Inside a small channel on a Discord group chat, people living under the new normal lined up to request what song they wanted mixed into a new environment. One person wanted a version of “99 Red Balloons” edited like you’re “listening to it while in a bunker because nuclear war is imminent.” Another recommended “‘Midnight, the Stars And You’ but you’re in the lobby of the Overlook Hotel (from The Shining).” Most requests were sad pairings of songs and environments, “Everybody Wants to Rule the World by Tears for Fears but your sitting on the beach at night crying” was not an unusual request. In Bogotá, Colombia, a young woman named Luisa D'Antonio Diez read the suggestions and began to mix the most popular requests. It has netted her half a million subscriptions on YouTube, a milestone that prompted one person to suggest “We Are the Champions” as the next song to edit. “Champion” would be a worthy title for music editors like Diez who are helping people across the world connect with environments after months of partial quarantine and travel restrictions solely through the juxtaposition of sounds.
Although most modern songs sound like studio recordings, with the final releases’ noise cleaned and sanitized to the point of sterilization, there is comfort in hearing the trickles of environments in songs. Writing for Pitchfork, Mike Powell once described the background whirr of gears in early The Mountain Goats albums as becoming “as comforting to me as the hiss of the ocean in a seaside town.” Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds is equally famous for the small, lovely background noises underlying the music. Mike Wheeler, Scott Rhoades, and Terry Whitt have compiled two lists of hundreds of these noises and oddities hidden in the album, from papers shuffling to people scolding each other for talking during the recording (“Cool the talking!” and “Keep your voice down” can be heard on the Pet Sounds CD). These background noises are accidental, they remind listeners that music isn’t made in a vacuum—it’s a living, breathing activity.
Did you recently hear papers shuffle in another room in your work-from-home environment? Have you heard through the walls someone talking in the last few months? Many of us haven’t, isolated in our apartments and home offices since March, our auditory landscape sterilized to the point of nothingness. Have you visited a hotel, have you heard the lap of waves against sand? Background noise, even when played on speakers or headphones, pulls us out of that vacuum, and no genre of music celebrates background noise more than from-another-room edits. From-another-room is a genre defined by environmental noise—they go one step further than accidental noises, taking environmental noise to the forefront of music, layering pop hits into new and varied environments, like a beachside where you can hear the wash of waves or an empty cathedral where the ceilings bring enormous echo to the chorus.
From-another-room edits first took off in the summer of 2017 with the explosion of two of the most famous tracks in the genre: Cecil Robert’s “mallsoft” version of Toto’s “Africa” playing in an empty shopping centre and a version of Childish Gambino’s “Redbone” that sounds like you’re listening from the bathroom at a party. Both classic edits are deeply nostalgic and warming pieces of music, but only one has survived: the famous “Redbone” edit has been removed from the Internet for copyright violations. Because from-another-room editors are using music without permission, they are constantly at risk of the edits being removed via DMCA takedowns or even account deletion. Edits cannot be posted on large streaming platforms like Spotify, so most edits are housed on small Tumblr accounts or YouTube channels. Using others’ music also means that from-another-room edit YouTube channels cannot be monetized. Due to these factors, from-another-room edits from even a few years ago can be difficult if not impossible to locate, yet editors risk all of this for the sheer pleasure of listening to shopping centre, rain noise, bathroom at a party, or old radio edits. Since the genre’s initial 2017 blow-up, it has been fading into the recesses of the Internet. Until the pandemic reminded people of the power of environmental noise, that is.
The first sign of the pandemic uptick in environmental-noise love came when The New York Public Library released “Missing Sounds of New York” this May, an album dedicated to crowd and city noises that New Yorkers hadn’t heard in two months—the most popular tracks include an almost-quiet library and a busy subway stop. The New York Times reported that the album was streamed 200,000 times on Spotify less than a week after its release. The auditory nostalgia was palpable, and backed by science—a New York University project called SONYC found that New York City’s background noise levels did drop significantly, but this phenomena wasn’t limited to cities, rural life also quieted. As environmental noise streaming increased, some of the biggest players of the from-another-room genre woke up to how much people needed them during quarantine. In the past few months, Luisa D'Antonio Diez has released terrifying new edits, Allyson M restarted her once incredibly popular channel after copyright-flagged edits got her banned, and Cecil Roberts has started posting edits for the first time in a year.
Twenty-three-year-old Cecil Roberts says that the pandemic definitely played a role in his return. Although requests for from-another-room edits never ceased, he stopped producing edits in the last few years as he focused on his own music, became disinterested in the same kinds of edits, and got busy in a small business he was working at. “Once the pandemic hit, we were forced to shut down for good,” he said. “So free time became more abundant for a couple months before I was able to start working again [on edits].” Now, Roberts has been getting more COVID requests. “There are a lot of different camps people fall under in terms of how they translate the feeling of the altered sound and space. A different sort of longing and bleak sweetness exists now as you are helplessly reminded of our current reality.” His newer mallsoft edits replicated the sounds of dead, empty malls, and though they do remind listeners of public spaces we used to congregate in, the tracks are also devoid of footsteps and chatter, as so many malls currently are. “Life imitates art,” one commentor wrote.
In Mexico, from-another-room editor Aleksander Cole sometimes finds louder mall edits to play while he eats pizza alone in his room. He wants to feel like he’s in a food court, and the ambience boosts his spirits. In late 2018, Cole found Roberts’ mallsoft “Africa” on YouTube and listened—this was the first from-another-room edit he heard, and it was quite influential. Slowly, Cole began to produce his own from-another-room edits in VEGAS Pro. The editing process can be intense. “Sometimes I add special sound effects, ethereal sounds,” Cole said. “Or rearrange or extend the song using instrumentals, editing vocals, changing the speed of the music or its pitch, putting filters or editing the quality, also interpolating the sound between the left and right stereo channels to give an atmospheric feel and a sensation of space.” During quarantine, he’s been producing more edits that incorporate party ambience. As a 23-year-old college student, he misses dances, concerts, parties. These edits are a distillation of his nostalgia and a way to keep these desires alive. Every editor interviewed for this piece was Gen Z, most nostalgic for a college life before the pandemic.
Even if just for a few minutes, from-another-room edits can transport listeners to whole other lives, not just in the brilliant editing but the song title, photo, description, and community build around it. “‘Lazy Eye’ but your parents have people over and you hide in your room with the window open” speaks to all of the nights we’ve had as adolescents, afraid to interact with guests downstairs, instead revelling in the late-September night air. “Hozier's ‘NFWMB,’ but by a traveling bard weaving you a tale in exchange for shelter from the storm” is about adventures we have yet to live, and the crackle of background firewood only further raises the warmth of Hozier’s ballad. “‘Astronomia’ but you are inside the coffin” by Luisa D'Antonio Diez is a horror story in itself, imagining the listener as someone trapped inside a coffin as pallbearers dance with the coffin during a funeral, a play off a popular 2020 meme. Diez describes posting edits as giving listeners “the choice to forget the uncertain reality for a couple of minutes.”
Listeners can feel frustrated, adventurous, terrified, and amused when they dive into these tracks, but the primary emotion tends to be comfort. “Nostalgic videos have been well received the most lately,” Diez said. “I think it's because the comfortable aura they can give, just like a hug, and, for people who go through this alone, it could really help.” Roberts adds that “Other people with various mental conditions have told me about using it as sound therapy, and I can totally see that.”
However, you use from-another-room edits, there are plenty of options out there, with new options constantly being uploaded and old options being flagged and deleted. Diez’s YouTube channel and Discord group chat are great places to start, though her recent edits have veered towards apocalypse and terror, such as in tracks “‘Exit Music (For a Film) by Radiohead but everyone is in silence waiting for the world to end” or “‘What a Wonderful World’ but you're tired of injustice and police abuse,” a track designed to draw attention to abuses by the police in Colombia via a viral from-another-room edits. If the countless party bathroom and coffee shop edits you find aren’t enough, you can create your own, not just through VEGAS Pro but FL Studio, Audacity, or even just playing two soundtracks at the same time and seeing them mesh. myNoise.net offers dozens of environmental noise generators which can be cloned as minified players, allowing you to start both “Calm Office,” one of the most popular environmental noises on the website since quarantine, alongside instrumental generators like “Mr. Rhodes” or “Mournful Chimes.” Until it’s safe to come into the office, visit the beach, have guests over, or slip away from a party into the bathroom, these edits can keep all of us company.
Cover Credit: Daniel von Appen / Unsplash
Writer | Pearse Anderson
Pearse Anderson is a Gen Z journalist with previous publications in The Guardian, Rolling Stone, Alma, and elsewhere. He writes about music, pies, sex, climate, books, and Internet culture.