Living Landscape Living Memory Soundscape National Mall, Washington DC 2022

A 16-channel Soundscape developed for the United Arab Emirates Pavilion at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in 2022

How can one express the essence, the culture, the feelings that one has living in the United Arab Emirates to another who has never been? The development of the Soundscape for the Living Landscape Living Memory Smithsonian Folklife Festival does just this. The Soundscape, envisioned by sound artist Diana Chester in consultation with the festival curators, Michele Bambling and Rebecca Fenton  brings recorded sounds of the UAE to the National Mall in Washington DC. The Soundscape, a 16-channel spatialized environment, has been constructed to immerse the festival visitors in the voices, languages, culture, and sonic atmosphere of the Emirates.

The Soundscape is constructed of a series of spatialized sound environments, multi-speaker spaces, where festival visitors can be immersed within the sounds of a place, story, or memory from the UAE.  When a visitor steps inside the soundscape they will be transported, through sound, to a unique Emirati environment. The Soundscape Team has specially recorded these environments across the UAE using field recorders, smart phones, hydrophones, ambisonic microphones and other recording tools, so that festival visitors can experience the Emirates through sounds of the unique and every day.

From Abu Dhabi to Ras Al-Khaima, the recordings in the soundscape bring the stories, memories, and places of the UAE to DC. Take for example the Soundscape of the Al Ain Oasis. The Soundscape Team spent the month of January 2022 making audio recordings all over the Emirates. Al Ain is one of the places in which they recorded, spending half a day capturing the sounds of nature, trees, and the falaj at the Al Ain Oasis. They hung binaural microphones in the date palms, placed hydrophones in the falaj waters and captured the sounds of people exploring the Oasis alongside the sounds of the Oasis itself. This Soundscape immerses festival visitors in the experience of being inside the Oasis.

When you visit The Soundscape, you will be immersed in many sound worlds of the UAE. This includes memories of historical buildings and structures now gone, like the Assiri Mosque that stood in the Airport Road roundabout, and of those still present including the National Theater in Abu Dhabi. You will hear sounds of large cities including Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Sharjah, and sounds of small villages like Khor Kwair and Al Jazirat Al Hamra. You will hear sounds of iconic places and community spaces like Jebel Hafeet, Dhaya Fort, the Ajman Festival, and the Adhan. And you will hear sounds of the natural environment of the Emirates including Liwa Desert, Al-Jubail Mangroves, and the Um-Al Quwain Port.

As you stroll through the spatialized listening environments of The Soundscape, stop and listen to the living memory of the UAE through people’s stories. The Soundscape captures people’s reflections on their lived experience in the Emirates, their memories, and their lives. You can listen to one woman’s story about travelling from Abu Dhabi to Dubai in the early 1990’s to visit the first McDonalds, to a man who remembers his grandfather’s job at a medical clinic in his local community, and to a shop keeper who speaks of how things have changed over his fifty-two years in Abu Dhabi. The more time you spend in The Soundscape the more you will hear and learn about the UAE through the sounds and voices of the people who live there and the places they inhabit.


Exhibition Photos

Living Landscape Living Memory Soundscape

The Living Landscape, Living Memory Soundscape for the Smithsonian Folklife Festival is broken into two categories, sound showers (memory) and spatial environments (landscape). The below album hosts a selection of the final mixes for the soundscape, bounced down into binaural format. Listen with headphones.