Local BBC Sites

Neighbouring Sites

Page last updated at 11:18 GMT, Tuesday, 21 July 2009 12:18 UK
The sounds of the River Wensum
By Edd Smith
BBC Norfolk

View of the River Wensum as it passes through Norwich

The sounds of the River Wensum are being relived in a CD produced by Norwich-based sound artists.

John Boursnell and Holly Rumble have collated a number of recordings called Pigeons in the Cow Tower, featuring sounds along the river in Norwich.

"It details the natural surroundings of the River Wensum," said Holly.

"We want people to take the recordings out and listen back to them in the correct locations... It's immersive and slightly unsettling," she added.

When you think of the River Wensum, you'd be forgiven for thinking of gentle currents and the river lapping at its banks. But when it comes to the city experience, it's a very different matter.

As the river cuts through Norwich, think more of police sirens, people rushing around and dance music pouring out of the bars and clubs.


"This soundscape project is a series of 14 field recordings which act as audio snapshots," said Holly.

"If you think of them as sonic-photographs they describe exactly what's happening at that moment in time," she added.

Suffering for her art, Holly braved the elements to record the sounds heard during an average day on the river.

"The project coincided with winter which, as everyone knows, is very windy. It took us about five months to get 40 minutes of recording," she said.

Holly used a wide range of microphones and recording equipment in order to capture the best audio.

John Boursnell and Holly Rumble
Sound-artists John Boursnell and Holly Rumble

"When they've been recorded in stereo the microphones are in the same position as people's ears, so when you listen back to them, you can here all the people moving past you," she said.

The team's recording equipment often attracted some rather strange looks too.

"There's one recording that I made using a parabolic microphone - they're the ones wildlife TV crews use to pick up birdsong from a long distance," said Holly.

"I got some very strange looks, particularly in Norwich city centre - people must have thought I was spying!" she added.

Although it's a recording of the Wensum, you rarely hear the sounds of the river itself.

"It surprised me when I did the recording, the only time you can hear the river in Norwich is when a boat goes past, which is very rare. It was just the route of the river and the architecture alongside it that was recorded," said Holly.

Amazing acoustics

Many of the recorded locations are underneath the numerous bridges which span the Wensum and this was by no means a coincidence.

"The acoustics are amazing, particularly beneath Carrow Bridge," said Holly.

"If you stand underneath it, you can hear the traffic go overhead and you get an almost heartbeat rhythm to the recordings.

"I would encourage people to go out and if they have a Sunday walk planned, to go underneath these bridges and listen to the acoustics."

The River Wensum, Norwich
The soundscape project involves 14 locations along the river in Norwich

With so many different locations to record, Holly came across the weird and the wonderful, but she definitely has a favourite.

"The strangest sounds I recorded were by the Jarrold's Print factory. There's a high pitch extractor fan heading out into the river and the sound of it changes constantly," she said.

"My favourite, however, has to be the recordings I made outside the old Ferry Boat on Riverside. It was one of the last times you could hear a live band playing there because it closed down shortly afterwards.

"If you go back to that location with the recording, it eerily echoes the past."

As the recordings move closer to Riverside, there's a real contrast between the sounds of nature and those of mankind as you hear clubbers stumbling out of the bars along the Wensum.

"It would be wrong to present just the more rural locations. Likewise it would be wrong just to present the sound of clubs on Riverside, because it changes every five minutes in the city."

Copies of the River Wensum soundscape project can be acquired from the Norwich Arts Centre, St Benedicts Street.

Wildlife on the Norfolk Broads
16 Jun 09 |  Nature & Outdoors
From scrubland to wildlife haven
12 Jun 09 |  Nature & Outdoors
The vast history of Raynham Hall
20 May 09 |  History



Sign in

BBC navigation

Copyright © 2017 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific