The sacred sounds of Myanmar

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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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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Sacred Spaces and the Churches Conservation Trust

Sacred Spaces and the Churches Conservation Trust

A special thank you goes out from us today to UK charity the Churches Conservation Trust, who gave us exclusive access to some of their beautiful, historic churches around the country, allowing us to play their organs and ring their bells as Sacred Spaces sound sources.

The charity restores and maintains more than 300 churches around England, often in stunning, remote locations – you can see some of the photographs we took while recording for Sacred Spaces below.

Here’s a playlist of some stunning recordings of church organs (including one once played by Edward Elgar!) and our first attempts at bell-ringing. Find out more about the CCT and their work here.

Sounds from English churches:


Photos from CCT churches

Listen to Sacred Spaces radio interviews

Listen to Sacred Spaces radio interviews

Since the Sacred Spaces launch yesterday, we’ve done a number of interviews across the BBC – including BBC World Service and the flagship morning news show, the Today Programme.

We talk about the importance of sound in our day-to-day and spiritual lives, and how the sounds of sacred spaces must be preserved, just as the spaces themselves are.

Listen in full in to a selection in the playlist below:

Sacred Spaces launches today

Sacred Spaces launches today

We’re very proud to launch the biggest ever Cities and Memory project today – Sacred Spaces.

Explore the project in full at www.citiesandmemory.com/sacredspaces.

The 123 sound artists and field recordists who took part in the project come from locations all over the world, as far afield as Australia, Lebanon, Mexico and India.

The sounds include some of the world’s most iconic sacred spaces, including Notre-Dame de Paris, Seville Cathedral, the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Milan’s Duomo and Wat Pho in Bangkok.

Recordings of English churches in remote locations was provided through a partnership with the Churches Conservation Trust, who provided Cities and Memory with exclusive access to their properties, including church organs and bells.

Cities and Memory: exhibition in Budapest

Cities and Memory: exhibition in Budapest

Arts Quarter BudapestWe’re delighted to say that a new, adapted version of our Sound Waves project is currently being exhibited at Arts Quarter Budapest in Hungary.

The Liquid exhibition brings together UK artists and Hungarian artists whose work focuses on water through the media of film, photography and sonic work, curated by UK artist Laura Denning.

Liquid was first exhibited at Cleveland Pools in Bath as part of Fringe Arts Bath 2016, and the exhibition now comes to AQB in Budapest from 11 to 24 February 2017.

Cities and Memory: Liquid is an immersive, physical installation in which the audience can interact physically with the sounds in the exhibition space by moving between the ‘city’ documentary field recordings and the ‘memory’ reimagined sounds.

In this way, they can explore the relationship between the real and the imagined sounds of water, and how sonic memory can differ from what we hear at any given time or place.

Sound Waves

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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Korcula Island, Croatia – a miniature for stones

Korcula Island, Croatia – a miniature for stones

A new sound for you today – the third in a lovely series sent to us from Korčula, Croatia by Manja Ristic. Enjoy.

“There is a small bay just before Račišće village on Korčula Island, called Kneže. A few houses, a tiny church, local “konoba” (domestic style restaurant) and a recently built children’s playground. Kneže is a small and pretty hideaway for tourists who don’t like the crowds of Korčula town.

“I would go there often with my family and let my four-year-old son play in the playground, often recording old sinking docks set just across the road. Strange stone erosion made many asymmetric holes that produce attractive sounds.

“I’ve been there so many times, but only this August I noticed a tiny broken plate on the very top of a boat anchorage… and it was dedicated to Pavulo Šain, a boy who drowned in 1968.

“I dedicate this miniature to him.

“There are other sounds in this composition coming from a peculiar environment. Crickets as well as my improv on stones in an old abandoned quarry of the Vrnik island. And the unique source of the decorative stone in old Yugoslavia, some famous monuments from that era were built from it.”

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The train station in the clouds, Ukraine

The train station in the clouds, Ukraine

We’re off to Ternopil in western Ukraine today, courtesy of a pair of sounds sent to us by contributor Vladlen Tepes, starting with a recording of footsteps inside the train station’s cavernous hall.

“This was a summer’s vacation trip and the train station at Ternopil was the final destination on our road map.

“Luckily I turned on the recorder while walking in the train station’s hall.

“Eventually I cut some loops from it, but at first it didn’t work out well (probably due to the natural reverberation of the place) and I forgot about it until recently, where long reverb time became probably the main feature.

“I was using my Eurorack modular system, especially GMSN! THC module (DIY version of Mutable Instruments’ Clouds). For me, long reverberation often associates with memories, nostalgia, fleeting and the intangible nature of time. But probably there is some more – a faint longing for better days that are yet to come.”

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The sound of the River Po, Turin

The sound of the River Po, Turin

Turin, Italy: a freezing cold December afternoon in the city centre, next to the impressive River Po – here, the river roars over a large weir on its way down through the city.

To get the full impression of the sound, which was mightily loud, you’d have to turn the field recording right up – it really is an all-enveloping sound in situ.

New contributor Julian Weaver has reimagined the sound, about which he writes:

“In the introduction to his last film The Turin Horse, Béla Tarr, after repeating the apocryphal tale of Friedrich Nietzsche’s breakdown, ends with the statement “Of the horse… we know nothing.”

“This is the only veracious line, evidenced by Anacleto Verrecchia’s ‘La Catastrofe di Nietzsche a Torino’, yet each retelling elaborates further; adding spurious detail until nothing but detail remains: perfect post-truth interference.

“I’ve take an additive approach; the white noise of the weir on the River Po with those of equine breaths and freshets at the Hydro near Blarney, Co. Cork, Ireland.”

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