Playing with ‘Variations on Mobility’, the four Creative Commissions teams in 2019-2020 have developed their projects along different trajectories traced by the unfolding movements of People, Objects, Texts and Ideas across times and spaces. As small groups composed of academics who have embraced art in their research practices, or artists working in collaboration with scholars across various disciplinary backgrounds, the Commissions engage different Theories and Methods of mobility, working with ethnographic, archival, historical, anthropological, geographical and creative methodologies. The following text and original images represent a short progress post realised by the team to help us follow the path of their creative work.

Of Steel and (Un)Stillness | Progress Post #1Representing and territorialising sound.

Our commission “Of Steel and (un)Stillness” is essentially built with and through sounds and images. While a considerable part of the materials to be used were gathered during the shooting of a documentary film, our work also comprises the creation of a kinetic and sound-installation through the assemblage of spare car parts, collected in Lisbon’s outskirts. The need to present 2D printable elements as requested by the Creative Commissions team has challenged us in the way we think of, and represent our work.

In this post we try  a different outtake on the source material. The following spectrograms shall be seen as “splinters” from the original audio tracks. Some consist of raw recordings, while others have been processed by communication apps (Whatsapp for example). Together, these clips create a representation of the sounds of mobility as embodied by one specific roadster, a 60 years old Senegalese man, and in at least two different journeys made in Peugeots 504. Some of these elements also allude to how audio recordings circulate today. Circumstances as such stimulate the search for new methodologies of archiving and alternative ways of making sense of the set of information contained in these audio recordings. In this vein, by providing the context and geo-location in each of these spectrograms, we further explore the possibilities of representation. Such rearrangements intend to go beyond the immediate sensorial and aural worlds of sound and image. We can thus  reflect about cycles and textures, but also of noise writ large, as elements of this specific type of mobility of people and objects. Closely tied to the pace of this roadster’s mobility, the selected clips provide a graphic anthropo-(s)cenic soundscape, in which man-made sounds easily overlap and override natural sounds.

The four sound clips have been created with different audio recording set-ups, comprising of two different audio recorders, for ambient sounds, and several smartphones.

1.  10 seconds in the life of a car entering the desert landscape. Motor running monotonously, two other cars pass by. Mobility produces sound. Stereo recording. 25°42’44.4″N 14°39’00.2″W

2. Whatsapp is paramount for routiers while on the move. The smartphone ringing insistently breaks the monotony of the motor running. A policeman, normally in an outpost between Nouadhibou and Nouakchott, has become a regular contact. An instrumental relation has been established. He begs for something:
“…des chaussures sport pour un vieux, c’est tout. Un vieux qui marche, qui fait le sport en marchant. Alors, de pointure 44. Avec une pointure de 44…”
(Whatsapp audio recorded from a routier’s smartphone, received in Portugal)
20°57’50.2″N 16°15’04.9″W     to      38°44’57.0″N 9°13’13.0″W

3. Welding Cycles. White Noise. Belfaa.
The routier has established a solid network of Berber mechanics, namely in and around the town of Belfaa (1500 Kms away from the point of departure in Portugal). Hitherto, all mechanical interventions had stick to the essential. The chassis is now welded in a local workshop in order to fix structural damages. The routier keeps this information for him only as part of broader risk management and sales strategies. The regular intervals in the spectrogram depict the welder’s operations. White noise is present throughout.
30°02’44.0″N 9°33’56.6″W

4. Humming and Hissing. Stopping.
Crossing the border of Morocco to Mauritania through Guerguerat Strip. The straight horizontal line of this spectrogram (first 50 seconds) is a humming mixed with a warning siren that is repeated in short cycles (thus creating the continuous line). The giant 10 meter tall scanner searches cars potentially involved in smuggling activities. The roadster’s car in which we travel has just left this apparatus and dogs have sniffed the car. We are waiting for green light to move forward. Another routier, whose overloaded car had entered the scanner, flees and leaves his vehicle behind. The car in which we travel stops before crossing Guerguerat’s Strip (a no man’s land claimed by Saharawi resistance) while “our” roadster works out the next step. Birds sing throughout. The humming low noise is finally interrupted (at the end of the recording) by a sound resembling a hissing sigh of relief. It is a truck’s air brake being released.
(Audio Recorded in December 2019 at the Moroccan border, leaving to Guerguerat strip)
21°21’43.9″N 16°57’41.1″W

5. Rebuilding mobility through cycles and repetitions.
This last spectrogram shows a composite of the previous four tracks. Clips 1 and 2 have been replayed three times, the 3 is only partially represented, and clip 4 is in its full-length.
This composite audio condenses a set of mobile activities, from transnational communications, to borders and risk management.

April 2020

Of Steel and (un)Stillness is a  Creative Commission of:

Pedro Figueiredo  Neto  (anthropologist, filmmaker),

Ricardo Falcão  (anthropologist, filmmaker)

Paulo Morais (sound artist),