“You’re a traveling stranger. I’m a stranger who never traveled.” (Rami, street poet in Cairo)


Sound installation and sound essay commissioned for the “Cairoscape” exhibition, Kunstraum Kreuzberg/Bethanien 2008

Street sellers and workers, car horns, prayers calls, coffee shop conversations, whistles, music tapes, mobile phones, car alarms, lost dogs and wild birds colonies: The Cairo soundscape is a sleepless conversation. It reveals a constellation of social power and tensions where each loud utterance is a possible adress and a call at the same time, where each voice is a body supplement to grasp more space or at least to signalize and thus fighting for a (more or less gendered) presence. Having a voice is the condition to survive in the over-crowded megacity.

My interest for cultural acoustics brought me to record some of these voices during a residency at the Pro Helvetia Liaison Office in 2008. Several Cairo inhabitants answered my questions about their daily sound environment, cultural specific aural practices, personal anecdotes and favourite sounding places and times.

Magdi Mustafa, a sound artist met at the Townhouse Gallery, describes how listening to low frequency sounds like airplanes flying over Cairo puts him in a meditative state of mind and makes him think about the past. In his monologue he is wondering if people inside the plane are having similar sensations and memories while they are traveling. Himself never had the possibility to take a plane, nor to travel outside of Egypt and therefore his only reference in terms of sound environment is Cairo and its surroundings.

It is indeed not easy to travel for an Egyptian, at least not to western countries: despite increased global mobility and the declining cost of transportation only a small percentage of the midle eastern population is allowed this possibility. In the post 9.11 environment, the control of individual mobility is defined by documentary regimes which test citizenship and risk,   border policing structures which discriminate between desirable and undesirable travelers and international protocols(1). And you rather not mention a special interest for airplanes.

Profound listening, an immersion in the inside of sound matter, offers an alternative way to travel in space and time without problematic border crossing for those who are not part of the transnational traveling elite. For the installation outside of the plane, I have created a listening environment using recordings of Magdi’s voice, fragments of Cairo soundscapes and the exhibition room itself as a resonator for low frequency sounds.

(1) In order to get a visa to the EU (Schengen Visa) an invitation is usually required, as well as the proof of sufficiant funds for the trip (several hundreds euros), a travel health insurance and the paiement of a 60 euros fee, while the average income in Egypt is estimated 150$ a month.