- Alexandra Lippman
- Alexandra Lippman
- Zhang, Shaozeng
This recording was made at the I’PARK e-Sports Stadium at Yongsan station in Seoul. It documents one ‘set’ in a professional StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty match, a real-time strategy game developed by Blizzard Entertainment, as part of the 2012-2013 season of the SK Planet Proleague, the premier professionalStarCraft league in South Korea. Since 1999, e-sports (particularly StarCraft) have been contested competitively in South Korea. Although there are some twenty-five different professional ‘e-sports’ (a term that encompasses video and computer games that are the basis of competitions) in Korea, StarCraft is the most well-established of the bunch, has the most history, and arguably has the largest global fan following. The Proleague is organized under the auspices of the Korean e-Sports Players’ Association (KeSPA) and is comprised of eight teams, each with about twelve top-tier players. Each team is sponsored by a company/companies and houses its team members in a ‘team house’ somewhere in Seoul (the locations of these houses are kept secret for the privacy and security of the players). Professional gamers can make upwards of $100,000 per year in salary and prize money. They spend between ten and fourteen hours each day solely practicing StarCraft. Right now, the only players in the Proleague are male, although there have been female players in the past and are currently some female professionals in another Korean StarCraft league. The players range in age from their mid-teens to mid-twenties, typically.
The Yongsan stadium is located on the top floor of a well-known electronics market and mall. The ‘stadium’ is more like a large theater, with a raised stage at the front, floor seating for 120 fans, and team ‘benches’ at either side of the floor. Matches are held every Saturday and Sunday and are broadcast live on OnGameNet, a Korean cable television channel devoted solely to e-sports and gaming-related programming. Matches are free to attend and attract casual and ‘hard-core’ fans, as well as the legions of ‘fan girls’ (sonyeo paen in Korean) who make up the official fan clubs for each team. Two ‘casters’ and a commentator provide running commentary of each match, analyzing the participants’ strategies and reacting with energized shouts and cheers whenever a player pulls off a remarkably good move or, alternatively, makes an inauspicious mistake. The players face off one at a time in 1 vs. 1 sets, and the team that can win a best four out of seven wins the match. When playing, the designated players take their stations inside of a soundproof booths and are monitored by KeSPA referees who make sure that they don’t break the rules of fair play. A typical set last between eight and twenty minutes.
Contrary to popular depictions or what one might imagine, “ghost hunts” or paranormal investigations are quite mundane. What I mean by mundane is that usually nothing happens. For the most part, paranormal investigations involve a lot of waiting around for something…anything, to happen.
The reason why I selected the following clip is because it captures a rare moment when something did happen—something that led the paranormal researchers in the room to believe that they might be in the presence of an invisible agent. Needless to say, none of us, including myself, could really explain what we experienced—the seemingly material traces, the changes in mood and in atmosphere. But if pressed for one, I am not so sure we would all provide the same explanation anyway. That is the thing about the paranormal, it also involves para-explantions, para-ontologies, para-theories, para-methods, para-standards of evidence—often inconsistent and always co-existent.
Before delving into the details of the clip, I would like to briefly introduce the “haunted” house where it was recorded:
Located in Norristown, Pennsylvania, the Selma Mansion was built shortly after the Revolutionary War in 1794. And for most of its existence, the mansion served as a private residence for five distinct military families until its last owner, Ruth Fournance, passed away in 1982. Most of Fournances’ possessions, including crates of Union soldier uniforms and other war memorabilia stored in the home’s basement, were sold at a public “yard sale” leaving a remarkably well-preserved, albeit, hollow structure. The mansion is currently owned by the Norristown Preservation Society. And in recent years, it has become a hot spot for paranormal investigators hoping to encounter some of the many past inhabitants who have lived and died in the home.
This past February, on a cold and damp night, I joined the Seekers Club of the Paranormal, a New York City-based paranormal research team, on their overnight investigation of Selma Mansion.
The audio clip is of an EVP (electronic voice phenomena) session. For those of your unfamiliar with paranormal research jargon, you can think of EVP sessions as modern-day séances, except spirit communication is mediated through audio-visual technologies rather than a psychic medium. At the moment of this recording, there are five of us huddled inside what appears to be a cramped long and narrow storage closet. Sharing the small space with us are the team’s many pieces of equipment—audio recorders, infrared camcorders, digital cameras, and EMF (electromagnetic frequency) meters.
Paranormal research is premised by the hypothesis that ghosts and other paranormal phenomena create material traces, which can then be captured by audio-visual recording equipment, measured by re-purposed scientific instruments, and sensed through bodily reactions. Most of the time, though, a single material trace cannot definitely prove or deny the existence of ghosts. Rather, to collect evidence, paranormal researchers must deploy tools, methods, and modes of analysis in complementary, supplementary, and often contradictory ways. What you are hearing in this audio clip are the efforts of paranormal investigators attempting to ascertain whether or not there are spirits in our presence. To determine this, you will hear—in the midst of the constant din of the spirit box—these investigators cobble together bits and pieces of evidence, including fragments of words from the radio, photographs, and a sudden chilly sensation.
The most exciting moment occurs when the team decides to focus exclusively on communicating with the spirit of a 14 year-old male slave, specifically when Joey asks the spirit if it can touch the pad (5:09). The pad that he is referring to is a heat signature pad, which registers warmer temperatures as brighter colors and cooler temperatures as darker. About two minutes later (7:09), you hear team members excitedly point out there that here indeed a small handprint emerging, gradually growing darker, on the mat. You will hear the investigators describe the shape of the palm print, indicate its location on the mat, count the fingers, inspect the color fluctuations, and note that it is “kid-sized.” You will also hear how the investigators create the conditions of possibility for spirit presences and how they rationalize to themselves and other team members that what they witnessed was in fact genuine paranormal activity.
Perhaps after listening to this clip, you will be left wondering: did we all really see a palm print manifest out of thin air? In the excitement of the moment, I do believe that we genuinely saw what appeared to be a handprint, a palm with five distinct outstretched fingers. But, I also do believe that strong convictions can fade. And what might seem real in the warmth of the present moment might diminish in one’s recollections or in one’s field notes. Or who knows, upon further scrutiny, one’s convictions might possibly grow stronger. Ultimately, I believe that the decisive vote is cast by what William James calls “one’s general sense of dramatic possibility,” that is, if one can imagine the possibility of a universe inhabited by spirits and other invisible agents. In the end, I am left asking my interlocutors and ultimately, myself: Are you sure?
So, are ghosts real? I have no idea. But to ask if ghosts are real is to miss the point of how ghosts are made real by paranormal researchers and how their efforts might provide some insight on the ways in which many Americans think about the life and death, belief and evidence, science and the supernatural.
I am visiting London to participate in an inspiring conference organized by Kat Jungnickel and Nina Wakeford at Goldsmiths College on “Inventive Enactments of the Social: Transdisciplinary methods of transmission and entanglement.” I spoke about the Sound Ethnography Project while thinking about the recent plethora of sound-oriented archival work being done around me.
Both the recent and historical archival, academic, and hobbyist interest in sound in England can be overwhelming. The sheer volume (no pun intended) of archives, sound maps, and collections can be dizzying as well. Archive fever for sound in the epicenter of collections, cabinets of curiosities, and museums shouldn’t surprise too much. Some of the new–or more often–newly digitized archives and collections include:
British Library Sounds explores 50,000 recordings of music, literature, accents and dialects, oral history, environmental sounds, and more. The selection comes from the 3.5 million sound recordings held in the British Library. Its sound recording history section features oral histories of recorded sound and fascinating images of various equipment from 1877 onwards. Make noise in the library!
Reel to Real at the Pitt-Rivers Museum in Oxford asserts that “no human sense is more neglected in ethnographic museums than sound.” The Reel to Real Project (2012-13) is in the process of digitizing and making available online the hundreds of hours of ethnographic sound which has been donated to them during the last one hundred years. Additionally, they’re organizing workshops on digitizing and displaying sound, talks on topics such as repatriating sound, and sound art exhibitions. These are also available on their SoundCloud.
London Sound Survey has the most local focus. Deep and dense, it features sound actions recordings organized by category–economic, officialdom, political, religious, etc. An Irish beggar tells jokes in Camden. A conjurer creates magic in Covent Gardens. An eery siren cries from the Coryton oil refinery to birdsong and oil plumes.
Its All-In-One London sound map features four layers: a contemporary OpenStreetMap, Land Utilisation 1930s (a nationwide survey, much done by schoolchildren), Booth London Poverty 1898 (with color codes depicting relative wealth, commissioned by a social reformer), and Ordnance Survey First Series, published from 1805 onwards. The layers of the map draw attention to the temporalities of sound and space and the problem of singular representation. These layers and extended–and extensive–focus distinguish London Sound Survey from other attempts at mapping and archiving sound. Many presentations of fieldrecordings and sound recordings often fall flat, failing to provide depth or context. Yet this map–as well as the project overall–succeeds at offering endless and beautifully curated sound.
Recently Mexico’s Fonoteca Nacional, National Sound Archive, opened an exhibition dedicated to the paisajes sonoros (sonorous landscapes) of different neighborhoods of Mexico City.
Lauren Villagran reports:
How Mexico City sounds is part of the country’s cultural patrimony, according to the Fonoteca Nacional, the National Sound Archive, whose latest exposition features “aural landscapes” of the capital’s neighborhoods. The exhibit coincides with a new effort to enforce a law limiting noise in the city –– the government’s latest attempt to make the historic center more livable and increasingly attractive to higher dollar shoppers.
Hopefully sounds are not being relegated to museums solely as a measure of preservation and containment of sounds. The curator and fieldrecorder of the exhibition Daniel Goldarecena describes the sounds of Mexico as “patrimony [that] is completely ours.”
The Fonoteca was founded in 2008 and is housed in a former home of Octavio Paz in Coyoacán. Its stated mission is to “safeguard the sonic heritage of Mexico, through the implementation of preservation methods and promote public access to protected heritage … related to sound, in order to encourage a culture of listening.” Perhaps the Fonoteca is an answer to the “father” of the word “soundscape” R. Murray Schafer who asked in 1977, “Where are the museums for disappearing sounds? Even the most ordinary sounds will be affectionately remembered after they disappear. Their very ordinariness turns them into exceptional sound souvenirs.”
For those not in Mexico City, the Fonoteca’s website offers enticing content like a mapa sonoro (sound map) of Mexico. And there’s even a category for cerebro digital sonoro “sonic digital brain”!
Clarice Lispector’s words electrify and hold you captive to the pages. Água Viva–in a new translation by Stefan Tobler–refused to let go of me a few evenings ago. In Portuguese “água viva” translates as “jellyfish.” Like the animal, the book is spineless, with no real narrative. Yet, the Brazilian poet of rock, Cazuza read it one-hundred-eleven times.
Lispector’s parents’ fled from the pogroms in the Ukraine to Northeast Brazil when Clarice was one. At 23, Lispector wrote her first book, Perto do Coração Selvagem (Near to the Wild Heart). One critic called it “the greatest novel a woman had ever written in the Portuguese language.” It appeared in with a bright, pink cover, which was common for books written by women there at that time.
I present a selection of Água Viva for its portrayal of music and listening:
All of me is writing to you and I feel the taste of being and the taste-of-you is as abstract as the instant. I also use my whole body when I paint and set the bodiless upon the canvas, my whole body wrestling with myself. You don’t understand music: you hear it. So hear me with your whole body. When you come to read me you will ask why I don’t keep to painting and my exhibitions, since I write so rough and disorderly. It’s because now I feel the need for words–and what I’m writing is new to me because until now my true word has never been touched. The word is my fourth dimension….
I see that I’ve never told you how I listen to music–I gently rest my hand on the record player and my hand vibrates, sending waves through my whole body: and so I listen to the electricity of the vibrations, the last substratum of reality’s realm and the world trembles inside my hands (2012:5).
I also can’t help but wonder whether Latour read Lispector here:
No, I was never modern. And this happens: when I think a painting is strange that’s when it’s a painting. And when I think a word is strange that’s when it achieves the meaning. And when I think life is strange that’s where life begins (2012:76).
 Cazuza also was one of the first celebrities to go public about his having AIDS a year before he died in 1989.
Imagine if as you traveled through the city, you could hear some of its stories? Imagine if this were in L.A., a supposed non-city, where most people who can afford it travel the freeways until spit out at their destination. Airless, scentless, cocooned with their own personal car soundtrack from Spotify, stacks of (unlabelled) CDs, or the radio. Alternatively, one could bike to the sounds of car engines–even while blasting an iPhone or MP3 player. In conjunction with the first biennial of Made in L.A., multi-museum and gallery exhibition of upcoming and emerging local artists, the Hammer Museum produced a (free) app for that.
One’s location will trigger site-specific stories and snippets of interviews of participating artists and curators in the biennial. In between the various points, local music selected by LA DJ collective and online “future. roots. radio” Dublab streams.
From Made in L.A.’s fascinating behind the scenes description of the making of the app:
“Made in L.A. Soundmap is a site-specific mobile audio experience designed for use while traveling to, from, and in between the three biennial venues in Culver City, Los Feliz, and Westwood, providing visitors with insights into art making in Los Angeles today. Made in L.A. Soundmap explores Los Angeles as the context for the exhibition through interviews with Made in L.A. artists and curators. In a first-of-its kind usage of geolocative technologies, audio segments from these interviews are placed throughout a city map, with each location relating specifically to the segment content. Audio segments play automatically as an app user moves through the city, responding to the users’ specific location. In between segments, music curated by the local collective DUBLAB creates a soundtrack for one’s journey through the city.”
I really love this idea. And look forward to listening to the city in a new way.
Part 1: Slow Travel in Beirut
For the 16 months that I lived in Lebanon, I was totally carless. In fact, I didn’t sit behind the wheel of a car for that entire period. Luckily, there were many transportation options for the car-free in Beirut. The servees, or shared taxi, was my preferred option when I first arrived. It was a lot cheaper than paying for a private taxi ride, though you had to share the cramped back seat of a beat up old car with two other people who were, quite often, smoking. During the hot and humid summer weather, this could be unbearable. Still, it seemed the most efficient way of getting around town on a researcher’s budget.
After a while, though, I started to grow tired of the routine. Stand on the side of the road, wait for a car to drive by, tell the driver your destination, and he’d either take you or leave you standing on the side of the road. Rain or shine. Some routes were too far for servees, so you’d end up having to change cars at least once. This was really annoying, especially when the weather was bad. At some point I got so fed up with waiting on the side of the road, I decided to decipher Beirut’s bus system.
It turns out, it’s a lot easier than expected. There are no bus schedules or maps, nor is there a website with this information (the very notion of a website with a bus schedule was hilarious to anyone I asked). At some point the Beirut street atlas so popular with foreigners and tourists, Zawarib, published a map of the Beirut buses that seemed inspired by the London underground map. While the names of popular roundabouts and destinations were noted on the map (Fiat, the car dealership, for example, or Cola, the busy transport hub for all destinations to the south of the city), it was nearly impossible to determine which streets the bus took, or the distances between the destinations. The best way to learn about the bus was to simply ask bus drivers who have an encyclopedic knowledge of the city and all the numerous private, semi-private bus and microbus services and all their destinations.
After I learned the few bus routes that I needed to use the most, I was hooked. Taking the bus was so easy, and so cheap. I rarely felt as cramped as I did in a servees, never had any creepy conversations with the driver, and no doubt in my mind that the bus would pick me up and take me to my predictable destination. With servees drivers, I can’t tell you how many times I had to bargain, pay double or triple, or agree to be taken nearby but not exactly to my destination. Once, a driver left me on the side of a deserted road in an industrial area at 10PM because I refused to allow him to seat an additional 5 guys in the car. He figured he’d rather have the 5 fares than take me home as promised, so he told me I could either sit on someone’s lap or get out. Luckily another driver passed by before too long and agreed to drop me off on the highway – 20 minutes walk away from my destination – because he was in a hurry to get home. After such experiences, I was really sick of the unpredictability of the servees, even though most of the time it was perfectly fine. Even though the bus was incredibly slow, taking nearly twice or three times as long as a servees ride would, it was reliable. For a woman navigating the city on her own, I also felt it was much safer.
The bus provided a bit more privacy than the servees. Taxi drivers always wanted to talk. Unless you had a really good poker face and didn’t reply to any of his questions, you were inviting all kinds of questions, from the inane, to the totally inappropriate. Regardless of your skills in conversational Arabic, if he detected any hint of an accent, he would seize upon that moment to ask where you were from, and the rest of your life story. I learned to be quite rude thanks to my time in servees taxis!
On the bus, none of this was necessary. You could just sit and stare out the window. No one would talk to you. The driver might light a cigarette or put on the radio, but he was all the way up in the front of the bus. It hardly mattered anyway, what with the fact that you didn’t have to entertain a series of increasingly personal, intrusive questions. Being in a private car was much more comfortable, but I couldn’t stand to drive in the chaos of Beirut, so for me, the bus was the second best option. It took me hours to get anywhere, but I wasn’t in a hurry, and it suited me just fine.
The following is a short audio excerpt from a typical bus ride in Beirut:
Part 2: Routes and Roots
During the summer of 2011, I decided to take a trip around some not-so-close towns in Turkey with a good friend. After cramming for a week to polish my long-forgotten elementary level Turkish, I was just barely able to get around our destinations with the help of a dictionary from time-to-time.
My friend wanted to see the lovely cities of Antakya and Gaziantep. I also wanted to go to Adana, Kozan and Seimbeyli, some rather un-touristy destinations. We flew into Adana from Istanbul, the passenger beside me thought us a real curiosity, saying that he rarely sees tourists in Adana. Indeed, Adana was a somewhat industrial, large city that didn’t have much in the way of tourism, either foreign tourists or even Turkish travelers. Our basic hotel seemed to cater more to business travelers.
My reasons for wanting to start in Adana, and insisting on going to the smaller, less frequented towns of Kozan and Seimbeyli, had more to do with a curiosity about my family history than planning a relaxing holiday. Both my great-grandparents were born during the time of the Ottoman Empire in Hadjin, now called Seimbeyli. My great-grandmother’s family owned farmland in Sis, the town now called Kozan. That town was also the seat of an old Cilician Armenian empire which fell in 1375, and there were some ruins of the Armenian Church and castle I wanted to see there. While many Armenians conduct “heritage tours” through Turkey, visiting all the sites of old Armenian churches and castles, or towns where Armenians used to represent either a majority or a large minority, I didn’t want to take a package tour. I thought it would be more fun to take local buses and talk to people (as much as my limited vocabulary would allow me to).
Our trip was short, less than a week, so we ended up having to take a series of long bus trips between these cities, every day or so. The first day was grueling. We took a 2 hour bus ride up to Kozan, hiking up to the enormous ruins of the old castle of “Sis” in the warm July heat.
We made our way to the local bus station and asked for the next bus to Seimbeyli. Somehow there was a miscommunication, or a deliberate obfuscation of facts, and the bus ride we thought would take 2 or 3 hours, took 4 hours. Seimbeyli was definitely off the beaten track.
We drove up and up and up into heavily wooded mountains with dramatic peaks that looked like something out of a space-age medieval fantasy film. The weather changed drastically from the valley Kozan rests within to the high peaks we were navigating through. The sky darkened, and soon the sound of thunder was rumbling the ground beneath us. Jagged flashes of lightening lit up the sky which seemed to literally open up and pour water down on the tiny microbus we were in.
The road was entirely desolate. For up to an hour at a time, no houses or humans appeared. Then, out of nowhere, a figure would be standing by the road, the driver would pull over and hand him or her a package, and then drive off. I wondered where these people lived. Only towards the very end of our journey did we see anything resembling a village, though we kept passing signs marking the boundaries of municipal districts. I figured that Seimbeyli must be a regional town, and the smaller village at the approach was the beginning of some kind of increasing density. I was mistaken.
When we pulled up to Seimbeyli, the driver indicating it was his last stop. Though it was a small town with only a few streets, everyone who lived there seemed to be outside, and it had kind of a bustling feel, especially in comparison to the vast emptiness we had just driven through. We got off the bus, and I quickly turned to the driver as he was unloading the passengers’ belongings and asked him when the next bus back to Kozan would be. He laughed and said “tomorrow.” I thought I misunderstood him. I looked up the word, and asked again, “tomorrow”? He said evet, yes. I was stunned. I had distinctly asked several people at the bus station in Kozan if there was a return bus that day. I either didn’t ask properly, or I misunderstood their reply somehow. Or maybe they just said “yes” to make it easier on themselves. I prefer to think it was my fault, as I can’t imagine any such deliberate act of ill-will to a complete stranger. With no way back to Kozan, we were stranded for the night. There were clearly no hotels or hostels in this tiny village, so I started to panic a little.
I walked up to a group of men sitting in front of a garage and asked them if there was some kind of taxi in town. They all said no, they didn’t think so, but called over to a man standing on a balcony nearby. Out of nowhere, a little 11 year old boy came running over to us and introduced himself, in quite good English, as Brok. He said “you want a taxi?” and then darted about, with us trailing behind, asking all the adults standing nearby if they could help us. Finally, one man called someone he knew in town who owned a car, and asked if he could lend it to another guy who had time to drive us to Kozan and back if we agreed to pay him $70. Not only was it our only option, but I figured it was really a decent price for such a long journey. We only had a few minutes in Seimbeyli after all. Soon after all the phone calls, the driver in question pulled up in a beat up little white Fiat. I was sad to leave so quickly, but our driver told us that we would probably miss our bus in Kozan if we lingered any longer (we still needed to get all the way back to our hotel in Adana). Before we left, we said goodbye to Brok who said we should come to Seimbeyli again because “it is small, but beautiful.” I told him I agreed.
Luckily, traveling back by car to Kozan took under 2 hours, this was including a tea break at a little isolated roadside café and rest area. Our driver was incredibly friendly, and we somehow were able to have a broken conversation. He insisted on paying for our tea and asked if we were hungry. He was a soldier, he explained, and a “papa.” He showed us photographs of his wife and 2-year-old son on his cell phone. He then asked if we had facebook and gave us his email address. He had lived in Seimbeyli his whole life, and asked us if we had come to visit the “castle ruins” on the hill. He said it was a shame that we didn’t get to climb up there, it was a beautiful sight.
As we pulled into Kozan, we didn’t have much cash left after paying the driver, so we asked him to pull over whenever he saw a bank or ATM. There seemed to be only two on the main road, neither of which would take our cards. Amazingly, he had telephoned someone he knew at the Kozan bus station who told him we had better hurry, they were holding the bus for us. As we pulled up, we gave the driver whatever bills we had (a bit short of proper fare), and the bus driver actually agreed to take us on board anyway. Grateful for all of the wonderful hospitality, and exhausted after hours of travel, I fell asleep on the bus all the way back to Adana.
Despite the fact that bus trips were long, they were surprisingly pleasant in Turkey. Most of the buses, even many of the tiny microbuses, were air-conditioned. The driver would bring along bottles of water which his helper, usually a young man, or sometimes boy (his son? Some other relative?) would pass out to passengers. Occasionally, this same helper would walk around with colognia, a kind of lemon-scented liquid that you put on your hands. I thought it was all very pleasant, and completely lacking in any long-distance bus trip experience I’ve had in the US.
I recorded this audio track while heading out of Antakya to Gaziantep on a bus that was stopping in Marash. You’ll hear a young man calling out destinations ahead.
Protest marches bring people together and create mobile places that subvert many people’s quotidian uses of streets. I ride a bike, so I’m in the street quite often, but is that the case for most people at a protest? And even if we’re accustomed to being in the street, we’re not usually in a dense crowd of bodies, which feels a lot more exciting than being in a dense crowd of vehicles. So often, though, this placemaking feature gets overlooked because protests primarily aim to make political statements that don’t hinge upon the experience of the protest space. Protests carry a shadow, referencing earlier spectacles from other movements and times.
On Tuesday, I marched in a Seattle May Day demonstration organized by El Comité Pro-Reforma Migratoria y Justicia Social, an immigrant advocacy and labor rights group that has been facilitating this march for 13 years. It had been an odd day; the local Occupy movement had held its own march downtown, which had devolved into some petty vandalism that the media gorged upon like hungry houseflies.
Around town for the last month, I’d seen signs connecting Occupy Seattle’s plans with the legacy of the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle. I remember reading about those protests as a teenager, sitting in front of a computer in Southern California. In those days, my head was filled with Rage Against the Machine and the EZLN, and the WTO uprising gave me a restless feeling I didn’t understand until later when I actually started participating in marches. It was the feeling of wanting to join a crowd, join a chant, get overwhelmed by the adrenaline that gushes into your bloodstream when you add your voice to a chorus of “el pueblo unido, jamás será vencido.”
But instead of acting out my teenage fantasy, there I was sitting in a coffee shop in Capitol Hill, reading Twitter updates about the “riot” developing downtown and thinking about the march I planned to attend in a few hours. Was Twentysomething Adonia going to let Teenage Adonia down by foregoing the potential excitement of the downtown march for the family-oriented calm of the more established march?
I have grown skeptical of the nostalgia that seems to fuel some participation in protests at the same time that I have become attentive to the visceral feeling of being part of a temporary something that moves and fills the street with feet, banners, strollers, megaphones. I didn’t break any glass on Tuesday, but I did get that adrenaline rush as I marched down Jackson Street in a crowd of thousands.
Many, many police waited around as a rally finished in Judkins Park and people lined up for the march to begin. As we started to move, I wished I had a noisemaker. Chants were starting up at various places in the sea of people, and I joined in when people around me got going. It wasn’t until we passed under I-5 on Jackson, though, that I started to feel it happening.
This is what we looked like:
This is the space we filled:
And this is what it sounded like:
I don’t really know how to explain the feeling that comes over me when I am in a protest space. It is like a pressure on my eyes that makes them water, I draw ragged breaths and look down so nobody can see the tears. I think it is a feeling of connection with something larger, or at least of being overwhelmed by the sounds, ideas, realities people create when they come together.
Taylor C. Nelms, photos by Anna Wilking
For the last time he raised his eyes and looked at the markets. […] The general awakening had spread, from the first start of the market gardeners snoring in their cloaks, to the brisk rolling of the food-laden railway drays. And the whole city was opening its iron gates, the footways were humming, the pavilions roaring with life. Shouts and cries of all kinds rent the air; it was as though the strain, which Florent had heard gathering force in the gloom ever since four in the morning, had now attained its fullest volume. To the right and left, on all sides indeed, the sharp cries accompanying the auction sales sounded shrilly like flutes amidst the sonorous bass roar of the crowd. It was the fish, the butter, the poultry, and the meat being sold. The pealing of bells passed through the air, imparting a quiver to the buzzing of the opening markets.
—Emile Zola, The Fat and the Thin (Le Ventre de Paris)
Collectively, all these voices make a lot of noise: the auditory experience of the market is a disorienting hubbub of people talking, whispering, laughing, and shouting—a constant hum punctuated with louder voices.
—Mary Weismantel, Cholas and Pishtacos, pg. 109
Quito’s centro histórico (or historical center) has historically been the city’s commercial center as well—where those aspiring to a middle-class lifestyle have gone to find the the material furnishings for such a life—and it’s the wheelings and dealings of retail trade and street business that, in large measure, continue to give the centro its liveliness. Like Les Halles of Zola’s Paris, the centro is full of chatter, shouts and cries, humming and buzzing, a clamorous, reverberating bustle. Markets—from street markets to the trading floors of Wall Street—are often described as noisy, raucous, excessive places. When seeking to understand the logic of market transactions, however, that excess is precisely what is often left out, still a remainder. Mary Weismantel suggests that we pay close, empirical attention to the “material facts,” the “sights, sounds, and smells of the marketplace” (pg. 100). And indeed, walking through the throngs that fill the centro’s streets and passageways, especially on Saturdays and for the newcomer in particular, can be an almost overwhelming sensory experience. This post is an ethnographic experiment, then, in attempting to convey some part of that experience, but with an eye—and ear—towards understanding the aural messages and signatures of the noise. If street commerce in Quito’s centro is an embodied, sensory experience, then it is also, I want to suggest, a semiotic one as well.
Anna Wilking—a filmmaker, journalist, and, like me, a Ph.D. candidate in anthropology—and I walked eight blocks along a well-traveled route through the centro’s commercial heart. Hopping off a bus in La Marín, a transportation hub between Quito’s northern and southern halves (and a key site for street vendors), we walked up the steep slope of Calle Chile, mostly blessedly free of car traffic, past the Plaza de la Independencia (or Plaza Grande) and La Iglesia de la Merced to the neighborhood called El Tejar. In early December, Quito’s municipal government named this path the Ruta del Comprador, or Shopper’s Route, and staffed it with a heavy police presence in an attempt to draw residents to the centro to do their Christmas shopping and to at least complement purchases made in one of Quito’s upscale shopping malls. I also happen to walk the entirety of the Ruta del Comprador on my way to a primary field site for my dissertation research, the Ipiales market at the corner of Chile and Imbabura Streets.
The Ruta del Comprador project in December hearkens back to previous attempts by the city government to regulate public space through targeted efforts to control street commerce. It echoes, in particular, the relocation in 2003 of thousands of street vendors, sometimes called “ambulantes,” to fixed locales in large, concrete structures called “centros comerciales de ahorro” (rough translation: budget malls), several of which are situated along the route Anna and I walked. Although municipal ordinances now prohibit the sale of goods in the street, and although the city intermittently attempts to remove merchants from particular areas—such as through the Ruta del Comprador initiative, which one city official described to me as an attempt to create a “column of security” to promote the “safety” and “cleanliness of our streets”—vendors continue to return to the centro’s streets to make their rounds and sell what they can under the disapproving, but usually inactive, gaze of the police. The merchants, on the other hand, tell me that they feel safest in the centro when they can hear their compañeros at work; it means none of them will be caught alone. (I feel the same.)
Efforts like the Ruta del Comprador are part of a long history of tension and conflict between municipal institutions and street vendors, a conflict expressed most clearly via the struggle to occupy space. In locating vendors in contained areas such as the centros comerciales de ahorro, city officials argue that they are attempting to bring order, safety, sanitation, and “trust” to the centro at the same time that they offer a “dignified” work environment for the merchants. A central complaint among such officials regarding street commerce—besides assumptions about crime and sanitation—concerns the noise. And as I suggested above, the streets of the centro are lively, exuberant, boisterous spaces. But such noise also contains communication—information at once “economic” and “social” about products for sale, prices, supply and demand, what’s needed and what’s desired, the advertisement of wares, the negotiation before the sale, the individualized calls of particular vendors. All this is part of the sociomaterial world of commerce and consumption in Quito. There is no doubt more to gleaned from the buzz of Quito’s commerce along the Ruta del Comprador.
In this Google map, I have embedded images taken by Anna along the Ruta del Comprador, some of which correspond to timestamps in the recording above. Listen for the aural signatures of particular moments, places, people, and encounters, such as around the 16:50 mark, when I run into one of my interlocutors selling newspapers. Each recorrido or tour through the streets of the centro will produce a different soundscape, but many of the actors keep returning and many of the encounters echo one another. (There are many more encounters, goods for sale, and merchant voices than I can mark here. Add a comment if one in particular calls out to you.)
The sounds of vendors in the streets of the capital also speaks to the ongoing conflict between the city and the ambulantes. For the merchants, the streets of the centro are secured with sound, not police checkpoints. And as the Occupy movements return to the streets in cities across the United States and Europe, street vendors’ calls suggest another kind of occupation, filling a space with sound, occupying the streets with one’s voice.
 It’s not just Zola who describes markets this way. This is Henry Mayhew writing in his book London Labour and the London Poor: “[A]t each step the low hum grows gradually into the noisy shouting, until at last the different cries become distinct, and the hubbub, din, and confusion of a thousand voices bellowing at once again fill the air.”
 For instance, the appearance of goods for pets for sale (such as clothing for dogs), as well as the pets themselves (usually small puppies, but on this trip, we also found fish for sale), suggests that Quito’s pet culture is changing. While dogs were once seen almost exclusively as security features, now they are increasingly being treated as members of one’s household.