Sound of Memory
University College of London
January 8, 2018
what am i interested in
what is the question i am going to ask
how am i gonna answer it
Music, when sweet voices die, Vibrates in the memory . . .
—Percy Bysshe Shelley
Sound has always been associate with human’s activity, from a person’s foot step to a whole city construction, sound also became an element to defining an atmosphere in which people live. Since the revolution of the industrialisation, soundscape have been change to a modernity level to motor, elevated, steeldrill, engine, subway and airplane which was only horses, drums, lutes or songs. Throughout the years, the transformation of soundscape combined to create a culture that became a defining element. There was an American composer, George Antheil(1900-1959), made a piece called ‘Ballet Mécanique’ when he settled in Paris after moved to Europe in 1920 to make his name. Once after he performed his pieces at the Theatre des Champs-Elysées, the audience later exclaimed “George had Paris by ear!” (Thompson, 2008) There was no doubt that sound could also defined a space, a city’s voice. The reason we could link our thought to historic imagination such as this case, the Paris, is because sound is a significant trigger to memory. It is easy for people to recall some historic events by listening to the sound that had been played during that occasion.
Sound could be a language that can communicate and evoke memories. The reason is the part of storing emotional memories in the brain is also responsible of processing our hearing senses. There are four main parts in human’s brain: the brainstem, the cerebellum, the cerebral hemispheres and the limbic system. (Rettner, 2010) Each has the unique function to control the phases body. The limbic system however are involved in memory with two represent function, the amygdala and hippocampus. There were some researches tried to treat dementia by the used of old music recordings. Sound is no doubt is the most important element to unlock this potential. (Street, 2015)
Therefore the question appears: Is there any key element of sound of a sound that could trigger a shared memory? What kind of sound could represent a city? To answer this question first is to collect lots of data of a city in some specific locations and find out what could be highlighted and more easier to recognised.
what can i do to answer the question
Everyone has their own individual memories while listening to a certain sound or music. However, how do people remember a sound and link them to some specific memories? Walter Murch, an American film editor and sound designer, once had recalled how he had had an experienced a strange sound that was outside his own imagination in Michel Chion’s book, Audio Vision: Sound on Screen.
To remember the sound, first is to imaginatively captured by a sound before understand it. It is more likely to remember if we understand through imaginative engagement. Especially to those who have experienced the wonder process, it became a true understanding. (Street, 2015)
After hearing the voice recordings that had been recorded in some specific location in London, I found out some influential elements that could defined the place of where I were. I closed my eyes while listening the recordings and tried to recall what had happened with not only my memories but also the sound that could be recognised. I could tell whether I were inside a building or not while walking thought Westfield by hearing the change of a muffled sound to a clear and open sound with a wind noise in the background. Or I could hear the speed changed in the tube to tell whether we were closed to the station or not. Furthermore, I could also imagine what store I had passed by while walking in Regent street by noticed the change of the music which had been played by different store etc. Also, there is no doubt some specific elements of sound affect individuals differently from one to another. Bell ring, dog barking, raven cawing or even Christmas songs. Sound could not only be a indicator but also the tigger to memory. Every year the city of Bournemouth, seaside resort on the southern coast of England, will paced an air festival along the coast. Different kinds of aircraft will holds its ability to the crowds. Wingwalkers and warplanes or other display team will thrill the holiday crowded of the season. There were a organisation, a local care home, took some of the male resident to the event. At first it seems to be a great idea, to let the resident especially the elder men to take a look at the splendid show. Then everything went wrong when a aircraft fly past: a Lancaster bomber. Everyone expect elderly men who served in the military during the war were panicked, distressed by the sound of the aircraft. The sound trigger the memory and placed them back in to the black memory of danger. Even thought not all memory is healthy, the connection between sound and memory is very deep and profound.(Street, 2015)
To be more precisely of defining which sound could be more easily to trigger the memory in London, sound words need to be classified. In general, some sound experts tried to classify the element of acoustic environment in the modern soundscape. R. Murray Schafer, for example, who wrote the book: “The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World.” Once classify the sound in seven category: Natural Sounds, Human Sounds, Sounds and Society, Mechanical Sounds, Quiet and Silence, Sounds as Indicators. However, the catalogue somehow is built up empirically and headings are arbitrary, I tried to pick up 3 to 4 of each part only except Quiet to represent the sound of London.
I. Natural Sound:
II. Human Sound:
III. Sounds and Society
IV. Mechanical Sounds
V. Sounds as Indicators
To me, tigger the memory present is varying from one and another. This is also the most appealing factor of sound, more imaginative. Everyone could hear a sound and link to a different memory. Therefore to recall the collective memory need to be an indicator or a signal that could link all the memories in the same position. For example from big to small: hearing the Big Ben chimes near Thames river, hearing ferry horn beside London bridge or hearing free evening standard man yelling outside the underground stations.(Yelmi, 2017) Also to be more details in traffic signal: the green traffic sign sound for pedestrian, the passing sound when entering the bus or tube station by Oyster card, or the warning sound of the closing door in the tube etc. All the signal sound in daily life is a direct and clear indicator to trigger memories and reminds people of London.
what have i learnt?
what is the next step?
After collecting all the data base of these trigger elements. The next step is to figure out what could a collective memory do? And why is it important?
Collective memory, is a concept once written in a book by a French philosopher Maurice Halbwachs in which present to be a shared knowledge or information in the memories of a certain social group.(Henry L. Roediger and Henry L. Roediger, 2016) And in order to inherit knowledge, first is based on social interaction and group consciousness. The power of a collective memory is about the profound meaning of inherit emotions and value orientation and this is really important of group cohesiveness. Therefore, to me the next step is to focus on how the the sound could not only trigger the collective memory but also how do people feel about it: emotions. What would people feel while hearing the sound of Big Ben chimes?
Imagination of the finished project:
Imagine walking inside a installation which have to pass through a really dark canopy with the sounds source playing in the background which could trigger the collective memory. Then make the participants tried to dig inside the memory of which emotion could represent the sound. In each emotion there will be different kinds of colour to represent it. In memory part, I tried to think of several elements that could represent a flash existence which could only last for a really short time affect. For examples: bubbles, candle, spray etc. And make the colour lights project on the item.
The purpose of building a such installation is not only making people notice of how profound the relationship between sound and memory is but also hoping to create a new memory of the sound source after walking inside the installation.
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2. Thompson, E. (2008). The soundscape of modernity. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, Page 142.
3. Rettner, R. (2010). Brain’s Link Between Sounds, Smells and Memory Revealed. online Live Science. Available at: https://www.livescience.com/8426-brain-link-sounds-smells-memory-revealed.html Accessed 7 Jan. 2018.
4. Street, S. (2015). memory of sound : preserving the sonic past. New York: Routledge, Page 23.
5. Schafer, R. (1994). Our sonic environment and the soundscape. Rochester, Verm.: Destiny Books, pp.p138-144.
6. Yelmi, P. (2017). Sounds of London – Sound and vision blog. online British Library. Available at: http://blogs.bl.uk/sound-and-vision/2017/09/a-soundscape-of-london.html Accessed 7 Jan. 2018.
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8. Street, S. (2015). memory of sound : preserving the sonic past. New York: Routledge, Page 28?29.
9. Chion, M., Gorbman, C. and Murch, W. (1994). Audio-vision. New York: Columbia University Press, Page XIV.
10. Bulldozia.com. (2010). Adventures Close to Home: Adventures Close to Home > Keynotes, Signals and Soundmarks. online Available at: http://www.bulldozia.com/adventures/index.php?id=601 Accessed 7 Jan. 2018.
11. Schroeder, S. (2016). Explore the sounds of New York, London and Barcelona in these gorgeous maps. online Mashable. Available at: http://mashable.com/2016/03/24/new-york-london-sound-maps/#wPI0cfVWjsqq Accessed 7 Jan. 2018.
12. Jung Tu, 2107. bubbles digital image viewed 29 December 2017.