The sacred sounds of Montreal, Canada

The sacred sounds of Montreal, Canada

Our Canadian contributors were busy during our Sacred Spaces callout, with a diverse range of sounds coming in from the creative city of Montreal, and an equally diverse range of reinterpretations.

Eric Boivin sent us several recordings from the churches of Montreal, the first of which comes from the Notre Dame Basilica, here reimagined by Mark Taylor in a piece called “Do Campanologists Dream of Electric Bells?”.

Mark tells us that the piece was created using Reaktor 5 and Kontakt 5 and hosted in Sonar X1, and says:

“All parts in this one, (except the electric piano solo), were created directly from fragments of the original field recording.

“Various snippets of the Quebec recording, (not just the bells, but other incidental noises as well) were loaded up into five granular samplers for extensive editing. The electric piano solo was performed using the Scarbee Mark 1 virtual instrument.”

City version:

Memory version:

Our second Montreal recording is by M Qaro, and is from Paperman and Sons Jewish Funeral Home.

Angel Muniz tackled this recording, writing:

“I chose this recording, because it reminded me of listening to my father sing in church when I was a child. It brought back some fond memories.

“Also, I just liked the idea of working with vocals and really looked forward to making something totally different out of the source sound.

“Right away I knew I wanted to create something using only the recording as the source. I started using some granular synthesis techniques but I wasn’t satisfied with the results.

“So, I ended up taking a more simple approach by sampling a few small sections of the source sound and making rhythmic patterns with the voice.

“After a lot of experimenting, the result was a killer sub bass (created using a snippet of singing, which was pitched down, distorted, and EQ’d/Limited) accompanied by some odd panned vocal percussive bits(source sound pitched up and time stretched with tremolo and panning modulation).

“I also tried making a decent kick out of the source sound, turned out not too shabby. My DAW of choice was Reaper and I relied mostly on stock plugins and freeware. Again, no other sounds were used besides the source recording.”

City version:

Memory version:

Eric Boivin’s second recording is bells ringing out the hour through waves of birdsong outside Montreal’s Christ Church Cathedral, which has been reimagined by Sofia Botero.

City version:

Memory version:

The best sound design tools of 2016

The best sound design tools of 2016

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.


Cities and Memory

Movement by Output 

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.

J37 Tape Saturation by Waves Audio

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.

Space Strip by Audiothing 

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.

Lo Air Subharmonic Generator by Waves Audio

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.

NX Virtual Mix Room by Waves Audio

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.

Laurence Colbert

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:

Jeff Dungfelder

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.

Space Designer

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.

Lector Vocoder by Waldorf

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.


Richard Fair

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.

Ian Haygreen

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.

Alex Hehir

Iris 2 by Izotope

In my all time greatest plugins ever, as the results are often so inspiring and unpredictable. I love how you can layer samples, mix with waveforms and then play instantly.

The spectral filtering enables me to pinpoint interesting frequency areas and with plenty of modulation options to shift and evolve the sounds.

Here it is in action in Alex’s piece from Seville: 

Omnisphere by Spectrasonics

I use the granular synth engine of this monster of a instrument! I always put field recordings through this first and like Iris it can often lead to new and exciting directions.

Here’s the tool incorporated into a reimagined sound from Morocco:

Manuel Guerrero


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.


Andy Lyon

DDLY Dynamic Delay by Izotope

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:

Incipit by Inear Display

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.

Fracture XT by Glitchmachines

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.

Frostbite by AudioThing 

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.


Mark Taylor

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…

Metaphysical Function

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.

Tim Waterfield

Cakewalk by Sonar

This has been my main DAW for over ten years and it has gone from strength to strength since they moved to the monthly updates.

Celemony by Melodyne Studio

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.

Tantra by Dmitry Sches 

This is a rhythmic multi effect that is great for getting new ides going.

Wow:2 by Sugarbytes

A great filter plugin that has a big selection of presets to help get ideas started.

ValhallaPlate by Valhalla DSP

I just love everything about Valhalla reverbs I use them on everything!

You can hear all of these effects on Tim’s Cities and Memory pieces from 2016 below:

Duckin’ and Dodgin’

Duckin’ and Dodgin’

Two takes on the prison song ‘Duckin’ and Dodgin” today, one ambient and abstract and one taking the ‘old radio’ feel of the piece as its starting point and working from there. Interestingly, both artists tried several different executions and ideas before settling on the approaches you can hear here.

Mark Taylor, Birmingham, UK

“This was a tricky project – so many possibilities! I experimented with numerous ideas including a full on expansion of the track involving drums, bass, organ, horn section etc!

“This more ambient version is based around the simple concept of being trapped somewhere unfamiliar and not being able to get back home.

“It was created in Reaktor 5 using various granular modules. No new audio has been added – everything in the piece is taken from the original recording.

“The pulsing strand was created from a short clip of the strummed guitar. The two deeper threads were created by manipulating fragments of the original vocal line.”

Christian Hagelskjaer From, Aarhus, Denmark

www.timeonparchmanfarm.com_-e1425519401874“From the beginning, my idea was to mess with the somewhat joyful vibe of the song. Even if the lyrics of the first two verses aren’t really party material, the whole thing still boogies quite a bit.

“I played around with a few different ideas all aimed at getting more “”prison”” and less “”song””. I tried isolating the vocals and replace the grooving guitar with something more somber, but it didn’t quite click.

“Then I had the idea of filtering the track to make it even more “”old-radio”” sounding than it already is, while varying the gain, in a slightly erratic way – reminiscent of poor radio reception.

“I mean, what are the odds of getting a good, strong signal, behind the steel bars and reinforced concrete of a prison?

“To add to the vibe, I whipped out a little contraption of my own making: two springs from a Luxo lamp, suspended over an empty 19 inch rack enclosure. Makes great steely reverb sounds when bowing the springs with a cello bow, and works well as a percussion instrument too.”

Nantes: the haunted swing

Nantes: the haunted swing

Nantes, France – Gavin Prior sent us this recording from the back yard of a restaurant, with a distinctively creaking playground swing in action – regular contributor Mark Taylor imagined the swing as a haunted relic, and explains how he transformed the sound.

“This was created by chopping up the original and processing the various fragments through granular sampler transformers in Reaktor 5. Only the original field recording was used; no other sounds were added.

  • Travelizer was used to introduce elements of pitch to the piece
  • Random Step Shifter was used to add extra rhythmic elements.
  • Grainstates was the ensemble used to create the general background ebb and flow + the ‘new’ swing sound.

The final mix was processed through a chain of modules in Native Instrument’s Guitar Rig and then mastered with Izotope Ozone 4.”

City version:


Memory version:

Music in the Castle of Heaven

Music in the Castle of Heaven

St._Michaelis HamburgBack to Hamburg, Germany – the scene of our huge 2014 project Hamburg Sounds, in which we unveiled 42 sounds from the city in just 24 hours.

The mighty organ of the city’s St. Michaelis cathedral (known as ‘Der Michel’) booms into life, playing a piece by Bach – it’s a hugely impressive sound.

Mark Taylor reimagined the sound, titling his new piece ‘Music in the Castle of Heaven’, as he explains:

“The title of the re-imagined version comes from the book of the same name by John Eliot Gardiner – a study of JS Bach.

“Everything in the remix comes from the original field recording; nothing has been added.

“The opening motif was created from three short audio snippets – time-stretched, re-pitched and generally mangled in some of Reaktor 5’s granular ensembles. The rippling pad that enters later is actually the complete original track processed through the granular capabilities of Reaktor 5.

“As well as internal effects within Reaktor, Camel Audio’s ‘Camel Space’ was used extensively as a multi-effects unit and the whole track was mastered using Izotope Ozone 4.”

City version:

Memory version:

Leidseplein, Amsterdam: the lonely busker

Leidseplein, Amsterdam: the lonely busker

Amsterdam Leidseplein
Something from our recent trip to Amsterdam today, in the bustling hub of Leidseplein’s cafes, bars trams and crowds.

Heading into the Christmas season, there was a temporary skating rink and food stalls, combining with the regular sounds of trams arriving and departing.

Above all of that, a lonely saxophone busker performed for the crowds. Regular contributor Mark Taylor has transformed the recording into a woozy, piano-led lament, as he explains:

“I’ve tried to ‘get inside the head’ of the sax-playing busker…the piano motifs and synth lines are meant to represent his thoughts.

“Beyond his headspace you hear the dislocated ebb and flow of the city; even the sound of his own saxophone is in the distance as if he’s performing automatically and not really focused on it.

  • The piano sound comes from Kontakt 5 – ‘Giant’ module.
  • Synth line was created in Reaktor’s Prism.
  • Original recording was mainly processed using CamelSpace by Camel Audio:
  • Reverb
  • Stereo Delay
  • Auto pan
  • BP filter (ongoing LFO style modulation of settings that ‘push’ and ‘pull’ at the city sounds)
  • Mastered with Izotope ozone 4.”

City version:


Memory version:

The 21 best tools for sound design

The 21 best tools for sound design

There are two sides to Cities and Memory – the field recording side and the reimagined, remixed sound design side. In our end of year roundup so far, we’ve looked at what makes a field recording special, and heard some of our contributors’ favourite ever field recordings.

Now we turn to the reimagined side – we asked some of our most frequent contributors to reveal all and tell us about some of their favourite tools for sound design, music and sonic manipulation. Read on for some serious sonic inspiration. In most cases, we’ve included a Cities and Memory piece in which you can hear the tools they’re talking about, whether they’re plugins, synths, instruments or FX…

Stuart Fowkes (Cities and Memory), UK

I’m a big fan of Native Instruments kit – they offer a breathtaking range of instruments, synths and sound design gear, as almost any electronic musician will be able to tell you. Here are two of my favourites.


Native Instruments Molekular

Native Instruments Molekular

This is a modular effects system that runs your source sound through various combinations of high-quality effects, with the ability to change the routing and tweak every parameter on the way through. There’s what they call an ‘interactive morphing field’ – basically a graphic interface broadly similar to a graph-meets-Kaoss-Pad – on which you can trace the timing and effect parameters freehand, or you can apply global changes.

This allows you to create new textures and new effects, and it’s perfect for working with field recordings due to the unpredictable and often-stunning nature of what happens when you run different types of field recording through various parameters.

In effect, you can layer and create self-generating sound pieces with the judicious choice of input sample and complementary effects. You can hear Molekular at work in this piece based on Zadar’s sea organ:


Native Instruments Rounds

Native Instruments Rounds

This is my current favourite NI synth product – the presets are already numerous and really high quality, and that’s before you get under the hood and realise you can make an extraordinary array of adjustments in real time to your sonic palette.

The synths layer analogue and digital engines next to each other, creating some fantastic textures, and there are even percussive and arpeggiator options to play with, too. Most of the elements in this reimagined version of Catania’s fish market were created using Rounds.

Martin Kristopher, Germany

Martin lists the tools used in his Berlin Ringbahn piece, recently released as an album by us.

  • Resonators (as available in Bitwig or Ableton Live)
  • Amplifier simulations (in my case Waves Audio GTR 3.5)
  • Wavetable Synthesizer (many different available – most important for me is the option to import my own wave files, e.g. parts of the field recording)
  • Reverb (I love Valhalla Vintage Verb, most important for me is a long reverb time, Valhalla has a max of 70 seconds)
  • Delay (must be able to have the feedback be driven to self-oscillation)
  • A DAW with the capability of high sound quality time stretching

Andy Lyon, UK

“One of my favourite VSTs is Polygon by Glitchmachines. At its heart it is a 4 slot sampler with the usual forward, reverse, loop and once-through playback options. It also has an excellent granulator, 2 independent filters (use in parallel or series) and the more unusual effects of stutter, metaliser and ring mod.

“However, where it excels is the use of LFOs and envelopes which can be used to modulate pretty much any parameter, even each other.

“This means that you can load 1 sample 4 times, play one instance forwards and granulate the other 3 with different settings, different loop lengths, different filter settings and LFOs modulating the filters and effects to give a real subtle variation in sound.

“What I really like is how Polygon can be very subtle and delicate yet equally you can use it in a harsher, more aggressive way and get equally great sounds.”

“This is what myself and Kim [Rueger] did on ‘Our Lady Is Also The Moon’ [listen below] to produce some really subtle variation in background sounds using two different samples in this way.

“I find the result with Polygon is always so much greater than just layering those same samples, I think it’s because there are harmonics, overtones etc that really enhance the sound. You sometimes also get unexpected artifacts such as a bird tweeting that gets modulated by an LFO and the sound rises or falls in pitch and such artifacts are like hidden gems that Polygon gives you from time to time.

“What I also really like is how Polygon can be very subtle and delicate yet equally you can use it in a harsher, more aggressive way and get equally great sounds.”

Leon Muraglia, Norway

“For processing I use Speakerphone a lot. The quality is excellent and unlike many other plugins it really encourages you to experiment: some of the presets are quite extreme.

“I also use Waves H-EQ and H-comp pretty much all the time. The H-EQ has a built-in spectrum analyser which I rely on.

“I actually used NI Guitar Rig for the effects processing on the Sofienberg Park sound piece.”

Matt Parker, UK

“I am a huge fan of the ‘Max for Live Convolution Reverb Pro’ device within Ableton Live for creative sound sculpting and blending environments together into polymorphic sound structures.

“I really like the simplicity of it. Even though you can only work in mono or stereo, I really like how easy it is to initially create your own Impulse Response with the accompanying Impulse Response maxforlive device and then throw it into Convolution Reverb Pro super fast.

“One of the things I really enjoy doing with imagined spaces is to capture quite dry recordings from a space initially and then find ways to modulate those spaces through what I would crudely describe as the spaces own architecture.

“What I mean I guess is that I like the idea of producing an impulse response recording within a space that I have recorded and then feed that IR back into a raw recording within that space to create a new sound world within the space itself (admittedly hugely inspired by Alvin Lucier’s I’m Sitting in a Room).

“In the piece St Michaelis Hamburg vs St Marys Birmingham I decided to use this method but in a different way.

“I really enjoy capturing dry recordings and then finding ways to modulate those spaces through the space’s own architecture.”

“Rather than playing with the space itself, as I received the field recording of the church in Hamburg through Cities and Memory, I decided to convolve that space within an approximate space closer to home (the church near where I lived at the time).

“I think there is something interesting about feeding spaces into themselves through convolution and like to think it creates some kind of musical disharmony that can act as a springboard for compositional development within my work.”

Eric Powell, Canada

“My two favourite tools are Logic’s “space designer” reverb plugin, and a piece of software designed by Stephan Smulovitz called “Kenaxis“.

“I use the reverb plugin more as a convolution engine than as a standard reverb generator. This means I am often using short samples of percussion or string instruments as the impulse response – this can be heard in my Oblique Strategies piece from Dubai, or the piece from the Water call using the sound of raindrops to create a set of pitched drones.

“Sometimes, I use the reverb plugin to autoconvolve (using the same sample or excerpt from a field recording as both impulse response and audio file) – there is a bit of this in both my Water submission and the Utopia piece – this often creates very interesting (but unexpected) sounds as the sympathetic frequencies get multiplied.

“The other key piece of software in my toolbox is Kenaxis. This is a program that I use for granular processing (extreme time stretching without shifting pitch or timbre), and to create dense layers with multiple pitch-shifted loops.

“You can hear the granular stretching in my Utopia piece, and this multiple loop process in my remix of the Hamburg beach (with a little convolution as well). The great part about Kenaxis is that it is designed as a performance interface, so it is  easy to pair with external control interfaces, and gives each remixing session a very live and organic feel.

“On the hardware/ physical side, my favourite instrument these days is a hand-cranked siren. It is a great tool for creating sweeping glissandi or wavering drones for use as impulse responses.

“There is a lot of siren used to create some of the broader textures you can hear in my Oblique Strategies piece. I also use a glockenspiel and autoharp as source material for a lot of my work – which you can hear in both the Water and Utopia pieces (respectively).”

Nick St. George, UK

“Having migrated to Mac a few years ago, I inherited Garage Band which for speech editing, for example, is far from ideal (the reason for this may be in the name!). For a long time there was no Audition available for Mac. Now there is, I suppose inertia plus a greater understanding of what GB can do, has led me to stay put.

“I’m still discovering the effects therein. I’m still quite new to this game and recently connected a Yamaha DD-55 to the Mac via Midi and only last night uncovered some sounds in GB I hadn’t found before (result here).

“So I suppose the moral of this story is: even if you’re not using your ideal set-up (for whatever reason – practical, financial…), persevere. There will be goodies to be unearthed in even the most initially unpromising of kit.

“All of my C&M pieces were edited on Garage Band.”

Dan Tapper, UK

“Over the last six months or so I have been working a lot with a piece of software I developed called Ven_d. The idea came from wanting to be able to gesturally move and morph between a number of sounds.

“I developed the basic system using a series of circles – each representing an individual sound file. the center of the circle is the loudest point, whilst the edge is the quietest – even without any additional effects moving quickly through a series of circles, with the gesture varying the amplitude can create an interesting effect.

Dan Tapper's Ven_D tool

Dan Tapper’s Ven_D tool

“After creating the basic system I began augmenting it by introducing pan and filter controls linked to the X,Y mouse axis within the circle window. I also added a delay matrix and pitch control allowing parameters to be changed separately for each sound – all parameters are also linked to a physical controller for quick modification of the sounds making it a very performative composition and improvisational tool.

“Additional features are the ability to cycle through sound banks, quickly loading new samples into each circle. This can be used to easily change between sample sets and more creatively to create interesting glitching and cutting effects.

“My recent goal has to be to augment the Ven_d software into a modular suite of tools, linking it together with new and old sound processing tools I have written in maxMSP. The chart below represents the parts of the software that I am currently working with, all the parts are modular and can be connected in a variety of signal processing chains and set to interact with each other.

“These tools include a sample freezer, envelope tool, granular mangler and a FFT filter that can filter very narrow frequency bands and be used gesturally to quickly write and change between filter patterns.

“My next step is to develop more user friendly interfaces for these tools and a routing matrix to easily connect them. I eventually plan to make the system available publicly for a small fee.”

Here’s the software in action:

Mark Taylor, UK

Mark talks us through the process of which tools he used to create his recent Cities and Memory piece ‘Corpus Christi Mysterium’.

“All of the audio in the re-imagined version was taken from the original field recording; nothing was added. Various short sections of the original recording were extracted and became the basis for the five strands of my remix:

  • Woodwind and brass phrases = opening mysterious chords.
  • Everyday background sounds = wind effect.
  • The bell ringer = the fragmented church bell like chimes.
  • Flute and drum = regular melodic pulse.
  • Drums = distorted, percussive loop.

“Granular synthesis and sampling techniques played a central role in the task, mainly within Native Instrument’s Reaktor 5 – modules such as Grainstates, Travelizer and Random Step Shifter.

“Reaktor has quite a steep learning curve but it’s well worth persevering – a wide variety of excellent instruments and ensembles available, (many for free via the Native Instruments community). One approach I found very useful in the early stages was to load up interesting presets and work out how various parameters were being used within them.”


grainstates“This was the module responsible for the opening mysterious chords… It’s a granular texture maker that excels at creating intense, morphing atmospheres. You can create soundscapes in real-time. You can easily import your own samples, even ‘freezing’ live audio feeds and weaving other parts around it.”



travelizer“This Reaktor module was used to create the fragmented church bell like chimes. Travelizer is another classic granular texture maker. It lets your ‘scrub’ through any imported sample and can be played over MIDI if needed – allowing it to be used for mysterious pads and ethereal leads. Importantly, it approaches the granular process in a significantly different way to Grainstates…

“Travelizer instantly granulates any sample loaded into it and gives you a variety of controls over the quality of the granulation. The sample grains pass through a 3-voice Resonator with independent controls for tuning and the capability to track midi notes. The Resonator is followed by a stereo delay which is linked to a high-pass filter.”

Random Step Shifter

random step shifter
“This intuitive Reaktor module was used to create both the regular melodic pulse and the distorted percussive loop. On the surface, more instantly accessible than GrainStates and Travelizer, this instrument still has plenty of depth.

“Random Step Shifter’s algorithms cut-up and rearrange sample loops, on-beat, in real-time. The intuitive sequencer triggers sample playback and modulates individual sample selection, positional offset, and playback pitch. If you dig deeper, these modulations can also be mangled via various pseudo-random sequences.

“RSS will create new sample loops for you very easily! You can load in any audio loop; just keep in mind that you may need to cut the loops accurately so that they play correctly when they are looped over their entire length.”


Tim Waterfield, UK

Tim lists his current top five sonic tools, used on several of his Cities and Memory pieces.

1. Cakewalk Sonar

“This is my main DAW and I have been using software from Cakewalk for so long I just find it really quick to do everything in.”

01 - Sonar





2.  SlateDigital Virtual Mix Rack

“This just goes on all my tracks by default and just adds something I can’t put my finger on. I have a bunch of other EQ and Compressor plugins but since I bought VMR it is my go to unless I need to do some surgical EQ cutting.”

02 - VMR





3. Valhalla DSP ValhallaRoom

“This is another plugin that I use on every project and just has some great big reverb settings.  With this and a filter I can get some great pad sounds as well as using it for normal reverb duties on a reverb bus.”

03 - Valhalla Room







4. Illformed Glitch 2

“When I’m stuck for ideas you can just insert this on a track and it will take you somewhere you never thought of.  At its heart is a sequencer that controls when one of the 10 effects will trigger and this can be set manually or with the use of the random buttons.”

04 - Glitch






5. Audio Damage FilterStation

“This is the Audio Damage take on the classic serial/parallel/stereo dual filter topology, made famous by the Sherman Filterbank and its many clones. It does odd things to audio so I love it.”

05 - Filterstation








That’s a selection of top kit tips from some Cities and Memory artists – which would you add? Leave a comment and let us know!

Out today! Free Utopia sounds album!

Out today! Free Utopia sounds album!

After a month of exploring some fascinating sonic approaches to Utopia, our journey has finally come to a close. To mark the occasion, today we’re launching a FREE ALBUM of Utopia sounds.

We’ve chosen twelve highlights that we think flow together as an album and a listening experience, as well as representing some of the many approaches taken to imagining Utopia in sound.

As such, here you’ll find everything from field recording soundscapes to readings from Calvino, from reflections on the media through to crunching breakbeat pieces!

Here’s the album release in full:

Utopia is released as a ‘pay what you want’ release, so please download and share it – and while you’re there, check out some of our other releases, covering everything from water sounds for World Listening Day to an album of sounds created using Eno and Schmidt’s Oblique Strategies.

Utopia D4: bridges and monasteries

Utopia D4: bridges and monasteries
Utopia section D4

Utopia section D4

We’re deep into the map of Utopia now, and here we have one piece focusing on the idea of bridges in the country, and another a dreamy, mysterious trip through the country.

The Castle and the Monastery – Mark Taylor, Birmingham, UK

“I’ve gone for a mysterious atmosphere with this one.

Bells ring out as the sun rises. You hear the burbling river that is still not far from its source*.

Wind blows through the crow’s nest as waves swell around the ship. A gentle horn sounds from the castle battlements and is quickly joined by monks singing inside the monastery.

* Ignore the banner that says OSTIUM ANDYRI (The mouth of the river Anydrus) – it’s generally regarded as a joke.

In the middle section the soundscape changes dramatically as a second horn rises outside the castle; drums of war herald an approaching army and battle is joined.

The fighting fades away and we return to relative tranquillity; this time we also hear a lonely voice from the battlements – first speaking and then singing a short lament.

Production-wise, everything is in this one, including my kitchen sink!

  • Opening shimmering drone = Bells of St Anne’s Church, Moseley, Birmingham through 2 modules in Reaktor.
  • Burbling brook – outlet pipe from my kitchen sink.
  • Wind and waves – pure synthesis in Reaktor
  • Horn – it’s a weird old alpine style horn I bought years ago – finally used it in a project!
  • Amen – monks! :0)
  • Deep brass chords – pure synthesis in Absynth.
  • Horses – Earlswood Stables, Solihull.
  • Swords – kitchen cutlery
  • Elven language – gobbledegook!
  • Female singing – synthesis.”

Nunquam Bridge – Kamen Nedev, Madrid, Spain

“In Utopia, bridges are used in the expected way: to cross major rivers like the Anider, to travel from one part of the island to another, and to aid shipping and commerce.

Social interactions on a bridge take place on the go.

Thus these bridges become a metaphor for Utopia itself; they are, essentially, non-places, liminary structures that allow one to move from one state to another, but not to remain in; while crossing a bridge, one is in no place in particular.

While not impossible, it is rare to see a Utopian standing on a bridge; only children dare do that.

The actual field recordings were really taken in the city of Burgos, on a number of bridges on the rivers Arlanzón and Vena, using a combination of cardioid, binaural, and contact microphones.”


World Listening Day – Sound Waves composition

World Listening Day – Sound Waves composition

Happy World Listening Day!

We’re proud to present here our celebration of the 2015 theme of water, with our recomposed piece ‘Sound Waves’.

Listen to Sound Waves now:

As part of our overall Sound Waves project, 38 sound artists from around the world have submitted a field recording and reimagining of water somewhere in the world: ocean, river, lake, stream, swimming pool, boiling kettle, splash of a puddle – anything in which water is the defining sound.

These reimagined sounds have been recomposed and re-edited by Cities and Memory into this 30-minute mixed sound piece incorporating many of the sounds in a new context.

This final piece presents a collective curated reimagining of the sounds of water from artists around the world in one piece, a shared reflection on water and the role it has in our lives. By capturing the sounds of water and recontextualising them, we can examine our own relationship with water as it surrounds us every day.

World Listening Day 2015

Sound Waves for World Listening Day 2015

The piece flows in five sections – the locations of each original recording and the artist who created the reimagined sound you can hear in each case are listed below.

– Regina, Canada (Eric Powell)
– Auckland, New Zealand (Diana Pena)
– Poldhu Cove, UK (Ian Haygreen)
– Vancouver, Canada (Corey Kereliuk)
– Frome, UK (Nick St. George)
– Kolding, Denmark (Robert Cole Rizzi)
– Nuria Valley, Spain (Alex Hehir)
– New York City, USA (Jeff Dungfelder)

– Providence, USA (Erik Gould)
– Unije, Croatia (Cities and Memory)
– Long Pond, Massachusetts, USA (Nick Campbell)
– Lincoln, UK (Simon Le Boggit)

– Berkeley, USA (Katie McMurran)
– Bristol, UK (Ellen Southern)
– Madora Lake Trail, California, USA (Eric Mooney)
– Mala Panew, Poland (Deprivation and The Transient Source)

– Birmingham, UK (Mark Taylor)
– Taquile, Peru (Gustavo Valdivia)
– Sheringham, UK (Richard Fair)
– Philadelphia, USA (Michael McDermott)
– Lake Michigan, USA (Eric Leonardson)
– Berlin, Germany (Eden Grey)

– Frome, UK (Nick St. George)
– Boscastle, UK (Ian Haygreen)
– Poole, UK (Lee Clift)
– Isle of Skye, Scotland (Graeme Gill)
– Auckland, New Zealand (Diana Pena)
– Margate, UK (Andy Lyon & Kim Rueger)
– Ely, UK (Sam Yaxley)
– Brighton, UK (Joseph Young)