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New Orleans Sound Project

In recovering sources for the final project, I came across a reference I wanted to share with the class.  Next to Douglas Kahn’s early chiasmus in Noise, Water, Meat: “the dual task here is to listen through history to sound and through sound to history” (which I take to mean scouring an archives for sounds as well as scouring a particular sound for its historical valences), I jotted down Open Sound New Orleans.  In brief, Open Sound New Orleans is a web-based soundmap that encourages members of the New Orleans community to record sounds and upload them to the site with coordinates that reflect the geographical location where they encountered the sound.   It might be useful to think of the project as a nice bridge between Kahn’s discussion of significant noise and Mizuko Ito’s introduction to Networked Publics, which she describes as an “alternative to terms such as audience or consumer, [foregrounding] a more engaged stance” (3).

 Here’s the link: http://www.opensoundneworleans.com/core/.


How do the categorical divisions “Voice Sounds,” “Music Sounds” and “Ambient Sounds” mediate the contributor’s interaction with aurality?

What determines most of my thoughts about the project is that it chooses a specific cite, drawing boundary lines the exclude a larger international networking functionality.  As well, great significance lies in choosing New Orleans rather than Las Vegas or Durham, a decision intended to capitalize on the city’s long history of (what the creators of the site describe as) “noise richness.”  Such a term, especially in the context of NOLA, connotes postcolonial hybridity, creolité, and what Eduard Glissant refers to as a poetics of relation.  As well, the desire to archive a city’s soundscape seems in many ways a response to Katrina, as a means to both document the sound of post-traumatic stress and shore up a culture’s aural fragments against another catastrophe.


After listening to most of the recordings, I have to say that it is the way different modes of signification participate and compete that compels me to return. By which I mean the sound/noise’s resistance to standard categorization. Here sound is marked by a contributor’s collaboration with the primary categorical assumptions (Voice, Music, Ambient), but even in a structure dedicated in many ways to standardizing sound, disruptive noise survives.  One sound perhaps ambient (rain) gloms onto other voice sounds (a street performer describing the history of a particular canal), while music sounds (the Main Line of a jazz funeral) echo in the distance. This is not to mention the role the locative aspect contributes to the viewer’s experience with the piece.  Those unfamiliar with the layout of New Orleans might be curious to the programs sensitivity to geographic manifestations of class and racial difference, whereas those more familiar might be listening for contributions that challenge the notion of right and wrong side of the tracks.

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