From birdsong to cheers, sound map shows how coronavirus is changing cities

by Sonia Elks | @SoniaElks | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 1 April 2020 17:15 GMT

A family applaud from their balcony to thank Spanish medical staff fighting coronavirus. Photo taken in Ronda, southern Spain, March 14, 2020. REUTERS/Jon Nazca

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The crowdsourced project uses sound clips to document life under COVID-19 lockdown around the world

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By Sonia Elks

LONDON, April 1 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - From an eerily quiet Times Square in New York to cheers for healthcare 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 recognise 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."

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With many countries imposing lockdowns or other restrictions to combat the spread of the virus, cities have seen buzzing tourist centres 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.

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

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.

"While you are on lockdown, you can at least do a bit of sonic tourism," he 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."

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(Reporting by Sonia Elks @soniaelks; Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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