Music

Check out this library of obsolete sounds, including plenty of clips of old tech

Obsolete Sounds is a new project that its creator Cities and Memory claims is “the world’s biggest collection of obsolete and disappearing sounds.” It consists of over 150 sounds that are increasingly rare, ranging from sounds used in retro video games, recordings of old-fashioned transport, and plenty of mechanical sounds from outdated hardware.

Of course, the first sound clip I searched for was the sound of an old 56K modem connecting to the internet, which is thankfully present and accounted for. “In the 90’s, computers would scream every time you went online. That was foreshadowing,” was how one tweet recently described the piercing screech.

“Obsolete Sounds is designed… to highlight those sounds that are worth preserving”

Other sounds you might want to make a beeline to check out include the classic Nokia ringtone from the 5120 phone, the whirring staccato of an old Seagate hard disk drive spinning up, and an old analogue radio being tuned. If you’re a fan of mechanical keyboards then I’d suggest you keep away from the recording of an Apple iBook Duo 230, whose recording features the most horribly spongy keypresses I’ve ever heard. Maybe check out one of the seven typewriter recordings instead.

As well as the sounds themselves, Cities and Memory has also published remixes of each of them from a collection of over 150 musicians and sound artists. They’re designed to reflect on “the memories and feelings those sounds evoke.” 

“Obsolete Sounds is designed to draw attention to the world’s disappearing soundscapes, to highlight those sounds that are worth preserving because they form part of our collective cultural heritage — and to help us think about how to save those sounds before it’s too late,” said Stuart Fowkes, founder of Cities and Memory. In total, the organization has collected over 5,000 sounds from over 1,000 artists around the world, including as part of a previous project that attempted to record sounds of Covid-19 lockdowns.

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You can give them a listen for yourself right here.

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