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Behind the scenes at St Giles Fair, Oxford

Photo by Giulia Biasibetti.

This week was the annual three-day funfair in the centre of Oxford called St Giles Fair – some of the major thoroughfares in the centre of the city are closed and filled with all kinds of rides, games and food stalls, and most of the county descends on the fair at some point.

Things I learned from field recording at the fair:

1. The pounding sound systems turn most of the fair into a homogeneous sonic mess and mask the good stuff. It’s especially hard to capture people’s conversations.
2. The old clunky rides are the most interesting sounding, but they’re dying out.
3. The people that keep funfairs running are by far the most interesting thing to listen to.
4. You can take a video camera or a massive SLR to a fair and no one will blink an eye. Record sound and you get looks from people like you might be a nutcase.

Undeterred, I recorded a selection of sounds from rides to stall vendors and offered them out for people to remix – this is the first one to come back, a remix by Tim Waterfield that takes the sounds of the generators behind the scenes, powering the rides and unconsidered by most who venture to a funfair, and turns it into a little ambient piece. I spent a lot of time as a child at old-style funfairs, and they were generally powered by old lorries or steam engines, a glorious throwback to former times – now, fairs are either powered electrically, or by great diesel-engined generators like this, which don’t make anything like so attractive a sound (or sight, or smell for that matter).

There are still more funfair sounds up for grabs, so please contact me if you’d like to help remix the sound of Oxford’s annual party…


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