The sacred sounds of Myanmar

As part of Sacred Spaces, Stephane Marin sent us a series of beautiful binaural recordings from his travels in Myanmar, which unsurprisingly proved popular among artists keen to explore their sonic potential. Let’s listen to four pieces from the country.

Two Gongs at Kuthodaw Paya

Kuthodaw Paya is one of the unmissable Mandalay temples, and is also home to the world’s largest book, consisting of 729 steles erected within 729 small pagodas that house them.

At the heart of the maze, a gong concert is waiting for us…

Alex Hehir took on this sound, and writes: “This binaural recording really captured the place for me and I have focused much of the piece around the gong sounds.

“The piece starts and ends with the original field recording of the gong strikes and slowly morphs into my reimagined version of them. I played around with many different pitches and I wanted to create a mediative feeling of falling slowly down into a hazy abyss!

“Even though sounding very repetitive, many of the sounds evolve over the course of the piece.The main tools used were Izotope’s Iris and a Vermona drum machine.”

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Boat trip, Sadan Cave

Stephane tells us: “A few kilometres from Hpa-An, in the Sadan Cave, at the end of a long dark tunnel which is crossed barefoot, opens a gaping hole on a natural paradise… except that here, as often in Burma (as everywhere…), mobile phones act as teens’ musical companions who haunt caves like very noisy ghosts!”

Anthony Lyons‘ piece “Sacred Signals” reflects on this: “Can we ever escape the signals and sounds of ourselves and our electronic devices?

“Listening to the source recording from the Sadan Caves in Myanmar, I was struck by how prominent the interference seemed to be from people and their mobile devices in this special place – intruding on the natural sound ecology of water and insects in the cave.

“Sacred Signals manipulates, reconfigures and reclaims small parts of these signals, blending them with the natural sounds of the cave to forge new patterns, beats and dense textures – a kind of magnified electronic forest-cave results! Some bell sounds are incorporated from Two Gongs, also from Myanmar and recorded by Stephane Marin.”

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Sule Pagoda

Of this recording, Stephane notes: “After some thousands steps in the shadow of the mild protection of a roof sheet with a red hot sun, we will end up taking this sound bath in the middle of the wind that tickles our ears (and our microphones!), as well as hundreds of tinkling bells of the Shwe Intein Paya’s Hti.”

Stephanie Merchak was the artist who worked on this recording, and she writes:

“I wanted to reimagine the field recording of Sule pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar by making it a call for meditation, giving it this otherworldly mood that would transmit the spiritual dimension of the place.

“I worked in Ableton Live. I cut the recording, separating the background ambience from the woman voice reading the prayers. I then used the background ambience as some sort of evolving drone, processing it through effects (Resonators, reverb and delay). The voice is also processed using effects.

“Those are, in no particular order: reverb, convolution reverb, ping pong delay, resonators, eq and compression I also used my Korg Volca Keys analog synth going through a Zoom MS-70CDR effects pedal to record a pad as well as a few synth notes that I added here and there to fill the space between the different voice sections.”

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Bagan Temple

Finally, we come to Bagan Temple, a soundscape of birdsong and prayers being read aloud – a recording reimagined by Sian Gledhill:

“Language is an endless resource; a simple, yet loaded medium, with which we all have an everyday relationship. I am interested in the way we use speech to communicate; the distinctions between the read and the spoken, the formal and informal, the rehearsed and the spontaneous, often focusing on the spaces created within speech.

“News and radio guide my endeavours. Uniquely engaging with source material from recorded broadcasts from Radio 4 or anonymous found material, much of my artwork manifests as playful re-editings and interactions, staging a re-encountering of the familiar.

“What interests me most is this “non” speech; the trained breaths of a good newsreader or the “umms” and “errs” that frequent interviews and conversations. My work is closely connected with place and history, responding to a given location, forgotten landmarks and social histories.

“There is a brilliant moment when the voice slips into a melodic chant similar to the way a reel of film engages and spins on a spool. There is something akin to an out of body experience as the rhythmic chant begins and the breath and voice become in tune with each other.

“Pendulum-like, the voice swings back and forth like a metronome to its own rhythm. I am interested in the repetitive nature of the voice and wanted to try and replicate the sound of chanting using the spoken word.”

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About Cities and Memory

Stuart Fowkes is the creator and curator of Cities and Memory, producing a large number of the source field recordings and reimagined 'memory' versions himself, as well as curating the project as a whole.

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