The Witness Projects

ARCHIVING THE ENDANGERED MUSIC OF THE BATWA
Uganda

The Batwa tribe of western Uganda lived in the forests of Mgahinga and Bwindi until they were evicted to make way for national parks formed to protect the mighty mountain gorillas. Once hunter-gatherers, the Batwa coexisted in harmony with all creatures. Considered conservation refugees today, they often have to resort to begging and laboring on other people’s land in order to survive. Their traditional skills and tools are no longer useful, making it difficult to compete in the modern world. While Batwa culture is diminishing, music and dance are their way of life, energizing their daily activities, rites of passage, stories, and other traditions. Through music and video recordings, one-on-one interactions, and other methods, this project is documenting and sharing these forms of expression to connect the Batwa to artists living in Uganda’s urban areas who may not know about them and to share their strengths, value, and amazing skills with a global audience.

Artists & Researchers
Suzan Kerunen Jude Mugerwa Sarah Everlyn Nambuya Edgar R. Batte

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RECORDING THE SOUNDS OF PUNSHILOK FOREST
India

Chaoba Thiyam has been working on “BODY and BEING” since 2014. Openlab The Witness is enabling him to expand it with a whole new perspective and determination to share it around the world.
A group of youth, including performance artists, musicians, trekkers, filmmakers, and ecologists, formed the Wildlife and Habitat Protection Society (WAHPS) in Manipur’s Punshilok Forest in 2003. Today Punshilok, which means “Spring of Life,” has been reforested and occupies a unique place in terms of its biodiversity and the cultural and religious beliefs that surround it. This project is recording all of the seasons through sound and audio/visual to witness nature’s changing processes. It is also incorporating the human body (e.g. body listening, movement, and life resonance art), as well as ancient folk wisdom, poetry, music, and other mediums, to witness and listen deeply to the environment.

Artists & Researchers
Chaoba Thiyam Moirangthem Loiya Ngamba Mocha Kangjam Rohit Keithellakpam Laishram Niketan Nganthoibi Ningthoujam Yengkhom Nongdrennganba Meitei Tomthinyai Oinam Linthoi Chanu Akhu Ronid Chingangbam Lulu Kayheich

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MOVING MORE LIGHTLY ON BANGALORE'S LAND
India

Recognizing the disconnect humans have with each other, the natural world, and within ourselves — and the dominating culture that creates and perpetuates these divisions — this project near Bangalore is seeking new modes of experience and creation and building tools of resistance. It is based in a 2.5-billion-year-old rocky landscape and uses the language of the body and film, sound, text, and performance to reimagine a new way of engaging with this geologically significant site that builds connection and balance. Can we move through our world more lightly, opening ourselves to the living and nonliving elements we share this world with?

Artists & Researchers
Shabari Rao Manush John Bindhumalini Narayanaswamy Navya Sah The Indian Sonic Research Organisation

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ENCOURAGING DIALOGUE BETWEEN GENERATIONS AND CONTINENTS
Switzerland, Togo

Agbodrafo, a small fishing village on the coast of Togo in West Africa, brings together fishermen from the lake and sea. The lake fishermen are from Benin and carry within them the roots of voodoo, the whispers of the earth, and the mysteries of the still waters. The ocean fishermen are from Ghana and have inherited rhythm, the strength of the voice, and a desire to go beyond the horizon. Agbodrafo tells many stories … of the founding ancestors and deities … of the slave trade … of a new generation looking for itself in traces of the past … of obstacles encountered and a possible future. Yao Bobby and Simon Grab and their team are listening to and recording the fishermen’s chants, local storytellers, and dancers within their sound environment. The resulting sound collage will be shared with the community at Agbodrafo’s cultural center in the form of public radio shows that will be moderated and include live sound and music elements.

Artists & Researchers
Simon Grab Yao Bobby The Collective of Women Photographers of Togo - CFPT Rodi Ade - Rodrigue

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DOCUMENTING THE CHOPI PEOPLE’S CONNECTION TO NATURE
Mozambique

For the Chopi people in the Inhambane province of Mozambique, the mbila (plural: timbila), a xylophone made of wooden slats and dried fruit peels or gourds, is more than an instrument. It implies a harmonious relationship with nature that permeates Chopi society. As climate change drastically alters the ecology, impacting agriculture, the Chopi’s main source of subsistence, this project seeks to understand and record how their ancestral beliefs, knowledge, and practices have established connections to nature. Led by a master timbila player, ethnomusicologist, and filmmaker, the team is working in the rural area of Canda to document the often unnoticed sounds of the ecosystem, the manufacture of instruments, the content of lyrics, and how the Chopi’s strategies for mitigating socio-environmental change are reflected in their music and oral culture. The project will eventually include video concerts throughout Mozambique.

Artists & Researchers
Matchume Zango Chimène Costa David Aguacheiro Eduardo Lichuge Constância Armindo Nzango

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EXCAVATING THE HISTORIC SOUNDS OF JOHANNESBURG
South Africa

What we hear now reveals aspects of the past. Yet climate change and the encroachment of the cacophonous urban soundscape have put historic aural environments in jeopardy, making it more important than ever to save our intangible collective heritage. Sonic Excavations is unearthing layers of sound at significant locations — including the Cradle of Humankind, rock gongs in the Kalahari desert, caves with rock art, and Iron Age sites — within the continuum of Johannesburg’s history. Based on comparisons of the urban versus the natural environment and the past versus the present, this collaboration involves working with archaeologists, geologists, and earth scientists from Wits University in Johannesburg, as well as the PAST institute. Revealing how sounds from the past lead us to hearing and making sounds in the present may inspire their preservation.

Artists & Researchers
Jill Richards B.J. Engelbrecht Bonga Khumalo Jurgen Meekel Mpho Molikeng

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UNDERSTANDING THE IMPACT OF DISPLACEMENT ON SOUTH SUDANESE REFUGEES
Uganda, Kenya

South Sudanese refugees have moved from their lands, belongings, traditions, and beliefs to Kakuma, Kenya. Young artists who were born in Kenya yet are South Sudanese are expressing their identity — their hopes of moving to a new country or back to their own, their ties to their families and roots, and interaction with a changing environment — through new hip hop music, abstract music, and a documentary. This team is using music production, video and sound recording, storytelling, and performance to immerse themselves within these communities. Students from Makerere University are contributing data comparing the environment in South Sudan (SS) and Kakuma and how it has changed over the past 20 years. They are also comparing how fetching water, cooking, traditional ceremonies, natural medicinal remedies, and other aspects of life have changed, as well as researching climate change, deforestation, and access to services. The project aims to understand the slow movement of people and their rituals and traditional knowledge; find out if they are disappearing, evolving, or staying the same; and explore how the young artists are flowing with or against this movement.

Artists & Researchers
Turkana Laura Jimenez D. Toledano Maureen Mbingu Niyonizigiye Emmanuel Betty Akinyi - Iddah Thok Koang Thor

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WEAVING TOGETHER THE VOICES OF BRAZIL’S FORESTS
Brazil, Switzerland

Vozes da floresta delivers to our ears the diurnal cycles and seasonal changes in the soundscape of the Brazilian Amazon forest. The project takes off from activist Bruno Manser, who in 1992 pointed out the threat to the Borneo rainforests through deforestation. He let the forest and its indigenous population speak, along with scientists and journalists. This new project does the same, weaving the human voices of artists and scientists into the multilayered, densely structured sounds produced by the voices of the non-humans inhabitants of the Amazon. The rainforest soundscape becomes the music of life.

Artists & Researchers
Marcus Maeder Yara Costa Chico Dub Lilian Fraiji David Lapola

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SOUNDING THE ANTHROPOCENE
Canada

matralab is a transdisciplinary artistic group asking both how we can sound the Anthropocene, and how does the Anthropocene sound us. Their premise is that our aesthetic engagement needs to unfold within an extreme temporality, by transcending the sense-perceptions we live by habitually. In their project, they investigate how such imperceptible processes can be explored artistically and thereby become emotionally relevant, creating sonic events and subacoustic vibrations, beyond the human scale. It is an innovative approach to finding what they call a "geopoetics" as an expression of the ecological reality humanity is a part of - and beholden to.

Artists & Researchers
Sandeep Bhagwati Deborah Carruthers Joëlle Dubé Emanuel Flores Charles-Antoine Fréchette Matthias Fritsch Terri Hron Jen Reimer Rebecca van der Post

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RECORDING ACTIVE AND ABANDONED INDUSTRIAL SITES AND PARTIALLY BURNED FORESTS IN CALIFORNIA
USA

West Coast ecological and industrial spaces meet in this project, which is set in the tunnels at Donner Pass, California, a Pacific Union trainyard in Roseville, California, and forests in Oregon that are recent victims of wildfires. The Witness was performed with Christi Denton and SAMPle (PSU’s laptop ensemble), along with students at rural locations near Portland, combining recordings from an area of burned forest with scores inspired by Oliveros. These recordings will be incorporated with others into three short films about abandoned & active industrial sites in Northern California, to help imagine and rebuild ecology in the aftermath of the industrial age.

Artists & Researchers
Caroline Louise Miller Christi Denton Lee Dunn Byrd Stefani

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BUILDING A COMMUNITY OF WITNESSES
USA

The Deep Listening Witness collective includes experimental trio Talking Gong (Claire Chase, flutes; Susie Ibarra, percussion; Alex Peh, keyboards), electronic musician Senem Pirler, & IONE, playwright, director, teacher, spouse of Pauline Oliveros. The group often includes elders, students and members of the Deep Listening community in the Hudson Valley. In Spring 2021, the group played in bird sanctuaries, beaver ponds, woods, nature reserves & mines in upstate New York, and in Brooklyn, NY. The group has joined sessions hosted by Eduardo Kohn & Manari Ushigua, of the Ecuador Witness project, and soon will involve university students as well (Harvard University, The Juilliard School, SUNY New Paltz and Bennington College), to continue exploring how we can improve the world by listening to its sounds, apparent and hidden.

Artists & Researchers
Claire Chase Susie Ibarra IONE Alex Peh Senem Pirler

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LISTENING TO THE ECUADOR’S RAINFOREST
Ecuador

Ecaduor is home to one of the world’s most diverse ecosystems. Ecosystems are made of interdependent beings that need to be nurtured. But the Ecuadorian government pays no heed. In April 2020 the Amazon here was severely wounded by an oilspill: pipelines had collapsed in a landslide, itself provoked by a hydroelectric dam. All was contaminated - water, soil, plants, wildlife, and Indigenous Peoples, such as the Kichwa, who were already affected by the Covid pandemic. The world is one, the world is forest, says the Sapara Nation in its Kamunguishi Declaration. To start healing, listen to the rainforest.

Artists & Researchers
Eduardo Kohn Manari Ushigua Fabiano Kueva Belén Páez

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INVESTIGATING THE IMPACT OF MINING IN BOLIVIA
Bolivia

SONANDES’ group of researchers are currently working in the large-scale lithium mining territory of Potosí, Pulacayo (Bolivia). Their aim is to investigate and to share knowledge on this region and its urge to develop mobility and connectivity technologies.
Their study proposes a diptych juxtaposing the largest lithium salt deposit on the planet in the Salar of Thunupa (Bolivia) and the one in PotosĂ­, which does not suffer yet from extractivism but probably will in a near future.
It is an approach to deep listening, taking in the Andean worldviews of the local inhabitants, the human footprint on the soundscape and revealing the economic dynamics of a digitized world.

Artists & Researchers
Guely Morató Loredo Víctor Mazón Gardoqui Marco Antonio Flores Peca Miguel Llanque Luciana Decker Carlos del Aguila Canela Palacios Heinz Antonio Basagoitia Acuña André Blondel Rojas Nicodemo Chambi Yucra Tomaycurí Community Macha Community Municipal Silver School of Potosí Pocoata Community Rene Quintana Romero T’ikita Wara Youth orchestra of the Municipal Philharmonic of Potosí

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