Please press record: new project aims to capture sounds of migration and settlement

Stuart Fowkes recording Komsomolskaya station in the Russian capital Moscow
Stuart Fowkes recording Komsomolskaya station in the Russian capital Moscow Copyright Giulia Biasibetti
By Graham Keeley
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Migration is one of the most controversial policy issues European governments but what does it sound like? A new project is aiming to capture and collect the noise of this phenomenon.

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Migration is one of the most controversial political subjects but a project to collect the sounds of this phenomenon will try to re-shape the debate around this issue. 

Migration Sounds has called for people to send sounds which represent moving away from their country to start a new life in a foreign country. 

These sounds will then be given to musicians and composers to make a piece of work which  be used in the project. 

The idea is the brainchild of Cities and Memory and COMPAS, the Centre on Migration Policy and Society of the University of Oxford, in Britain

Stuart Fowkes, sound artist and creator of Cities and Memory, said migration is not just about people in small boats trying to cross the English Channel. 

Cities and Memory creator Stuart Fowkes recording sound at Azores waterfall
Cities and Memory creator Stuart Fowkes recording sound at Azores waterfallGiulia Biasibetti

"Migration is about the sounds of people living their normal lives and we want to bring some of that and try to re-shape the debate about migration," he told Euronews Culture. 

Imagine, a newcomer to the city hearing the noise of a pedestrian crossing; how does that feel?  Alternatively, if you're returning to your home country after a period away, what sounds stand out? These are just some of the questions that Fowkes is trying to answer. 

"There is one(sound) which really stands out. It is like a local church bell in a village in Italy. It was recorded by someone who lives in the UK. Every time you hear that sound you feel you are at home."

Surround sound

Fowkes spent a day in London recording key areas of diaspora, recording sounds like the sound of sewing machines in a Bangladeshi tailors.

"Migration is divisive and incredibly political but it does tend to be led by vocal opinions. People think it is just about people crossing the Channel in small boats. It is not like that. It is about people just living their lives. 

"One of the key ways we can bring that to life is through sounds. It really transports you into an experience, more so than video."

Fowkes said the call out for people to submit sounds ends, the recordings will be sent to 120 artists around the world. 

"The final collection will be the recordings themselves but also how these artists have responded to these recordings," he said. 

People can apply to take part in the project as artists as long as they work in sound. 

Last year, Cities and Memory was involved in an interactive online exhibition of sounds across the Antarctic and Arctic regions which was possible to access from the comfort of your living room. 

Singing ice, a narwhal making ‘sheep’ noises and a seal that sounds like it’s in space were all part of the tones captured in the project which offered the chance to journey to some of the most remote places on earth - through sound.

Polar Sounds, a venture between sound artists Cities and Memory, the Helmholtz Institute for Functional Marine Biodiversity and the Alfred Wegener Institute, used hydrophones located in the Arctic and Antarctic oceans to record the sounds. 

They aimed to highlight not just harmonies from each end of the earth but to emphasise the seriousness of the effect of the climate crisis on the regions and the wider world.

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The closing date for entries is March 31 and the finished sounds and works of art will appear on the www.citiesandmemory.com website in June.

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