Jos Luis Crespo Fajardo. Coordinador
Universidad de Cuenca

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Limits and drifts ; echoing limits, property signs and ways to occupy common heritage. Creative phase of I+D Sonar: CC Project

Atilio Doreste Alonso
Professor and researcher at Institute of Political and Social Science, La Laguna University. Spain.
José Luis Crespo Fajardo
Professor and researcher, Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism at Cuenca University, Ecuador.

1. TAC Research Group: Creative Actions Workshop

TAC: Creative Actions Workshop (Taller de Acciones Creativas) is a research group promoted by the University of La Laguna, registered at the Agency for research and innovation in the Canary Islands (Spain).

TAC's objectives are exploring the poetry of nature, and encourage learning and creativity through experience. Its main focus is researching the landscape of the Canary Islands, which is approached from interdisciplinary perspectives such as literature, philosophy, architecture, and the Visual Arts.

The head of TAC is Atilio Doreste. This group consists of seven researchers from various universities, as well as a series of collaborators and PhD students. Through Group TAC, academic initiatives such as exhibitions, courses, seminars, conferences , and publications are being developed.

2. The SONAR:CC Research Project

The SONAR: CC Project is funded by the Research, Innovation and Information Society Canary Office. This research project explores, identifies, selects, registers, geolocates, interprets and archives diverse elements of the sonic landscape that makes up the intangible cultural heritage of the Canary Islands.

The aim is the safekeeping and diffusion, through registration and storage, of at least 300 sounds representative of the natural and cultural environment of the Islands, and identifying their components so that the sound identity of the archipelago can be preserved. The project seeks to contribute to the preservation of intangible heritage and its diffusion through digital recording, in high-definition multichannel formats, for a subsequent edition, organization, analysis, and filling.

3. Background: The “soundscape” and its inclusion in the eco-social studies

It would be interesting to note some data about the origin of sound environments studies. Although these facts are probably well known, they have functioned as the premises for our group’s activities, since we are the first explorers of this kind of art in the Canary Islands.

Sound Environment Studies were initiated by R. Murray Schafer, who was the first to use the word “soundscape” in 1974 as part of an investigation at Simon Fraser University in Canada. The project was called the World  Soundscape Project, and studied the acoustics of everyday life and the environment with an interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary view of the sound.

Hildegard Westerkamp was another predecessor of soundscape studies, and introduced the concept of soundwalking, which refers to the “sound walk” through a natural or urban environment. Through the listening experience, Westerkamp provided data which may not extracted from other forms of study or measurement.

In the Eighties,Jens Blauert developed studies of localization and spatial listening to sound under the name of “psychoacoustics,” and defined “sound events.” Pascal Amphoux, for his own part, made important contributions in ways of listening to the sound environment, developing a study of European public spaces, and translating to sound studies the links between reality and representation, a question long studied in visual landscape.

Since the Nineties, sound was consolidated as a key parameter for the consideration and evaluation of the ecological quality of different natural environments and their level of harmonization and territorial coexistence. Also, sound began to be considered increasingly as relative and historical space, a place inhabited and loaded with meaning (Marc Augé, 1995). It is part of a collective memory that is regenerating and mutating over time. This phenomenon is therefore closely linked to questions of identity, and is open to the consideration of multiple disciplines that converge in this sense: anthropology, architecture, urbanism, ecology, history, psychology, artistic creation, etc.

Our project, taking these foundations into account, aims to collect and disseminate selections of the cultural heritage of the Canary Islands contained in acoustic format.

Given the above mentioned experiences, and having framed the field of action of our idea, we can say that a similar project in the collection and recording of sound currently does not exist in the archipelago. We understand that the recording of the soundcape of the Canary Islands is a pioneering initiative, which will implement the guidelines of UNESCO in terms of safeguarding, documenting and diffusing sound heritage.

4. Projects and current initiatives: Registering the intangible

Here we will explain how these sound pieces have emerged as results of the project “SONAR: CC: soundscape, identification and digital recording of the intangible heritage cultural of the Canary Islands.”

4.1 Project 1: Limits and Derivatives

The phonographic acousmatic experience in the Canary Islands can be frustrating if we expect to encounter perfect, clean situations; the way in which common spaces are experienced becomes more complex because of the structuring of property. Sounds are difficult to isolate on these islands where plots of land come one after another, constantly leaving warning and power-over-boundaries signals behind. Traditional footpaths are the ancient footprints of communication in between towns. The first settlers traced these paths while shepherding over the centuries in the strictest sense of the conception of the Spanish poet Antonio Machado, who wrote, “the path is made by walking.” Most traditional paths were destroyed by the ravenous practice of occupation and construction and consigned to oblivion by generations of town councils and the laying of street asphalt. There are some traces left, especially in the least accessible lands, including those that became “Royal Roads.” Those roads had to be of a certain width and zigzag in order to accommodate the hardest places to access.

Nowadays, landowners gradually occupy these paths, setting preventative boundaries with fences and other warning signs. Sound drift is no longer easy due to pervasive noise pollution (traffic noise, airplanes, dogs barking, waylaying tenant farmers, etc.) and the lack of continuous paths. Traditional paving remains a thing of the past, with its characteristic “wearing out” and flavour of stories that transcend time. There is seemingly no way by which patrimony may be claimed for these paths, either legally or by a few socially aware inhabitants. One of the paths is called “The King’s Path.” Legend designates it as the access point to a cave that used to be one of the late residences of the last Mencey (King of the aboriginal tribes of Tenerife, named Guanches), before the final invasion by the Kingdom of Castile. Today, a dog watches the cave as part of an abandoned farmyard full of debris. Here, as in all derives, HI-FI sounds from nature mix with those from unexpected incidents.

There are genuine traditional paths where the influence of human activity, very often unconscious and invading, is superimposed. At other times, the register is the spontaneous expression of memory expressed through landscape. Water springs formed from the same sources. Other traces remain, and are changing or in danger of extinction: a dead rabbit full of greenbottle flies; a farm watchman who discusses his passiveness towards hunters who break his fences; the tenant farmer’s wife’s fatal accident with a bull from his own herd thirty years ago, just one day before a hydro-helicopter was extinguishing a small fire on the same mountain. Finally, each path is an exercise of acceptance of reality within chaos and breaks from sound landscapes, complex in the interest of conscious listening and composition.

4.2 Project 2: Fortunae

Fortunae is a piece of several sound records created within the framework of the SONAR: CC project. It is the result of a sound journey with uncertain destinations in the Canary Islands, and is based on the idea of following the medieval concept of Rota Fortunae (the wheel of fortune) as a literary notion of the spirit of nature and the chance of destiny. Therefore, rather than a collection of sounds, one should consider this work a file of circumstances.
The acoustic content consists of a linear composition 40 minutes in duration. Different locations can be detected in the recording: the sound of the sea, distant conversations in the tram or cafes, a resonating organ in a church between fragments of sermon and the tolling of bells; heated dialogues among foreigners, the nervousness of the audience in a stadium, a market, the airport, a stall, the buzz of a swarm of flies...

Fortunae is a work of great documentary value in relation to recording the sound landscape of the Canary Islands. It is, as other works carried out in the framework of the SONAR: CC project, an effort to record the intangible and assign the value of intangible heritage to sounds. Indeed, TAC has been working in this vein long enough to establish a complex reflection on the issue; investigating the soundscape through long walks, or “soundwalking,” in natural, rural, or urban environments. This is almost a performative experience, in which taking photos is an activity combined with high definition digital audio recording.

Sound records have great potential educational and anthropological value, and may even stimulate new actions in the tourism sector. However, we would like to make a plea in defense of sound as a heritage resource, based on the general impression that sound records are most relevant to poetry.

The shrillness of the cranes on the docks, the ringing of bells or the blowing of the wind against the canvas of greenhouses, are factors which we find reflected with the utmost subtlety in scenes described by minstrels, spokesmen and poets throughout history. Literature and oral storytelling is always concerned with these details which convey the character of a particular place. For the same purpose, it now seems reasonable (now that it is possible) to capture real sounds with recording devices. As Veit Earlmann clearly said, throughout history oral communication –the orality- has been the central point of interest in any analysis of data, so we have ended up in a sort of anthropological deafness.

Sound capture, as already mentioned, might not matter for anything except poetry. And poetry and creativity is certainly what Fortunae deals with: sound as a formal resource for the development of artistic creation.

4.3 Project 3: Murmur

This project was carried out in locations on the Monte de las Mercedes, in Tenerife, a strategic location where the Alisios winds from the Atlantic Ocean reach the mountain. The vegetation of the Anaga Natural Park is thousands of years old, some species dating back to the age of the dinosaurs. The sound of the wind is overwhelming and loaded with feelings of cold and loneliness. Occasionally you hear the singing of birds, or the bursting of fireworks at a party in a nearby village.

Another segment of the recording was shot in Meriga Dam, in La Gomera Island. Laurel forests of Jurassic vegetation are also preserved in Garajonay National Park. The recording here is clean. In these places human society is not prevalent, and occasional walkers seem aware of entering the sacred kingdom of nature. Our research relates to solitary places, and is recorded in a casual, arbitrary manner. So, when some hikers suddenly begin talking through the forest, it is unpleasant. It is disruptive and takes us out of the soundscape in the same way that a microphone appearing above the frame in a bad movie does.

4.4 Project 4: Interstices. Noise: Image vs. Sound

This fourth project is an attempt to confront the visual and the acoustic. In photography and sound art, there is a need to form a base or background that works as a medium. The dynamic range in photography with the acoustic wave registry in sound recording can be related to one another. It is a kind of search for a meeting point, a synesthesia.

Phonographic work is developed independently of the photo, but their interaction is inevitable. In a soundwalk, recorder and camera go hand in hand in the artistic drift. You have to differentiate the snapshot that is taken to make a visual record of the scene and that will be incorporated into the field-work file, from the photograph of purely artistic inspiration. The latter is full of affection for analog devices, the world of the old and forgotten cameras.

The results of this project can be seen in the book Revelos del Paisaje (Revelations of the landscape). This book expresses the poetic relationship between photography, lomography, sound capture, the landscape, and the walker.

4.5 Project 5: Wide iris Recordings; Broad spectrum signals and free improvisation.

This project is focused on the collection and distribution of a series of sound pieces through improvisation on the rural roads of the Canary Islands. The aim is to convert the soundwalk itself into a creative action. Along the route, participants practice deep listening and amplification of surrounding sounds through various devices. In this way, we try to emphasize the importance of sound and recognize the acoustic nature of natural spaces, in order to demonstrate the cultural and heritage value of these places.

The landscape can be experienced through the ear. The human being, whose sense of sight is predominant, has limited his other sensory abilities. For this reason, it makes sense to record the sounds of nature and experience listening, even in an artistic way, almost as improvised actions and happenings.

Rural paths are perfect places to be explored with this attitude. Deep listening captures sounds which, under normal conditions, would be inaudible. It is interesting to think that those sounds exist as waves through the natural space, but are not perceived at a conscious level.

Nota bene:
Special thanks go to our helpful friend Katherine Spears


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