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Sound Memories

I travel with a canon s90 and a flip cam. I do most of my reflection with a notepad; some amount of that writing ends up on this site. I also travel with a digital field recorder, currently an Edirol R-09. I record a bit of everything with it. Music from car stereos and gasping tape decks. A friend’s guitar playing, a stranger singing. The sounds of markets and bus rides. The adhan and sunday morning church sessions. The sound of morning, of dusk, of the middle of the night.

I incorporate some of these sounds into the music I make. Outside of a cathedral in Hanoi, I recorded part of a Sunday service. Big, strong choral vocals filled the neighborhood. The sound gave me chills. I added some delay at the beginning and end, a few chords on guitar, and around 36 seconds in, a synth kick and a composite clap made from static and a transposed recording of 3 kids snapping their fingers.

Power line vines speaker flowers by lionsinthetiles

It is not mixed or mastered, so excuse the levels. This is the cathedral, it is near Hoan Kiem Lake:

One night, in the newtown neighborhood of Accra, Ghana, I heard a woman singing. She was far away, but her voice carried well. It sounded like a praise song. It led to the track below.

Newtown im coming by lionsinthetiles

Music creation is not the only reason I carry a field recorder. Photos and videos help me connect with a memory, but audio recordings let me recreate it. When I feel like savoring some nostalgia, I put on a pair of headphones, close my eyes, and listen. Footsteps and laughter, whispers and exhalations, birds and insects, rain drops and a breeze.

In this clip, a fleeting verse of a Doussou Bagayoko song as I approached the entrance of Palais de la Culture in Bamako. It was an airless afternoon at the end of May, the hot season’s final notice, reminding all life forms of its strength. I had walked from my apartment, thirty minutes away. Listening now, I can feel the weight of my saturated shirt. My lethargic limbs. The mild burning in my nostrils upon inhalation. Doussou’s voice, pleasant though it is, provides no relief.

Amidst the crowded lunchtime marketplace of Palais’ front gate, where sizzling brochettes are loaded into baguettes with sliced onion, hard-boiled egg, avocado, chili and a sprinkling of salt, I see a small girl sitting on a cooler. She is holding a half-frozen bottle of bissap juice, a hyper-sweetened purple tea made from hibiscus flowers, the ultimate elixir on a hot afternoon. I buy two bottles. In the shade of a mango tree, the first sip of this sugary ice is like an opiate. I might as well be floating in my mother’s womb. I sit down on a stone bench and hit play. Doussou’s voice. Now I’m in love.

doussou by lionsinthetiles

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{ 16 comments… add one }

  • jade September 18, 2011, 10:52 am

    This is a great idea- we recorded some of the nuns chatting in Beijing and it is so beautiful to listen back to. Without pictures, the sounds immediately bring you back to Beijing.

    • phil September 18, 2011, 6:47 pm

      Jade, that sounds like a great recording. That’s just it, it’s almost easier for your brain to recreate the scene without the pictures. Cool stuff.

  • Caanan @ No Vacation Required September 19, 2011, 11:14 pm

    I have seen your Gravatar around but have never actually stopped by your site. I’m really impressed with your recordings / music.

    Newton Im coming would fit in perfectly with our work playlist – Album Leaf, Boards of Canada, Baths, Carbon Based Lifeforms.

    I look forward to listening to more.

    • phil September 20, 2011, 1:26 am

      Well hey. Glad you liked the music. I listen to many of those same artists, so I’m flattered it reminds you of that. Thanks for stopping by 🙂
      Take care,

  • Holli September 20, 2011, 2:13 pm

    Hi Phil – just found your site in a roundabout way. I’m so glad I did! I love how and what you write about life in West Africa. I’m Canadian but I’ve been living and working and writing in Ghana for the past 15 years.

    You definitely have a unique perspective and a great way of writing. Keep it up. Excellent site.

    I’ve linked you over on my Ramblings 🙂

    • phil September 20, 2011, 2:28 pm

      Thanks Holli! Glad you found and are enjoying the site. I just checked out yours and it’s great! I’ve added a link on my links page. Check your email as I will be in Ghana in mid November. Would love to meet up!

  • Gillian @OneGiantStep September 21, 2011, 8:36 am

    I wish I had this talent!! Adding sound to memories makes them so much richer! Pictures and video can only do so much but often it is the sound of a place that stays with me. Thanks!

    • phil September 21, 2011, 6:12 pm

      Hey Gillian, there’s honestly not much to what I do. I have a lot to learn in terms of actual production and that’s not say nothing about mixing and mastering, where I’m really deficient. It’s a lot of fun to learn and create, though, and it makes for great memories.

  • Mack Reynolds September 21, 2011, 3:44 pm

    Hi Phil,

    I really loved the photo of the cathedral. And i listened to the first and last track. I liked them. That purple sugar juice sounds awful good, especially when you describe the sweltering heat you were enduring. And BTW, I love your soundcloud profile name. When i was a kid I used to try to tell my brother i could see lions in the tiles and chain link fences, but he would be all like “I don’t see it…” At least you know what I’m talking about.

    • phil September 21, 2011, 6:14 pm

      Hey Mack,
      Glad you see them too!!!! I started noticing them in the Washington, DC metro to the point that it almost made me dizzy to walk around down there. I will have to look out for lions in chain link fences now 😉 Thanks for the comment.

  • Erica September 22, 2011, 1:07 am

    Sounds are so important to me as well. I wish I had a way to capture the smell of a place, like the rusty vintage smell of a boat or even capturing the warmth of the sun while sitting beneath a coconut tree.

    • phil September 22, 2011, 11:25 am

      ooOoo yes! Erica, you are an enterprising person. Make it happen!

  • Gene Bowker September 22, 2011, 2:51 pm

    I love the sounds.. I think that is why the video-blog is becoming so popular.

    Hanoi seems beautiful, not what I expected.


    • phil September 23, 2011, 2:40 pm

      Thanks Gene. Hanoi is a cool town, definitely worth visiting.

  • Angela September 23, 2011, 2:26 am

    This is so fascinating, in my articles I always describe all senses I can, but I’m just realizing I never think about describing sounds. I really enjoyed your creations!

    • phil September 23, 2011, 2:42 pm

      Thanks Angela, glad you liked them 🙂 As far as describing sounds, pick up a tape recorder. It may be my favorite piece of equipment I bring with me when I travel.

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