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12 midnight – peace on the banks of the Alster

040-2The second sound and remix produced by me as Cities and Memory, this comes from a personal moment I experienced sitting on the banks of the Alster lake late at night. Ostensibly, it’s an incredibly peaceful scene: the twinkling lights of the city across the lake, the darkness and the solitude sitting on a bench at midnight next to a lake. However, just a few dozen yards behind is a major road, An Der Alster, which even at midnight is busy with traffic. So sitting by the lake, far from being peaceful silence, as you might imagine from looking at a tourist photo of the scene, is actually really quite noisy – interesting to think how the sound of a place once you’re there differs from how you might have imagined it, or the impression given from a photo. What’s behind you, on each side of you and even above and below you comes through in a field recording in a way you just don’t get with a photo.

However, in seeking a calm moment I realised that your hearing can work with you and against you. It is not an impassive observer like the microphone. Rushing traffic and rushing water are sonically not dissimilar – I sought to imagine one sound as the other, and before long I was at peace, enjoying the sounds of calm, rushing water that were simply not audible.

This memory version seeks to take away some of that objective coldness from the recorder and bring in a similar subjectivity to how you remember something you saw once, never photographed, and fell in love with.

I’ve blended the traffic sounds from the side of the Alster with two other places of great calm – a weir in a beautiful park by the Thames in Oxford, and the waves breaking gently on the jetty on Flat Holm Island. Over the course of the composition, one place almost imperceptibly becomes the other two. It was a moving moment for me at the time, and I hope you can get something of that from how I’ve tried to recreate it in sound here.

City version:


Memory version: