July 2022 in sounds and pictures

Public space is contested visually and sonically
17th July 2022
Tower Hamlets spent over £400,000 on graffiti removal last year; the powerwashing pictured above is a regular sight on Brick Lane.

The soundscape is a vital refuge for protesters
15th July 2022
Protersters march over Vauxhall Bridge on 14th May to mark anger over the U.S. Supreme Court’s leaked draft decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Returning the gaze of police surveillance
13th July 2022
Several cameras and a transmitter mounted atop a police van at the Home Office protest in April.
The police surveillance van outside a protest on Marsham St turns its gaze towards a crowd of protesters.

Even before the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill began threatening protest rights, a red van with the license plate LB21 YNG began turning up at police-attended events and pointing its many cameras at protesters. It was there at Home Office protests on 14th April, and at the ‘Free Palestine, End Apartheid’ protest on 14th May, and at the abortion rights march outside the U.S. Embassy on the same day.

A little like Ai Weiwei’s marble CCTV cameras, documenting police presence at protests is an essential way to turn the gaze back on surveillance authorities.


The world fell silent and the bees came out
12th July 2022
A bee alights on a daisy in Haggerston Park, East London, in September 2021.

Even as coronavirus lockdowns throughout 2020 and 2021 dramatically altered the soundscape, insect life flourished in the stillness and in the comparatively clean air.


The obvious case for insulation
8th July 2022

Next week, when temperatures in southeastern England consistently hit the high twenties and low thirties over several days, we’ll probably forget about insulation. The chance to turn off central heating couldn’t be more welcome than during an energy price crisis. The relief won’t last long, though, if homeowners can’t afford insulation come winter.


Fleam Dyke looks gloriously messy
7th July 2022

It’s hard to know what to expect from a place that you’ve only ever known on a map. You might have it in your mind’s eye, but the anticipation and recollection always diverge somehow. As we found at Fleam Dyke in our recent piece on mapping, real places tend to be messier and much more alive than they look in 2D.


Hackney Wick sounds ordinary and surreal
6th July 2022

On this July morning, Hackney Wick station sounds very dry. That might be a silly statement, but it couldn’t be more different from the situation last summer.

Right now, the ticket barriers are beeping, the gravel is crunching underfoot, and people are using the ground-floor doors to their homes. In last summer’s floods, the passage of time in everyday life felt totally, abruptly suspended, and that’s what makes the contrast with ordinary life so poignant.


If all that infrastructure falls away
5th July 2022
Trains pass under an Overground railway bridge in East London

Large buildings tend to look permanent, or impressive, or at least solid. In reality, they are more vulnerable to structural collapse, excessive heat, extreme winds, and earthquakes than their low-rise neighbours. Next to the ordinary ground-level, horizontal infrastructure of train tracks and warehouses, the upright-rectangle skyscrapers in East London look especially improbable and hubristic.


The Thames Barrier carries half a century of symbolic weight
4th July 2022
Thames barrier
The Thames Barrier, viewed from Thames Barrier Park on the north side of the river

Flooding on the Thames Estuary worries people. It has done for a long time. The river burst its banks in January 1928, killing 14 people and driving thousands more from their homes, mainly the occupants of cramped basement flats in Lambeth and Southwark. A quarter-century later, a storm in the North Sea caused a tidal surge which flooded 180,000 acres in southeastern England, killing 300 people. Its impact was even worse in the Netherlands, where 400,000 acres flooded and 1,800 people died.

The Thames Barrier grew out of the shock and horror of 1953, and a spate of flash floods in London over the past decade have brought it into even sharper focus. The Environment Agency expects it to be fit for purpose until 2070. Given the scale of what could unfold if it failed, and the impending lift in the North Sea, the Thames Barrier will have to hold even more weight in the next half-century than it has in the last.


Broadleaf woodland is not just pretty. It’s a home.
3rd July 2022
Moorhen's nest on a river under a tree
A moorhen nests with its chick on the New River in North London

When people think and write about the point of planting more trees, they often start with the problems of the day: air pollution, the greenhouse effect, urban heat islands, flooding, soil erosion, urban beautification. The constant need underneath all that, though, is habitat. Ever since Wolfcatchers Royal drove Canis lupus out of the Royal Forests in the High Middle Ages, and shipbuilding claimed massive quantities of British timber during the Enlightenment, wild animals in the UK have had very little space. Photos like this one offer an emotional response to the question of why that matters.


Summer rain under an umbrella
2nd July 2022

Like wind, rain itself is silent—at least, theoretically. Without something to fall on, it wouldn’t make a sound.

The things to fall on can be your immediate shelter as well as your wider surroundings. Here, the microphone begins the recording under a jacket and then gets an umbrella. You can also hear when the umbrella passes under a tree, the raindrops becoming heavier and more infrequent.


The drift between housing and wages
1st July 2022

It’s difficult to wander around a capital city and not wonder about who can afford to live there—and the fact that land ownership sits behind a government paywall adds insult to injury. By March this year, the ratio between the median house price and the median salary in the UK had risen to 13.65 in London. It’s showing no signs of slowing down.


Street-level sounds
Thursday 30th June 2022

Field recordings capture what decibel meters miss. This ten-minute exploration in North London reveals an intricate, joyful chaos of street sounds. It features scaffolders, trucks, mopeds, joggers, buses, an oscillating saw, car horns, fibre optic engineers, planes, a bin collection, a jangly dog harness, an electric bike, and a happy pedestrian just going about the place in a dressing gown and flip-flops.


White magnolia blossom
The joy of a late blossom
Wednesday 29th June 2022

A white magnolia blossoms on New River Walk in London.
It’s an unexpected joy to see such a large blossom so long after the spring flowers are out. Like the beautiful corners we found in our field trip to northeast Cambridge earlier in June, you probably wouldn’t know it was there unless you came across it by chance.


by Jay Richardson