The picture is dark, the coal power plants stand out against a streaked sky of color. This is the Drax power plant in England, a site of pollution and protests. What would it be like to stand on the site? What would this scene be like?
Drax's photo is part of "Sound Photography", a beautiful new project from Cities and Memory. Composer Stuart Fowkes started Cities and Memory in 2014 as "global collaborative sound project". It has a sound map of recordings from around the world, as well as special projects that focus on the sound of protests, the sounds of sacred places, prison songs and more. Cities and Memory now covers more than 75 countries, and more than 500 artists have contributed.
For "Sound Photography", Fowkes asked volunteers from around the world to send photos. He placed them in a database, then the sound artists chose a photo and obtained a composition based on how the photography made them think and feel. "Sound is careless sense," says Fowkes. We thought "pictures or it did not happen" and our social media platforms push us towards sound and video. "But sound is the first sensation we all know," he adds. "We hear the sound before we are born, before we see it, it is intimate, close and important".
Nowadays, sound and images in general mean video. But Fowkes wanted to go for something different: "I wanted sound and static images, and see the image almost as a painting".
The Verge spoke with Fowkes about his project, the power of sound and what comes next. Some examples of "Sound Photography" are embedded here, but go to the site to see and hear the rest.
This interview has been slightly edited for clarity.
Cities and Memory is based on "sound mapping". "What exactly is sound mapping?"
Sound mapping is when someone goes to a place and documents the sound in a very realistic and encyclopedic way, coming from a musical background, I wanted to bring something different. if you used the real sound and you explored how that place sounds ? If you applied your own experience, your own memories to sound?
The net result is the sound map Cities and memory.Each location has two sounds: the documentary, or "real" sound, and the sound of memory, which is a recomposed or reinvented sound that takes the original recording and does something different There is a person who compiles the field recordings, and you have hundreds of artists that create This is the series of answers, that's what I love about the project and the Internet, I can not go to all these places, but I could give the same field recording to 20 artists and come back with 20 completely different pieces based on that.
What is Is he so convincing about sound?
Field recordings are an incredibly interesting source of material for musical inspiration. It's not just the sounds themselves; It is also the way they can be manipulated and processed. The sound is basically unlimited. One thing is the pure artistic approach of seeing sound as source material.
The second is to help people think differently about the world around them and how they hear it. You can hear a rather boring sound, for example, the subway in Brooklyn. That is something that you listen to every day and that you could consider as part of the background. If you take that and turn it into a piece of techno or piano music, you present it in many different ways and you start to make people think differently. The project is not just about "remarkable" sounds like volcanoes or political protests. It is also about the very boring, almost boring sounds that in their way are fascinating.
Did you take a picture for the project? Or to compose something?
I took pictures and contributed two compositions. The first was a picture of a mural that had been made on the wall of a lighthouse in southern Italy. It looked like something from the pages of an old fairytale book, so I created a sound background that included real sounds of lighthouses and waves.
The second is a picture of the view outside the window of the house where he used to live. The sun came out perfectly and created this really beautiful image of the light that goes through the tree. I remember that I was grateful that I was awake at this hour to see the sun. I created a piece of sound called "Gratitude" that incorporated words for "thank you" in all these different languages.
There are always ideas buzzing around. One is the idea of the "connected city". We are thinking a lot about smart cities and how technology is becoming a part of how cities operate and their own construction. What does that mean? Is it something we should embrace, something that should worry us? The other is that, because I have a strange obsession with airplanes, I think transient spaces are always interesting.
Why the name Cities and Memory? Does the project focus only on cities and urban areas?
The name comes from the book Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino. In the book, Marco Polo explains to Kublai Khan all the cities he has been visiting on his fantastic journeys. He describes each of these cities with elaborate details, and it turns out he is not describing cities. He is describing his hometown of Venice again and again, in many different ways. That makes you think that your experience in a city is very different from my experience. We all experience places in different ways, and that is what I wanted to achieve with the project.
A thing related specifically to the photographic project. Roland Barthes has a book about photography, and talks about the punctum concept: what appears in a photo that instantly attracts him as an individual. It is not related to the way it is formally good or what it "should" look at, it is what draws attention. And I think it's something that you can also apply to sound.