Worst sound award for lockdown bin collection

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A springtime soundscape documenting a south London refuse collection during the first lockdown of the pandemic has won a national worst noise award for a Goldsmiths, University of London academic.

Image shows a commercial rubbish bin in a street at night

Professor John Drever started recording covid crepusculars #1 at 6.15am on a Wednesday morning in 2020. He usually sleeps through the 25-minute experience, but with the typical drone of traffic reduced by lockdown, the refuse lorries seemed much louder. 

His recording took the prize for Worst Sound at The Sound of the Year Awards on Friday 2 April 2021. It was shortlisted alongside recordings of an anonymous snorer, and an attack of meat ants, in a category acknowledging sounds that should never have been made or that should have been designed better.

The Sound of the Year Awards is a newly-launched celebration of everyday sound – not music – which aims to highlight the rapidly-expanding international community of sound professionals and enthusiasts. 

The judging panel included musician and composer Matthew Herbert, Cheryl Tipp (the British Library's Curator of Wildlife and Environmental Sounds) and BBC Radio 3 producer Alannah Chance. 

Following the ceremony, ‘covid crepusculars #1’ was part-played on BBC Radio 3’s the Late Junction

Describing the recording, Professor Drever said: “It presents the entire refuse collection sequence from the point of audition of my bedroom. The bin lorry turns into the top of the street, gradually moves down the street passing by my bedroom window where the microphones are positioned, and steadily disappears from within earshot. 

“I had been endeavouring to record the exquisite dawn choruses that we had been enjoying during the lockdown when the rubbish van turned down my street and cut through the soundscape. The sad irony is that the intermittent screeching of the refuse mechanism whose sound is more in context in the world of Jurassic Park could easily be eliminated with a bit of lubrication and yet we put up with it.” 

“I encourage everyone to explore the wonderful sound works of the winners and the shortlisted works in the different Sound of the Year Awards categories.”  

Now Professor of Acoustic Ecology and Sound Art and Head of the Unit for Sound Practice Research in the Department of Music at Goldsmiths, John Drever launched the London Street Noises project in 2008. 

With a team of PhD researchers, he went out to record the two locations in London, Leicester Square and Beauchamp Place, which were presented on a 1928 Columbia Gramophone recording titled London Street Noises, on the occasion of the 80th and 90th anniversary of those recordings. 

Recordings have since been made again, during the pandemic, to provide contrasting soundscapes of life in lockdown and out of it. 

Professor Drever has continued to produce sound recordings which contribute toward the collective memory of London and can be archived for future listeners. His research operates at the intersection of acoustics, audiology, urban design, sound art, soundscape studies, and experimental music. He has a special interest in soundscape methods, in particular field recording and soundwalking, and of particular interest is the way in which people who are not ‘auraltypical’ experience sound.