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 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.””

City version:

Memory version:

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.”

City version:

Memory version:

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.”

City version:

Memory version:

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.”

City version:

Memory version:

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.”

City version:

Memory version:

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.

City version:

Memory version:

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.””

City version:

Memory version: 

The Toy Horse Derby

The Toy Horse Derby

3903853833_c1173554d5_oThe recent Prison Songs project is complete, so we’re back to ‘business as usual’ for Cities and Memory – which is to say touring the world, listening to an alternative, reimagined world of sound created by hundreds of artists.

Today we’re returning to ground zero – our home city of Oxford, England, and a sound I recorded at the annual St. Giles street fair (see here for what I learned while field recording at a funfair). And here are some other sounds from St. Giles fair.

The toy horse derby is a traditional funfair game – everyone pays £1, which they bet on one of the eight or so toy horses, which set off on a quick race across the stand. The winning horse takes home a prize.

What’s interesting here, of course, is the commentary and how it apes and mirrors real horse racing commentary, except without the manic excitement that comes along with the the real Grand National or Derby races.

For the reimagined sound, we’ve placed the toy horse derby right inside the real UK Derby horse race, overlaying slabs of real commentary, with samples of the pounding hooves of galloping horses.

To add an extra bit of power to the piece, we’ve layered several versions of the horse hooves and effected them with ‘outside the nightclub’-style heavy bass emphasis to add weight to the bottom end, and added some old microphone effects to the voices to make this a timeless derby race from any time in the recent past.

City version:

Memory version:

New College, Oxford: celestial drone opera

New College, Oxford: celestial drone opera
New College. Photo by Giulia Biasibetti.

New College. Photo by Giulia Biasibetti.it

One evening while exploring the beautiful grounds of New College in Oxford – basically a medieval castle in the centre of the city – we stumbled across an operatic singing lesson spilling out of one of the college rooms.

Not only did it complete the atmospheric impression of being in a different place and a different time, it felt rather like eavesdropping on something we shouldn’t have been hearing.

To reimagine the sound, it’s that sense of overhearing something that introduces the piece, but then we go on to transfer this singing lesson from the past perhaps into the future, with some gentle beats and bass underpinning a synthetic bed for the operatic vocals.

City version:

Memory version:

Memoryphones in Oxford – photos

Memoryphones in Oxford – photos

Our Memoryphones installation took place last weekend all over Oxford and was a great success, with hundreds of people tuning into the interactive sculptures to hear our themed sets of recordings and reimaginations – here are some photographic highlights. You can hear the sounds from the installations over on the Memoryphones page.

Bodleian Library: centuries of reading and study

Bodleian Library: centuries of reading and study
The Radcliffe Camera from outside.

The Radcliffe Camera from outside.

A recording today from our home city of Oxford – we go inside the Radcliffe Camera, the most well-known and iconic part of the city’s famous Bodleian Libraries.

The field recording is from inside the grand, reverb-rich upper reading room of the library, and is the sounds of pages being turned and study taking place.

The soundscape is notable in that it’s relatively unchanged from how the reading room would have sounded throughout centuries of reading and study – no mobile ringtones or machine bleeps going on here.

Since by its nature a library field recording is quiet(!), the reimagined version looks to take some of the details of the sound and highlight them with synthetic additions – all of this is underpinned by a vocal commentary from the Bodleian’s archives about how to restore an ancient volume to its former glories.

We take elements of restoration and preservation and apply them here to our own sonic preservation of the library.

City version:

 

Memory version: 


 

New Cities and Memory installation across Oxford this month

New Cities and Memory installation across Oxford this month
Mythophones - coming to Oxford in November 2015

Mythophones – coming to Oxford in November 2015

We’re pleased to announce that we’ll be hosting a special installation across the city of Oxford this month, as part of a collaboration with Oxford Contemporary Music.

Memoryphones will take place on the evening of Friday 20 November and all day on Saturday 21 November.

The installation looks at the relationship between sound and place across five locations in Oxford city centre.

The installation will make use of Mythophones, solar-powered, sound-storing sculptures that enable passers-by to interact with sounds in an immersive, direct experience. By placing their head inside the Mythophone’s loudspeaker funnel, listeners will be enveloped in a new world of sound that complements and contrasts the existing soundscape.

The five locations are:

  • Outside the Weston Library, Broad Street (sounds from museums and libraries)
  • Said Business School, Frideswide Square (sounds of travel from stations and airports)
  • Oxford Castle (sounds of river and water)
  • Museum of the History of Science, Broad Street (sounds of crowds and political protests)
  • Radcliffe Square (St. Mary’s Church) – TBC (sounds of churches and cathedrals)

More information about the installation is available at the project homepage here, or at the Facebook event here.

Bagpipes, church bells and Oxford May morning

Bagpipes, church bells and Oxford May morning
May morning celebrations, Oxford

May morning celebrations, Oxford

May morning, Oxford – the city’s traditional celebration, rising at sunrise to hear a choir sing from the top of Magdalen College tower (in fact, you can hear a reimagined version of this here).

The entire city centre is filled with street performers and music – here, traditional costumed dancers are accompanied by bagpipers, and mixed in with this you can hear the ringing of bells from St. Mary’s Church.

The sound was taken on by Daniel Williams, who explains how he tackled the piece:
“This one started with me breaking the recording down into three “events”. Bagpipes, bells/chatter and applause. Starting with the bells/chatter, I made three copies and pitched one down an octave or so and applied a hi-pass filter to the second and a low-pass to the third; These were then later layered in Cubase.”

“One bagpipe recording is slowed right down and is present throughout most of the track. Whilst a pitched down bagpipe is present at the end, sounding quite woodwindish.”

“The glassy fractured intro is a granulation of the original recording rendered at different pitches using variations in the buffer size and then layered in the DAW. The strings are from a sample library and mostly follow a three note motif with two sine waves layered underneath from a soft synth.”

“As I began to assemble the piece I was struck by how the individual is subsumed into the “walla” of the crowd. And how for every seemingly happy voice there is a world of drama and sadness, a life, rolling away in the background.”

“So in the end the piece became an attempt to capture the melancholy of a crowd in the act of celebration.”

“The “Madonna and child” woman (if that is what she’s saying) has a very strange mix of emotion in her voice; I feel like she really makes this piece.”

City version:

Memory version: