The beauty of four organs

The beauty of four organs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

City version:

Memory version:

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.”

City version:

Memory version:

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.”

City version:

Memory version:

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.”

City version:

Memory version:

King’s Cross bagpipes

King’s Cross bagpipes

We’re off to one of the busiest spots on the Underground today – King’s Cross station, a major hub in the city. Playing on one of the platforms is a bagpipe busker, the drone of his instrument blending with the station reverb and the sound of approaching trains.

City version:

The first reimagined version is from Nick St. George, who writes:

“It’s difficult to pinpoint the origin of these pipes – given the somewhat (shall we say) lively acoustic of the London Underground.

“But I’ve taken a punt and assumed that they are of the Scottish variety (the player may well be appealing to already homesick Scots getting off the London train at Kings Cross).

“As a result, and given what was going on politically in the UK when this project was unveiled, I though about doing something about Brexit and a possible second referendum on Scottish independence. But this would probably date every quickly, so I set politics aside and went for a more literary approach (although the way the sounds slip and slide around, it’s possible to interpret this as some sort of search for identity…).

“I found a “rap” of a Burns poem by Celtic Seamus aka Shamoozey (with thanks for granting permission) and wove that in and around the treated field recording.

“Add a few other bits and bobs and it’s turned into something that is probably more Scotland than London reimagined…”

Memory version by Nick St. George:


Next up is Eden Grey, who’s given the station more of a sci-fi treatment:

“My inspiration was imagining Kings Cross station as though it were a science fiction setting.

“Being such a busy station, I was thinking of it in slow motion.

“I time stretched and pitched down some parts of the recording, in so slowing down the bag pipe player. I added recordings of my modular synthesizer to further create the sci-fi theme.”

Memory version by Eden Grey:

My Baby Got To Go

My Baby Got To Go

Three new takes on the prison song ‘My Baby Got To Go’ today – interestingly, two of them independently bring in themes of trains as prison transport as a reading of the song’s lyrical content, as you’ll hear.

Nick St. George, Frome, UK

“Never have I agonised so much over a Cities and Memory project.

“You see, there are real human beings at the heart of this recording, not something inanimate like a fountain in Seville or a chapel in Bath. And what of those human beings?

“They could have been wrongly imprisoned – or maybe their incarceration was utterly justified. Were they cold-blooded killers or did they just steal some money in order to make ends meet? Whatever their crimes and circumstances, they (and their performance) deserved some respect. So I pussyfooted around the song for a while, tweaking this guitar break, treating that vocal – and the result was uninspired and insipid.

“Then I started to think about the train that features so prominently in the lyrics. Trains, in the context of imprisonment are interesting.

“They may be a means of escape – or how you are transported to jail. They can carry you to loved ones, or away from them. At speed, they can be deadly.

“So, I stifled my next bout of soul-searching (are trains just too damn literal in this context?), and went for it. I hope John Henry Jackson and A.C. Craig would, in some way, have approved.”

Marie Tueje, Ghent, Belgium

prison songs pix 09“In contributing to the Prison Songs project my objective was to create a piece that retained the spirit of the source material whilst re-imagining for a contemporary context.

“Despite a radical re-working, an echo of despair and loneliness connect Alan Lomax’s ‘My Baby Got To Go’ with the re-titled ‘A Train Is Coming’.

“This work was inspired by two themes; repetition and disruption, and the roots of this dichotomy were planted by chance. I was reading about the origins of the slogan ‘arbeit macht frei’ (work sets you free) that appeared, notoriously, at the entrance to a number of Nazi concentration camps during the Second World War.

“I learned that, in an apparent act of deliberate rebellion, prisoners who had to make the sign at Auschwitz I conspired to render the ‘b’ of the word arbeit upside down. I found the repetition of prison life (and, indeed, everyday life) coupled with the disruptions (‘little rebellions’) that serve to break up the very mundane interesting.

“The three parts of the piece tie (very loosely) with the three stanzas of My Baby Got To Go. The decision to only use fragments of the lyrics is reminiscent of a today’s environment, where our communications are often fragmented, partial and succinct.

“Part 1 establishes the themes of repetition and disruption, with some heavily distorted tones. It is not meant to be subtle.

“Part 2 is the most cohesive section, with a definite sense of melody, harmony and rhythm; structure.

“Finally, in Part 3, three sonic elements (voice, field recording and, soundscape) occupy the centre, left and right speakers, respectively.”

Richard Fair, Norwich, UK

“I found this one quite a challenge. Then I remembered that I’d found some old recording from the 1980s of some prison officers on some old tapes I bough a couple of years ago.

“There quotes about prisons. Mixed with samples from the original music recording I feel that the whole piece comes together really well.”

Dutch Dada sounds

Dutch Dada sounds

westerkerk amsterdamTwo Dada-inspired pieces from Amsterdam today, as we continue our Dada-themed voyage around Europe. Both field recordings are by us, taken from our recent trip to Amsterdam, during which we worked up this piece from the sounds of traffic signals.

The first recording is the melody played by the Westerkerk church on a busy main road, tackled by new contributor Peter Barnard:

“In this work, I attempted to imitate the idiosyncrasies of assemblage and abstraction by editing the incidental sounds heard in the original recording into short samples and rejoining to form a fractured soundscape with sounds jump-cutting into each other fused with clustering atmospheric tones.”

City version:

Memory version:

The second field recording is from Amsterdam’s huge Schiphol airport, as we hear announcements in the terminal and the general thrum of an airport in its daily life. Long-time contributor Nick St. George developed this sound:

“Dada was (is?) many things. A cross-disciplinary phenomenon that embraced the visual arts, literature, the spoken word, journalism, music, film and dance.  It was a lot about fragmentation, collage, chance. It was anti-bourgeois, anti-war and maybe even anti-art…

“Airports can be quite Dadaesque places where fragments of lives collide, chance meetings occur, snatches of announcements and conversations are overheard. So I chose the C&M field recording of Schipol as the starting point – specifically a “gate change” announcement in Dutch and English; to the passenger, a seemingly random decision that can send you off in a totally different direction.
“I intercut some of Hugo Ball’s Dadaist poetry with the cut up and treated announcements, added some original music and a couple of manipulated Apple loops (including one of African drumming. The Dadaists were fond of this music  – untouched, as it was, by what they saw as Western bourgeois corruption – and choreographed dance performances to it). 
“I trust the finished piece has something of the spirit of Dada, though I doubt the Schipol PR department will be putting it up on their website any time soon.
“The poems are taken from the Penn Sound and Ubuweb sites who allow non-commercial and educational use of their audio. Thanks to them.”
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!

Utopia C4: religious tension in Utopia

Utopia C4: religious tension in Utopia
Utopia, section C4

Utopia, section C4

Two takes on grid section C4 from the map of Utopia today, courtesy of two UK-based sound artists.

The Bells (feat. David Riley) – Nick St. George, Frome, UK

“‘The Bells (feat. David Riley)’ is dominated by a church or other religious building so I have taken religion as my topic.

In Utopia, all religions are tolerated. In real-life, More was a hard-line Catholic, vehemently opposed to the Reformation and said to have approved of the sending of Protestants to the stake for heresy.

‘The Bells’ contrasts these two sides of the man. It is made up predominantly of recordings of church bells gratefully downloaded from those generous people at Freesound.

Added to this, amongst other elements, is a field recording and some musical inserts of my own, a reading from Utopia (vox: David Riley) and a liberal sprinkling of Apple loops.

The piece gets steadily more nightmarish as we move from the liberalism of Utopia to the reality of 16th century religious persecution (More himself was executed for refusing to acknowledge Henry VIII as Head of the Church of England, and was canonised in 1886).”


Some Place, No Place – Lianray Pienaar, Manchester, UK

“I was inspired by the notion of utopia being some place or ‘no-place’, and therefore these sounds are simultaneously of a place, or no place at all.

I took the approach of compiling miscellaneous sounds taken from various locations and times.”


Mystery sounds from the English countryside

Mystery sounds from the English countryside

If anyone out there can help us identify exactly what today’s sound actually is, we’d be interested to hear your ideas!

The location of the 'mystery' field recording.

The location of the ‘mystery’ field recording.

Regular contributor Nick St. George heard – and reimagined – an unusual and disturbing sound coming from a barn in the English countryside.

He tells the story of his field recording:

“One summer Saturday, our village on the Wiltshire/Somerset border was haunted by an extremely loud and eerie sound. Was it an animal in pain? It would have to be a mighty big cow to make that sort of noise…”

“Farm machinery? Again something huge and previously unseen or heard in these parts must have been imported overnight, if that was the case.”

Aircraft? (we get civilian and military here every now and then). The sound was too consistent for that…”

“Unable to answer these burning questions from a safe distance, your intrepid sound artist (with wife for protection) sallied forth to discover more.”

“On the edge of the village a new complex of barns is being built. The noise was emanating from one of the almost-finished structures.”

“The source appeared to be a bright yellow machine that was working there, twisting and turning within the barn.”

“Laying a floor covering of some sort? I couldn’t get close enough to determine exactly what it was doing, but I pressed “record” nonetheless…”

“I sympathised with my neighbours as it had been annoying the village all day. But it was manna from heaven for a sound recordist. I got there just in time too. At 5pm it stopped and hasn’t been heard again since.”

“The “re-imagining” starts with the raw sound and then comprises purely of that layered in various guises. Nothing external (loops, samples etc) has been added.”

The piece starts off like a West Country tribute to Jimi Hendrix playing the Star Spangled Banner and ends up like Tangerine Dream with a hangover (too much cider?).  It is a classic example of taking a chunk of raw material, going with the flow and seeing what comes out of it.”

“Who was it that said the sculpture is always inside the block of stone just waiting to be released?”

City version:

Memory version:

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)

The buzzing fountain of Seville

The buzzing fountain of Seville

The same location, dramatically different results! 2015-05-19_11.13.51

Just around the corner from the main fountain in Casa de Pilatos, Seville, is another tiny fountain that emits a fascinating buzzing sound alongside the usual water noises you’d expect – it was a must-capture sound for the travelling field recordist.

We handed the sound over to artist Nick St. George, who transformed it into his second contribution to Cities and Memory like this:

“I started this piece by treating the field recording in a number of ways. One result reminded me of old school tone generators – hence the synth pattern early on, which re-appears at the end. Another version had definite train-like qualities, and when I found on Freesound a recording of a train conductor making announcements on leaving Seville that was just a marriage made in Sound Art heaven!”

“I juxtaposed some flamenco guitar (clichéd, yes, but unavoidable) with the oud to remind us of the Moorish influence on the city. I added a touch of my own cajón playing (a Peruvian instrument, but strongly associated with Spain), some royalty-free flamenco singing, a marching band recorded in Seville (also courtesy of Freesound) and liberally sprinkled the whole thing with more water (drips from a cave – thank you, Apple Loops).”

“It’s more fragmentary / impressionistic than my last Cities and Memory piece (Fanny Burney RIP) and doesn’t have the narrative of that. But I trust it still achieves the aim of “re-imagining” a small corner of Seville…”

City version:


Memory version: 


Walcot Chapel – Fanny Burney, RIP

Walcot Chapel – Fanny Burney, RIP

Walcot_ChapelOne of the most imaginative reconstructions of a Bath sound came from local artist Nick St. George, who took a historical research perspective to the sound he heard, and came up with this fascinating piece out of a recording of Walcot Chapel and churchyard, as he explains:

“Though it proved impossible to ascertain the facts 100%, it would appear that the novelist and playwright Fanny Burney was initially buried in the graveyard of Walcot Chapel, before being moved either to St Swithin’s just across the road or to Haycombe Cemetery. The stories are contradictory. But it seems safe to say that there is a Walcot link with FB, so I took her as the inspiration.”

“She’s a very interesting woman –  her witty writings are Jane Austenesque, but she predated Austen by about 20 years. The three female readings are from FB’s journals/diaries, I read the text from her monument in St Swithin’s (which clearly states she’s buried there!). One blogger commented on the number of children who seemed to have been buried at Walcot – hence the musical box.”

“After I found the old clip of Fidelio, I realised it too made sense in terms of her husband who was a refugee from the French Revolution. The play on which the opera is based is said to have been inspired by the Revolution.”

“The music (apart from the last snatch of song: “Not With Me” by Ratsouk) is by Beethoven & Mozart who were contemporary with her. All the new material is in the public domain from such sources as Wikipedia, freesound and Looperman – some is in its original state, some has been manipulated.”
“The original field recording runs throughout and has been heavily treated. The slamming door at the start punctuates the whole piece. I leave the meaning of its symbolism up to you!”
City version:

Memory version:

Installation mix (best listened to on headphones):