Recently I came across an interesting website cleverly named: Museum of Endangered Sounds. http://savethesounds.info/ I warmly invite you all to go to check it out as this turns out to be a rather interesting journey throughout the history of disappearing sounds. Disappearing and collectively known by people of similar generations and across borders.
For instance, I have never heard the sounds of the speaking clock in English but I obviously know its purpose for having heard it in France and outside of the language difference, it is funny to notice how similar the format is.
Amongst all the familiar sounds, one that I find particularly interesting is the phone bip (not the ringtone but the actual bip you hear when dialing someone’s number). In spite of all sorts of ringtones available and other text messages nowadays, the sound of this bip has not changed a single bit since the beginning of the phone history. Although the extensive development of mobile phones and its subsequent features such as directing us towards the voice mail when already on the line for instance have probably made some of its variations obsolete (the busy line tone is hardly ever heard any longer and the repeated bip to actually get connected is no longer in use either). Even more interesting, in spite of various phone services providers in each country, they are all aligned on one single type of bipping sound. So depending which country you are dialing in, the tone will be singular, repeated twice, on a different pitch, etc. I must admit, when dialing in some country I have never called in before, I always wonder how the bip will sound like.
Transitioning from sounds and places, through various travels, one realizes how we associate sounds and places together. As indeed, some noises belongs to one place in particular and hearing them elsewhere would sound downright inappropriate. As an example, for me, one of the typical sounds of NYC would be the counter of a yellow cab. While waiting in the freezing winter wind of NYC, have you ever felt overly thankful to hear this familiar sound behind you indicating that someone is walking out of a taxi? I did a few times. Same goes for firefighters’ truck, ambulances and police cars. I know a few French visitors here have mentioned it to me a couple of times - and how they consequently felt like in an American action movie. It is also interesting to notice that each country somewhat manages to keep these sounds alarming enough so that everyone - including tourists - can identify them as such and keep still.
As a regular user of apps identifying sounds and tracks at a bar etc, I wonder at what point, Google will create a searchable database of sounds similar to the imagery one. As another sound I associate with one place and that I remember distinctively, is the sound for pedestrians in Dublin, Ireland. I doubt this is due to a higher population of blind people in this lovely city but a rather thoughtful touch that makes everyone aware of the traffic light status, without even looking at it. It actually took me a while to find it online due to a lack of sound/noise database available. (found it here eventually - http://www.freesound.org/people/Spleencast/sounds/94014/). This list could actually be rather extensive: Paris for me would be associated with the sound of the pigeons one can hear anywhere (if one can forget about the nasty taxi drivers ;) London would be about the sadly disappearing sound of the old imperial buses one could jump on from the back. San Francisco would probably be associated with the sound of its streetcars while Monument Valley with the touchable silence. Yes, silence - probably due to living in NYC for a tad too long can I hear what the actual silence sounds like. What would be the sound of your city?