While researching different kinds of maps I recently came across the Defra ‘Noise Mapping England’ website. Here you can access the noise levels of certain urban spaces in the UK which have been recorded and mapped. Environmental noise is ‘an inevitable consequence’ of a ‘mature and vibrant’ society. Defra uses their sound maps to check that noise production in an area stays within Regulations and to develop/implement action plans to reduce noise that is over the limits of acceptability. Defra also monitors the effects of environmental noise on the public. Most interesting is Defra’s aim for ‘preservation by the member states of environmental noise quality where it is good’. What passes as ‘good noise’, how are these sounds preserved and to what purpose? Is this aim linked to the idea of creating some kind of urban symphony? There are other sites which present such sound maps of spaces - London seems to be a particularly favourite subject.
Of course not everyone is comfortable with noise - not every noise is comfortable. Noise, especially environmental noise, is inflicted on you, such as in the case of people living below a busy flight path or having a daily flow of lorries thundering past their front door. Some people enjoy the noise of the city, others can’t tolerate birdsong waking them too early in the day. Tove Jansson lived on her own island and in her children’s series The Moomins, the Hemulens are creatures who are disliked by the other characters because they are noisy. Silence is to be embraced rather than being a cause of anxiety. The idea that you can still be in company without having to be aware of that through hearing the other person’s presence.
Defra studies the relationship between people, place and sound and identifies areas of acceptable and unacceptable noise based on guidelines. Viewed as a structured presentation of sounds, is a poem then also map of sound? If so, what are the implications and possibilities of using that as a framework?
The poet Bob Cobbing had the ability to sound marks on the page - these soundings were not dependent upon having words or letters to act as sound ma(r)kers. The word ‘soundscape’ makes its own link to the idea of the page as a geographical space which can be sounded. Poets preserve/create sounded spaces in, or on, a silent space. In their written form these distributions of sounds on the page need an agent in order to become noise - the page can not speak out loud for itself. When doing silent reading, the voice you hear is usually your own, unless you have heard the poet read, then sometimes it is that voice that you can hear, absent in person but present in voice, speaking the words of their poem inside the space of your head.