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A Crowd-Sourced Sound Map for the Protests of Our Time

Almost 200 recordings of international protests are now archived in an online sound map that spans over two decades.

Screenshot of Cities and Memory’s sound map of protests (screenshot via citiesandmemory.com)

From protests against President Trump to those opposed to Brexit, the streets of cities around the world have echoed with powerful, frequent cries of dissent over the last year alone. The chants, “Her body, her choice!” and “EU, we love you!” are among the almost 200 recordings of international protests that are now archived in an online sound map that spans over two decades. Titled Protest and Politics, the archive makes the case that these calls represent the sounds that best define the age we live in.

It’s produced by Cities and Memory, a collaborative, crowdsourced project that issues calls for field recordings to build publicly accessible, themed collections, from the noises of London’s tube to the sounds of water around the world. Every recording is also paired with a version of it that has been remixed by a sound artist who reimagines the composition to reflect their own experiences — hence, the “memory” part of the project’s name.

Three months in the making, Protest and Politics documents activists’ cries from 49 cities spread across 27 countries, with about 120 artists contributing their new interpretations. Along with the anti-Trump and Brexit protests, you can listen to the rousing chants of public school teachers in Colombia on strike last June; demonstrations in Istanbul’s Taksim Square against Bashar al-Assad from 2011; and a chaotic recording of one of the many rallies against austerity measures in Thessaloniki. You can explore the collection as plotted on an interactive map, or listen to recordings as organized by theme, from “Women’s rights” to “Democracy.”

“The impetus to start it for me, personally, was attending the Unite for Europe march against Brexit in the UK, and feeling part of a nationwide movement to resist what we feel will be a disaster for the country, and one which was based on a misleading campaign made of genuine lies by the Leave campaign — and the urge to act now, because so much hangs in the balance,” Cities and Memory founder Stuart Fowkes told Hyperallergic.

“Looking around for the last few years, that seems to be the case worldwide — with Trump, the Occupy movement, Black Lives Matter and countless others around the world, from local issues like protests against car parks and casinos, to big global issues like climate change and austerity.”

As it currently stands, the Protest and Politics collection is, admittedly, a very partial one that largely vocalizes left-leaning stances — contributors have yet to upload recordings from, say, a Men’s Rights Activist event or a Westboro Baptist Church picket. It is also rife with protests from Europe and the United States, but features little representation from Asia, South America, and zero recordings from Africa. But Fowkes hopes that the archive, which will continue to grow, will invite people to more easily explore the similarities and differences between demonstrations they cannot experience in person themselves, both in method and in spirit.

“There are so many moving protests in the project; the frustration, anger, and love is palpable in the voices you can hear, but the overriding emotion of protest is really one of hope — that things can change,” Fowkes said. “And that’s one of the things this project is meant to symbolize — a collection of voices expressing hope for a better future, wherever they live.”

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