Cities and Memory ~ #StayHomeSounds (volume 1)

Be careful what you wish for!  We expressed interest in hearing sounds from around the world in this time of crisis, then we received hundreds of them from a single source.  If you’re interested in hearing what’s going on across the globe, Cities and Memory has you covered.  The ongoing project #StayHomeSounds invites people to send in their recordings of quarantine captures, no training needed ~ the recording quality may vary, but the data collected is priceless.  Responders are also invited to submit descriptions of how things are going where they live.  The quickly-growing sound map can be found here, but fair warning, it can be overwhelming; the overall length has already topped 24 hours.  That’s why it’s a good thing someone at Cities and Memory is curating the whole thing, posting the sounds as they arrive, and curating a selection of the best and most representative pieces.  The first volume has just been published, and yields a wide variety of global selections, a Whitman’s box of lockdown material.

The sounds can be grouped into four rough categories, all of historical and sociological interest.

In the nature category, we hear a “Dawn Chorus in Florence;” the birds of Braga (Portugal), who drown out the bells (likely due to the position of the microphone); and a peaceful wait in Scotland, where various avian species interact.  Sounds of inactivity include 20 minutes in “Deserted Times Square,” which isn’t entirely deserted, but definitely doesn’t sound like Times Square; 5 minutes of “Silence in Covent Garden (England),” which isn’t entirely silent; an “Abandoned eco-park” in England, which isn’t entirely abandoned; and “Snow playing the guitar” in Sweden.

Active sounds include a cheerful band in Iran (unfortunately only 35 seconds) and “Street musicians in quarantine” in Mexico.  Then there are sounds directly related to the crisis, starting with an “anti-coronavirus song” from Senegal and ending with a prayer from Tibet.  A health care worker prepares protective masks in England; children’s stories are read in Finland; announcements are made in Japan; residents scream in France; a Brazilian broadcast shatters the silence, while “I Will Survive” blasts in Bolivia.  One of the most unique crisis sounds has been the applause for health care workers.  We first heard such sounds on Ian Battenfield Headley’s NYC album, covered earlier.  Cites and Memory shares three such tracks, attesting to the strength of the experience: pots and pans in Brazil and France and applause in Malaga (Spain).

The project has a huge downside and a huge upside.  The downside is that the quality is all over the map; the album doesn’t flow like an album, and the sequencing feels random.  But the upside is the egalitarian nature of the endeavor: anyone can participate, and the ability to collect so much material during a limited time is invaluable.  If such a project enables people to appreciate the appeal of field recording in general, leads participants to delve into projects of their own, and/or enjoy the works of established archivists, all the better.  But if healing takes place through the sharing of sound, we can think of no higher benefit.  (Richard Allen)

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