A quiet moment snatched in Trieste, Italy, inside the Serbian Orthodox church at Chiesa Sant’Antonio Taumaturgo. Wandering in from the street, we came across a priest singing prayers alone at the front of the church, shaking his incense burner periodically.
He is shortly joined by a second worshipper, who joins him in what seems like a verse-chorus style recitation and repetition.
It’s a precious recording, which really feels like we’ve intruded onto a deeply-personal moment. In fact, I’ve left in certain imperfections in the recording, shuffles and motions that betray the extent to which I am trying to respect this private moment and capture it without somehow intruding upon it.
For the reimagined version, I wanted to create a full-on musical track using elements from this peaceful recording as base material, having already contributed some more ambient and contemplative reworkings of sacred spaces myself elsewhere in the project.
The challenge was to try to incorporate elements of the recording without just jamming a vocal sample over what could otherwise be a pre-existing track, but for those elements to be deeply and intrinsically interwoven with the music.
You can hear the original piece throughout like this:
We start with a vocal loop from the field recording (a short loop that lent itself well to doubling), which feeds back on itself leading into the drums.
The growling bass synth in the first section is constructed from a different vocal sample, using it as source material from which to generate a synth instrument.
The second section loops a piece of vocal more directly, using it to replace the melodic content that would normally come from a synth.
Throughout, you can hear the metallic clatter of the priest’s incense burner, which has been turned into an extra percussion sound.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
Here are some images from our trip to Pendock’s church:
This time last year, we presented our round up of the best sound design tools of 2015, as suggested by Cities and Memory contributing artists. Here, we update the piece for 2016 by asking several of our most frequent contributors which tools they’ve been using to work with sound this year. In each case, you can hear the tools in action in the Cities and Memory pieces below.
We’d welcome your suggestions too, so please leave a comment below with your ideas.
This is a really great tool to create rhythms out of any input source, from synth or guitar parts through to field recordings. The parameters are almost infinitely tweakable, and what I love is not just how this can transform an input sound into a full-on rhythm, but how it can be used much more subtly to lift sounds in other, less noticeable but still impressive ways.
In “Great Portland Beats” below, you can hear a few layers of Movement applied to a field recording of an underground train, to give it the motion and dynamism to provide an effective complement to the drum parts.
I’m a total sucker for making things sound like they’re coming through old tape machines, and this is one of the best tape effects out there, allowing you to tweak everything from tape speed and saturation to wow and flutter. It’s modelled on a 1960s analogue tape machine used in Abbey Road studios, and it sounds gorgeous.
At first glance, this multi-effect plugin from Audiothing seems almost too subtle, but I’ve ended up using it one over half of my productions this year. It adds depth and space in a way that a straight-ahead reverb can’t, and really lifts synth parts and drones, giving them a much wider, almost ‘3D’ feel. It’s become an essential component of my setup in just a few months.
In the piece below, you can hear multiple instances of both Space Strip and J37 to widen and lift the drone parts, and to add an overall feeling of lo-fi wooziness across multiple sounds throughout.
It’s a one-trick pony of an effect, but what a trick it is. Lo Air, as you might guess, adds bottom end to any sound – from a solid bass expansion through to some truly extraordinary sub-bass wobble. The fact that there’s a preset called ‘Speaker Destroyer’ should give you a clue, and the ‘Outside the Club’ setting does exactly what you’d imagine. Great for beefing parts up, or transforming them with a more extreme treatment. Here it is in action, giving some extra throb to the low end of this piece from Amsterdam.
A special final word goes to NX Virtual Mix Room. I spend a lot of my time working on sound on the go on my laptop, and the fact that a mix sounds totally different on headphones to anywhere else has always been a problem. NX Virtual Mix Room simulates a studio space inside your headphones, giving you a much more realistic picture of what the piece you’re working on actually sounds like. So it’s been a game-changer for people like me who do a lot of work on headphones rather than in the studio.
Up to now I’ve been using the sound design tools that come with Ableton, from the built in Audio and Midi Effects to the Max for Live program/patches.
Even the basic processes that can be applied in an audio clip (pitch, warp, gain, x speed or / speed, reverse, etc) within Ableton can lead to interesting ideas, whereas using a Max program such as Granulator II can turn a sound into something completely different – musical or textural.
I’m looking to work more outside the DAW box though, and currently one of my favourite sound design tools outside of Ableton Live is PaulStretch. As a standalone piece of software, it never fails to throw up something interesting and workable.
Laurence used the Ableton suite of effects for this piece for our Prison Songs project:
Granulator II was used for this piece from Oslo, Norway:
I create all of my music in Logic Pro by Apple, and the sound design tool that I keep going back to over and over would be “Space Designer”, a convolution reverb effect (a sampling reverb) that comes with Logic Pro.
One consistent thing that I do in all of my music is to take sounds and change them into something else. Nothing is ever straight forward in my tracks. “Space Designer” is my go to tool for adding reverberation (multiple delays and simulated reflections) and ambience to my recordings. With its on-board impulse response synthesis you can create completely unique effects. It always seems to add that special something to my sounds.
In addition to Space Designer, lately I have been also using the “Lector Vocoder” by Waldorf. You can hear how I used Lector and Space Designer in my Cities and Memory track “Calle”. I took the field recording of an organ grinder street musician by Joao van Zelst (from the famous Plaza de la Constitucion in Mexico City) and turned it into something totally different.
As the effect fades out towards the end of the track you can hear the original field recording slowly come in (enhanced a bit with Space Designer). I really like the way Lector turns any incoming signal into new sounds with endless possibilities. The analysis filter bank splits the incoming audio signal into as many as 100 frequency bands, while the integrated 16-voice synthesizer (or an external source) provides the input signal for the synthesis filter bank.
Whether it is robotic voices you want, rhythmic pads, the resonant ringing of bells, or just a new way of using an audio clip to create a new world, Lector for me seems to be a great tool. It opens up my imagination.
I have three main players in my arsenal for sound design. Ableton Live, Audacity and Reaper. Each offer me something the others don’t while at the same time simplifying my tasks.
On a sound design project, I would usually begin in Ableton Live with a keyboard loaded up – a simple piano. What I like so much about Ableton Live is that once I’ve got something I’m pleased with I can explore how it sound associated with other instruments.
I tend to use Audacity for any final touches and tidying up. I also find it useful for adding metadata to the sound file.
If I’m creating something more ‘built’ like a radio programme or feature, I use Reaper to build up the tracks and mix with additional effects if need be.
I process the field recordings using either Audacity or my DAW, but sometimes both. My DAW is LMMS, which is a free Linux piece of software. It comes with a vast array of effects: I can’t fault the Linux DAW since I can do quite a lot with it, and I think the lack of resources forces me to be more creative with what I have.
Since my work on the field recordings doesn’t require a lot of editing – about audio design – in the tracks assembled on the final reimagined sound, Garageband’s graphic interface is a really good option to do the work related to cut and paste (like collage), panning experiments for stereo systems and some simple cleaning and equalizing processes.
Being really intuitive and simple, it’s a great option even for people that aren’t totally involved in sound design or – in my experience – visual artists that are starting in sound design.
It could be taken as an amateur tool for sound design, and I’d agree, but often in my projects, having a lot of options, plugins, etc. is a problem when you need specific things.
Audacity is my ‘old reliable’, when Garageband is insufficient. Audacity allows you to work with tracks with a full length of an hour or above, and have a great plugin library and effects for specific purposes, like isolation or noise reduction.
I usually work with it when I need to do some fixes on the frequency of a track.
All my collaborations for Cities and Memory have been made with these tools, but a special one is “Warwick Avenue to Periferico Oriente”, where I explored and learned a lot of possibilities for panning as a medium to build space in sonic terms.
This is a delay effect which has 2 delays which can be analog or granular and are independent of each other. Where this delay stands out from others is a threshold control which splits the signal based on frequency, so only bass sounds can be sent to a granular delay or only transients get the delay effect for example. You can use filters on each delay too. I really like it because of the complex sounds that you can create which you can’t do with a full signal delay.
Here’s DDLY in action in Andy’s piece for The Next Station:
This is a recent release so I haven’t had chance to use it on a submission yet but it’s another very capable delay effect. It has 3 separate effect layers of pitch shift, delay and amp controls which can be routed in series or parallel with extensive modulation options. This means it is capable of a wide range of delay effects from a dub type delay to modulated textures. It can produce some pretty extreme effects.
This is very new, in fact I’m still writing the review for my blog! It’s a development of the free Fracture effect which has a granular processor, buffer and delay effects. It also has a very cool patchable modulation matrix – drag and drop virtual wires – which uses four LFOs for modulation which can feed several modulation parameters simultaneously. It can produce some brutal glitch effects and I’m sure will be one of my go to effects for the foreseeable future.
This is a multi-effects plugin featuring feedback (delay), ring mod and freeze. You can select signal paths based on possible combinations and switch effects in and out as required, It’s a very flexible effect for many different types of sound, capable of producing anywhere from metallic sounds to drones and cinematic soundscapes.
Three pieces of software I still use on a regular basis come from Camel Audio (sadly no more updates for me as they were bought out by Apple last year and I’m a dedicated PC user).
Camel Space A well designed, intuitive GUI fronts this very flexible and powerful multi effects unit. Just a quick look through the main page will show any sound designer its potential:
I’ve used it to some extent on many of the pieces I’ve created for Cities and Memory, but it played a particularly important role when sculpting the dreamlike sound stage for ‘Sax in the City – The Lonely Busker’:
Reverb // Stereo Delay // Auto pan // BP filter (ongoing LFO style modulation of various settings that ‘push’ and ‘pull’ at the city sounds)
Another great GUI leads the way into a wonderful hybrid synth:
Alchemy features additive, spectral and granular synthesis + a very capable virtual analog engine. You can morph or cross fade between sources via those 8 superb ‘remix’ pads. You can import your own samples from SFZ, WAV or AIFF files.
A wide range of analog modelled filters are included, in addition to a rack of high quality effects. The extensive modulation system is extremely easy to use.
‘The Space Below’ was created using Alchemy:
I loaded up 4 different small chunks from the original field recording and then edited them using granular and spectral techniques. An additive synthesis layer was weaved into the mix to create the mysterious melodic motifs.
In Reaktor 5 I use a lot of the more unusual granular samplers, but perhaps the weirdest one of all is…
The name hints at the unexpected peculiarities you are going to find within this one + the GUI s hardly straightforward at first glance:
MF constantly generates sound from the moment it’s opened, and at first seems pretty useless for general sound design. Start to experiment with a few of the presets and you begin to understand how it all works and how much potential for sound mangling it actually contains!
The key to controlling MF’s unique sound lies with the 32 automatable faders, which control a variety of parameters, including the amplitude and pitch of the oscillators, and the settings of the FX units.
I used several instances of MF (loaded with fragments of the original field recording) to generate the opening sounds for ‘Music in the Castle of Heaven’
Robert van Riel
In 2016 I have mostly been working with Ableton Live 9, and some Max for Live sound effects and devices. But usually, the ‘regular’ Ableton effects will work fine for me.
For my melodic clips, I still use my iPad and some synthesizer apps, especially Thor (Propellerheads), iLectric Piano (IK Multimedia), Gadget and Module (both by Korg).
Effects on those melodic lines are mainly from the DFX app and AltiSpace.
For instance, in this Cities and Memory piece “Laura, joking on Edgware Road”, I used 7 audio tracks:
The field recording of Edgware Road ticket hall, unaltered.
Sampled pedestrians from the field recording, unaltered.
Sampled voice, calling: “Laura”, edited in Ableton using Convolution reverb and PitchDrop.
Sampled voice, calling: “Oh, you’re joking”, edited in Ableton using EQ Eight, Multiband Dynamics and Convolution reverb.
Two piano tracks (iLectric) with reverb from AltiSpace and several effects from DFX, one track edited in Ableton with EQ Eight.
This is an amazing tool that is great for sound design and messing with audio. I just love the way you can mess with the pitch, tempo and timbre of the audio right down to an individual note in a chord.
A welcome return to the Italian Alps for Cities and Memory, and the ski resort town of Cortina d’Ampezzo, base camp for some of the most amazing walks and climbs in the Dolomites.
On a quiet August evening, the town is unusually very quiet, with barely a handful of people around.
It’s a perfect time to hear the sound of the town’s church bells, combined with that very particular reverberation and air quality of mountain towns. A beautiful sound.
For the reimagined sound, we’ve constructed an ambient drone piece from the very sounds of the bells themselves.
Nine pulses throb in and out of existence in this piece, one for every chime of the church bells ringing nine o’clock.
These pulses have been augmented with piano, strings, ondes martenot and various synths, all filtered and effected to preserve their warm tones, but to render them less recognisable and more dreamlike.
We’re heading to another central destination on the Underground today – Oxford Circus, one of the busiest destinations in London. As such, we have two field recordings – one is the bustle of the station’s underpasses, but the first is some chanting football fans making their way through the station.
City version – football fans:
We’ve tackled a reimagined version of this sound ourselves, by layering multiple tracks of strings and reverb-laden synths over the vocal samples to create a mournful piece from the sound of the football chants.
The synth drones and reverb from the station come together to resonate beneath the string lines, and there’s a brief rhythmic interlude where we’ve created a hats/claps pattern from the brief spattering of hand clapping in the original field recording.
Memory version by Cities and Memory:
The second field recording is a busy sample from the Oxford Circus underpass system.
City version – Oxford Circus underpass:
The first reimagined version is by Andy Rae of Ithaca Audio, who simply writes: “This remix was about doing the opposite. We tried to make order out of chaos – to add space to something very crowded.”
Memory version by Andy Rae:
Pietro Bardini took on the same sound, and he describes his approach like this: “My intention was to distillate the main tone of Oxford Circus from the chaotic sounds of the station.
“To do this I created a series of 6 convolution reverbs, each reverb had as impulse response the whole recording itself. This technique created a sort of feedback reverb on the main harmonics of the sounds.”
Memory version by Pietro Bardini:
The final version is by Tony Shrimplin:
“Oxford Circus tube station is the busiest in England. My inspiration came from this fact. I thought it would be interesting to project it into an alternative future London where only a few people now survive but the public service announcements still continue.
“The soundscape is set in a post Crossrail, post apocalyptic West End.
“Oxford Circus is now overgrown with vegetation but the subterranean tunnels are still used and the last remaining tube ferries the dispossessed to Epping!”
Today we’re taking a trip on the Amsterdam ferry – this short trip only lasts for two or three minutes, and crosses the River IJ in Amsterdam from the Centraal station to the Noord district, constantly shuttling back and forth.
Here you can hear the entire journey, from the alarm signalling the automatic door closing to the engines slowing at the other side of the river.
For the reimagined piece, all sounds are taken directly from the Amsterdam ferry, with nothing added on top.
We’ve processed the recording with some serious low-end bass EQing, created a rhythmic loop from the closing door mechanism.
On top of that, we’ve added some generative processing effects that react to the field recording as input, and brought the alarm sound back in halfway through, to create this slightly threatening, bass-loaded piece.
Today we visit the secret lagoon, Gamla Laguin, to the east of Reykjavik, Iceland – truly an idyllic spot.
New contributor Mark Wilden captured the sound of a naturally bubbling hot spring at the secret lagoon, making the field recording below on his iPhone. The sound brings to mind a blowhole in Croatia we featured on the site last year, which is also well worth a listen.
Our reimagined version starts off by layering the sound and simply moving it around, with some panning and delay effects to give it momentum (and make headphones listening essential!).
Next, we’ve dramatically boosted the bottom end to bring in a geothermal deep drone to the sound. Lastly, we mix out of the more unedited, natural sounds into multiple layers of generative effects that take the field recording as source input and output a range of synth sounds, clicks and pops, creating a new piece from the original recording.