Cites and Memory ~ Sounds for Lifting Hearts

The Cities and Memory label has been quiet this year, but they’ve returned with a timely gift.  Having scoured their massive archive of sounds, they present Sounds for Lifting Hearts, a collection of cheerful selections that can be put to good use right away.

While the first half collects sounds from nature and the second from the human world, the lead is an overture that contains both.  Stephane Marin’s “Unawatuna Wakes Up” follows a Sri Lankan village as it comes to life.  The birds are crying, the children shouting, the dogs barking, and soon a plethora of beeps, bikes and songs enters the picture, including a snippet of “It’s a Small World After All.”  As the curator of Each Morning of the World (currently on its East Asia installment), Marin is a perfect choice to launch the proceedings.

And then the humans disappear for a while, leading to a triptych of extended nature recordings: the peaceful, twenty-minute “The simple beauty of a dawn chorus” (Benny Jennings), “Strolling Through Mesnjak Forest” (Martina Testen) and “Exploring an ancient forest in spring” (Richard Margoschis / British Library).  Two tracks feature woodpeckers, proving that even in the wild there exists a sound akin to that of construction.  These are followed by a series of shorter works (the briefest 39 seconds), culminating in a trio of water recordings:  a stream and two oceans.  These works are reminders of a purposeful isolation, as the artists remove themselves from civilization to immerse themselves in wild settings.  In the coming months, we’ll be particularly interested in new field recordings that chart the reappearance of wildlife in the face of human withdrawal, as well as altered soundscapes of urban areas whose rougher sonic edges have been removed.

Then things get really interesting, as the album emerges from a rejuvenating isolation to re-enter the world of humanity.  “A morning spent in the old town of Bremen” includes happy pedestrians, local musicians and church bells.  Although we know it was recorded before the current crisis, it vibrates with energy, representing a return to life.  The brass band that plays “Get Lucky ‘In Santiago” sounds positively ebullient.  And then there’s a call to prayer in Jerusalem, church bells in Venice, a choir at Oxford and “The powerful organ of Hamburg,” reminders of corporate worship in its purest, loveliest sense.  Children play football in Germany, hammered dulcimer produces peace in San Francisco, jazz returns to France, and everything seems so normal again, but happier, a reclamation.  It’s only fitting that the final piece is the sound of Big Ben’s “final rings,” because despite the title, these are not its final rings ~ only the last tolling before a four-year restoration.  Next year, we hope to hear the chimes of Big Ben again, even clearer than before, and by that time, maybe we will have rebuilt a stronger, more compassionate global society as well.  (Richard Allen)

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