Creative Writing

Vladimir Radinovic - Sound Portrait of a City

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Text published in Camenzind Belgrade issue no.5, October 2014.
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  Sound portrait of a city ―Not to find one’s way in a city may well be uninteresting and banal. It requires ignorance  —   nothing more. But to lose oneself in a city  —   as one loses oneself in a  forest  —   that calls for quite a different schooling. Then, signboards and street names,  passers-by, roofs, kiosks, or bars must speak to the wanderer like a cracking twig under his feet in the forest, like the startling call of a bittern in distance, like the  sudden stillness of a clearing with the lily standing erect at its centre. Paris taught me this art of straying; ‖    –   Walter Benjamin In 2001, Budapest did to me what Paris did to Benjamin. It taught me to explore the city through the act of  flaneurism , by simply letting go and wandering through its streets, disobeying the preset route followed by every student excursion that came that year from Serbia. At that time, and the situation hasn’t  changed much since, my main interest were record stores and obtaining vinyl LPs was a priority. Naturally, the route I followed through the city didn’t involve tour guides and historical sites but rather neighbourhood locals and stores hidden within small passages. Upon my next trip to yet another European capital, the one that taught Benjamin the art of straying, I haven’t  made much alterations to my Budapest tested way of discovering a city. Only this time, I had a map with the drawn location of one of the record stores which served as my starting point. Once I reached the store, I realized that its offer consisted of mostly house  music which I wasn’t interested  in. I asked the shop owner if he could map all the record stores he knew in Paris for me. That is how I ended up with a map of record stores of Paris that guided me through the city. I fell so much in love with this unusual way of city adventurism that I have repeated this tour in almost every city I visited since. After I had completed my MA studies and returned to Belgrade, indoctrinated by the ideas of Benjamin and Debord, the city and sound became my main fields of interest and I have started to work on the Sound Map of Belgrade. The project has been active for three years now and we managed to map two of the oldest localities in Belgrade  –    Savamala  and  Dor  ć ol  . The idea is to encompass the entire old town area and, eventually, the whole city. Straying away from the classical approach to sound mapping, conducted by many of the  phonographers around the world, we decided to map local stories and shift the focus from the documentary field recordings to a more anthropological approach. The idea is rooted in the recent cultural trend of preserving and digitizing non material heritage by documenting the local oral history and sound portrait of the city. Our focus is not a mere documentary of the city soundscape but rather an act of archiving fragments that compose this soundscape but are in danger of vanishing or being transformed. As much as the notion of endangered sounds might seem uninteresting at first, there are sounds disappearing from our daily soundscape, with the technical and urban development. One of these sounds that will soon disappear from the streets of Belgrade is the squeaky sound of old Tatra KT4 trams that have been one of the symbol s of Belgrade for the last 40 years. Given the fact that Belgrade doesn’t have such a  powerful institution as, for example, the Department of Social History at the Museum of  London which collects all of the city artefacts from old lamp posts to trams that are out of use, we identified the need to transform the way we think of archives and to shift towards new digital means to preserve local culture. Sounds can be easily incorporated in other media, they can be manipulated in little to no time and their effect on human imagination is greater than any other physical perception. This understanding and the fact that Belgrade Sound Map is cybercartography project led us to think of its possible implementation as an addition to the current touristic offer of the city. Last year together with the ImprovE2.0 collective 1 , we produced the first sound walk through Dor  ć ol. The walk was designed to lead through sound spots, containing audio stories of local inhabitants that we previously mapped on our website. While walking from the point A to the  point B, the participants are listening to musical tracks produced specifically for this route. Authors who responded to our open call received an audio field recording of the route and used these sounds as a basis for the production of their musical piece. The final product was an album that in its own way represents a soundtrack of the neighbourhood. The idea received a great response among public and that encouraged us to repeat it in Savamala in August 2014. Our open call for music for the Savamala soundwalk resulted in the double number of responses and we acquired enough material to create two sound walks. Sounds for Savamala consisted of more musical pieces while the Sounds of Savamala presented the works which fall under the sound and radio art genre. All three walks are available for free download, as a musical album packages with maps and artist info and can be experienced whenever one feels like. Almost every capital in the Europe has a sound map, and through the implementation of this already established set of cybercartography tools and cultural praxis on the local level our aim is to offer visitors of the city an insight into what led to the formation of its identity. The selected map locations have historical, cultural and local values that can contribute to the  branding of the parts of town they point to. Luckily there are many others who feel the need to explore this new area of cultural praxis which led to the fact that B Tour, a Berlin based festival of guided artistic tours, will be held in Belgrade from the 26 th  to the 28 th  of September 2014. Hopefully, with the events like B Tour and the increase in the amount of artistically designed tours, we will be able to break the monotonous and rather centralized touristic path that the visitors of Belgrade usually take and help them explore our city through the art of straying. Further information: Belgrade sound map www.zvucnamapabeograda.rs    ImprovE 2.0 www.i2.rs  B Tour festival www.b-tour.org  1     ImprovE 2.0 is a musicians' collective, based in Belgrade. It is a monthly platform for creative performers, experimentations and electro-acoustic-visual communication. The series is devoted to new music performance, by way of concerts, installations, workshops and site specific interventions.    References: Benjamin, Walter.(1979). One way street and other writings. London: NLB
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