Apart from tourists, few people still pay much attention to the iconic red telephone boxes in London. Most don’t work anymore, so when Stuart Fowkes finds one that still works, he can’t resist recording its ringtone.
This particular sound will enrich his collection of missing sounds, which he intends to preserve as part of a project he has called “obsolete sounds”.
Stuart Fowkes grabs his little microphone and jumps into action. “I’ve always been curious about sounds,” he explains.
“New sounds are emerging faster than ever before in history, but they’re also changing and disappearing faster than before,” he says.
Over the past five years, he has collected and remixed on his site “Cities and Memory” more than 5,000 sounds from 100 countries. All are archived by the British Library.
For his new project, he wants to collect the sounds that are “almost forgotten”, those that, according to him, have “the greatest emotional resonance”.
“What struck me was how people were moved by some of the footage,” he explains.
“You have people who hear the sound of a Super 8 camera and they remember being in their living room in 1978 with their dad showing home movies for the first time,” he adds.
The “obsolete sounds” project collects more than 150 recordings collected around the world and includes mixes of these sounds by musicians and artists.
Presented as the largest collection of its kind, it includes the sounds of Walkman cassette players or old video game consoles, but also the sounds of steam trains or old racing cars.
Stuart Fowkes has also recorded the sounds of rapidly changing environments, such as crevasses and melting glaciers.
“Before the Industrial Revolution, our soundscape – towers, horses’ hooves, manual industry – didn’t change much for hundreds of years,” says Fowkes.
“Today, everything changes at a ridiculous pace. Objects are only a few years old, like mobile phone ringtones, when they are already out of fashion.”
– The sounds of the city –
As he rushes into the London Underground, the sound collector goes back to work.
For him, the screech of a train arriving at the station or the sound of doors opening and closing are absolutely nothing boring.
“I’ve always been someone who listens to the world. As soon as I had a recorder in my hands, I started listening to the world a little differently and hearing things that people wouldn’t necessarily notice or listen to.” he added.
Stuart Fowkes, digital consultant, launched “Cities and Memory” in 2015 and attracted around 1,000 collaborators worldwide.
“Every morning I wake up and I have emails with sounds from completely unexpected places, like a beach in Bali or even a subway in Pyongyang,” he says.
And these field recordings are fashionable, adds the enthusiast. Artists like Björk use them in their music.
“Before it was very niche, a bit like the behavior of + trainspotters + (railway enthusiasts, ed. note), but now everyone can record properly on their phone and it’s becoming more and more + mainstream + “, says Mr. Fowkes.
The collector is happy with the enthusiasm his project has generated, but would like to receive even more sounds, especially from cities in Africa.
Anyone can participate, he points out, by “just taking the phone out of the window” before sharing the recording on his page.
For his part, he continues to record the sounds of everyday life, a passion that follows him everywhere.
“As soon as we go on holiday I will say (to my wife): + did you hear this crosswalk? I have to record it +”.