Sounds at the Tottenham Medical Centre

On Monday, September 23, 2013, between the hours of 1:45 and 2:15 in the afternoon, I conducted a soundscape analysis of the waiting room in the Tottenham Medical Centre. In the span of thirty minutes, I heard a mix of human and technological sounds, some characteristic of the location and others more generic. I did not hear any unfamiliar sounds, nor did I find any of the sounds to be bizarre or unexpected.

The human sounds I encountered were primarily repetitive, with a few unique sounds appearing as well. I heard the pleasant voice of a woman who was talking on her cell phone. Her voice was moderately pitched and she spoke at a fairly moderate volume. At times these qualities varied in accordance with changes in her emotional state. I also heard the dark, low pitched sound of one man talking to the receptionist. His seriousness was easily detectable from his quiet monotonous voice. The bright high pitched sound of a very young boy was heard a few times as he happily interacted with his father. The unique human sounds that I heard were a loud, rough sounding cough and the loud painful cries of a baby.

The technological sounds that I heard were continuous, repetitive and unique. I heard the crunchy, high pitched, surprisingly loud sound of newspaper pages being manipulated, multiple times. I heard the brisk whooshing sound of cars driving by outside. This high pitched sound was heard often, at a low volume. The loud, high pitched, urgent sound of the office phone ringing was heard quite frequently. I heard two different types of sounds coming from the doors. These were both repetitive and loud. The first was the high pitched squeaking of door hinges in need of oil and the second was the precise low pitched sound of a lock mechanism coming together as the door shut. I also heard two distinct footstep sounds, both occurring at a moderate volume. The first was the repetitive, soft, low pitched sound of rubber soled shoes on the floor. The other was the unique high pitched, echo of high heels clicking on the floor. Another unique technological sound that I heard was the low pitched, hollow clicking of the rubber points of crutches hitting the floor. I heard the unique, quiet, high pitched mechanistic clicking of somebody typing on their iPhone. I also heard the unique melodic sounds of video game music coming from an iPad at a very low volume. I heard the medium pitched, choppy buzzing of a vibrating cell phone, multiple times, from multiple sources. The only continuous technological sound that I heard was the dull, low pitched humming of ceiling fans. This sound was hardly audible, but its long lived presence made it a bit easier to detect.

Collectively, these sounds communicate ideas about the nature of the place in which they were heard and about the people and technologies from which they were produced. For instance, the sound of coughing and the sound of crutches suggest that the medical centre is a place attended by people with varying ailments. The sounds of adults, children and babies suggest that the medical centre is not age specific, nor gender specific. The high frequency of sounds made by the doors and the sounds of footsteps suggest that people come and go quickly and often. Also, the sound of the office phone conveys that the medical centre is a business setting. Arguably, the multitude of sounds made by individualistic technologies in this setting, such as newspapers, cell phones and tablets, suggests something about our sociocultural tendencies. For example, one can infer from such an observation that people do not interact with their surroundings as much as they may have done in the past.        

In most cases, the location did not have much significance to the meaning of the sounds heard. The buzzing of a vibrating cell phone arguably means pretty much the same thing in most settings. I cannot think of how the meaning of the sound of a vibrating cell phone is different when heard in the waiting room at a medical centre versus in the food court at a shopping mall. However, the sound of a cough and the sound of a baby crying may mean different things dependent on the setting in which they occur. Somebody coughing at a medical centre may indicate that the person has a cold, but somebody coughing at the dinner table may mean that the person is choking. A crying baby at a medical centre may be feeling sick or hurt but a crying baby at a fireworks show may be scared of the loud sounds.         

I think that the sound of the doors opening and closing is the keynote of this soundscape primarily because it was one of the only sounds that I heard that was fixed to the location. Most of the sounds that I heard were mobile, save from the office phone, the doors and the ceiling fans. Because the sound of the doors seems to say more about the location than the ringing phone or the ceiling fans, I have deemed it the keynote. I did not hear any sounds that were uniquely characteristic of the location and therefore cannot name a soundmark.