Cities & Memory is and exciting online project that attempts to ‘record both the present reality of a place, but also its imagined, alternative counterpart’. On the site, field recordings by international sound artists are accompanied by re-workings and interpretations that reimagine the locations in new and creative ways. C&M invites listeners to explore locations through their actual recorded sounds, the interpretations of what those places could be, or to flip between the two at leisure. When invited to work on a remix by Stuart, the driving force behind the project, I was given access to a folder choc-full of sounds from around the world. Interestingly enough, it was memory to steer me through this creative exercise.
Paris is a location that has always played a huge role in my life, and in particular in my childhood as it was my father’s subject for most of his writing career- the family would spend most every Easter and huge chunks of summers there while growing up. This was the 80s and exciting Mitterrand-era Paris: daringly projected into the future and so clearly winning the race against London (I never took sides, and longingly loved them both.) I remember being smuggled into press tours for the opening of La Cité des Sciences, learning of the ‘voie royale’ from the rooftop of La Grande Arche, crossing the square to the new Opéra Bastille. And, of course, seeing the pyramid rise to take centre stage in the Cour Napoléon.
As well as plain old missing the city, these childhood memories led my eye immediately to the Louvre file. Although primarily an emotional choice, I was also pleasantly surprised by its actual contents.
The file is a 3’56” field recording by Jase Warner. Although it holds no specific clues about the museum itself, it offers plenty of the fascinating tourist universe swarming just outside it.
Listening to the above, my memory is immediately drawn back to sunny afternoons at the Cour Napoléon, the tourist traffic dizzying in contrast with Pei’s quietly zen pyramid. The recording suggests a crowd in flux, with a clear sense of movement, and fizzing with a palpable sense of excitement. I can clearly picture tourists from around the world, of all languages and skin colors, rushing to beat the queues and ‘do’ the Louvre. There is some gentle busking in the background.
I used the music as a sort of sonic thread to carry and deliver the babel of sounds of the crowd. I altered all of its melodic qualities to hint at the unreliable, fuzzy dimension of a far away memory and changing moods. I created a sort of looped drone in three parts which I then overlapped, pitch-shifting the notes multiple times, playing around with presence & centering and adding some exaggerated hi-frequency harmonics. I liked how the single French word ‘Arrêt!’ spoken by a female seemed to stand out in the cacophony of languages, and its meaning seemed apt as an intimation to stop daydreaming- so I used it to bring the piece to a close.