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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Free Pro Tools and three others

Free Pro Tools and three others

These are good times

At least for anyone interested in working with digital audio. Whether you are a novice recordist wondering how to start capturing your first soundscapes, or man like Kamaru, sweeping over the globe with a boundless stream of sophisticated sonic creations, you are fortunate to live at a time when all manner of digital tools are available to help with audio tasks simple or advanced. And the best part is, not only are we spoilt for choice but a large number of these tools offer professional quality for prices as low as… zero bob!

In this article, the SON team presents 4 of our favourite audio apps especially useful for recording and editing on everyday devices.

ONE and TWO: Sound Recorder Pro (Android) and Voice Record Pro (Android and iOS)


Last week I was in a forest near Karatina. I did not plan to record but we had this crazy rain and I was in a hut with mabati roofing. It sounded on the one hand like white noise or drum rolls on the other you have these jazzy drips from the water coming down the side and hitting the floor.I did not bring a recorder so I decided to use my phone with the app” – S.

These two mobile apps are similar in function; they’re both fantastic options for any recordist. We’ve mentioned and recommended Voice Record Pro in this blog before so in this article we’ll talk about the other: Sound Recorder Pro.

Useful for: Recording high quality audio on ordinary phones.

We like it because: It gives you much more control over your recording quality and formats than the average default phone recorder, without getting too complicated for the less experienced recordist. While the in-app ads do take a lot of screen space, they don’t really get in the way of recording, and the minimal interface means you can capture interesting moments with no fumble or fuss. The app also offers simple, immediate options for sharing your audio or uploading to the cloud. Oh, and it is made by the guys at Tunga : )

Tip: Choose 44.1 kHZ (CD Quality) or 48 kHZ to capture audio quality suitable for professional applications and/or uploading to the archive.

THREE: Audacity (Windows, Mac, Linux)

“The first thing I install in any laptop I use is Audacity. The second thing is the web browser.” – R

Audacity is a free, open-source, professional audio editor for Windows, macOS and Linux.

Useful for: Simple and advanced single and multi-track editing on even the most basic laptop or PC.

We like it because: Audacity’s system requirements are so modest it can work on a PC from the year 2000, yet its features are capable enough for complex tasks usually handled by high-end applications. And not only is it completely free, it is also regularly updated and users can enjoy the support of a committed open-source developers’ community.

Tip: No amount of editing wizardry can correct a distorted recording, so avoid recording sounds at high input gain (mic level) and be especially careful with sounds that have sudden loud peaks (e.g. matatu banging sounds). You can then use the “Normalize” effect in audacity to balance out inconsistent recordings or boost weak recordings.

FOUR: PRO TOOLS FIRST (Windows and Mac)


Pro Tools First is the free version of the famous Pro Tools, long billed as the “Industry Standard” for digital audio workstations.

Useful for: Tip-toeing into the deep end of digital audio production.

We like it because: While it is certainly not the full beast, it is not a demo version but a fully capable if limited (by comparison) application in itself. And the fact that it is available for free is a big deal – it opens the door into serious audio work for students, hobbyists and those on a limited budget without the need for cracked software (no judgement!) and with high end product design. Pro Tools First still requires a decent computer however – you’ll need at least 8gb RAM (the 4gb ram stated on their website is not practical) and a pretty robust, uncluttered system, and a USB/Firewire/Thunderbolt audio interface. Even with other DAWs in your arsenal, the PT workflow is especially well-suited for multi-track audio editing, once you get used to it.

Tip: Not so much a tip as a caveat, Pro Tools is not so great for MIDI-based music composition in my opinion.

What other cool free audio tools are out there? Share your finds and tips in the comments!

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How to start a sound archive?


How to start a sound archive?

1. Walk about

One sunny midmorning, some day in 2013 or 14, Nairobi. Waiting to cross the road at one of the newly remade intersections with the fancy traffic lights (Chinese! Chinese!) is more distressing than usual. It’s the new lights. More accurately, it’s how the new lights sound. They beep loud and jarring, with a shrill, digital tone, adding to the impatient hootings and revvings. Nobody driving or walking seems sure what the signals mean or who they are for. Ten minutes down the road and walking steady, the racket is still in your ears and thoughts.

One twilit evening, 2013, Berlin. Waiting to cross a busy road not far from the famous TV Tower. Seems like rush hour, but does not feel like it. That’s when you notice it. The absence. If you closed your eyes, you would hear only the purr and whoosh of passing vehicles. You remark to your friend about it.

Another sunny midmorning about a year later, Nairobi. You are walking with a friend down a neighbourhood street that used to be lined with old houses from the 70s or 80s. Today it is clattering with jackhammers and chisels and all the familiar staccato of rapid construction. Passing by a rising residential block hidden behind gunny cladding, you wonder what used to be here. Hardly a year.

Nairobi, visiting a friend who lives in another new apartment block (reminds you of a great grey termite mound or nest of wasps) you notice the cacophony at the main entrance on the ground floor. The incessant beepings of the new KPLC pre-paid digital meters, like a noisy classroom when the teacher is out. A sound you are hearing more and more where there was only discreet neighbours before. You talk about these new sounds and a changing world.


2. Talk and procrastinate

You talk about sounds you no longer hear. The long-travelling low frequency rumble of an old-school KBS around the corner. The thump-thump of the sub-woofers in a number 23 several blocks away heading into the CBD from Westlands (out of sight but we all know where it is). You remember hearing the first ringtones in a matatu or on the streets. The fascinating novelty of an SMS notification. Nokia people. Kenyans and nostalgia. But what about history?

You start recording sounds around you. Some people use Zooms, some use their phones and even an expensive studio mic dangling out of a studio window, capturing the street below. You talk about possibilities. We could make something with these sounds. Nobody has any experience with sound art but it’s now a frequent topic. The conversation grows from what we can do with these sounds to what we can learn from them.

You sketch and doodle on your notebook(s). Share ideas by email. Plan to meet but when? Some people go to school others back to work and career and two or three years later we have all more or less disappeared. You add more notebooks to the heap, a decade’s worth of sketches and doodles. Your own archive – more like a personal landfill – of never ideas.


3. Seek help

Your friend who went back to school is back. Two years spent studying and practicing some of the things you used to talk about. In that meantime you have been dabbling in DIY sound and art. You revisit your conversations, digging in the notebooks. The idea of an aural record of Nairobi still makes sense. The idea of resourcing a nascent sound art scene feels timely. You have a friend who’s great with data tech. He is game and knows a guy who’s good with UI/UX. Work begins.

It is not a legit archive of the city if all it explores is the tiny street corner of your personal experience. The streets are many. Plus, the whole exercise is more fun when more people are involved. All this needs more people, time and money than you have on your own. So, reach out.

Approach friends and organizations willing and able to support. In addition to material and logistical support, you’ll get a huge boost of energy and goodwill. And you will make new friends along the way.


4. Launch and then party

Organize a sound exhibition and invite the world. Hand everyone a set of good headphones. They will love the immersiveness of the first recordings, because you used binaural microphones – realer than dolby. “Immersiveness” is a real word BTW.

Make a good party on the final day. Play music made from the archive.


5. After the party 

-> “How To Maintain Your Sound Archive For Like A Century” – coming soon.

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