About a year ago, sound artists Francesco Giannico and Giulio Aldinucci put out a call for people to send them recordings made in public squares, with the intention being to rework the collected material into “an ideal symphony of all living squares all over the world”. Responses to the call and their subsequent reworking have now been published in the form of the album “Agoraphonia”. The first three tracks focus on specific public squares in Morocco, Argentina, and China, while the fourth track is an amalgamation of sounds from different squares. So what kind of symphony emerges from these compositions?
It quickly becomes clear that Giannico and Aldinucci’s idea of ‘reworking’ is a lot more extensive than simply editing the material recorded in the squares. In each of the pieces, they add pitched sounds from synths and electric guitar, complementing and often supplanting the field recordings. It’s in the first piece ‘Koutoubia’ that the added sounds are most thoroughly integrated with the on-location ones: between snatches of voices, traffic, preaching, and calls to prayer from a mosque, thrumming tones diffuse throughout the square like a mist. Elsewhere, waves of synth, deep, surging drones, and echoing electric guitar frequently drown out the everyday ambience of the squares. I think my personal preference would have been for more subtle interventions in the original field recordings, as the palpable sense of atmosphere captured by the contributing recordists is often lost when the added material becomes too dominating.
However, the bold use of pitched sounds doesn’t necessarily prevent the album from achieving its goal. As I listen, a moving image slowly coalesces: not of any particular square, but of a shared realm of sociality that emerges wherever humans gather in significant number, a space we carry with us that belongs to all of us and none of us. An idea, with physical dimensions and sonic presence, normally encountered in a state of distraction but here brought to attention. In this sense, “Agoraphonia” succeeds in evoking and celebrating a form of architecture which is so essential to public life as to become an almost universal feature of human cities, wherever they may be around the globe.