Cities and Memory: Utopia

Cities and Memory: Utopia takes one of English literature’s great works of imagination, Thomas More’s Utopia and creates something new from the collective imagination of artists around the world – an entirely new Utopia of sound.

Explore the imagined sound world of Utopia on this interactive map, and read how each artist interpreted their own vision of the country.

How the project works

Using a woodcut map from the second printed edition of Utopia from 1518, we divided it into 30 grid squares. Sound artists each took a small section of the imagined country of Utopia, and created a new soundscape imagining how that place (and the society living in it) might sound.

The map was divided into columns A to E vertically, and rows 1 to 6 horizontally, making a total of 30 grid squares.

Most squares have interpretations by two different artists, and the interactive map above allows you to explore the sounds of Utopia freely.

Utopia and sound

More’s Utopia explores the society, behaviour, law, customs and culture of the inhabitants of Utopia – a coinage that can be seen to mean both ‘good/ideal place’ and ‘nowhere’.

The Utopia project.

However, despite the space given over to the topography of the country and the appearance of its cities and people, there are only a scattered handful of references to sound.

The most notable reference to sound is simple: ““[The Utopians] entertain themselves with the delights let in at their eyes, their ears, and their nostrils as the pleasant relishes and seasoning of life, which Nature seems to have marked out peculiarly for man, since no other sort of animals contemplates the figure and beauty of the universe… nor do they apprehend the concords or discords of sound.”

What were those concords and discords of sound that so delighted or repulsed the Utopians?

Listen to all of the imagined sounds of Utopia in the playlist below. In each case, the alphanumeric code refers to the grid square each artist worked with.