What is Unnecessary Noise?


What is Unnecessary Noise?

The editing process determines what goes to the public archive and what’s left behind on our hard drives. What is a good quality recording? What is unnecessary noise?

I did a lot of recordings for the SOUND OF NAIROBI archive but this time my assignment was to listen to the recordings and prepare them for the entry into the archive, hours of different sounds recorded by different people in different parts of the city. I realize all share a common factor: noises of vehicles and motorbikes.

While this is caused by many different factors, like a city planning that favors – as in the case of Nairobi – the transport sector, the recordist needs to be aware of these challenges.

Where else do we record in a city if it’s not outside? Outside is mostly roads and traffic. Somehow, an SoN field recordist can’t escape the cravings of a flaneur. They walk as part of the city and they capture themselves in the space with the recorder.

Listening through the commuter chaos a lot of patterns emerge. These patterns can be unique rhythms created by different honking systems or the speed and flow changes of a traffic jam.

A recording of Jogoo Road, captures the mobility of the city – choruses of touts, that bus fare, those different stages and routes, spoken against a wall of traffic hum. This  can be experienced in a lot of recordings.

In a night recording that captures the traffic, imagined headlights are speeding in the traffic flow, and then, imagined street lights everywhere and open businesses waiting for the curfew. It immerses you in an aural field of haste. If only you can get home.

Or that’s how you’d wish the recording to sound like. But listening back it is long, most parts with all kinds of interferences. And hearing to all these traffic sounds is cumbersome, always watching out for something unique, something that feels like it can be archive worthy.

I am listening back to a recording I made of home, the birds I tried to capture aren’t the only thing that catches my attention. The roar of planes from the near by aerodrome envelopes the recording together with voices of children playing, and again, the vehicles in the street. Doors banging and running taps all get enmeshed with the captured uncomfortable wind glitch that feels like a moth inside your ear. Surely, there’s no way I can have the wind disturbances in the archive.

Sound editing as an idea calls for results of at least something listenable. Isolating the overwhelming parts away in a bid to refuse the monotonous sounds and also in an attempt to keep the file short — as a protocol, I go for flawless seams that feeds the continuity of a recorded wave of sound.

However, some recordings don’t need all that. A recording in a drinking den in Kibera, details what I think a well recorded sound should be like. Is it the people talking too close to you and the motionless of the field recordist (which you can tell as there are no fleeting sounds captured,) that you imagine yourself lifting a glass and excitedly partaking in the discourse? A comfortable Ohangla tune can be heard as if it is sitting behind the story telling. You imagine being slapped back on your seat as part of all this that is playing out perfectly (in your ear).

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Notes from the LISTEN! Exhibition – Sound and the City panel discussion (2019)

Sound and the city Panel Discussion

Notes from the LISTEN! Exhibition – Sound and the City panel discussion (2019)

This text tries to circumnavigate and map conversations of individuals working through and along sound in different fields: architecture, bio-acoustics, and sound art. The notes follow an autonomous transcribing and not-always-reliable memory
It is also an exercise on listening and botting. –a continuous participle for bot – algorithmic poetics – also a form of lucid / robotic writing

The panelists: Listening
*clapping session

The moderator, Lorna Ng’eno, settles the auditorium and begins with introductions. Good evening everyone – welcome to Sound and the City, today’s open discussion as part of SOUND OF NAIROBI’s ongoing LISTEN! exhibition.

Mutegi/Karanja – Architecture
Ciira wa Maina – Bio-acoustics
KMRU – Sound art

Hello testing

Mic glitches as Stella Mutegi (a founder + director Cave_Bureau) tries to introduce Karanja Kabage (a founder + director, Cave_Bureau) The connection glitch, a loud mic feedback that roars, continuous for about 30 seconds. Sudden silence as Goethe-Institut’s soundman fixes it, but not quite.

More glitches continue to be heard leading to mics getting cancelled.
Stella Mutegi then continues to introduce Karanja Kabage without the mics.

Building a structure constructed with sound in mind – we do not think about sound unless in auditoriums, cathedrals – we (not Cave_Bureau but generally) never think about sound when we do the design.
Architects ignore sound in built environments, what you have built, how it affects sound­.

Karanja is a founder + director of Cave_Bureau, a Nairobi based bureau of architects and researchers charting explorations into nature-within-architecture/urbanism.

He is a natural environment enthusiast leading geological and anthropological investigations into architecture and nature. Echoes. He leads the research, orchestrating expeditions and surveys into caves within the great Rift Valley, navigating a return to the limitless curiosity of our early ancestors.1

On the white wall, a projection of the Cave_Bureau manifesto film by 8278A rolls on.
The manifesto states that architecture started in a cave.

Sound is quite critical – looking at caves as the origin of architecture
caves as the places of resistance (colonial)
our first experiences of echoes were most pronounced at caves

In the projection, an aerial picture of Nairobi in 1900
If you imagine the sound of city at that time – when you compare to what we have today
louis khan – to hear sound is to see its space
light leading to a musical approach
how do we imagine public space? – Kamukunji analysis

(mic sound is back)

An MP from Nairobi, a fly whisk –
Jeevanjee is fenced off
If you destroy the fences and the green spills at the streets – you could allow more of these activities to thrive

The second project – the Anthropocene project – exhibited at a New York museum
Geological society – humanity impacting earth’s system to where it’s not impossible to change
What’s a museum in the future of anthropocene?
The Anthropocene museum as a project to think about space
On the projection, the emissions chart looks like a wave that ascends to – destruction
A quote on technology. Martin h.

A film – a Maumau veteran, in Suswa – an exhibition, a conversion in the cave, acoustics,
Geothermal energy in Suswa,
Kenya 50% geothermal
Fibonacci numbers in structuring the cave with kilimani bamboo sticks in Suswa
Baboon parliament in Suswa equated to a rome pantheon
The Paradise Lost (Kiambu) cave – small and intimate, not too many echoes
Laser technology to scan the caves – used to programme caves

Karanja: NEMA – measuring sound – deals with comfort
Part of nature – we
Sound needs to be part of that discourse
Buildings as devices that create sound
Wangari Maathai – unbound (sound) trumbling experience of walking a clean surface
Our pavements influence reverbs

A leather cloth on classical guitar strings – sounds like train
Kwi heho i tukurara ku? It’s cold, where do we sleep?
My mom’s voice

Latema Road – Nyati house – Loita Street one of the quietest in Nairobi
City kanjo – Tom Mboya was annoying to walk – amplified sound
Madaraka is louder at night than day – people are more in the day but fewer at night

Drinking culture and amplified sound
Sound reflects the society
A new MCA protested against the buzz

Eric wainania and the Elephant
– You don’t hear the music but the ground or bass
– Neighbours’ walls were high but they still saying Eric turn down the bass

Brassilia – the heights were limited so that kids could hear them – parents

Ciira wa Maina
Ciira wa Maina is a senior lecturer at Dedan Kimathi University of Technology and a researcher in bioacoustics. His bioacoustics research projects aims to use audio recordings obtained in Mt. Kenya ecosystem to perform biodiversity assessment and relates to indicator species2

– bio acoustics to track ecology
Listening to our mountains
Nyeri –
Acoustic data in Mt Kenya
Tegeri river
You can drink this water
It is very cold and nice
Monitoring ecosystems like this – they take surveys, they can’t monitor everywhere
You can actually hear a lot of animals
Indicators – birds vocalize when things go wrong in the environment
The birds you used to hear – you don’t hear them anymore
Mt Kenya National Park – recordings of birds
Hartlaub’s Turaco – Ngugu
can we hear it again?
It’s really a beautiful bird, when it opens its wings it’s this beautiful bird talking to another or whatever they are doing
People breaking the stones – quarry – human interference
Ancestral naming of things – ngugu
Individual relationship – they lose their identity
Tropical boubou – ngerekeri
– A duet
– Ngerekeri means to copy – echo/loop

Crowned eagle
Majestic bird
Just whistles
Voice doesn’t match their look

When they are pushed higher up (due to deforestation)– they can’t find food – migration

Spectrogram – letting the machines do the listening
We go with armed guards to collect data

African Bird Club

The idea of species indicators is that you can’t survey everything
The tree that we eat is being chopped down
It’s like measuring your temperature
The wellness of the ecosystems
The vocal ones are males trying to attract mates –
Environment propagates the sounds to —

A producer, dj sometimes
Working with field recordings and sound
Showcased in Nigeria
How we listen
An archive of samples in my production
Variations 2019/2020- A sound installation in Abuja. Three-channels field recordings/experimental sound, loudspeaker system. Berlin, St Petersburg, Nairobi
Listening and remembering
My ears are like favorite parts of the body
Deaf people perceiving sound

He plays from his soundcloud page
Track – B1 (Nairobi)
– As you can hear – digital sounds – field recordings
– A bell 6 am – sad when they changed
– My compositions – location inspires what to create – you are going to experience the sound is not yourself – your own world of soundscapes
– I really love sounds
– For people to appreciate – collecting sounds – creators – tools e.g .making a film, scoring, archive, you can find – so much sound you can use – i’m happy that this is happening in Nairobi

– sound is always there and there is no way we can change it
– Nairobi at 6am doesn’t sound the same at 6pm
– Different days – Eastleigh on a Sunday is hectic – took a friend to buy fabric
– Equipment to use

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