Photo of Bluebell Woods in Sussex Photo of Bluebell Woods in Sussex

Sounds Make a Map

A Guide to Exploring Soundscapes

Sounds make a map.

Here is an easy exercise to help you hone your understanding of sound maps. It is one of my favourites and it’s well worth trying. I had a lot of fun yesterday with a pair of noisy jays.

Walk a circuit of any shape, keeping a certain sound near the centre of your route.

Any sound can be tried, but it helps if it is either constant or frequent, loud enough, not too mobile and unlikely to be confused with a similar source.

The wind is a major consideration in any soundscape. Think about making the circuit tighter on the upwind leg.

Visibility is interesting. Natural navigation is normally more straightforward in good visibility, but in this exercise, it actually makes it easier to focus on sounds in mist or fog. It is more intense and makes it more satisfying too.

Here some examples I have used, with some notes on their pros and cons:

A Waterfall –

Can be very loud and is stationary. Shape of the land can be a challenge.

Birdsong –

Intermittent and seasonal, mobile and easy to confuse with other birds. But enjoyable and romantic. Owls at night are challenging, but unbelievably good fun!

A Road or Railway Line –

Loud and can be intermittent or continuous, but not a pinpoint.

Wind on a landscape feature, eg. rocks or woodland edge –

Intermittent and can be confused. Also difficult at upwind edge of circuit.

Church bells –

Loud and stationary, but only really works well if they ring every quarter of an hour.

Industry –

A loud factory or industrial plant can work well. Not beautiful, but practical.

Animal Mating Calls –

I have used fallow deer calls during the rut, but anything loud and stationary enough can work. The same challenges as birdsong, but even more seasonal.

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