“What is the relationship between photography and sound? In today’s visually-dominated culture, how can we use sound to respond to what we see around us?”
That’s the question Cities and Memory poses on their homepage, and their answer is the Sound Photography project. The website’s newest endeavor allows audio artists get to create soundtracks based on photographs submitted by volunteers.
Stuart Fowkes founded Cities and Memory in 2014 to create a sound map of the world. Sound mapping, or the practice of recording real sounds from different locations all over the world, isn’t a new concept. However, what makes Fowkes’ process different is that he allows people to reshape those sounds according to how they interpret the place. So far, the Cities and Memory’s map features about 2,000 sounds from 75 countries, and the contributions continue to grow.
The website also hosts several global collaborations per year, and their latest is Sound photography (and no, we’re not talking about soundcam). For the project, Fowkes gathered photographs from volunteer photographers and saved them in a database. He then asked sound artists to pick a photo and create sounds that represent how they feel about the image. The result could be music or something more experimental such as abstract compositions or even vocal cut-ups.
One of the most compelling submissions I enjoyed was Stephanie Merchak’s Dark Energy. Based on a photo by Alan Silvester, her recording sounds both unsettling and electrifying.
“The photo of the Drax coal power station, one of the most polluting power stations in the U.K., automatically made me think of something harsh and dark,” Merchak says about her work. “That’s what I tried to render with sound.”
Then there’s the Dance of the Dust by the Unsound Collective. Inspired by an image of a vacant room, their composition is a tug of war between heavenly hums and discordant noises.
“The sound composed for this photo is an improvisation inspired by the pictured elements,” the group says on their profile. “A long and evolving soundscape which wants to take the viewer through different moments of the building’s life.”