The next time you sit down to watch a movie, close your eyes and listen. Under all the dialogue and music there’s something else—ambient noise. It could be the sounds of distant traffic for a scene set in a penthouse apartment in downtown Manhattan. Or it could be the light chirping of crickets surrounding characters camping in the woods. Now consider this—if those scenes were filmed in a studio, then someone at some point had to go out into the world, hunt down those sounds and record them so that they could be used in the movie. But not all field recorders (as they are called) work for Hollywood; some, like those participating in the London Sound Survey, find and record the sounds of life just for fun.

The London Sound Survey is a group of avid sound hunters who focus on the sounds of England’s capital, ranging from the sounds outside of King’s Cross Station to the faint sounds of nature. The group made its place on the web in 2009 and has since grown to include about 2,000 recordings! In addition to modern recordings, the London Sound Survey website includes archival recordings dating back nearly 90 years, as well as text references to London sounds that go back to the early eleventh century.

The London Sound Survey was founded by Ian Rawes, a former employee of the British Library Sound Archive. His zeal for sound hunting began after he came across a collection of recordings covering all of the bus routes in Yorkshire county in England. These recordings inspired him to go out and find some sounds of his own. Some recorders, like Rawes, keep the recordings as they are, some integrate music into their sounds and others integrate the sounds into their music!

Field recording has been around since the late 1800s, and the practice has a rich history that stretches across the globe, bringing the sounds of the world together for all to hear.

Did You Know?

Thomas Edison lit the way for modern sound recording when, in 1877, he became the first person to properly create a sound recording that could be listened to again.

Image credit: Khamtran