the area of south east london is in continuous development as the vast city grows eastward. sites encountered one day have already disappeared again the next, or have been totally altered. the southern bank of the river is being built up, at a speed that is literally watchable.
l i s t e n i n g • w a l k s •m a p s
d o c k l a n d s , • l o n d o n
c h a r l t o n , • l o n d o n
b e c k t o n , • l o n d o n
g r e e n w i c h , • l o n d o n
walking through the woolwich foot tunnel to beckton one can hear the resonant frequencies that the tunnel architecture produces at every footfall. one also hears the resonances of the ferries passing overhead, and long reverberations of any sounds produced in the tunnel. once on the north bank, sounds travelling across the water, ferry terminal announcements and ships' engines. following the river around, quitetitude takes over. birdcalls can be heard bouncing off the water surface, mapping the space sonically. water sounds of the river lapping against concrete jetties. at the custom house locks, all is quiet. vast marine dredging ships may plow through the river, their powerful engines generating a low frequency drone that dominates the entire landscape, magically suspending time. cutting back into beckton, the soundscape becomes more urban again, traffic increases. the overhead trains of the dlr service are heard, their weight resonating the concrete arcs they traverse, screeching. at london city airport (LCY) all sounds again echoing across a large body of water, with soft, long reverberation times, and one can listen to the jet engines on take-off and landing.
from the skies over greenwich the downward pitching harmonic arcs of the airbus' jet engines as they wheel and turn over the peninsula to align with the runways at heathrow, miles to the west. like a hemispheric dome, these soundwaves cover a large expanse of terrain on the peninsula, reaching from the river to greenwich park and blackheath. on the riverside wharves, the east wind in your ears, and on it the wisps of sirens and warning beeps of reversing vehicles among the snatches of general city wash. there used also to be a natural flute on this river walk, but it has now disappeared. where it stood is now a redevelopment site, where one may no longer walk. once audible only on very blustery days, that soundmark is now also gone. as the landscape continually alters, and the urban wastelands, and empty spaces slowly disappear, so will its sounds. on the deep water terminal wharf, i recorded the sound of a docked ship's ladder shifting on the wharf's concrete surface: the energy of the river, transferred to the movement of the ship, transmitted onto a ground surface, transformed into a sound. listening back, i noticed that the recording device had picked up some interference. i imagine these must stem from the ship's instruments, leaving an audible trace of yet more of the invisible waves which define each space.
in the empty docklands on a sunday or after business closes down, all sounds reflecting off the hard surfaces of the high-rises, seemingly amplified. a study in architecturally shaped sound. there are long gaps between sound events that stand out from the blanket of distant city noise, and you can hear your own footsteps.
at charlton, crossing the motorway whose white noise then recedes as one approaches the river. on the riverside then, industry. sand blowing off conveyor belts rains onto the concrete, making a fine sound. gravel falls, like hail. or, in the early morning quiet, the sub-heavy waves produced by a moored marine dredging ship's engine appears to fill the entire area. depending on one's proximity to a reflecting surface or capturing cavity, the oscillating bass tone seems heavier or more transparent. the bass tone appears to stop time. this sonic scene is punctuated by birdcalls, and the dripping sounds of water. though fascinated as i listen, i wonder how those living in the nearby settlements must be shifting uneasily in their sleep, as this sound penetrates everything. even if you can't hear it you will feel it. the site at which i heard and recorded that scene is now gone. it has been replaced by temporary steel building hoardings. a new wharf is being built.