Photo: Sofía Jaimes Barreto

The Sounds of Caracas Have Their Interactive Map Now

Architect Valeria Escobar began to compose a sound map of Caracas because she missed its birds. Now we can all contribute to it

Yes. Caracas SoundScape, the invention of UCV architect Valeria Escobar, is a map of Caracas, but not as a flat and simplified representation of its surface, much less as a projection of a political-territorial rearrangement.

Valeria made a map of the city that is shown, known, remembered, and understood by the diversity of its sounds.

So the geographic data puts you in the Caracas that you miss when you don’t live in it anymore, the same one that Valeria has longed for since she moved to Bogotá to continue her remote work for a firm in Switzerland two and a half years ago. 

“This Colombian city is very sad, there are no birds. The day I realized that, I got a little sad. It was around those days that I started to draft the map,” she says during her conversation with Caracas Chronicles and adds: “But the result is fun, right?”

Yes, it’s quite fun! How do I call it? Map of Caracas’ sounds? The soundtrack of Caracas? Melodies of nostalgia?

It’s an interactive map, an interactive audiovisual representation, a personal vision of how the city where I lived most of my life sounds like.

Why a sound map?

It’s a map because I’m an architect. For me, everything is governed by the physical space, by the city that I always have in my mind. Sounds because they are always in the background. Sound is omnipresent, it’s always there, even if you don’t realize it. Sounds are the center of attention so that people realize how relevant they are, as a part of the city that one usually walks or sees in photos, in videos, on maps, but not in sounds, which is so important. By bringing it to the spotlight, I offer a feeling of our home, our place.

How did you come up with that?

I once went for a walk in Beijing. The streets are flooded with people and motorcycles. There was something that didn’t feel quite right to me, and it wasn’t because I was on the other side of the world. I realized that the motorcycles didn’t have a sound because almost all of them are electric. Then, the experience fell to pieces and I discovered the parts of a day-to-day Caracas experience because when a motorcycle passes, it carries so much more with it: a person, a machine, a force, a sound and even the terror you feel because they might rob you. When a motorcycle passes by, an emotion passes by. A lot happens because of small actions and I hadn’t thought about it. Seeing the experience in separate parts, I found it interesting and kept thinking about this idea. So in June 2020, I started working on it.

From the idea to the map, how was the tour?

Very difficult! I thought I could do it! I hadn’t realized it would be so difficult! I had to learn a lot about maps and programming. I work full time, so I didn’t have a lot of time to put into this project, but I would do it in the mornings before work, in the evenings and on the weekends. Sometimes I would give up a little and leave it for a while, waiting for the frustration to pass. I celebrated every milestone. When I was gathering the information with my acquaintances, they helped me with their observations and stories, and I realized that each one had an emotional relationship with sounds, some of them became characteristic of their life.

What was your goal with this map?

Honestly? Finishing it.

And now that?

It’s an invitation for people to listen, because any sound is an expression of life, even if it’s the noise of the construction next door.

In Caracas, they are fortunate to share that noise with the sound of nature, it’s a wonderful thing.

And, well, I would like this to become an immersive version! I imagine it on a large scale in a museum exhibit, where, instead of clicking the mouse or the screen, you move through a mini-city and go through these sounds as you walk. Can you imagine that?

Yes of course! Especially because your map, in some way, also presents sociological information of the sectors in a simple, attractive way, with an intuitive design.

It’s great to hear that! I’m sure that, if I had more data, I could get some patterns, because as it is, you already know that there are sounds that are more present in one place than in others. This allows you to establish differences across the city and draw conclusions from our society.

Can we collaborate?

Oh yes, please! Anyone who can contribute data is welcome! On the map, there’s a “+” symbol that takes you to Google Forms. Please fill it in with as much detail as you can. This is how the data is collected.

Is it useful to have audios passed to you?

Yes, you could incorporate it to make them sound better. But in order to draw the colored lines across the city, you need to fill out the form.

Your invention makes nostalgia bearable.

Yes! So people tell me. Someone told me that he almost cried with the frogs. Another person told me that they leave it playing while they are doing something else at home. The best thing was my little brother who, when he heard the frogs, told me: “It’s just like our house!” The idea is for everyone to pitch in: what does your home sound like?

 

Kaoru Yonekura

Venezuelan writer and the winner of the Gabo Foundation Journalism for Solutions scholarship.