Listen: #StayHomeSounds emerge in silence of lockdowns

The way the world sounds has changed dramatically. Birdsongs. Cheers. Rain falling. The Cities and Memory project is capturing rediscovered sounds on a website to unite people living in isolation. 

Manuel Silvestri/Reuters
Marine life takes over the Grand Canal during the pandemic in Venice, Italy, March 31, 2020. As cities worldwide get emptied by stay-at-home restrictions, the #StayHomeSounds project captures sounds usually drowned out by human activity.

From an eerily quiet Times Square in New York to cheers for health care workers, a website is collecting sounds to document how coronavirus has transformed spaces around the globe.

Dozens of people from more than 25 countries have shared audio recordings from their daily lives during the pandemic for the #StayHomeSounds project by the sound mapping website Cities and Memory.

"The way the world sounds has changed really dramatically in just a few weeks," said project founder Stuart Fowkes in a telephone interview from his home near Oxford in England.

"It's really important that we recognize that and record it for posterity, but that we also get the stories as well – what people are thinking and feeling at the same time."

With many countries imposing lockdowns or other restrictions to combat the spread of the virus, cities have seen buzzing tourist centers suddenly empty and the sounds of nature emerge as traffic noise recedes.

The #StayHomeSounds project was set up a week ago and aims to document the epidemic through crowdsourced sound clips from around the globe, which are shared on a map showing where they were recorded and some details of the story behind them.

All that can be heard in the entertainment hub of Times Square is the drone of building air conditioning units, while other clips include a woman in Finland recording a story for young relatives, and birdsong in Poland.

News outlets around the globe have shared how the pandemic has allowed nature to take over cities. Earlier in March, The Guardian reported that in Venice, the hundreds of canals that were now free of motorboat taxis are filling with crabs, fish, and plant-life as the clarity of the water improves dramatically. 

Sound has also been a way for people to connect despite their isolation, with recordings of people joining together to cheer for health care workers from the Spanish capital Madrid through to Lima in Peru. 

Mr. Fowkes said he hoped the recordings would help evoke life during the epidemic for the future, and that the project would also help people take a virtual trip around the world even if they remain stuck at home.

The U.K.-based sound artist told FastCompany that he hopes his project will capture what the world sounds like: 

“This is obviously a unique moment in our lifetimes, and that’s being reflected in sound too – our towns and cities have never sounded like they do under the global lockdown,” Mr. Fowkes said in a statement. “You can hear it in everything from simple things like less traffic, or how we can now hear more birdsong and wildlife, through to how people all over the world are coming together through song and music.”

Visitors to the site can click a point on the map to hear sounds recorded there and see a brief description. If they wish, they can also submit recordings from where they’re sheltering from the virus, using their phones and a form posted to the site. (Mr. Fowkes urges participants not to leave their homes or other safe places just to capture sound).

Other collections of audio in the City and Memories project include the sounds of protests around the world, recordings of nature, the distinctive sounds of the London Underground, and religious sounds from an assortment of cultures.

"While you are on lockdown, you can at least do a bit of sonic tourism," Mr. Fowkes told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"[You can] see what other people are hearing around the world and also read their stories and see that actually people are feeling similarly ... hopefully that helps to make us feel a little bit more connected."

This story was reported by the Thomson Reuters Foundation. Material from FastCompany and The Guardian was used in this report. 

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