DAKAR – Senegal

17. February – 17. March 2020

Nika Schmitt, Martin Tornow + Ismaël Adramé Coly, Anna K. Wane

Marion Louisgrand Sylla (Dakar) + Stefan Rummel (city sound artist bonn 2014)

21st February – Project Presentation, 7pm @ Kër Thiossane
13th + 14th March – Open Studio @ Kër Thiossane

Partner organisation / Residency place:
Kër Thiossane, Dakar

Goethe-Institut Senegal

traffic cups, calabashes, plastic bottles

an introduction by Stefan Rummel

Following a brief stopover in Lisbon, we land well past midnight at Dakar’s Blaise Diagne Airport. The driver finds us at the exit. We just manage to squeeze all our baggage into the trunk and off we go. The ride passes through a very dark steppe landscape, from time to time a lorry or mini-vans with dark tinted windows pass us. After just about an hour we reach Kër Thiossane in Sicap Liberté. Everyone goes to bed. Around four in the morning I awake to the sound of indefinable, haunting singing that floats above the whole district, the whole city – or that is the way I perceive it still half asleep. At six o’clock, the singing gives way to cyclic birdsong, which soothes me. At eleven, we have our first meeting with all of the participating field researchers for urban sound phenomena in Dakar.

loom in the desert sand, dogs in the yard, cat on thatched roof.
three examples of excursions …

Sicap Liberté
The next day, we take our first walks through the district, on primarily sandy streets and paths. The colour of luscious green, of the type familiar from memories and photographs from home, is absent here, due as well to the fact that the plants are covered in dust. We visit the garden, Jardin jet d’eau, which the operators of Kër Thiossane have created in collaboration with the local authorities – a dome made of iron bars overgrown with vegetation offering seating in the shade serves as the centrepiece of the complex. Small beds are arranged around this dome. The soil is very dry, watered by a single garden hose. Between the houses, on the nearly ankle-deep sand across the way, children play football. The slamming and screaming sounds bounce off the houses. The public library is located right around the corner, though unfortunately it has been closed for quite a while, supposedly only one person has a key, so instead we pay a brief visit to a primary school next door. Afterwards, we eat in the small restaurant behind the garden, seated outside next to the spot where the bowls and plates are washed by hand. The colour of the dishwater gives me cause for concern, but the food is quite good and digested without incident. The “terrace” has a plastic table and four plastic chairs and a wooden bench – we share this seating arrangement with the locals, along with the drinking water. Next door are workshops where they weld and cut metal fences with angle grinders, and in the adjacent small shops everyday items are sold on the street-facing side, sewing supplies, shoes and dishes. Over the next days, we take more walks through the district. Now, we venture further and further afield from our centre-point (Kër Thiossane), leaving the Sicap district and visiting a large metalworking shop. Most of the work is done outside. At the entrance, four sceptical men are sitting on a bench, marvelling at our visit and our project. We make some sound recordings, shadowed all the while by one of the workers filming us with his smartphone for fun. Afterwards, we walk through the marketplace and narrow alleyways, one of them with an almost Mediterranean feel…with children at play and women cleaning vegetables, men standing and consulting with one another in front of the raised hoods of cars.

Meeting with two local personalities from the music/street-art “off” scene. We meet at the coast, on the beach lie the long, colourful wooden boats (pirogues) of the native fishermen. A wild mixture of materials and smells. “Mud Boy” shows us around his old neighbourhood, self-confident, gliding on inline skates, together with “10,000 Problems”. We take a look at the first murals (colourful, representational, thematic) on the house facades, alongside the ocean road with its heavy traffic. He also shows us the works of the “Illustrator”, well known in the neighbourhood, including inside the entrance to his house. Black-and-white drawings made with cigarette butts, leftover bits of charcoal, etc., mostly figures, heads and lions. Sombre. We make a couple recordings, but it’s more a thing for the eyes and the nose, ordinary urban noise. We enter a market hall (Marche Tilene) and encounter a million flies, 300 people: merchants, shoppers, 4 sonic explorers and a mentor and Mud Boy, 10,000 Problems and his dog, which everyone is scared of. The sense of smell is tested to the limit, the eyes see dead meat and lifeless fish. No recordings here, as we pass through quickly. To understand a place like this, one must adapt all of one’s senses.

Weaving Mill
We visit a weaving mill that belongs to an optimistic female entrepreneur who produces furniture and fabrics. We are greeted at the entrance by wonderful people. A young woman named Lika and her greying boss. The sort of boss that does every operation good. The carpenter’s shop is in front of us. Without exception, the men are wearing dust masks, we record sounds later on. The looms, to be operated manually, are upstairs on the second floor – we record their clacking and whirring. No one is bothered by our actions. From time to time, solitary men naked from the waist up exit the washroom blithely, on the way home or back to the weaving loom. Lovely recordings are captured here. Our two guides lead us to an additional hall on the other side of the street. Here we find the large electrically driven power looms using a punch card system. Several Spanish models from the 1970s/80s/90s. The machines are actually not being used on this particular day, but the workers perform a couple rounds for us on their steel instruments. I feel transported to another time. At the exit, a man boils tea on a gas burner and in the hall next door a solitary Chinese man seems to be doing gymnastics atop mountains of cardboard and canned goods.

Exchange of Goods, Exchange of Ideas, Exchange of Cultur

Experimental sound works in the open studio. How does one react to what one has experienced, the city’s sounds and the visual impressions? Does one rely on tried-and-true methods or search for new techniques, for other formal languages and unfamiliar sounds?
The grant recipients have primarily limited themselves to trying out new things.Exploring the city together, markets etc., searching for materials. Undertaking excursions together.

When one travels to a place like Dakar in Senegal for four weeks, one should give thought to how to open up to the other, how to adapt one’s self and search for the unfamiliar. Every country, every city has its own habits of seeing, its own smells and sounds (ambient background noise). Sometimes they resemble the things that one already knows from other places. That’s why one should dive in deeper, research more precisely into the special nature of the sounds on the ground there. The grant recipients spent 1-2 weeks getting their bearings and reflecting on which materials they would like to work with, culminating in a presentation in the open studio. Then, in the third week, they tried out materials in the studio, experimented with them. The difficult thing here was departing from habitual strategies and developing new strategies for this new place – for a site-specific intervention that examines Dakar’s urban sound phenomena.

You could enter Karima’s piece right at the entrance to Kër Thiossane. The ground was covered with sand. Crushed plastic bottles that Karima had found in the city during her walks lay in the sand. She noticed the bottles, which lay everywhere as if forgotten on the streets and paths and which had been squashed down by car tires and shoe soles over a long period of time. The older bottles had long since lost their form and function and had the appearance of found pieces, artefacts. Karima simulated the noises of the compression process by stepping on newer bottles and recording this process with a microphone and a video camera. The video was shown on a flat-screen monitor. Karima placed a second piece in Jardin jet d’eau. In the middle of the dome-like construction made of thick iron bars and vines, a large old megaphone equipped with a speaker was hung vertically on a string (the way they are used in mosques). This simple intervention was meant to encourage visitors, especially children, to push the megaphone playfully. Through the swinging motion, the recorded children’s voices that emanated from the funnel loudspeakers became audible here and there in the immediate surroundings.

Artist project page >>>

Adramé installed his intervention in the backmost residency room of the courtyard at Kër Thiossane. A sort of homage to rural life in Senegal in comparison to the urban sound phenomena of Dakar. Hollow gourds and other containers like metal pots were distributed around the space. Water dripped with varying intensity and speed from gourds on the ceiling, into containers arranged beneath, large water troughs and metal buckets. The containers became resonant bowls, reflecting the dripping sounds in a variety of ways. An additional stereo audio track featuring processed industrial sounds that Adramé had recorded during the residency in Dakar was diffused into the room by means of a loudspeaker, where it mixed with the analogue dripping sounds. A further hidden loudspeaker in front of the room, next to the window, opened the installation up to the exterior space. Guests were thus able to take up diverse listening positions, listening in the space or listening to the space from outside (in front of the window).
Adramé got the idea for this piece after one of his visits to the family home out in the countryside, where water from torrential rainfall dripped non-stop through the roof.

Artist project page >>>

In her piece, Nika also explored calabashes and aluminium bowls. Her work was inspired among other things by the roundabout (jet d’eau) with the defunct fountain in the centre. She was interested in things that revolved around a fixed point, as with a lighthouse for instance. Two halves of a gourd were connected by way of an axel with a battery-powered motor, enabling automatic motion. The gourd shells moved against one another and amplified, through their form, the sounds of friction with the ground. Nika made a little tour through the city with her object, which resembles a small robot, intervening at various locations. The interaction and the reactions of the city’s residents can be seen in a video.In the atelier of Kër Thiossane, she showed a further work. On one of the central columns in the space, she mounted a sporadically rotating aluminium bowl that ran into a self-made beater. The sound reverberated in the room and two microphones mounted in smaller bowls recorded the wind sounds and the vibrations of the turning bowls. Two wall fans also rotated sporadically and ventilated the space, while their “fake noses”, made of loudspeakers, reproduced the rudimentary, low-frequency wind noises.

Artist project page >>>

Martin took an interest in the large mango tree that dominated the courtyard.He hung a loudspeaker chassis vertically on this tree, situated under a large, empty water bottle. A contact microphone was affixed to the bottle. An additional microphone was stuck to the metal entrance door, where it captured the creaking of the door and transmitted it to the interior courtyard. Under the suspended loudspeaker stood a cylinder-shaped steel frame, specially manufactured for the installation by a local metalworker. A second loudspeaker of equal size was hung from within this structure. The two large magnets hung face-to-face, repelling one another. Martin attempted to find the balance between magnetism, wind and energy, in order to keep the entire construction in perpetual motion. The whole situation was supported by the composition of computer-generated sounds and processed urban noises captured in Dakar.

Artist project page >>>