Sarajevo is said to be a place where “East meets West” due to its history, multireligious communities, and geographic location in the heart of the Balkan region. While it is easy to fall into a stereotyping listening that exoticizes and “orientalizes” its soundscapes, listening to its divergent sites is generous and generative. Visitors who have no personal experiences of conflict will engage with the sites of memory and trauma differently than residents with such experiences. In making this distinction, I sought to encourage an intersectional and reflexive approach (Zećo 2021) to the study of acoustic environments. Although Sarajevo is a powerful case study that reveals the diverging experiences of locals and visitors, I believe that the nuances of local perspectives should be explored in many other parts of the world. I argue for the regular inclusion and consistent prioritization of local perspectives as a method for decolonizing the discourse. Applying this would increase an awareness of individual biases and power structures. Ask: Who is listening and or recording? Who is writing? Who is contributing?
As can be read and heard in this article, it is challenging for locals to describe their relationships with, feelings toward, and experiences of listening to (and in) a place. Listeners are entangled in multiple layers of socio-political, cultural, and personal factors that inform their listening. Memories of sounds shape personal identities and influence listening in the present. This process is illustrated here with the example of sirens and fireworks: past experiences with these sounds are part of each listener’s personal history and also inform new experiences with such sounds when they are encountered in various contexts and places.
My personal experience of migration – through which I have gained intimate insights into the soundscapes of other places – has guided my choice of recordings. While the sound of a Sarajevo tram or religious calls to prayer are well-known as characteristic sounds of Sarajevo, sounds of the Markale Market or of a street artist spraying a neglected Olympic monument are more ambiguous. Their connotations are only unlocked through engagement with a text, a praxis that allows the reader to discover the layers of meaning and full scope of the research through engagement with the sound and written material presented in this submission. As such, I don’t offer frameworks for future engagement, but my aim is to disrupt and expand listening practices by providing insights into an intimate and contextual dimension of listening. I developed this approach during my studies in Scotland, experimenting with listening to field recordings divorced from their original contexts, critically drawing upon the tradition of reduced listening (Schaeffer 2017, Chion 2016). During these sessions, I became aware that some Scottish listeners might have difficulty even recognizing religious calls in my recordings and the ways these sounds might be employed in territorial demarcations of public spaces. This insight led me to weave together different types of accounts – personal recollections, interviews, and contextual information – for this article.
Sites such as Markale Market and Mount Trebević were selected as examples of places of trauma that still play an important role in contemporary daily life. People buy fruits and vegetables at the market and use the cable car to reach the mountain. Past and present converge with rich multisensory experiences at these sites, as I discovered during my soundwalks as well as from overhearing the conversations of passersby and speaking with people I know. These sites open up wide areas of research, and neither the interviewees nor I claim objectivity in this paper. However, the range of responses highlights some of the ways listeners engage with the contemporary sounds of the city. The paper also foregrounds contexts, which in this case are not a “fixed ground,” finite and simplified (Bal and Bryson 1998), but which are infinitely complex, as expressed by Sarajevans.