Thursday, October 09, 2014

Listening, Really Listening to Guanajuato

By accident, I walked into the Meson de San Antonio while the Brazilian expert.on soundscapes, Dra. Janete El Haouli, was speaking. Although in her city of Londinas she produces a radio series on New Music for the Thinking Listener, on this occasion she was talking about everyday sounds. 

What is a soundscape? The word is a riff on the English word landscape, a photo or painting of what we see around us. A soundscape or paisaje sonoro is a taped record of the sounds of a place and even its silences.

DRa. El Haouli sharing her enthusiasm for soundscapes
Dra. El Haouli, with a halo of curly black hair and a passionate speaker, talked about the value of noticing the ordinary sounds that give a place its particular "flavor." 

So what does Guanajuato sound like to a musician-scholar-producer? With enthusiasm, she said twice, " I will think of the church bells sounding."

Dra. El Haouli played many taped examples so the students of communication and their professors, could listen to harbor sounds, city sounds, even an unedited tape of hundreds of croaking frogs. She asked the audience to guess the cities, which they did, underscoring her point. She spoke emphatically of the importance of the value of listening instead tuning everything out.

As I thought about what Dra. El Haouli was telling us, I remembered the way Guanajuato cafeterias used to be when I moved here in 1999. When few people had laptop computers or cell phones, these places used to be filled with the sounds of conversation, along with the sounds of cups being picked up and set down.  People without land lines went there to connect with their friends. Now the same cafeterías, at least in the daytime, are silent places where people sit together, but look down at their cells instead of talking. Then there are the folks, many ot them tourists, who glued to their laptops ignore the people and everything else around them. 

If only I had a soundscape of the mingled voices in my favorite coffee house not so long ago! But at least I do remember Jorge Ibarguengoitia's witty take on the sound of the bells.

Maybe as a result of Janete El Haouli’s lively, informative talk, Radio Universidad will create a new series of sound bites of the many soundscapes of Guanajuato--its early Monday mornings and late Thursday nights, the sound of raindrops falling and high heels clacking on dry pavement, the clamor in schoolyards, the quiet in a callejon. Changing soundscapes that change and the ones that stay the same.

I would listen.

The Dirección de Extension Cultural of the University of Guanajuato made  Dra. El Haouli’s lecture possible, UG's is one of ten sites in the state participating in the 10th International Radio Biennial. Laura Lozano of Radio Universidad presided. 

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