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Future Cities: sounds from Moscow

Our Future Cities world tour is heading to Russia to tune into Moscow sounds today – and where better to start than the iconic and truly impressive metro system with its grand marbled halls. Here, a powerful string duet performs at the entrance to Arbatskaya station.

On board the metro

City version:

This  string duet was reimagined by Rob Knight, who writes:

“The word “Saints” inspired me for the name of the piece – Hilde, after Saint Hildegard of Bingen born in 1098, she was a German Benedictine abbess, writer, polymath, philosopher and also a composer. As the original piece was recorded at the entrance of a Moscow Metro station it made me think of trains and I wanted the piece to feel hypnotic at times, like an underground train. Which leads me onto the other word “Rattled”. Again referring back to the original recording the word “Rattled” made me think of the sound of a tube train as it rattles and clatters over the tracks. I used a processed field recording of a tube train later in the piece which l felt tied it all together.”

Memory version:

Outside the Bolshoi

Sadly we didn’t have tickets to the ballet at the Bolshoi when we visited this amazing city, but we did at least capture the ambience from outside this iconic theatre.

Here’s a soundscape from the major road running across the front of the Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow, that really demonstrates the busy-ness of central Moscow. You can make out the water fountains outside the front of the theatre, but these are soon drowned out by the sounds of traffic, signals and a dramatic motorcycle departure.

City version:

This Bolshoi sound was reimagined by Ian Haygreen, who writes:

“I isolated 6 elements from the recording which were lightly treated with a few effects (reverb, EQ, etc): the regular bleeping sound in the original has become the chirping crickets. The voice and laugh were left untreated, as was the motorbike. The car horn was used in various ways: the stab sound, a slight paulstretch at the beginning and end, the didgeridoo-like sound, the phased, treated 8-bar sounds (x3) towards the end of the piece. A bit of background was also used. To this I added a big-standard bass, bass-drum and 2 arpeggios (left and right speakers), and a xylophone.

“The piece has a tense, slightly panicked feel to it, I think, due in part to the bass line and xylophone part. The arpeggio part flows (cascades) on the outer edges of the piece, and the piece starts slow but rushes along at the end. It sounds simply but all the parts are quite elaborate (dressy).”

Memory version:

On the banks of the Moskva

The Moskva river is obviously a major feature of the city, with the usual array of tourist boats making their way up and down for most of the year. In this recordin we’re on the bridge leading up to Moscow’s famous Church of Christ the Saviour, listening to automated promotional recordings advertising riverboat cruises.

The weird enunciations and flow of the language give the announcements a strange, disembodied quality, punctuated by the recorded “dings” of a riverboat bell.

City version:

“In a snow-white field near Moscow, I want you above all to hear how sad my living voice is.”

― Emma Richler, Be My Wolff

Reimagining this recording, we took inspiration from Emma Richler’s poem, with a soundscape attempting to depict the frozen chill of a windswept River Moskva in winter. The riverboat announcements take on a sinister, almost propaganda-ish edge when buried under heavy distortion and minor chords.

Memory version:

Red Square

And what trip to Moscow would be complete without calling in at Red Square? For the last of our Moscow sounds, outside the State Historical Museum, you can hear a lengthy recorded message describing in detail (presumably) what you can see when you visit the museum and beckoning you in from outside. Elsewhere, you can hear the ambience from the rest of Red Square as tourists mill around and enjoy the views of this iconic space.

City version:

The recorded announcements about the museum are on a short loop, being played fairly loudly from prominently positioned speakers quite high above head height. As such, they spread over a surprisingly wide distance, and they become quite gratingly irritating after a short time.

The reimagined piece is based around the notion of how intrusive these sounds become to Red Square visitors, by constructing a piece made of heavy, distorted synth lines and a repetitive kick and snare pattern that lock the attention and repeat in a similar way to the announcements.

The brief pause in the snare pattern represents the brief end of the recorded Russian announcement, before it restarts once again after a short respite.

Memory version: