distal bodies

introduction

The short daily listenings and recordings that comprise this project, document the changing soundscape in the village of Woodcote, South Oxfordshire during the Covid-19 lockdown and beyond. The writings and reflections investigate themes of social, spatial and temporal distance.

A Sound Diaries project with researchers at the Sonic Art Research Unit at Oxford Brookes University

24th May 2020

Location: Village Green, Woodcote, Oxfordshire, UK

Time: 08:52 - 09:07

Weather: Sunny intervals with a moderate breeze

Temperature: 15oC

Average Sound Level: 52.6dBSPL (LAeq)

I arrive at the green to the joyful sound of a dad singing ‘How much is that doggy in the window‘ to his two young daughters, whilst they circle a beech tree on their balance bikes. Shortly after, mum and third child wander over from the village hall to clap encouragingly. As they wander off in the direction of The Close, I attend to the rolls of white noise from the branches above, dominating the soundscape today. With no obstructions, the chilly breeze appears to gather momentum across the green, making me conscious of the tripod’s stability, top heavy with microphones and blimp precariously nesting on the apex. My inability to hear into the distance keeps my thoughts turned inward. A slow-moving tractor, trailer with entourage of patient motorists rumbling along the Goring Road and the occasional shriek of red kites pull my attention outward, but not far and not for long.

Woodcote Village Green 24-05-20 - Richard Bentley
00:00 / 00:00
23rd May 2020

Location: Village Green, Woodcote, Oxfordshire, UK

Time: 09:04 - 09:19

Weather: Sunshine and patchy cloud with a strong breeze

Temperature: 14oC

Average Sound Level: 71.5dBSPL (LAeq)

Woodcote Village Green 23-05-20 - Richard Bentley
00:00 / 00:00
22nd May 2020

Location: Village Green, Woodcote, Oxfordshire, UK

Time: 08:59 - 09:14

Weather: Cloudy with a moderate breeze

Temperature: 14oC

Average Sound Level: 55.0dBSPL (LAeq, 15)

Woodcote Village Green 22-05-20 - Richard Bentley
00:00 / 00:00
21st May 2020

Location: Village Green, Woodcote, Oxfordshire, UK

Time: 09:01 - 09:16

Weather: Sunny, light cloud with a moderate breeze

Temperature: 18oC

Average Sound Level: 49.0dBSPL (LAeq)

Woodcote Village Green 21-05-20
Woodcote Village Green 21-05-20 - Richard Bentley
00:00 / 00:00

The roads enclosing two sides of the village green are mapped by the friction-sound of rubber, aggregate and asphalt. The cyclic explosions of older diesel engines escape from clapped-out trucks. Loose metal rattles on trailers, vans and a cement mixer lorry. The persistent pulse of a reversing alarm. The distant clatter of weighty building materials tumbling on to concrete, separating, tacking through buildings to my ears, creating a stuttered delay. The low grumbling roar of a vintage motorcycle dominates the soundscape temporarily, other sounds dwarfed by its draw on my attention. Beneath the distinguishable sound streams of synthetic materials moved by oil, lies that hum of movement, faint and indistinct, the omnipresent rumble of commutes, community and commerce from the A4074. It is a sound so familiar and forgettable, that you would mistake it for the tumbling rotation of the earth itself.

20th May 2020

Location: Village Green, Woodcote, Oxfordshire, UK

Time: 08:59 - 09:14

Weather: Sunny, light cloud with a gentle breeze

Temperature: 19oC

Average Sound Level: 42.3dBSPL (LAeq, 15)

Woodcote Village Green 20-05-20 - Richard Bentley
00:00 / 00:00
19th May 2020

Location: Village Green, Woodcote, Oxfordshire, UK

Time: 08:59 - 09:14

Weather: Sunny intervals and a gentle breeze

Temperature: 15oC

Average Sound Level: 51.8dBSPL (LAeq, 15)

Woodcote Village Green 19-05-20 - Richard Bentley
00:00 / 00:00
18th May 2020

Location: Village Green, Woodcote, Oxfordshire, UK

Time: 08:56 - 09:11

Weather: Sunny, largely clear skies with a light breeze

Temperature: 14oC

Average Sound Level: 49.4dBSPL (LAeq)

Woodcote Village Green 18-05-20 - Richard Bentley
00:00 / 00:00

After spending the weekend working, converging my thinking on problems, process and product, I can sense the warm rays of the sun tempering this implacability and my mind open to the soundscape once again. Unlike on chillier, stormier days, the calm breeze buoys sounds to my ears and I can listen attentively. The alto wash of MPVs, four-by-fours and estates seems to dominate today, with no screaming sopranos and only the occasional rumble of tenors and basses. The counterpoint of birds, leaves and softly plosive wind noise across my ears creates a relaxing and familiar composition. I marvel at the size and gracefulness of a kite swooping low in front of me, while the surprisingly loud tumbling, sine-tone of a light aircraft drives the limiters on my recorder into action. It is only the presence of others that breaks my outward attention.

 

As people approach, pass, or even glance in my direction I feel the subtle distraction of expectation, as I become poised to explain my sedentary presence and conspicuous pile of technical paraphernalia. In company, listening becomes self-conscious, in solitude, my ears belong to the soundscape. The centrifuge of attention seems to modulate in force, anticipation drawing it inwards, present-centred openness allowing it to slow, swell and absorb itself in distance.

17th May 2020

Location: Village Green, Woodcote, Oxfordshire, UK

Time: 08:54 - 09:09

Weather: Overcast, light cloud with a gentle breeze

Temperature: 11oC

Average Sound Level: 41.5dBSPL (LAeq)

Woodcote Village Green 17-05-20 - Richard Bentley
00:00 / 00:00
16th May 2020

Location: Village Green, Woodcote, Oxfordshire, UK

Time: 08:58 - 09:13

Weather: Sunny with a light breeze

Temperature: 12oC

Average Sound Level: 41.8dBSPL (LAeq)

Woodcote Village Green 16-05-20 - Richard Bentley
00:00 / 00:00
15th May 2020

Location: Village Green, Woodcote, Oxfordshire, UK

Time: 08:54 - 09:09

Weather: Sunny, clear skies and light winds

Temperature: 10oC

Average Sound Level: 48.7dBSPL (LAeq)

The skies are clear of aircraft today, but I sense a gradual return to normal. A lady pulls up in an MPV dropping two children at the primary school, repeated a few minutes later by another family of three. The intermittent crests of combustion engines that have drawn my attention over the past few weeks, are morphing back into one forgettable modulating stream. A dog pursues a lady out jogging, surrounding her with barks and intimidation. It’s elderly owner, unable to break the dog’s singular focus with calls, slowly gets close enough to attach a lead. The brief commotion prompts another dog to join in from a car window, its yapping bolstered by reflections off the village hall. Sensing the mood, a crow’s aggressive cawing intimidates a small, but fiercely undeterred bird. Having passed a van and trailer on the way on to the green, the anticipated buzz of hedge-trimming begins. This is swiftly followed by a sit-on lawnmower, taming the green in concentric circles, driven nonchalantly, slumped one-handed to allow for mobile phone conversation.

 

For those who sit long enough to hear, there is an audible subjugation silently at work. The rising snarl of engines subdue birdsong and psithurism, routines and expectations rekindle old habits, even the fauna, domestic and wild, seem angered by this oppression.

Woodcote Village Green 15-05-20 - Richard Bentley
00:00 / 00:00
14th May 2020

Location: Village Green, Woodcote, Oxfordshire, UK

Time: 08:58 - 09:13

Weather: Sunny, light cloud with a gentle breeze

Temperature: 9oC

Average Sound Level: 45.7dBSPL (LAeq)

Woodccote Village Green 14-05-20 - Richard Bentley
00:00 / 00:00
13th May 2020

Location: Village Green, Woodcote, Oxfordshire, UK

Time: 08:58 - 09:13

Weather: Sunny patches, light cloud with a gentle breeze

Temperature: 8oC

Average Sound Level: 51.5dBSPL (LAeq)

The roads that circumvent the village green seem a little busier today. A solitary light aircraft, its engine sound falling through the sky, fading into the distance, prompts me to recall the sounds that are absent. The commotion of young children clambering and shouting exuberantly in the playpark and school playground, tapping of hard-soled shoes, balls and skipping ropes begrudgingly halted by the bell, teenage chit-chat cutting diagonally through the outfield, the calls and whistles of dog walkers, toddlers crying in push-chairs, parent’s conversations interjected with sharp calls maintaining order. All these sounds playing in my mind are separated by the attention I give them. Yet, they are simultaneously underpinned and buttressed by the growls of combustion engines idling, parking, circling around the car park’s one way system, horns and frustrated bellowing from car windows congesting the air along the Reading Road. In the skies above the green, civil aircraft roar in waves, undetected amongst the distractions of daily life, Chinooks from RAF Benson cut the air into segments, occasional light aircraft from the aerodrome, dive, circle and silently eject parachutists from their fuselage.

 

The clarity of the blackbird’s song and the lulling psithurism above, returns me to movement and the vibrations of mechanical waves. Much is absent from the soundscape of a typical Wednesday morning and then the quiet asks: ‘what is it that I miss?’

Woodcote Village Green 13-05-20 - Richard Bentley
00:00 / 00:00
12th May 2020

Location: Village Green, Woodcote, Oxfordshire, UK

Time: 08:57 - 09:12

Weather: Sunny, light cloud with a moderate breeze

Temperature: 7oC

Average Sound Level: 60.8dBSPL (LAeq)

The deep, azure sky is lined from east to west with a ripple of cirrus-like cloud, arching in a long, vast canopy. Crows silently parade the cricket pitch while a robin’s abrupt alarm calls cut through the bed of pigeon coos and blackbird song. Hollers across the park: “coming in for a cuppa?”. I spot two ladies walking from the village hall, chatting, comfortable with their presence and each other. They call out to a friend “Hiya, you alright?” and disappear behind the school hedge. Two chirping toots from a car horn suggest friendly recognition, more than irritation. The flow of traffic seems evenly spaced, framing intermittent silences in which birdsong and the buzz of insects draw my attention back to the bench. Short measures of hammering, sound in the distance, rebounding off the school buildings behind me, making their origins difficult to locate. Yesterday’s piercing northerly wind has quietened to a gentle, cold breeze, but my hands and feet have not warmed. My mind does not mirror the expanse of the sky, it is not open to context and connection, but stays constricted like the blood vessels in my hands, closed and immanent.

Woodcote Village Green 12-05-20 - Richard Bentley
00:00 / 00:00
11th May 2020

Location: Village Green, Woodcote, Oxfordshire, UK

Time: 08:56 - 09:11

Weather: Sunny intervals, light cloud with a fresh breeze

Temperature: 8oC

Average Sound Level: 64.3dBSPL (LAeq)

My ‘BBC Weather’ app reads; ‘Sunny and a fresh breeze’ but this description does not seem to capture the experience, having been buffeted by the wind, hands numbed and tripod blown over. Sitting huddled on the park bench, my ears grumble with waves of wind noise, each bluster conjuring breakers of white noise passing right to left, north to south, following the line of trees marking the edge of the green. These tumbling gusts mask tyres and engines on the Goring Road along with the many movements I cannot see. I notice that the commercial vans have returned after the long weekend, but only the low rumble of their engines radiating from the adjacent Reading Road, can duck beneath the wind noise. The ‘breeze’, cloud and cooler air seem to have convinced many to stay indoors. An elderly man with a dog, prosthetic throwing arm and tennis ball, a lady running laps into the turf and a well-clad gentleman sitting atop a diesel mower circling the cricket pitch, infield, outfield. Cold and eager to return home, I dutifully record five minutes of the soundscape, all the time uneasy with the flashing ‘low battery’ indicator. Then, pack-up, load myself with the paraphernalia and walk briskly back across the park weaving to respect the invisible two-meter boundary surrounding people milling outside the corner-shop.

Woodcote Village Green 11-05-20 - Richard Bentley
00:00 / 00:00
10th May 2020

Location: Village Green, Woodcote, Oxfordshire, UK

Time: 08:48 - 09:03

Weather: Sunny, light cloud with a moderate breeze

Temperature: 16oC

Average Sound Level: 48.5dBSPL (LAeq)

Woodcote Village Green 10-05-20 - Richard Bentley
00:00 / 00:00
9th May 2020

Location: Village Green, Woodcote, Oxfordshire, UK

Time: 09:00 – 09:15

Weather: Sunny with light cloud and very light wind.

Temperature: 18oC

Average Sound Level: 40.8dBSPL (LAeq)

Woodcote Village Green 09-05-20 - Richard Bentley
00:00 / 00:00

On arriving, the absence of vehicles on the Goring and Reading roads affords a short-lived silence that foregrounds the tides of my breath. Gazing across the green, I imagine the sound of the bunting decorating the hedgerow of the house opposite me, beating in the breeze. My visual ear listens to the padding feet of joggers as they slowly inch across the far side of the green. The trees behind the pub, shift their weight from side to side, leaves animated, their foley sound: a slowly modulated waterfall. The only silent movements are the three red kites gliding on the thermals at the top of the hill and a solitary cabbage white butterfly quivering frantically in front of me. What a short life it has. It’s at times like these you realise how little you know about an environment and, equally, how little you understand yourself.

8th May 2020

Location: Village Green, Woodcote, Oxfordshire, UK

Time: 09:00 – 09:15

Weather: Sunny with light cloud and very light wind.

Temperature: 18oC

Average Sound Level: 40.1dBSPL (LAeq)

Walking to the green, past windows of brightly coloured-in VE Day bunting, the silence of the bank holiday lockdown is palpable. The passing whine of cars is separated by silences. Even the low hum of traffic from the A4074 seems all but absent. A home-delivery van is one of only five commercial vehicles passing the green throughout the fifteen minutes of logging sound levels. The cackle of a crow from the play park to my right, pierces the sound-bed of cooing pigeons, hidden from sight, but audibly present on all sides. Much maligned, today I find the pigeon’s soft call comfortingly familiar. Staying with the sound, I notice the lengthened, strained quality of the second note of their monotone call and its similarity with that of the cuckoo. To my left, a lady walking her border collie, coughs, a sound more distracting in these times. Ahead, three young boys pass a football between them, while discussing what player they will be when they reach the solitary goal in the adjacent field. Like the wavering screech of red kites, the modulating drone of aircraft on approach to Heathrow are ubiquitous here in Woodcote. This makes the tracing of a solitary aeroplane across the sky, seem both intrusive and proper. As the rumble of the aircraft fades, drifting out of focus, I attend to the trees, whispering faintly and revealing the shifting rustle of birds in the branches above.

Woodcote Village Green 08-05-20 - Richard Bentley
00:00 / 00:00

With fifteen minutes passed, I collect the tripod and swap the meter for microphones. Sitting, recording, watching the slow movement of bodies at a distance, my thoughts turn to loss. The absence present in the soundscape prompts me to rifle through recent memories; VE Day bunting, newsworthy obituaries, furloughed workers and missing human connections. There is a vaguely-sensed impression that there is connection in these memories and some inarticulate resolution.

7th May 2020

Location: Village Green, Woodcote, Oxfordshire, UK

Time: 08:55 – 09:10

Weather: Clear skies, sunny with a gentle cool breeze.

Temperature: 16oC

Average Sound Level: 45.7dBSPL (LAeq)

My freshly downloaded ‘Chirp-o-matic’ app is proving to be an invaluable resource in identifying bird species. My discovery today was that the frantic, ear-splitting chirping from the bushes at the entrance to the green, were a flock of house sparrows. Making my way to what will become a very familiar park bench, I set up the decibel meter and settle in.

 

Along the far edge of the green, the B471 Goring Road seems quieter today, with fewer delivery vehicles. The tyres and engines of the cars produce an indistinct wash of sound that lies just below the slightly higher pitched layer of psithurism from the beech trees arching above me. In contrast, cars along Reading Road emerge from behind the village hall, engines roaring, climbing and brightening in tone as they pick up speed. Engrossed in typing these notes on my phone, it takes me a while to notice a friend and his small white dog in the distance. He keeps a wide birth, perhaps he hasn’t noticed me, maybe he needs space or is observing forty-meter distancing. More likely, he simply does not want to interrupt. I notice the reversing bleep of a delivery lorry, smeared by reflections. The biting metallic roar of a saw and the clatter of heavy materials being dropped, also smoothed and filtered with distance. A very vocal blackbird, makes his presence known in the tree to my left.

Woodcote Village Green 07-05-20 - Richard Bentley
00:00 / 00:00

Sound is anchoring me in what is here and now. There is enough movement in the soundscape to hold my attention and anchor it, even if it is flitting from sound to thought to screen and round again. I don’t feel hurried or under pressure. I am making the decision to be open to the various streams that make up the soundscape, not being forced to attend to them by distraction. I lift my eyes up to the kites circling on the hilltop thermals and my gaze softens as I follow their winding flight path. With this, my mind stills briefly…then back. I’m swiftly grounded by my youngest daughter jogging across the field, out for a second day in a row! “I saw your weird spaceship looking thing, and knew it was you!” I looked at my phone, twenty minutes had passed. We sat and chatted on the park bench about the cute cat that she fell in love with yesterday. The penny drops. I see why she is suddenly so eager to leave the house.

6th May 2020

Location: Village Green, Woodcote, Oxfordshire, UK

Time: 08:50 – 09:05

Weather: Clear skies, sunny with a gentle cool breeze.

Temperature: 11oC

Average Sound Level: 45.7dBSPL (LAeq)

The skies are clear blue and no vapour trails dissect the sky. Sitting on a bench at the periphery of the village green, the welcome warmth of the sun is slowly saturating the back of my hoodie. The cloaking wind has subsided today and the works vehicles and occasional car are audible as individual streams of sound. The blackbirds seem busier, darting above me between the line of trees bordering the school playground. A dog walker passes-by exercising her two Westies. The dogs are curious and eager to chat, panting and padding, jangling as they tug on their lead. The owner, a lady with a South African accent, stops to ask whether the tripod is mine and what I am doing with it. I explain and we exchange information about the local conservation group and the dawn chorus. I agree to share the recordings made for International Dawn Chorus Day on the pages of local groups. Saying goodbye, my attention returns to the gentle, cool breeze. A dog barks from the direction of ‘The Close’. The rustle of fresh green leaves and soft cooing of pigeons form a backdrop to the scene. Cawing crows dart, twisting and falling through the sky, chasing each frantically above the cricket square, while red kites observe the commotion from higher above the green. The fifteen minutes it takes to measure the average sound level has passed quickly, and I return home, passing my youngest daughter on a rare excursion from the house.
 

25th May 2020

Location: Village Green, Woodcote, Oxfordshire, UK

Time: 09:04 - 09:19

Weather: Sunny with a light wind

Temperature: 18oC

Average Sound Level: 41.1dBSPL (LAeq, 15)

Woodcote Village Green 25-05-20 - Richard Bentley
00:00 / 00:00
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