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Artists in Mexico City are trying to preserve the capital city's rich soundscape

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

In Mexico City, artists work to preserve the city's rich soundscape by building projects in public spaces designed for people to listen. Here's an encore KJZZ report from 2019 with Rodrigo Cervantes.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Spanish).

RODRIGO CERVANTES: Just a few steps away from rowdy street vendors in downtown Mexico City sits an old, tilted church. And as you walk in...

(SOUNDBITE OF CHIMES SOUNDING)

CERVANTES: ...The urban noises are replaced by soundscapes.

TITO RIVAS: We are a museum, but at the same time, we are a space for live and performing art.

CERVANTES: That's Tito Rivas, director of Ex Teresa Arte Actual, a space which focuses on sound experimentation. He says sound art is becoming more and more popular in Mexico City.

RIVAS: There is some listening thirst in the public.

CERVANTES: As a sound artist himself, Rivas has been influenced by the city's sounds and tragedies. And one of his pieces is called "Silence," a tribute to Mexico City's 2017 earthquake.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Spanish).

(SOUNDBITE OF WHISTLE)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: (Speaking Spanish).

CERVANTES: It's an audio collage made from his recorded experience trying to rescue victims buried under the debris.

RIVAS: For example, the screamings of the people working to try to find someone are completely emotional.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: (Speaking Spanish).

CERVANTES: Rivas says Mexico City's combination of contemporary and ancient sounds provide a unique experience to create pieces and spaces.

JESUS PACHECO: (Speaking Spanish).

CERVANTES: Jesus Pacheco calls himself a cultural agent promoting sound art in Mexico City. He recruits audio artists and underground techno musicians to create unique recordings and experiences. Hear artist Baby Bruise's take on a work from avant-garde artist Thomas Glassford.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CERVANTES: And in the city's south, at the National Sound Library of Mexico, thousands of recordings can be heard, many with historical value.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JACKIE KENNEDY: (Speaking Spanish).

(APPLAUSE)

CERVANTES: That's Jackie Kennedy, who visited Mexico City with her husband, President John F. Kennedy, in 1962. Pavel Granados is the library director.

PAVEL GRANADOS: (Speaking Spanish).

CERVANTES: Granados says we tend to think that the sounds of the city are eternal, but they're not. And so they archive them, from street noise and oral traditions to radio shows and music recordings. The institution recently found what's possibly the only recording of artist Frida Kahlo...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FRIDA KAHLO: (Speaking Spanish).

CERVANTES: ...And also has Mexico's first recording from the late 1800s - Indigenous Huichol chants.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: (Non-English language spoken).

GRANADOS: (Speaking Spanish).

CERVANTES: Granados says that Mexico and the U.S. are intertwined in many ways, regardless of the border. And sounds prove it, like an American crooner singing "La Mentira," a Mexican bolero, in English.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YELLOW DAYS")

FRANK SINATRA: (Singing) I do remember when the sunlight had a special kind of brightness, and the laughter held a lover's kind of lightness. Yellow days, yellow days. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.