“Porto Desconhecido”

What’s heritage without the actual people it is meaningful to? What’s tradition if it isn’t a living thing reinforcing one’s sense of identity and belonging?

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These were the questions that came to me naturally after the “Porto Desconhecido” exhibition and conversation some weeks ago in the Soares dos Reis museum. “The unknown Porto” made public some local stories, memories and customs thanks to a number of caring stakeholders – common people, young and old, who worked together in representing their traditions (celebration of the day of Saint Rita in São Nicolau neighbourhood in Porto) in an animated film, as much as the people from cultural institutions who came up with the idea, gathered the stories at various points in Porto and organized the logistics.

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The conversation was meant to contextualize the activities done and inform on the work, gathering museum experts and other participants at the stage: acknowledging that both parties were equally important for the success of the project! After the short film projection, it was endearing to see the exhibition, with pieces of scenography created with love and care for the city and its traditions by São Nicolau social center users.

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Bonding the people between each other and with their city, as well as unpretentiously reminding us, the observers, of what living heritage values are, that was the message of “Porto Desconhecido”.

Phonambient

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Some months ago, I wrote about a project named “PortoSonoro” here on the blog. That great idea, mapping contemporary acoustic urban heritage and making the data available to researchers and to general public, has now expanded: the “Phonambient” has been born.

I found out more about it some time ago in Casa da Música in Porto, during an eventful week in February dedicated to the project presentation. The musicians and researchers behind “Phonambient” are linked to the cultural association “Sonoscopia”. They value intuition, creativity and research equally: the project contains a combination of scientific and artistic components, and offers a fresh view onto the city life of today.

Besides the presentation, a talk I had with Gustavo Costa, one of the main people behind “Sonoscopia” and a PhD researcher, was valuable to understand the project relevance and its current scope. “Phonambient” is, briefly, and extension of sound mapping ideas of “PortoSonoro” to other cities in Portugal and abroad, as well as exploration of possible (artistic) uses of the sound archives created.

The “Phonambient” people are experts in recording sounds, and it is crucial even nowadays when sound recording devices are inexpensive and widely available. They are interested in various forms of artistic transformations of the acoustic archive they created, and that is what the Casa da Música event was partly about (imagine, one could find out what plants from around the city have to “say”!). However, the point of the project is also to make the urban sound archive available to other researchers and artists, to be used freely. This can be of great value for anyone who explores contemporary city: linguists, for example, among many others, as the archive contains a section devoted to local expressions and slang. And once in the future, thanks to this archive, it will be possible to reflect on the soundscapes of today.

“Phonambient” is an open, collaborative platform: the “Sonoscopia” teams work with local teams in each of the cities where the project has expanded (besides Porto, for now those are Braga, Tondela, Castelo Branco, Guarda and Fundão, plus one international partner city – Abu Dhabi). So, there is a possibility for the idea to grow and transform, independently of its initiators.

Right now, the project is expanding in geographical terms, as well in terms of abundance of data acquired. And that abundance is a big challenge: the huge amounts of data need to be filtered and organized, and it takes time and effort in terms of their categorization.

In a word, the value of “Phonambient” is that, being open to collaboration, these artists/scientists simultaneously keep creating and envisioning future research territories.

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