Cities and Memory
Well – Being Cities
C40 Cities Conference, Buenos Aires, October 2022

A Daisy Through the Asphalt Sees the Sky

Well-Being Cities is a unique collaboration between Cities and Memory and C40, a global network of mayors of nearly 100 world-leading cities collaborating to deliver the urgent action needed right now to confront the climate crisis.

Artists reimagined a curated selection of field recordings from 36 countries around the world to develop brand new compositions on the theme of sustainability, equity and well-being in cities. The project launched at the C40 Summit in Buenos Aires in October 2022.

I am very honoured to have my piece ‘A Daisy Through the Asphalt Sees the Sky’ included, which is a reimagining of –

Sound #5 – CHILE – Santiago-Performing Street drum troupe Universidad de Chile
The Chinchineros are traditional street performers in Chile, with a large bass drum strapped to their back and a noose around their foot to control a cymbal – they perform in small groups, conducting synchronised dances along with their drum patterns. Here we listen to a group of four chinchineros on the streets of Santiago, Chile, where they represent a cultural tradition played out on the streets of the city.

When I began thinking about creating an audio work for the C40 Cities conference, I firstly referred to the question posed by Cities and Memory –  

‘What does well being in the context of a city mean for you?’ 

My answer –

Places to escape to. A sanctuary from the noise. A sea of calm amongst others. A tiny plant growing through the asphalt. A tree living on top of a derelict building. To see the sky.

This was my starting point and the piece itself developed with several layers of meaning.

Most of my audio work is about telling a story behind the sound pieces that I create. Many are based on memories, thoughts, reactions and experiences and this is no different. 

There is a walk that I take most Friday’s that starts in the city of Newcastle-upon -Tyne, in the North East of England. It follows the river and in a fairly short distance, winds along the riverbank through a tree lined path. In the spring it is filled with the sounds of the spring birds, in Summer it’s the nesting Kittiwake colonies, in the autumn, it bursts with the colours of rust, gold and orange. As I walk, I can physically feel like I unwind and although surrounded by the urban sprawl, it feels like I am in a more rural setting than I am. The sounds of the city fade to be overtaken by rusting leaves, flowing water and birdsong.

Secondly, there is the analogy of the Daisy. Based on a photograph I took; it never ceases to amaze me how nature finds a foothold in some of the most unlikely places. Derelict areas are soon populated with plants, ferns grow out of crevices in walls and tiny daisies burst through the cracks in the asphalt.

Finally, I thought about the things that I dislike about cities, the noise, the sirens, the traffic, lights, concrete, crowds, pollution that affects my asthma. The fact that I haven’t seen a dark sky for over 20 years and can’t remember when I last saw Orion.

A Daisy Through the Asphalt is about all of these things .  

It begins with the noise of the city, – cars, machinery, construction sites and sirens, representing the chaos and noise of some large cities. The drums of The Chinchineros were very loud and there was also a lot of movement in the field recording. I wanted to keep the integrity of the drum sounds to represent the increasing wall of noise of the city but also to portray the bustle of crowds. I used three short sections, overlaid them and double tracked to create greater impact and to depict the increasing levels of noise pollution. By use of midi, I used the whole drum patterns of the The Chinchineros, which I overlaid sounds to create the many drones, arps and rippling sound patterns of the river, to in effect, add to the cacophony of sound, to make it overwhelming, mimicking sirens, surges in levels, relentless and frantic.

As we continue our imaginary walk, the noise begins to fade and transition into a sonic idea of seeing a tiny daisy growing through the pavement, thriving and turning its face skywards. Synth bird sounds created from the midi patterns of real birdsong, match with the daisy bell like sound to combine with more ethereal keyboard improvisation. As the day begins to draw to a close, the electronic bird songs fade to become twinkling stars.  I tried to show the connection between the heavens and the earth and how small we are in the wider cosmos. Finally, there is a quieter, more contemplative cosmic atmosphere, a sense of expanse – of being able to breathe. To be able to see the stars. 

I think what I am trying to say is that what I feel is important to the health and well-being of those living in large cities, are places of calm, sanctuaries of quiet, of green and to be able to see the sky.

We are a tiny rock in a huge collection of galaxies. We have to protect it, it’s the only tiny rock we have and it’s worth saving.

There is so much to listen to and explore about this wonderful project and you can do so here on the Cities and Memory site

Artwork based on a photograph by O Johnson