Sound Photography – Connecting Hearing, Seeing and Feeling

The science of sound explored
Source: Pixabay

The ability of songs to evoke and encapsulate emotions is well known, and other tones can do the same. Think of a movie scene – how much of the mood is related to the visuals, and how much to the auditory effects? Ever tried watching a horror movie with no sound? It’s not nearly as scary!

Sound can be used to create a mood in every scenario, and even background noises used at an online casino can go a long way to providing an atmosphere that makes playing so much more authentic and enjoyable.

Taking this to the next level, composer Stuart Fowkes is now using technology to bring artists, auditory and visual imagery, and feelings together like never before, creating a Sound Map that’s documenting everything we hear.

Cities and Memory: Fowkes’ “Global Collaborative Sound Project”

The composer began this initiative in 2014, and its activities are described on its website as “remixing the world, one sound at a time”. He explains that he is interested in “sound mapping”, or documenting what can be heard in an encyclopaedic and true-to-life way.

Interested parties from all around the world are invited to make contributions, and the greatest on going undertaking to date is the Sound Map. Field collectors make in-situ recordings, and then hundreds of artists add their own interpretations, which are synthesised into one reimagining.

The result is a set of two files to represent each location; the City and Memory versions. The name was inspired by Italo Calvilo’s book Invisible Cities, in which Marco Polo describes to Kublai Khan all the fantastic metropolis’ he has seen on his travels.

Ultimately, it turns out he is not explaining different places, but detailing his native Venice over and over again, giving fresh perspectives each time. The idea of various experiences of the same thing being equally unique and valid fitted perfectly with Fowkes’ vision, and the name was set.

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Other Impressive Endeavours

The composer explains that the field recordings are compelling to artists simply from a creative point of view, and the Map also harnesses new technology to help people think about the world around them in new ways. Now other Cities and Memories ventures are doing the same thing.

Prison songs, sacred places’ echoes, the cacophony of protests and other important sonic landscapes are also featured, and the latest project is the beautiful Sound Photography idea. This has already drawn a great response from all around the world, with Fowkes himself making contributions.

What Does the Sound Photography Initiative Entail?

In this particular case, the idea was to explore the relationships that could be established between melodic tones and static images, rather than video as is more commonly seen. Volunteers submitted photographs of different scenes that were put into a database, from which artists chose an image and used them as inspiration to create compositions.

Fowkes took a glorious picture of sunlight breaking through the leaves of a tree, and wrote a piece called Gratitude to go along with it because he had felt so thankful to witness and capture the moment. The clip is a wonderful synthesis of the words “thank you” in several different languages.

All the other images’ tracks have their own personal stories, and in some ways the Photography is more individual than the original Map because each recording is a single person’s expression. In both cases, of course, and with everything that Cities and Memory does, the objective is to bring harmonies into our awareness more.

As Fowkes says, it is the “neglected sense” even though it is the first one that we are aware of. And he’s right – the human auditory system is fully formed and functional from 4 months in utero, whereas the visual system only begins to work after birth, and then takes weeks to really adjust.

In light of all this, employing modern developments to connect with others via our ears seems like a great way to use our technological powers for good. We’ve been able to tour the Louvre and other incredible spaces online for some time now; this seems like an obvious next step.

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