Remixing the world, one sound at a time
Cities and Memory is a global field recording & sound art work that presents both the present reality of a place, but also its imagined, alternative counterpart – remixing the world, one sound at at time.
Every faithful field recording document on the sound map is accompanied by a reimagination or an interpretation that imagines that place and time as somewhere else, somewhere new.
The listener can choose to explore locations through their actual sounds, to explore reimagined interpretations of what those places could be – or to flip between the two different sound worlds at leisure.
A world of sounds
There are currently over 1,400 sounds featured on the sound map, spread over more than 55 countries.
The sounds cover parts of the world as diverse as the hubbub of San Francisco’s main station, traditional fishing songs on Lake Turkana, the sound of computer data centres in Birmingham, spiritual temple chanting in New Taipei City or the hum of the vaporetto engines in Venice.
The sonic reimaginings or reinterpretations can take any form, and include musical versions, slabs of ambient music, rhythm-driven electronica tracks, vocal cut-ups, abstract noise pieces, subtle EQing and effects, layering of different location sounds and much more.
The project is completely open to submissions from field recordists, sound artists, musicians or anyone with an interest in exploring sound worldwide – more than 350 contributors have got involved so far.
Cities and Memory takes its name from Italo Calvino’s book Invisible Cities, which explores how people can experience the same place in dramatically different ways.
“As this wave from memories flows in, the city soaks it up like a sponge and expands. A description of [the city] as it is today should contain all [the city’s] past. The city, however, does not tell its past, but contains it like the lines of a hand, written in the corners of the streets, the gratings of the windows, the banisters of the steps, the antennae of the lightning rods, the poles of the flags, every segment marked in turn with scratches, indentations, scrolls.”
– Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities.
Cities and Memory Q&A
Answers to some of the questions we’re asked most often… if your question’s not answered here, please just get in touch!
Q. How can I get involved?
Q. How long does my recording have to be?
The only time limit at present is that clips are limited to 20 minutes each. We think this is long enough to give you enough scope to play with for both field recording and remix.
Q. Is there a deadline – is this a project that’s ending soon?
No – Cities & Memory is an ongoing work, so there’s no deadline for submissions. We do run individual projects every few months, which do have deadlines attached to them, but you can always submit sounds to the overall Cities and Memory sound map.
Q. I don’t have expensive microphones and recording equipment! Can I still take part?
Yes! Several of the sounds on the site already were recorded by simple mobile phone recording apps, which can produce surprisingly good quality recordings in the right conditions. Photographers often say that the best camera is the one you have on you at the time – it’s the same for field recording. Better to get the sound in any form than not at all!
Q. Are there any rules about what I can do with the sound for the reimagined ‘memory’ version?
No – only that the reimagined/remixed version must be composed from or contain the original sound sample in some form. Some sounds are made entirely from the original sample with no external sounds, just manipulation and/or layering of the original – others are musical/tonal compositions that merely contain the original sound in some form. Musical, experimental, subtle or abstract – it’s your
reimagining of the sound that’s important. There’s a good summary of some of the many creative approaches other artists have taken to reimagining sounds here
Q. You’ve already got a recording from where I was – can I still contribute?
Of course! The more comprehensive a sound map of an area, the better! And places change over time, so sounds recorded in the exact same place at different times are very valuable too.
Q. What else do you need?
- We need the location of the sound, as precisely as possible. If you can provide a map/lat-long reference, then great – if not, then a link on Google maps, for instance, or a fairly detailed description will do (e.g. ‘the corner of X street and Y street in Z town’).
- An indication of the date the recording was made is great too, even if only month and year. Places – and their sounds – change over time, and it’s important to reflect that.
- What would also be brilliant – but isn’t 100% necessary – is a photo of the location, which really helps to get the sense of place across and makes everything look nicer!
- If you’d like to write an accompanying blog post/blurb about your sound, that would be very welcome but isn’t mandatory. It’d be nice to hear about where you were, what inspired the original recording, and what inspired the approach for the reimagined version. We’re happy to publish accompanying material you’d like in the blog alongside the sound, and our readers really like to know the thoughts and inspiration behind the reimagined sounds.
Q. How do I go about reimagining a sound?
There are many approaches you can take, the most basic being simply to edit, filter and add effects to the existing sound, then save it! You can be as simple or as complex as you like – you could even take the original sound and add some of your own music to it, without editing the sound at all. There’s a list of simple and free tools for editing sounds over here
. Even if you felt inspired, for instance, to record yourself reading a poem over the original, that would be equally valid. The most important thing is to reflect your own personal interpretation of that sound. There’s a good summary of some of the many creative approaches other artists have taken to reimagining sounds here
Q. I’d like to contribute a recording from where I am/where I’ve been, but I don’t feel I can submit a remixed ‘memory’ version too. Can I still take part?
Yes. While it’s great for contributors to submit two sounds, we can take on your field recordings and produce a ‘memory’ version ourselves or pass them on to our community of sound artists, so please do submit them. However, we currently have a queue of dozens of sounds waiting to be reimagined, so if you do submit a field recording on its own, it might be a few weeks before we can get to it.
Q. I’d like to reimagine some sounds, but I don’t have any field recordings of my own. Can I get involved?
Yes – drop us a line, and we can send over a link to a selection of field recordings from our bank of recordings for you to reinterpret.
Q. Who’s been involved already?
We’ve had more than 350 contributors so far – some have sent in field recordings and reimagined sounds especially for the project, others have adapted sound projects they’ve already been working on. Some have sent in field recordings on their own, and others have remixed sounds from our catalogue of locations.
They’ve come from as far afield as the USA, the Arctic Circle, India, South Africa – all over the world! There’s a full list of contributors over here.
Q. Who produced/created all the sounds on the site?
Unless otherwise stated, all field recordings and memory versions were created and composed by Cities and Memory – every field recording and reimagined sound contributed by someone external is clearly and individually credited. You can find a full list of contributors here
Q. What’s the copyright on the sounds?
The sounds recorded and reimagined for Cities and Memory and presented on the sound map and on our Audioboom channel are licensed to the Cities and Memory project by individual contributors – every contributor retains the original copyright of their sound. The sounds may not be used for purposes outside of the Cities and Memory project without the explicit permission of the copyright holder. We offer up new field recordings from our database for free use as part of Cities and Memory, but they may not be used for other purposes without prior permission. If you’d like to use any of our sounds (field recordings or remixes) for any purpose, please get in touch
Q. Who’s behind Cities and Memory?
Cities and Memory is created, curated and developed by Stuart Fowkes, a sound artist and musician from Oxford, UK.
From a background of ten years using field recordings to give context to musical composition, he launched Cities and Memory in early 2014. He is heavily involved with arts and music in the city of Oxford, and is a trustee of Oxford Contemporary Music.
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