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Oxford sings with electricity

During the coronavirus lockdown, cities have been sounding very different – almost humming with the pulse of their own electricity beneath the eerie silence. Here’s one such story from our home city of Oxford, and a new piece reflecting on the changing soundscapes of locked-down cities.

“The Bodleian Libraries are one of the most famous libraries on the planet, and they sit at the very centre of the city of Oxford. Tonight, we went out to record the sounds around the Bodleian during the Covid-19 lockdown.

“Broad Street is usually a busy thoroughfare, with popular pubs spilling their customers out onto the street, students and citizens walking around in large numbers and a fair amount of traffic.

“During the lockdown, almost nothing. There are so few people that you can hear couples coming from 200 metres away, and you can hear every individual conversation clearly – it’s quieter than 4.00am on a normal day.

“The loudest interruption in this recording, approximately once every two minutes, is a scooter or motorbike going past. Each and every one of these is a Deliveroo rider on a trip to deliver an evening meal around Oxford, as home delivery services become one of the essential services keeping the city going.”

City version:

Here are the notes we wrote when composing the reimagined piece built from this recording:

“The silence in the city centre, outside the world-famous Bodleian Library, was one of those strangely pervasive, slightly sinister city silences. The way a city sounds at 4am, except this was 8pm.

“The drone of the city’s air conditioning, power sources, light switches and street lamps becomes the dominant ambience, and becomes overpowering on its own, as represented by the synths in this piece, and the cracking buzzes at the start and finish symbolise the electricity coursing through the city.

“Every passing conversation becomes amplified, everything a passer-by says carries new import, as you can hear from the snippets of speech in the piece, and even the distant bells you’d have struggled to hear beneath the hum of traffic now stand out clearly.

“During lockdown, the city sings with electricity, and this piece brings out that song and places it front and centre.”

Memory version: