The Carpenter Art Garden is a multi-purpose community garden, play area, and workshop for budding artists. Creative, mosaic-covered benches and sculptures dot a small yard next to a purple house in the Binghampton neighborhood. Kids from the Cornerstone Prep Lester school wander over there, often to be surprised with events that the C.A.G. staff has organized.
Last week, ReMix Memphis made their afternoon interesting with a demonstration of sounds from the streets of Memphis, capped off with a live synthesizer performance.
Luís Seixas shows the kids things that go blurp-bleep.
During the sonic journey, kids listened to the sounds of cicadas, trains, birds, ice cream trucks, chickens, and other Bluff City noisemakers. They thoughtfully filled out surveys about their reactions to those sounds, then gathered around as Alex Greene and Luís Seixas fired up the oscillators of analog and digital synths, samplers, and drum machines. Musical grooves mixed with rushing trains, church music, and other sonic slices of Memphis life. Even better, kids learned about Memphis 3.0, and learned a new way to think about their hometown: through sound.
One of the latest projects conducted by ReMix Memphis for Memphis 3.0 has been recording the raw noises and decibel levels of anchor sites in each district. The workshops conducted by the 3.0 team throughout the city helped planners identify the anchors of different neighborhoods. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development defines anchors as “long-standing and deeply rooted community organizations that often are the largest contributors to their communities’ continued economic stability and strength.” They can be retail centers, schools, hospitals, or other popular locations for public congregation.
While the noise data will be useful to planners, it also got us thinking, “what about silence?”
The ReMix Memphis presentations have thus far concentrated on the many noises that surround us. While some, like our recording of a quiet street with neighbors, are meant to convey peaceful environments, there’s one thing we never address: silence.
This podcast, an episode of BirdNote that was recently broadcast on WEVL FM, focuses on just that topic. The lack of human sounds is quickly becoming a thing of the past. How does it impact the way we live our lives?
The latest phase of ReMix Memphis is making for some intriguing sonic art. Giving full access to the library of field recordings from around the Bluff City, we’ve invited musicians and producers to contribute their own mixes, combining the environmental sounds of Memphis with musical tracks or field recordings of their own. As our letter of invitation to artists explains:
Artists have complete freedom in creating their tracks, within a few simple guidelines, the chief one being to create a track using the sounds of Memphis neighborhoods. Add your own field recordings, and please add music and/or lyrics of your own as well. We are open to political controversy and outspoken opinions, but not hateful or demeaning lyrics. The end result should be a soundtrack of Memphis life, appropriate to a gallery setting.
Create a track, between one to five minutes long, that expresses life in Memphis for you. All tracks will be played at a sound installation/gallery exhibit staged by ReMix Memphis in December, as the culmination of the Memphis 3.0 process.
Luís Seixas, a Memphis resident who runs the Sci Fi Industries label, was one of the first to jump onboard. “What a delightful surprise and an interesting project!” he wrote. “Please count me in. I’ll be working on this ASAP.” Only two days later, he contributed a fascinating drum and bass mix, overlaid with the sounds of our city. When sending his track, he commented, “It was a very fun and inspiring project due to the quality of the raw materials 🙂 Those field recordings are pure gold.” Have a listen to what he created:
Inspired by his enthusiasm, Alex Greene invited Seixas to join his experimental electronic improvisation project, the EGGG, in a live extemporaneous performance at local venue The Cove this past Cinco de Mayo. Several field recordings were used in their performance, with more added in the mixdown process. Have a listen to what they cooked up. Is this the sound of Memphis’ future? Or is it Memphis’ past?
We’re still looking for more musicians and producers to create tracks. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on how to get started. The deadline for completed mixes is September 15, 2018, so sign up soon!
Earlier this month, Alex Greene made a presentation about the sounds that surround our town at the Lake Grove Baptist Church. Photographer Cindy McMillion happened to be there and captured the event beautifully. Here’s a little recap of that evening, to give everyone a sense of what to expect when ReMix Memphis is in your neighborhood!
At ReMix Memphis presentations, Alex will set up with two modest speakers and an iPad. Using an app called Loopy HD, Alex goes through different groups of sounds, slowly adding and subtracting noises recorded right on the streets of Memphis. You might hear simple sounds, like feet walking through leaves, the roar of an overhead jet, or a leaf blower. You might hear more suggestive sounds, like music from an amphitheater, gun shots, or tornado sirens. They’re all geared to get people thinking about what surrounds them every day, and — most importantly — what they like or dislike hearing.
This event was an organizing meeting set up by Justin Merrick of St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral. They were making plans for neighborhood activities during the MLK50 commemorations. Because Memphis 3.0 is all about community involvement, Mr. Merrick was gracious enough to invite Alex to join in the fun.
As folks settled into their delicious potluck dinner plates, Alex began playing sounds. Participants had been given cards to rate each sound as positive, negative, or neutral. Some, like the rooster, were just plain funny. Alex talked about the sounds of life in a neighborhood: neighbors, music rehearsals, bumpin’ rides driving by, playgrounds, and ice cream trucks, which all affect the area’s livability. He talked about (and played) the sounds of getting around — our connectivity, via trains, planes, and automobiles. And finally, he talked about the sounds of nature, and the city’s place in natural forces — our sustainability as we coexist with plants, animals, and the forces of extreme weather.
All the while, listeners considered the sounds and jotted down their reactions.
Perhaps the most intriguing question on the survey was this: “The sound of _____is SO MEMPHIS”. ReMix Memphis events are nothing if not open-ended, and such freestyle replies allow participants to suggest what sounds are most evocative to them of life in Memphis. On this night, answers varied widely:
The sound of rain is SO MEMPHIS.
The sound of sirens is SO MEMPHIS.
The sound of Beale Street is SO MEMPHIS.
The sound of a bumpin’ ride is SO MEMPHIS.
And one participant even wrote at the bottom of their survey, “It would be nice to hear the trolleys again”.
It all made for an interesting discussion, punctuated periodically by the sounds of choir practice in the next room. The sound of a church organ is SO MEMPHIS!
Many thanks to Justin Merrick and the Lake Grove Baptist Church.
ReMix Memphis would like to visit your neighborhood as well! Contact Alex at email@example.com to schedule a time for him to present the sounds of the city to your group. It’s a unique and fun way to get folks involved in Memphis 3.0 and the plans being made for the next century of growth here in the Mid South. Book your time with ReMix Memphis now, before the summer’s over!
The ReMix Memphis project, which invites listeners to think about the sounds surrounding them, will be in full effect on April 12th at the Memphis 3.0 Workshop 3 for the University District. Come out to the Church of the Holy Communion at 4645 Walnut Grove Road; the meeting starts at 5:30, but if you come at 5:00, you’ll have chance to hear our full library of field recordings around the city.
Before you show up, think about the following question: “The sound of _______ is so Memphis!” How would you fill in the blank?
We’ll have feedback forms for you to express your opinions about noises good and bad in your neighborhood. It’s a way for you to imagine your future perfect Memphis! Then, once the workshop begins, you can add your vision of an ideal Memphis to the Memphis 3.0 maps.
As the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. approaches, it merits a time to look at how the city has and hasn’t changed since 1968, and also to look at where the city is headed in the next 50 years. How has Memphis lived up to the ideals of Dr. King in providing a livable city for all of its people?
Over the past five decades, Memphis has seen its fair share of change and growth. That said, a portion of that growth into newer and trendier areas has left behind and sometimes pushed out Memphians. The danger in this is that as trendy areas sprout up, often in traditionally minority neighborhoods, the new and costly developments price out old residents. Without an intentional strategy of how to ally redevelopment projects and new residents with old residents, Memphis is at risk of excluding some Memphians from being able to access the future of the city’s expansion, and, of course, any exclusion of peoples in this new city would certainly not honor the legacy of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
In the second half of the 20th century, the population of Memphis grew, but so did its spread. As the outer suburbs of Memphis, such as Germantown and Bartlett, saw their populations and vitality grow and improve, the inner areas of Memphis witnessed stagnation. During this time, city planning focused more on the growth of the suburbs and less on the core districts of the city. As a result, there was a lack of investment in many minority areas, including North and South Memphis.
Now, after nearly four decades without a comprehensive city plan, Memphis 3.0 is seeking to recraft what the city will look like heading into its third century. When the last such plan for Memphis development was written and implemented, the trend in the city was to move farther and farther east. Today, Memphis 3.0 aims to see a strengthened core as well as growth and empowerment occurring in the northern and southern areas of Memphis in addition to the eastern areas.
Along with the plethora of ideas coming from the nonprofit sector for how to improve the city, Memphis 3.0 has sought to directly gain the input of city residents from the fourteen districts of Memphis. Memphis 3.0 has enlisted three locally-based artists to facilitate responses from residents on what improvements they wish to see in their communities. While striking up conversations with city residents using their art, these three artists have been able to ask complex questions in simple ways so that city planners can develop the Memphis 3.0 plan to better serve the people of this city. Dividing the fourteen Memphis districts between the three of them, the small crew of artists has spent ten weeks in each district to which they were assigned gathering data on residents’ needs, wants, and likes about their communities. The district data-gathering projects are set to conclude this summer after having begun in late 2017.
Though not a conventional approach to gaining resident feedback, embedding artists into Memphis communities is a valuable tool used by Memphis 3.0 to gather data on how city residents are really feeling about their neighborhoods and what they want to see improved. These artists have been able to engage with residents in ways that city planners cannot using art as a medium to illicit the thoughts and opinions of many Memphians. The significance of the artists’ presence and their work is that many residents of neighborhoods that were ignored or overlooked by the last sizable city planning initiative now have the chance to have their voices heard by those who will write the next plan for the city. Perhaps for the first time in Memphis’ history, the city is making an effort to gather and incorporate the thoughts of Memphians who have long been told how their neighborhoods will be developed rather than asked.
One of these artists, Yancy Villa-Calvo, has engaged with Memphians through her project GEMS (Go Explore Memphis Soul). In this project she has created a map of Memphis gems and has used it to ask city residents to share which parts of their communities they would consider gems and then to place tiny gems on her illustrated map over the spot that they treasure. Through this project, Villa-Calvo has sought not only to gather data points on people’s feelings towards their communities but to capture the stories that Memphians have regarding their city and their neighborhoods. Her care for the stories of regular Memphians has become a valuable asset in designing the Memphis of the future for these residents and for countless others.
Memphis 3.0 has stated on their website, “No one is more important to this [city planning] process than Memphians themselves because the best experts about our neighborhoods are the people in them.” With this belief and basis for action of those who will plan and implement the first comprehensive city plan for Memphis in nearly 40 years, then our city has the potential to become a more representative and livable place for all of its people.
Come see and hear Alex Greene at the Pink Palace on Tuesday, March 20th, from 10 am – 2 pm on the mezzanine level. (Click here for more on the event). He’ll be playing the sounds that define life in Memphis, and asking participants about their thoughts on the sound environment. The Pink Palace is a perfect space for listening and meditating on the effects different sounds have on us. Stop by and give us your input!
Memphis 3.0 is an initiative to to plan for the city’s third century, which begins in 2019. As the Memphis 3.0 website puts it:
For the first time in four decades, a strategic plan will be developed to outline a new direction for Memphis – intended to create a City of great neighborhoods and to maximize the City’s ability to improve the quality of life for all residents. The City of Memphis is halfway through the two-year planning process of Memphis 3.0. The plan will include strategies for enhancing land use, transportation, environment, city systems, growth and prosperity, neighborhoods, and civic capacity. Through the public process, conversation and edits, we have developed a plan vision statement with specific goals, along with a chosen strategy to help the city grow and develop over time.
In pursuit of this vision, the city’s Office of Comprehensive Planning is collaborating with BLDG Memphis and the UrbanArt Commission (UAC) to reach out to communities and listen to what Memphis residents really want.
A recent article in the Memphis Flyer tells the intriguing tale of how Memphis 3.0 came about and where it’s headed. As UAC artist Alex Greene writes:
While municipal planning is nothing new, it has only evolved in fits and starts in Memphis. A comprehensive plan like Memphis 3.0 aims to coordinate various project-specific plans with a holistic vision of how to best grow the entire city. If our growth and wealth tend to concentrate around a “cone” expanding from downtown to the east along Poplar, how do we spread it out? How do we encourage businesses in underdeveloped neighborhoods? How do we improve transit to serve them better? How can we make all neighborhoods more livable and more sustainable?
Read more here to get the full story on Memphis 3.0. There are big changes afoot in the Bluff City!