Jorge David García, Rossana Lara, Aarón Escobar, Andrea Gutiérrez, Miguel Angel Cuevas & Antonio Morales*
* Ruido 13 Collective
Escuela Nacional de Música, UNAM, México
In this paper we describe a project of sound installation using waste electric appliances and speakers mounted on bicycles to reproduce in the streets of Mexico City a collage of voices and sounds of people that use noise as a central element of creation. This project has to do with alternative ways of transport, alternative use of bicycles and household technology, with other uses of scholarly research, collective self-organization and sustainability in artistic production. For us all these are forms of noise. How we understand noise and its effects, how we combine research and artistic practice and what is the social scope of the project will be presented in the following text.
Keywords: Sound experimentation, collective work, noise practice, Do-It-Yourself
Ruido 13 is a collective of musicians established in Mexico City. This project arose in 2012 from our interest in linking our musical practice with the vast range of social dynamics, places and noises that shape the urban space where we live. Noise is for us not necessarily a sound; it is also an activity anyone can deliberately produce to disrupt the social dynamics configured and naturalized by this urban space. Echoing Jacques Attali’s (2009) reading of noise proposed in his survey on the political economy of music, making noise means to us to contradict and subvert in different ways aspects of the prevailing social, political, and economical order through our artistic practice.
Most recently we have been working on a project that involves several dimensions of noise production. It consists of a mobile sound installation using speakers that reproduce a collage of voices and sounds of different people involved in the experimental audiovisual and sonic practices in Mexico. For this purpose we made previously some interviews that are also part of a major research project on the experimental activity in Mexico carried out by one of the members of the group. Some of the questions that we share with this research are: what visions of the world are being performed through these experimental practices, and how they confront standardized modes of listening conditioned by media hegemonies.
The recordings of the first interviews made at the early stage of the ethnography were considered for our sound installation. Fragments of the interviewee’s work, sound pieces and improvisations as well as recorded soundscapes were also included. It is worth mentioning that the interviewees agreed to share, both the recorded interviews and their work so that we could edit and reassemble it freely, dissolving the authorial ownership of the final result. The sound collage is generated randomly while we ride the bicycles by triggering the edited audio fragments from our MP3 players connected to the speakers of our bikes.
For the sound installation, the speakers were mounted on bicycles so that the mechanical rotation produced by riding is converted through a dynamo into electric current for feeding the speakers. We also designed and mounted some electronic circuits on the bikes to obtain direct current from the engine, to regulate voltage and amplify the speakers. The project was inspired in Do-It-Yourself (DIY) modes of production that, among other things, seek to create personalized new functions for daily artifacts including out-of-date technologies and waste materials. Thus we aimed to produce homemade electronic devices with recycled engines to give our bikes an additional function as a mobile sound installation. We completed this stage of the project by ridding the bicycles through some of Mexico City’s streets.
In the following sections we present our reading on the kinds and layers of noise that are involved in the project:
Bikes as noise in urban traffic
In Mexico City the use of bicycles is an exception, for the street network is mostly used by motor vehicles. There are very few cycle lanes, lacking a culture of respect for cyclists that could encourage the safe use of bicycles. It is worth noting that Mexico City is not only one of the largest and most populated cities in the world, but also one of the cities with the highest concentration of motor vehicles. According to Mexico City’s Secretary of Transport (SETRAVI), there are daily more than three million motor vehicles driving on the streets, among which more than one million nine hundred thousand are for private use. Additionally there is an indiscriminate use of private vehicles transporting only one person most of the time. According to the National Network of Urban Cycling (Bici-Red) it is estimated a financial loss of 4% of gross domestic product because of the excessive use of motorcars (http://5porciento.bicired.org/). By contrast, different cycling organizations have arisen in the last years and are working together with NGOs, academic institutions, and private initiative for the improvement in air quality and more efficient modes of transportation (http://www.bicired.org/web/com/137-biciredmx). In Mexico City there is an important local cycling movement since 15 years called Bicitekas –a term that combines the words “bici” (bike) and “teka”, from “azteca”– (http://bicitekas.org/). These movements are continuously pressing the government to change the politics of urban transport in Mexico and encourage non-motorized, sustainable transport.
We are interested in joining these existing cycling movements in a near future, considering this project of sound installation/intervention as a first step. To sum up, with this installation we want to emphasize the noise that the free collective movement of bicycles generate on the streets blocked by dozens of motorcars.
Do-It-Yourself approach and collective work as noise
Recycling engines recovered from waste household appliances like dryers, fans, and drills to generate sound is the kernel of this project. By recovering this electric waste with minimal social value, we move away from the capitalist modes of consumption and waste. Furthermore, by integrating the engines of waste appliances into a context that escapes from the logic of production and consumption for which these engines were designed, we aim to produce a sort of noise in the production cycle. It is worth noting that while an engine is associated in the context of urban traffic to the generation of polluting gases, in this project the recycled engine provides the electricity for the speakers; and by doing this it contributes to evidence sonically the presence of the bikes as an efficient vehicle in a see of sub utilized car engines.
Considering that we are interested in exploring ways to join the principles of DIY culture, one of our main concerns has been self-management and collective work in developing our artistic devices. One aspect of DIY ideology is the empowerment of individuals for creating alternative ways to satisfy their necessities in daily life, without depending on the dominant systems of government and consumption. It covers a range of forms of political activism, promoting collective self-organization to “create more sustainable and fairer ways of living”. In opposition to capitalism and consumer culture, DIY cultivates “an economy of mutual aid, cooperation, non-commodification of art, appropriation of digital and communication technologies and alternative technologies” (Trapese Collective, 2007).
These are also the underlying principles of our collective and the values behind the present project. Accordingly, it was important to ensure that the technical costs were consistent with the principle of sustainability we want to emphasize with the collective bicycle trip around the city. This artistic project is not oriented to get a sponsor in the future, but to call more people to replicate in other places this mobile sound installation with bicycles and waste electric materials. To this end, we have made a manual describing the process and the minimal technical requirements to execute it, with the idea that there will be as many variants as creative minds working together. The emergence of cooperation groups to develop non-profit artistic projects promoting a creative and sustainable use of technology is part of the revolution the activist wing of DIY culture believes in. As the Trapese Collective points out in its illustrative book on DIY: “Doing ourselves [...] is [...] a revolution that takes place everyday amongst all of us rather than some huge event led by a small vanguard in a hoped-for-future. Not waiting for bosses, politicians or experts to take the initiative but building at the grassroots –empowering ourselves and improving our own realities– not to become individual entrepreneurs or free-marketeers, but to work together to make open, sustainable and equal societies” (Trapese Collective, 2007).
Noise vs. Noise
Besides the already mentioned noises that disturb certain logics of capitalism, this project of sound installation aims to insert sounds in the public space that are not familiar to the noise of the streets mostly produced by motorcars. It is worth saying that there is a tendency to conceive acoustic noise as unwanted sound. The approach to noise as a major social problem of urban living has been increasingly reinforced along the twentieth century through the apparition of hundreds of organizations, legislations, institutions, and industries created with the purpose of abating and regulating noise (see Bijsterveld, 2008).
By contrast to that way of conceiving city noise in absolute negative terms, we wanted to add to the traffic noise other noises to exhibit its aesthetical, and therefore constructive possibilities. Even in the chaotic context of Mexico City’s streets there was an opportunity to reappraise noise as a form of knowledge and a medium of expression. With this in mind we proposed to reproduce in our speakers a sort of collage made of voices and sounds of people in Mexico that use noise as a central element of creation. They speak about their noise’s conceptions and strategies as well as the role of DIY modes of production in their sonic experimental projects. As mentioned at the beginning of the text, the recorded voices are extracts from interviews made as part of a larger ethnographic research on experimental sonic practices in Mexico. The research focuses on proposals where sound is only part either of the process or the outcome and the focus lies rather in the interactions and social situations that these materials, processes, and strategies produce.
Our decision to incorporate the ethnographic material, i.e. the recorded interviews, in a sound installation is a first experiment to combine the individual research with the collective artistic work. In this way, research work is not only confined to the academic context where there is mostly a private use of the material collected and preserved by the researcher during the ethnographic work. By contrast, we want to take the research work out from the institutional context and share it publicly. In our view, the aesthetic use and mode of propagation we propose for the research material create a noise, both in the context of the street and in the modes of production of scholarly work. By inserting these sounds in the streets, we want to socialize the aesthetic possibilities of noise through which more and more people perform their ways of being in, and modes of listening to the world.
As shown in the text this project of sound installation generates several noises in the logic of production, consumption and modes of human relationship shaped by capitalism. Nevertheless, at this stage we are still valuing the actual effects of the project; firstly, the social situations generated in different regions of the city as well as in the varying context of the street; secondly, the integration of this project in the already existing cycling movements in Mexico, starting with the above mentioned Bicitekas movement. By joining these organizations we could add a sound dimension to the actions they already perform in the street to visualize the bicycle as a sustainable mode of transport, hoping that this also encourages a new sensitivity to the sounds of the street and other kind of noises of the city.
The documentation and current state of the project is available on the websites: http://proyectoruicicletero.tumblr.com/
Attali, J. (2009). Noise. The Political Economy of Music (10th printing). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota.
Bijsterveld, K. (2008). Mechanical Sound. Technology, Culture, and Public Problems of Noise in the Twentieth Century. Massachusetts: The MIT Press.
The Trapese Collective (Ed). (2007). Do It Yourself. A Handbook for Changing our World. London: Pluto Press.