Legacy tech sounds preserved as part of major audio project

Play a typewriter sound to a child and they will have little idea what they are listening to. Play it to an older adult and they may smile at some of the memories it instantly evokes. It’s similar to the sound of an old tape recorder, rotary phone, or Super 8 camera.

Eager to preserve these and other sounds for future generations, Stuart Fowkes is building the Cities and Memory archive with legacy tech sounds that form part of a growing database of recordings.

Fowkes told BBC Radio this week: “We are now at a stage where the lifespan of sounds that exist and then disappear are shorter than ever before.” “When you think about the ringtone, it was four or five years ago, now it seems really archaic.”

The British sound artist and field recorder describes how folks wandering around in the early days of the internet in the 1990s would have a special reaction when they heard a recording of a strange squeaking sound, also known as a dial-up modem.

“There are certain sounds that evoke a particular memory and that are very personal, and I think it’s important to be able to gather the sounds together and present them back because I think everyone who listens to the collection will have their own particular reaction to it. Fowkes told the BBC.

“They might have a particularly resonant video game sound or the sound of a camera shutter, perhaps taking them back to their childhood or a particular experience they had,” he added.

If you have time, be sure to browse the project’s audio archive and audio projects that don’t just focus on outdated or lost technology. It also includes recordings based on cultures around the world, such as a geisha performance in Japan or traditional Khmer music in Cambodia.

Sounds from nature are also included and some touch on topics such as recording a glacier breaking, climate change, for example.

Fowkes also highlights how the ongoing project has become a source of inspiration for artists, and that some creators are using source recordings to compose musical compositions. You can check out some of the project’s webpage for vintage audio, which includes the sounds of typewriters, phones, cameras, slide projectors and VCRs, among other equipment.

You can listen to Fowkes’ interview on the BBC’s website. The segment starts at the 40th minute.

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