Eye Candy (41)

By: Peggy Nelson
November 24, 2020

Eye Candy this week morphs into Ear Candy with a deep dive — the deepest dive — into the imagined sounds of Hell. The specific Hell, that is, of Dante’s Inferno, completed in 1320, making 2020 the 700th anniversary of its arrival into the world.

Because of course it is. Happy birthday, Hell.

Inferno is the latest global sound project of Stuart Fowkes, field recordist, electronic musician, and creator of Cities and Memory, an interactive soundmap platform that not only maps and hosts field recordings from all over the world, but invites composers, sound artists and any interested media experimentalists to remix and reuse them, creating a digital dialogue between place and imagination, in sound. In addition to Inferno, other recent sound projects have included #StayHomeSounds, featuring field recordings from the pandemic, Protest and Politics, a mapping of the sounds of global protest, Space is the Place, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the moon landings, and many others besides.

But Inferno is especially fitting. In a time where all narratives, big and small, seem up for grabs, it makes sense to revisit Dante’s epic tale to see what we might learn about journeys in general, and the stories we tell about them. This was a task equally urgent in 1320.

“One of the most striking features about the Inferno is the frequent references to sound and noise, and we really wanted to bring this to life, using the sound design, sampling and composition techniques of 2020 to celebrate 700 years of a work of art that has changed the face of literature.” — Stuart Fowkes

After issuing a global call to arms, Fowkes, as our digital Virgil, assigned two explorers to each circle (as well as significant cliff-faces, rivers, and gateways of the descent), for a many-layered, multi-perspectival view, from more than 80 artists all over the world, on just what the Hell is going on. And unlike Dante, we need not navigate these in order; we can jump around. All sounds easily accessible via the beautiful sound map on the site.

“Inspiration for the pieces comes from artists engaging deeply with the text of Inferno, and using a range of fascinating techniques including:

— Field recordings from the USA, England, Italy, Scotland and even the Baltic Sea
— Home-made recordings of gurgling, choking, stomach noises, shrieking and screaming
— Treated recordings of refrigerators, pneumatic drills, coins, wire fences, fire, knife-sharpening, birds, insects and dry ice
— Samples from movies, song, political speeches and crowd-sourced readings of Dante from around the world.”

For a taste, here are two very different takes on Ptolomea (full disclosure, one of these tracks is by Eye Candy itself). Ptolomea is roughly categorized as the final destination of “traitors to guests”, which oddly enough for modern sensibilities is all the way down in the Ninth Circle, very close to Satan himself. Until you remember that in addition to being a masterpiece of world literature and a definitive launch into the vernacular away from Latin, as well as an epic poem inaugurating a brand new, innovative, rhyme scheme, and a collection of metaphor and imagery the end of which we still have not seen, the Inferno was also Dante’s way of taking some petty revenge on all his personal enemies.

by RPLKTR, click on the “i” for artist’s description


by Peggy Nelson, click on the “i” for artist’s description


In addition to the standalone compositions, Fowkes has also edited together a brilliant new soundtrack for the 1911 Italian silent film L’Inferno, using submissions from this project.

Dante’s Inferno — soundtrack by Cities and Memory

Your Virgil awaits in cyberspace; Eye Candy advises that you set off immediately.

First though, make sure you wash your hands for a good 20 seconds while singing “Happy Birthday” to Hell, twice.


Inferno: a sound project from Cities and Memory
Individual Inferno compositions on audioboom
Cities and Memory main website; Twitter
L’Inferno, 1911 Italian silent film, with new soundtrack composed from edited selections from Inferno, 2020: watch and listen on YouTube
Stuart Fowkes, founder, Cities and Memory; Twitter