trying to catch their attention and advertise their wares.  Better still is when traders ‘compete’ with each other by trying to out-perform their fellow market stall holders.

This humourous banter not only injects some fun into the market place, but also into the transaction itself, as one finds themselves attracted not only by the price and the quality of the goods but also of the personality of the trader as well. It adds to the shopping experience, making it an enjoyable event with each transaction not being complete until its accompanying conversation is over.  This welcome contribution to the life of the town centre helps humanise what could otherwise be an uneventful task, and offers almost the opposite of that of the depersonalised supermarket, and a welcome alternative to the drone of nearby traffic or piped muzak.


Posted 9 July, 2009 by robert jarvis
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16 engines

Time and again, the sounds of certain different engines are suggested to me as important links to Oxfordshire’s aural heritage. The ones that come up again and again are the Morris Minor, the MG and the Mini, and so I have been tracking down examples of these to record.  Both the Mini and the Morris were made in Cowley, whilst the MG was manufactured in Abingdon.  At their peak the factories employed many thousands of local people, making many cars and contributing enormously to the history of car production.  (The Mini is still made at Cowley).

The engines make for interesting listening, as one can really hear the sound of technical improvement for the cars of different ages.  More interesting, perhaps, is the sonic personality of the different engine makes, which seem to fit perfectly with the car’s visual image – from the non-assuming changeable rhythms of the Morris Minor to the confident purr of the MGB, the latter’s sound relying as much on the bass frequencies from the coming from exhaust as from the engine itself.

Other engine sounds that have been recommended are the sound of the F1 Racing Cars at Grove and, at the other end of the spectrum, the calm chugging of a canal narrow boat.


Posted 2 July, 2009 by robert jarvis
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15 overhead

Around Brize Norton a common sound is that of  the various aircraft taking off or coming in to land.  When talking with local people about the aircraft noise I was surprised to come across very few complaints about the noise pollution, but rather an expressed fondness, and even pride, for the different planes that take off from the RAF station there.

Closer to the station it is possible to get a good view of the planes as they take-off or come in to landing, and there is often a small crowd of people there waiting in anticipation.  The most common planes are the Hercules, Tristar, C-17 and also the VC10.

The different planes leave different sound trails, I guess realted to the size and number of engines.  Thus the propellor-driven hercules sounds very different from the C-17 with it’s four jet engines on its front wings.  This particular plane leaves an incredible bass rumble that envelopes the listener like the heat on a hot summer’s day, whereas the Hercules doesn’t have the same bass rumble.

And talking of incredible sounds: when I was there the other day, there was the very rare Vulcan parked up (but not flying anywhere) although I was lucky enough to witness the Red Arrows taking off.

solstice dawn

Posted 22 June, 2009 by robert jarvis
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14 solstice dawn

To mark the summer solstice I did an all night recording with sound recording enthusiast, Ian Widdows.

First stop was the woods between Bix and Nettlebed.  Arriving about 11pm the wood was silent apart from the slight rustle of leaves and the sound of traffic on the A4130, and then quite dramatically there was the sound of a barking deer barking in the distance.  In the end, I felt that the sound of the traffic and overhead planes were too noisy to get a decent recording and so we headed off to where I knew there would be less ambient noise.

We arrived at Chimney Meadows some time after midnight and began to explore the nature reserve on the search for any sounds of nightlife.  Disappointingly, there seemed to be very little going on at first, but as dawn approached the reserve awoke with the sounds of the birds’ morning chorus.  Surprisingly the dawn chorus began very quickly – at 3.50am the reserve appeared as quiet it had been for the previous two hours, but by 4.00am the place was full of birdsong.  (I had expected a much slower acoustic awakening).  Now the reserve seemed full of recording possibilities and we recorded through to about 7am exploring the different natural habitats.