Capturing everyday life through sound

Professor Paul Whitty and Dr Felicity Ford

Together, Professor Paul Whitty and Dr Felicity Ford have given us a new understanding of the significance of sound to our culture and communities.

Their innovative work has inspired artists and audiences, as well as enhanced the impact of cultural and heritage exhibitions across the country.

Recording everyday life in sound

Paul Whitty recording on the street

Paul and Felicity created Sound Diaries, a documentation of everyday life in sound, as an alternative narrative to the overwhelming tide of visual stimuli around us. The online, collaborative platform documents the mundane sounds of vending machines, luggage carousels, toasters, knitting, escalators and more, investigating the contexts behind the sounds and providing a forum for discussion of their cultural and communal significance.

The platform provides a unique context in which artists, museum professionals, producers and a wider audience in the UK and beyond, can network, collaborate and develop their careers and practice. It has more than 3,400 subscribers from around the world.

“[Sound Diaries] has been a vehicle for a more expansive dialogue in my artistic research and practice, and I’ve felt that finally someone is listening. It has been such an important catalyst for my creative growth, the sense of freedom and interdisciplinary interaction that this platform provides, the dynamic intellectual openness.”

Artist responding to the Sound Diaries open call

The beautiful game

Sound Diaries has enabled Paul and Felicity to embark upon collaborative projects based on their areas of particular interest.

Paul’s 2018 exhibition, conference and series of publications Get Some Chalk On Your Boots! drew on the Sound Diaries project, Get Rid!, exploring the sounding cultures of football through audio documentation of grassroots football in the UK.

Following the exhibition, national football magazine When Saturday Comes invited Paul to contribute a guest article on the topic of the everyday sound of football during the Covid-19 pandemic. Behind Closed Doors was the first article published in the magazine to focus specifically on the sound of the game.

Paul's research was featured by writer and producer James Ward in his BBC Sounds podcast series 'The Boring Podcasts'.. It also encouraged the producer of the Jumpers for Goalposts festival of football culture to add a sound installation – Take it to the Corner – which subsequently featured in the 2019 Tate Exchange project, Who Are Ya? Exploring Art, Identity and Football.

Brill (Sound Diaries)

Podcasts


The Boring Talks #34: Sounds of grassroots football
Paul Whitty 
(BBC Sounds)

Auditory archaeology: Object, text and place as Sonic Time Capsule 
Paul Whitty (SoundCloud)

Virtual sound museums: Digital phonographic archives as Sonic Time Capsules
Felicity Ford (SoundCloud)

Hearing Catherine
Felicity Ford (SoundCloud)

The sonic appeal of textiles

EDDIE fabric swatch

Felicity’s joint interests in sound and knitting led her to found Knitsonik, a creative enterprise connecting her work with everyday sound with her love of stranded colourwork. She has appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour talking about the connections between places, textiles and sounds, and how her work joins these elements together.

Her interest in this area led to a collaboration with the British Wool Marketing Board and Rheged, a community arts centre in Cumbria, for their Wonder of Wool exhibition. Her sound installation Hûrd, developed for the exhibition, featured the voices of wool producers, the atmosphere and weather of places where wool is grown, and the specific sounds of British sheep.

Felicity’s collaborations for Shetland Wool Week include the project Shetland Oo by Kate Davies and Tom Barr of KDD & Co, where her field recordings of the sounds of Shetland wool were credited with bringing the island’s landscape and industry to life.

Enhancing historic understanding

Paul and Felicity’s body of work has enhanced the way in which museums represent the daily lives of historical figures.

Felicity worked with the Charles Dickens Museum in London to curate Hearing Catherine: The Artist’s View, a sound installation to accompany its exhibition The Other Dickens: Discovering Catherine, which captured the mundane, domestic world of Charles Dickens’ wife Catherine. The exhibition was a huge success, and the museum now has several of its soundworks permanently installed.

Paul worked with the Wordsworth Trust and writer Steven Matthews to document the everyday sounding environment of sites associated with the poet William Wordsworth. Paul's field recording of the River Derwent, recorded behind Wordsworth's childhood home in Cockermouth, is permanently installed in the Wordsworth Museum in Grasmere.

Recording by a gate