We are A Parede, a design education duo currently based in Berlin. We are also co-founders of the Decolonising Design platform.

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Auditory Governances (2016)

Cards for the re-publica session

“Auditory Governances” is an umbrella name for a series of Yarn Sessions developed within the context of the “Algerinha Vive” project. Before starting, it is recommended to read more about the project in order to better understand the materials shown in this session.

A Yarn Session is a pedagogical endeavour we developed in the course of our PhD researches as a way to fostering a decentralised dialogue within and around designed objects and systems. To develop this format we looked primarily at Paulo Freire’s proposal for a Pedagogy of the Oppressed and its iteration in Theatre with Augusto Boal. In the case of Auditory Governances, we also looked closely at Gloria Anzaldúa’s proposition of storytelling as a re-organisation of reality, as well as the auditory narratives found in Kodwo Eshun’s sonic fictions.

These Yarn Sessions aimed at using the Algerinha story as a platform upon which conversations, stories, propositions, and debates in and around the themes tackled by the story – racism, classism, migration, violence – all having sound and listening practices as the main threads of the narratives. Participants were brought into a space where not knowing anything for sure allowed for more creative and decentralized debates and propositions to emerge. Similarly, there is no ‘main character’ or ‘hero’ in the story of Algerinha; people are presented as ‘nodal points’ of the events that propel the story, but their actions are never given center stage in order to avoid misguided assumptions of empathy or moral judgements about the occupation and their residents. This goes against the usual narrative of social and co-design which often relies on the creation of ‘personas’ for drawing empathic responses from participants. In doing so, we promote a type of material-discursive engagement with these themes that seek to evince the problems with their very ‘taken-for-grantedness’ as fixed sets of designed things, systems, and policies.

The story of Ocupação Algerinha was constructed collectively within these Yarn Sessions, using the story’s initial fragments as ‘faint signals’ to which participants were asked to respond to and fabulate upon. Subsequently, fabulations would be integrated into the story and become other conversation starters as ‘faint signals.’ To help organize these fragments for every session, we created three distinct ‘projects’ – meaning parts of the story in which we decided to have more detail and more fragments relating to. These were “O Jogo do Tarréfono,” a playground game;  “Ruídografías,” a week-long, social-design workshop commissioned by the city administration to take place within the occupation, as a public-private partnership developed in order to deal with complaints over the alleged noise coming from inside Algerinha. Lastly, we re-purposed all the sonic material generated by the other fragments and crafted “Algerinha Vive:” a four-track, eleven minutes-long mixtape of ‘uncertain origin’, which is believed to retell an alternative history of the last days of the occupation. In the end they all craft a story which is depicted in an infographic/timeline of the occupation.

Props for the Bauru session

In total there were four Yarn Sessions of the Algerinha project, held in three different countries – Brazil, Germany, and Switzerland. The choice for these specific places was more due to interest from the parties involved than anything else; the intention was to shift geopolitical contexts as much as possible so as to get a larger variety of backgrounds and responses. Average attendance for these sessions were around thirteen people, with the lowest attendance being seven participants, and twenty at the largest; having a gender balance was enforced in every proposal and call for participation, and luckily three of the four sessions had a well-mixed environment in terms of gender. Participants were usually from the same countries in which each session was being held, with the exception of the CLB instalment, which had a more balanced group of both Europeans and non-Europeans. Even though the story of “Ocupação Algerinha,” which functioned as the igniting device for the sessions, is set in Brazil, only a few of the participants were Brazilians or Latin Americans – with the obvious exception of the session held in Brazil. Due to the contexts in which sessions were booked – usually within specific events such as conferences or lecture series – professional and/or academic background of the participants was heavily oriented towards design, sound studies, or arts. This enacted a specific – and unfortunately constrained – cut as to the diversity of the participants in terms of class: the absolute majority of them were from at least a lower middle-class background and had access to higher education, at least in the Bachelor level.

Each session started already from the story of Algerinha; elements of the story were told without making it explicit that they were part of a fictional narrative. For each session, one or more objects – so-called “fragments” – were given center stage, and the story was conducted around this specific set; other fragments functioned as supporting props for the scenario being described. Using mostly a first person account to describe the finding of the “curious objects” at a pawnshop, the attention of the participants was drawn towards a personal anecdote that slowly revealed itself to be worth of a research project. Conversely, the ‘witnesses’ of the Algerinha story were those determining the initial narrative of the session. Suspension of disbelief was broken spontaneously, usually around the time participants were asked to intervene on the story – although, as it will be seen later, in a few cases participants either remained within the story until the end or were unaware that they were hearing a fictional narrative.

Participant analyses the Tarrefono device in Bauru

Props and Maps for the Bauru session

Maps and proposals from the Bauru session

The first session was held in December 2015 at Universidade Estadual Paulista (UNESP) in Bauru, Brazil; the main focus of this session was the playground game and its accompanying 3d-printed toy, supported by news and ‘found evidences’ such as videos and audio files. Participants of this session were given more specific tasks in comparison with the subsequent instalments; for this we had a ‘script’ which guided them through key points in the narrative, expanding their knowledge about the occupation as the session progressed. Their main task, however, was to perform a ‘detective work’ as to how the story of the occupation ended up translating into a set of rules for a playground game.

Within this session, participants ended up imagining alternative pasts and futures of Brazil, rewriting the story of Algerinha so as to demonstrate possible forms of sonic resistance that might have emerged in times of profound crisis in the occupation. To do so, they imagined kids from the community would re-purpose discarded Long Range Acoustic Devices as props for a playground game meant to prepare them for their inevitable forceful eviction on day. Conversely, other participants imagined the game to be a re-enactment of a tragedy as a subtle way of preserving their own history and reclaiming their roots as a group marked by resilience and resistance.

Props for the re-publica session

Participant tells his group's fabulation to the others at re-publica

Initial briefing at the re-publica session

The second session was held in Berlin at re:publica, a media convention which annually opens a call for contributions. Running for an entire weekend every May, the event comprises of several so-called ‘stages’ for different activities ranging from panels to practice-based workshops. For the 2016 edition we proposed a two-hour workshop on the theme of “destructive interferences” and “sonic violences.” Using the Algerinha story as the main conductor, this session centred around drawing connections between events from the story and sonic weaponry, and used a set of cards with real news and events from the story as the main narrative threads.

Differently from the previous session, in this instalment participants ended up assuming the role of those against the community, reproducing and perpetuating the exact forms of Auditory Governance the session meant to interrogate in the first place. Speculations here ranged from quasi-invisible sound bombs to kite-drones blasting high-pitch frequencies against teenagers, as well as a reimagining of the occupation’s forceful eviction with the use of an ultra-potent sound horn by the Police.

Props for the Basel Session

Performance by the participants of the Basel session

The third session was held in June 2016 in Basel, Switzerland, invited by the team at the Critical Media Lab at the Institute of Experimental Design and Media Cultures (IXDM), Academy of Art and Design FHNW. For this session we were given a full day (six hours), so the story could be properly unravelled and discussed in detail. In the end we focused mostly on the contents of the ‘Algerinha Vive’ mixtape and their possible connection with the playground game, while having the objects from Ruídografías as supporting props to conduct the story.

This session, while productive, proved itself to be too complex and feature too many layers of speculation and back-and-forth between fiction and reality for the participants to fully grasp the extent of the story of the Algerinha occupation. Yet the results were quite interesting, insofar as the groups switched between highlighting the conditions upon which the tension between the occupation and the surrounding neighbourhood existed in the first place to counter-hegemonic devices to disrupt possible forms of auditory surveillance deployed by the city administration through the Ruídografías workshop. In the above picture, a group created a powerful performative representation of the power dynamics of assimilation within the occupation; by having the person at the center to dictate a clapping rhythm, the other two participants had to try to resist not clapping in any type of consonance – a task which proved itself almost impossible.

Initial briefing at the CLB session

Map from the CLB Session

Maps from the CLB session

The fault pointed out by the participants in Basel was addressed in the fourth session, held at the collaborative space CLB in Berlin with support of the Sound Studies Lab. For this instalment of the Algerinha story we decided to give a stronger focus on – and in turn the center stage to – one single track from the Algerinha Vive mixtape, asking participants to think about the types of narrative and fictions it would supposedly tell; simultaneously to the sonic material we introduced a few key events from the story as a set of random occurrences in the session, using a set of dice to assign what we named ‘plot twists’ to the groups formed by the participants in order for them to work with and create stories from (these ‘plot twists’ were loosely inspired by the mechanics of the role-playing game Fiasco). Much like the first, this session ended up yielding cohesive stories which unfolded the events in the Algerinha story to interesting settings.

One of the groups decided to tell the story from the point of view of an activist who used their own sonic compositions to not only bring the struggles of the occupation to the foreground, but also to scare tourists out by showcasing the reality of their living conditions at the time. In becoming a “human jukebox”, this activist would switch roles between a tourist guide and an agent provocateur, luring the visitors to places in the occupation in which they would be confronted with harsh sonic and physical realities. Another group took on the topic of developing a form of digital sonic resistance against the media conglomerates which would probably have the control of the narrative about the occupation to those outside it. Imagining a dishonest journalist as their main antagonist, this group understood the mixtape to be a form of creating a sonic imprint of the community which would be immune to falsification, doing so by using complex modes of digital file encryption. In the end, the mixtape would travel the underground route of nostalgic tape-trading and thus tell ‘the world’ the true story of the Algerinha occupation.

All in all, the story of Algerinha can be understood as a dub version of the ‘real world’. In creating a semi-fictional story we were able to manipulate the pieces that compose this story at will, sometimes highlighting certain issues that were perceived to be more relevant for a specific session but not for another. In these sessions, we actively fostered an environment in which stories could be built as supports for discussions around listening practices and auditory governances, using the story of Algerinha as both a platform and metaphor for the struggles of real life that are somehow enacted and present in sonic practices and the different types of fictions they yield.

Moreover, this format also helped discussions around the agencies of design to emerge in a ‘zone of timelessness’; in other words, instead of talking about auditory governances in a top-down, lecture-like format, time is momentarily and collectively suspended in order for participants of a session to dwell in the story of an imagined community as a means of conveying an idea. It thus allows everyone to explore the ramifications of certain sonic technologies in ‘safer’ environments in order to perceive issues that might lead to unsafer worlds; a “re-organized reality”, to paraphrase Gloria Anzaldúa, in which discussions take over presentations, and narratives with and through sound are used as pedagogical devices for debating diverse and divergent presents and futures.