Inside Southwark Cathedral

Inside Southwark Cathedral

Today we’re inside one of London’s grandest spiritual spaces, Southwark Cathedral, to hear some of its impressive, cavernous musical sounds.

The first field recording is from a musical performance taking place in the middle of the day in the cathedral, in front of an audience of schoolchildren out on a school trip. At the end of the performance, applause and some words from the priest.

We’ve reimagined this one by taking some of the musical elements, slowing them dramatically and applying various effects to create a bed of ambient drones, over which we slowly reintroduce pulses, fragments and snippets of the original musical piece as we go along, building through a gradual crescendo.

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The second field recording by Maria Papadomanolaki takes in the cathedral’s impressive organ during a rehearsal, and has been tackled by two artists.

First of all, Peter Nagle writes: “I like to work with locally sourced ingredients, so a recording made in Southwark, an area I’ve spent a lot of time in over the years, appealed.

“Everything in this piece is derived from that recording, using a combination of cutting and splicing, stretching and filtering, and collage.

“There’s something about sitting in a church or cathedral, hearing an organ being played that’s not for you, just something you’re eavesdropping on.

“It makes me think of the comfort of quiet prayer, a comfort that’s not altogether negated by my firm conviction that there is nothing and nobody hearing it, and that these quiet pleas are evaporating into void.”

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Memory version one:

Aengus Friel constructs this story around his reimagined version of the sound: “This piece I’ve created is influenced by a postcard given to me by my mother around Christmas time. It was a postcard she got as a child from an old woman who lived down past the glen within the parish we grew up in.

“The postcard is from 1939 which contained a brief short English folklore tale about ‘The Legend of the Lincoln Imp’.

“The words transcribed from the postcard say “The Legend runs that one day the devil was in for a frolic, and let out all his young demons. One jumped into the sea without getting wet. Another into a furnace and was in his element, one rode on a rainbow. Another played with fork lighting. Another went up in the breeze and was carried to the old Lindum.

“The Imp said “Take me into the Church and I will knock over his Lordship and blow up the Dean, Organist, and singers, and knock out the windows and put out the lights.” The angel angrily cried “Stop! You shall not”.

“The Demon, with derision replied “Such as you are better outside. You shall wait here for me till I have finished my fun.”

“He jumped about the transept, climbed on an altar, and amidst his devilment, some angels appeared whom he mocked with derisive laughter, when one of the little angels said in dignified toned “Wicked Imp, be turned into stoned.”

“I chose the recording because of the texture of the warm sound of the organ, and the background sound of the people, as they walk, scuffle about. I knew I could get some interesting results whenever I re-sample the sound and begin to experiment by looping certain elements within the original audio by reimagining and trying to implement the story behind “The legend of the Lincoln Imp”.

“I wanted to make something experimental and along a dark ambient path. My idea for this piece was have a possessed haunting sound compared to the original audio, the idea being that the church has been possessed by the devilish imp.

“I began sampling the original audio using Ableton, completely perverting it from its original form. Used a lot of effects processing such as reverb and distortion, and feeding the results of the re-sampled audio using pitch shifting granular reverse echo’s and using filters to add more depth and colour to the finished sound. The finished piece has three sections to signify Peace, Chaos and Reconciliation.”

Memory version two:

Listen to the Oxford Sounds installation

Listen to the Oxford Sounds installation

Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

Tonight we’re excited to present a bespoke sound installation at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford – the oldest public museum in the UK.

We’ll be taking over the Chinese paintings gallery (Gallery 11) with an interactive, participatory installation in which visitors can experience the real and imagined sounds of Oxfordshire, and create their own experience by moving around within the space, and within the sounds.

For those of you who aren’t in Oxford, although we can’t recreate the experience of the physical installation, here are the sounds you can hear, presented on this interactive map of our home city – enjoy:

The beauty of four organs

The beauty of four organs

The sounds of church organs were some of the most striking sounds in Sacred Spaces – today we wanted to take the time to highlight just four to you, which have some remarkably beautiful reimagined counterparts.

Working with the Churches Conservation Trust, we drove around to some remote corners of England to access some of their beautifully-maintained churches, and play some organ improvisations as source material for the project.

If you’ve ever wondered where the phrase ‘pulling out all the stops’ comes from, here’s the answer. In a church in Yazor, we pulled out each of the stops one by one, to sample how the organ sound went from a low, quiet pulse to a space-filling roar in just a couple of minutes.

Stanislav Nikolov took this as his raw material to produce a brand new musical composition, as he explains:

“The recording starts with the clatter of movement in the church. Once at the organ we hear, gently, a beautiful and richly textured chord.

“Gradually, we hear all the stops being pulled out as the chord dissolves into booming dissonance. Finally we come back again to that gentle chord, and the clatter.

“I picked this because I loved the narrative and the constituent sonic themes. I knew I wanted to make pad sounds with the gentle chord, a more ominous atmosphere using the dissonance, and percussive texture using the clatter.

“In the end, I made an electro track using these elements and an additional drum kit, as well as bass, and sub bass instruments. I also made a second bass instrument and a bleepy pitch-bent instrument from the recording using some extreme EQing.”

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Next, in Fisherton, Nick St. George recorded the quiet sounds of harmonium playing, which Warren Daly transformed into something quite lovely:

“Recently I’ve been experimenting with the sound of airflow through different mediums, so I was instantly attracted to a recording that features a harmonium. I think the recording resembles a performance piece, it’s a treasure trove of sounds.

“I began my composition with dissonance, a call before the response. Finally a mesmerizing repetition is the acknowledgement.

“A conversation reflecting on the juxtaposition of the relaxed ambience and the surrounding commotion.”

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Our next stop is Holy Cross in Burley – when we entered the church and saw the organ we were about to play, it was a breathtaking moment.

It’s a huge, 20-foot high, perfectly-preserved organ in a very large and beautifully-kept church – just playing it was quite a moving experience.

Andy Billington has experience of visiting this very location, which he brought to bear on the reimagined version:

“I was drawn to this recording having visited this Church as a child many years ago. I liked the fact that the field recording tells a micro journey as you listen to footsteps across the Church floor, then the playing of the organ and finally the retreat.

“I thought about everything that the Church had seen. Could the architecture soak up elements from the Services and all of emotions it had seen played out over the years?

“I then thought of what all of these would sound like layered over each other (like some of the video clips on You Tube of every episode of Friends played on top of each other).

“The field recording was loaded into a failing Mid 90’s sampler (name unknown). Random parts were then recorded and a pattern created from the parts spread across the various trigger pads and re played.

“This was then re recorded into an Teenage Engineering OP1 and further slowed and pitched down. Finally it was re-recorded into Logic 8 and re ordered.”

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Our final stop is St. Cuthbert’s Church in Herefordshire, a remote church we visited in the dead of night after a long drive, only to find a beautiful space with an impressive organ waiting for us – well worth the trip.

Our organ improvisation was chosen by Nick St. George as the basis for his narrative piece “Sir Galahad and the Fiend”:

“I chose the organ playing from St Cuthbert’s Church in Herefordshire as I felt the slabs of sound would be good raw material for manipulation.

“I then delved a bit into the history of the church which it turns out contains a stained glass window featuring two of the Knights of the Round Table; one of whom is Sir Galahad.

“Thanks to the Gutenberg Project, I found a 1918 Longman’s school edition of the tales of King Arthur online, which included this tale of Galahad and the Fiend – a suitable story for this project with its comment on who may or may not merit being called a true Christian… Having been involved in gathering the field recordings for Sacred Spaces, I supplemented the basic track with some bell ringing and further organ playing that was recorded in two of Bristol’s redundant churches, but was surplus to Cities and Memory’s requirements.

“All the audio in this piece is, if you like, “organic” (sorry about the pun): organs, bells, Chinese Baoding balls, human voice. Treated, yes, but there are no sounds of purely digital origin present.”

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Elgar’s organ

Elgar’s organ

Let’s take a trip to a 12th-century church, standing alone in a field in England, and containing an organ once played by the composer Edward Elgar.

This was a sound recorded in partnership with the Churches Conservation Trust, who asked me to take some recordings of their restored and carefully-maintained churches in remote corners of England, some of which only get a handful of visitors per week these days.

The church at Pendock is a particularly interesting one – once it was at the centre of a thriving medieval village.

Now there are just earthworks in the field next to it marking where the village stood, and the 12th century church stands in glorious isolation in the middle of a field.

To gain access, I had to walk in pitch black across the fields to a country house, where the key hangs on a hook outside a door.

And what you get inside is a lovely old Georgian organ once played by Edward Elgar – though sadly in this recording it’s being sampled by my inexpert hand, but you can hear the beautiful tones of the organ.

Not only does the now stand alone, but the M50 motorway now flows close beneath it, sonically intruding into the space in a way that of course would never have happened before – you can hear this clearly in the recording.

This points towards the changing nature of soundscapes – even inside a stone-walled church. man-made sounds can intrude and overwhelm sacred spaces. Let’s listen to, and protect our sounds.

This sound was reimagined into a beautiful 14-minute ambient epic by Rob Knight:

“It’s the first piece I have worked on in Ableton/Push and that brought a complete different way of track creation for me. I loved the original recording – the organ reminding of a great big organic synth and though the original is unrecognisable at times due to it being truncated/cut up/effected/reimagined the original recording creeps through and it is the very essence of the whole piece.”

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Here are some images from our trip to Pendock’s church:

The sacred sounds of Oxford

The sacred sounds of Oxford

Where better to start on our global tour of the world’s sacred spaces than right here in Oxford, the home of Cities and Memory?

We’ve captured some lovely field recordings of sacred sounds here in our home city, and five pieces made it into the project – so let’s take a listen.

1. New College, Oxford – evening choir practice

We captured an Oxford University college choir practising for an upcoming concert one evening, in the beautiful surroundings of New College’s ornate chapel, and passed the recording onto Leonardo Rosado, who created this extraordinary piece.

He writes: “The title “of nothingness” represents the feeling of abandonment and hope. It is supposed to contrast the source material, full of spirituality and the existentialism that lays the foundation for atheism.

“Quoting Wikipedia “Sartre, and even more so, Jaques Lacan, use this conception of nothing as the foundation of their atheist philosophy. Equating nothingness with being leads to creation from nothing and hence God is no longer needed for there to be existence.””

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2. Magdalen College, Oxford – May Morning celebration

May Morning is one of the most important traditions in Oxford – half the city turns up at sunrise to hear the choir of Magdalen College welcome May Morning by singing from the top of the college’s bell tower.

Jase Warner reimagined this sound with his piece “A Morning In May”:

“I set out to create something that complimented the structure of a choir, by way of combining various parts of the original recording to make a complete sound; hopefully this approach comes across in the finished piece.

“The organic nature of recycling an original field recording and reforming it to make something new has a certain appeal.”

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3. Remembrance Day service

This year, we captured part of the Remembrance Sunday service in Oxford city centre in November – as well as bugles playing “The Last Post” and other music, you can hear references to the Paris attacks and other news events that root this recording firmly in the present.

Ronan Glish reimagines Remembrance Day beautifully: “Given the task to reimagine the readings from this remembrance day service posed a peculiar challenge of keeping the sombre tone of the Paris attack (mentioned in the recording), whilst also celebrating the hard work of all those serving in the armed forces (as also mentioned in recording).

“I tried to give this feel by creating a choral wailing timbre, harking back to a lament often found in early english church music, whilst staying mainly in functional modern day harmony.

“The piece was created using a mixture of a Korg Minilogue for the brass sound that quotes fragments of the reveille, and a sub to add a bit of rumble. The rest of the sounds were made from sections of the original recording, in my typical style of resampling, bouncing, and repeat (Until the sound is no longer recognisable).

“The main wailing synths were created using snippets of the bagpipes found within the recording, using a mixture of Echoboy and many other outstanding Soundtoy plugins (possibly my favourite creative effects) to drag the sound from its original timbre, embracing all glitches, faults and artefacts that come with this production style.

“Mixed using Steven slate plugins, on Ableton, on a pair of HD650’s as my monitors got banned at university.
This piece was a joy to imagine and work on, really pushing my creative boundaries, and forcing me to sit down a create a good length piece of music.”

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4. St. Thomas’ Church

I pass St. Thomas’ Church most days, and sometimes at night you can hear the joyous pealing of its bells before a service – so one evening I stopped to record them. Interestingly, this recording is from my mobile phone, with just a bit of cleaning up afterwards – after all, the best recorder is the one you happen to have with you!

Museleon took on this recording, and wrote this about their approach: “The only information I had about St. Thomas’s, was its close association with the early days of the Oxford Movement, which I began to research in more detail.

“I also have a great love of poetry and it has often been the subject of my music. This led me to the devotional poetry of Christina Rossetti, who was a follower of the Tractarians or High Church Movement.

“I chose A Better Resurrection (1862), as it expresses the process of transformation from isolation and emptiness towards spiritualism and renewal of hope due to her faith. To me, church bells seem to reflect and be a sonic representation of this journey.

“I knew that I only wanted to use the bells themselves and a voice, no other instruments, as I wished to marry the tone and rhythm of the poem to the field recording.

“I took phrases from the poem and rearranged them in a way that they expressed the journey from isolation to hope, repeating phrases, similar to repeated bell changes. The final section has some reference to call and response, as in a church service.

“With experimentation and processing of samples, the underlying bell sounds morphed into a slow ‘hymn like’ tune, a bit like a small church organ but not losing the essence of the bells.

“The final section of redemption is reflected in the use of the original pealing bells, overlaying one sample from the beginning and one from the end, referencing the joy of rebirth, as with the spring buds after winter frosts.”

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5. Nuneham Courtenay – All Saints’ Church

All Saints Church, Nuneham Courtenay

A little outside Oxford, the village of Nuneham Courtenay features All Saints Church, preserved by the Churches Conservation Trust.

Inside is an ancient and somewhat battered harmonium, on which most of the keys and one of the pedals no longer function.

Despite this, we were able to coax some droning chords out of it, and the nature of the broken instrument makes the tones really interesting. Listen out as well for the dramatic closing of the heavy church door.

Marshall McGee reimagined this sound, and he writes: “I chose this recording because I felt it had a really interesting combination of tones and reverb. I just loved all the chords and sounds someone was banging out of this instrument!

“I decided to reimagine it in a darker, more percussive way by taking bits of the sound and attaching them to midi notes and playing out beats.”

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Wytham Woods: the sound of environmental research

Wytham Woods: the sound of environmental research

A sound close to home for Cities and Memory today, to dispel the wintery blues. Have a listen to summer birdsong in full flush, in Wytham Woods, one of the most beautiful spaces in Oxfordshire, England.

There’s more to Wytham Woods, though: a Site of Special Scientific Interest, the woods were bequeathed to Oxford University in 1942, and as well as being preserved for public use, they’re a hotbed of scientific and environmental research.

They are, in fact, one of the most researched areas of woodland in the world – and any organisation can apply for a research permit.

This sense of exploratory scientific research informs the memory version, with waves of synth sounds and sounds derived from samples of glass (as in test tubes and other scientific equipment) filling the air.

Here, as we walk around Wytham Woods, through these sounds we become aware of the intense amounts of research going on around us, even though most of it is invisible to the average visitor at first glance.

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Industrial metalwork beats

Industrial metalwork beats

Today we’re exploring molten hot metal, in the form of a field recording from the metalworks at Trinity Buoy Wharf, London, recorded by Seth Guy.

Here you can hear warning alarms, then slag falling from a conveyor belt from the works into the deck of a tug boat on the river below, with the occasional sound of children at play in the background – an unusual mix due to the location of the metalworks.

For the reimagined sound, everything except for kick, snare and hat is derived from the original recording.

Some of the conveyor belt and slag noises have been turned into extra percussion, while the overall recording of the conveyor belt has been passed through a vocoder to produce the shifting synth pad sound, and through a bass generation setup to create the bottom end from the field recording.

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Rough Trade: Inside London’s most famous record shop

Rough Trade: Inside London’s most famous record shop

Rough Trade EastToday we visit Rough Trade East, perhaps London’s most famous record shop, to listen in to some of the conversations their customers have while shopping for vinyl.

Our in-store field recording, capturing a conversation between music enthusiasts, was reimagined by Leon Muraglia in a new piece titled “How’s Your Portugeek?”:

“How’s Your Portugeek? I’m 99% sure that’s Portuguese.”

‘”I was obviously wondering what they were talking about and obviously they were talking about records, so I was imagining what the records would sound like.

So I used processing on the various parts of conversation that sounded like they fitted: there are sections of ambient, some a bit more techno… I processed some sections using some very rock outboard effects units and plugins …and one cassette machine for the hipsters ;)”

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The choir of New College, Oxford University

The choir of New College, Oxford University

new_college_chapel_interior_1_oxford_uk_-_diliffA beautiful recording today from our home city of Oxford – here’s the choir of New College at Oxford University rehearsing inside their stunning college chapel, with its natural cavernous reverb.

And the reimagined sound is no less striking – Leonardo Rosado has transformed it into an ambient drone piece of rare beauty. He explains the direction from which he approached the sound like this:

“The title “of nothingness” represents the feeling of abandonment and hope. It is supposed to contrast the source material, full of spirituality and the existentialism that lays the foundation for atheism.

“Quoting Wikipedia “Sartre, and even more so, Jaques Lacan, use this conception of nothing as the foundation of their atheist philosophy. Equating nothingness with being leads to creation from nothing and hence God is no longer needed for there to be existence.””

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On the Waterloo and City Line

On the Waterloo and City Line

The Waterloo and City Line is an unusual one – a line with only two stations, connecting the city hubs of Waterloo and Bank stations. Three sound artists tackled our recording of a journey on the line.

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First up is Rob Smith, from the group Meet On Titan:

“When creating the piece I tried to use as little instrumentation as possible, limiting the project to two synths and creating all percussive elements by honing in on the moaning and clattering of the tube.

“I commute regularly though London and always feel like I’m passing through Thea Von Harbou’s Metropolis, the pounding mid-section is a reflection of this. “The machines of Metropolis roared; they wanted to be fed.””

Memory version by Rob Smith:

Next is Trixie Delight’s dreamy interpretation:

“The field recording of the Waterloo and City train journey reminded me of the peculiar state of half sleep commuters often find themselves in.

“They are in a stuffy, slightly too warm train that is rocking and swaying. They are worn from work, have their eyes closed, slipping in and out of a light sleep – but are subconsciously listening to the familiar noises of the tracks, until the sound of the train pulling into the station brings them back to life just in time to alight.

“I tried to describe this dreamlike condition with sound. The little clicks and glitches are the commuters’ sleepy thoughts, while the noise of the train is both present as a back ground drone and a wavelike stab into the subconscious, updating on the current location and gently rocking back and forth in echo.

“I am an experimental musician and mostly work with field recordings. I like to evoke moods with manipulated sounds. My tools are simple: I use audacity to cut, reverse, glitch, pitch and stretch sounds. I then arrange the created snippets in an order that tells a story.”

Memory version by Trixie Delight:

And finally, a personal interpretation by Mark Williamson:

“I worked for a while in Waterloo and took the Waterloo and City line to and from work each day. As I was travelling away from the City in the morning and towards it in the evening the trains were usually fairly deserted.

“I wanted to show, then, not the rhythmic, crowded chaos most users associated with the Waterloo and City, but the calm at the centre of the storm that it was in regards to my commute.

“With that is mind I simply found a nicely pitched screech of wheel on rail and worked with that and some other aspects from the original recording to create this piece.”

Memory version by Mark Williamson: