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What is Cities and Memory?

What is Cities and Memory?

Remixing the world, one sound at a time

Cities and Memory is one of the world’s largest sound projects, with more than 1,600 artists foming a global community with the aim of remixing the world, one sound at a time. 

Encompassing field recording, sound art and sound mapping, every location on the Cities and Memory sound map features two sounds: the original field recording of that place, and a reimagined sound that presents that place and time as somewhere else, somewhere new.

The listener can explore places through their actual sounds, to explore reimagined versions of what those places could be – or to flip between the two different sound worlds at leisure.

field recording in Patagonia

Cities and Memory: a world of sounds

There are currently more than 6,000 sounds featured on the sound map, spread over more than 120 countries and territories.

The sounds cover parts of the world as diverse as the hubbub of Grand Central 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, recomposed ambient music, electronica, vocal cutups, sound art, radio art, abstract compositions 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 1,600 contributors have got involved so far.

We also present major global collaborations exploring an area of sound and place in great detail.

Who is Cities and Memory?

About us

Stuart Fowkes, a sound artist and field recordist from Oxford, UK, is the founder of Cities and Memory.

From a background of more than 15 years using field recordings to give context to musical composition, he created Cities and Memory in 2015.

He has recorded many of the field recordings and produced many of the project’s reimagined sounds, and curates contributions to and partnerships with the project from all over the world.

Cities and Memory has been exhibited in a series of installations both in the UK and internationally, and Stuart has spoken on sound and related issues at conferences across Europe.

Cities and Memory is also an active live performance, performing highlights from the project with live visuals.

Photo by Ben Stansall/AFP.

Photo Ben Stansall/AFP

6,000+
6,000+
SOUNDS
120
COUNTRIES ON THE SOUND MAP
2.2 million
LISTENS

Q. How can I get involved?

We’d love to have any contributions, either of field recordings or recomposed sounds! Please see the submit your sounds page for how to send them in.

You can submit sounds directly to us at this link, or email a Dropbox, WeTransfer, Google Drive or another download link across to submit a sound. 

Q. How will my work be presented?

Field recordings and compositions submitted to Cities and Memory are shared in several ways:

  1. Inclusion on our global sound map, the centrepiece of the project as we remix the world, one sound at a time.
  2. Inclusion as an episode of our podcast, which has thousands of subscribers across Spotify, Apple Music, Google Podcasts and all other major on-demand audio platforms.
  3. Every sound on our podcast is automatically archived by the British Library, and becomes part of the British Library’s permanent digital archive. For more on this, read this article.
  4. Selected highlights from our individual projects are also shared on our compilation albums, all available as free/pay-what-you-like downloads from our Bandcamp page.

Q. What’s the copyright on the sounds?

A. The sounds recorded and reimagined for Cities and Memory and presented on the sound map, on our podcast and in our compilation albums are licensed (non-exclusively) for use in the Cities and Memory project by individual contributors – every contributor retains the original copyright of their sound, and can of course present those sounds elsewhere too.

The sounds may not be used for purposes outside of the Cities and Memory project in its various forms without the explicit permission of the copyright holder.

If you’d like to discuss a collaboration, project or partnership with Cities and Memory, please do get in touch.

Q. How do I license your sounds?

We offer up new field recordings from our database for free use as part of the Cities and Memory project, but they may not be used for other purposes without explicit and agreed permission.

If you’d like to partner with us in to use any of our sounds (field recordings or compositions) for any purpose, please get in touch.

Q. I’ve got an idea for a partnership or collaboration – are you interested?

Quite possibly! We’ve worked with a large number of organisations as diverse as scientific institutes, museums and amusement parks on partnerships, collaborations and commissions, and are always interested in discussing new ideas.

You can read more about our previous partnerships on this page and if you’d like to talk about working with us, please get in touch.

Q. How are you funded?

A. As one of the world’s largest sound projects, one of the questions we get asked most often is “how are you funded?”. The simple answer is – “we’re not”. Cities and Memory is a passion project entirely run by me (just one person! 😀) out of my love for exploring and sharing the possibilities of sound and field recording all over the world.

The project and our callouts are free for all and always will be – but it would mean a lot if you considered supporting us, whether through a one-off donation or the cost of a coffee per month. This would be an invaluable help to keep Cities and Memory going with our hosting, web costs and all the behind-the-scenes hard work that has kept the project running – and growing – ever since 2015.

 

Q. What’s your logo all about? 

Our logo is based on a section of street map layout from Venice, at the precise point at which our first field recording from the city was made and added to the global sound map back in 2015.

The main brand colour echoes the traditional Venetian red to strengthen the connection between the project and Venice as its spiritual home, and as a city that sounds uniquely like no other. Elsewhere, sections and elements from the logo are broken apart and rearranged as a nod to the project’s core concept of remixing the world, one sound at a time.

Q. Who produced/created all the sounds on the site?

A. Unless otherwise stated, 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. Who has contributed to Cities and Memory?

A. We’ve had more than 1,600 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, Australia, Japan, South Africa – all over the world! There’s a full list of contributors over here.

Q. I’d like to reimagine some sounds, but I don’t have any field recordings of my own. Can I get involved?

A. 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. I’d like to contribute a field recording but not a reimagined sound. Can I still take part?

A. Yes! 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 do have a queue of sounds waiting to be reimagined, so if you do submit a field recording on its own, it might be a little while before an artist creates a new piece from it.

Q. How do I go about reimagining a sound?

A. There are many approaches you can take – the only “rule” is that your composition must contains the original field recording, or some element of it, either “as is” or filtered, effected or used musically. You can be as simple or as complex as you like, and across the project there is an incredible range of creative approaches. 

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. What do you need me to provide?

A. 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”).
  • Accompanying information – just a sentence or two – about your recording/reimagined piece. For instance, this can be a description of what’s going on in the recording, or of your approach to the reimagined piece. Reading about how the sounds were created and recorded is really valued by our listeners, especially on the podcast!
  • 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!

Q. You’ve already got a recording from my location – can I still contribute?

A. 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. Are there any rules about what I can do with the sound for the reimagined sound?

A. 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. I don’t have expensive microphones and recording equipment! Can I still take part?

A. Yes! Several of the sounds on the site already were recorded by simple mobile phone recording apps, which can produce 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. Is there a deadline?

A. Cities and Memory is an ongoing, open 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. How long does my recording or piece have to be?

The only time limit is that clips and compositions are limited to a maximum of 20 minutes each. We think this is long enough to give you enough scope to play with for both field recording and reimagined sound.

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