Acoustic Territories


The third term Daughtry introduces, acoustic territories points to “the ways in which our understanding of the places in which we live and move is structured in part by reverberating sounds and acts of listening” (Daughtry 2015: 126). Thus, the notion delineates the ways in which sonorities are capable of inserting/removing individuals and their bodies in/from a geographical externality in which they are located and in/from the biological internality that regulates their lives as well as transporting them to different symbolic places, according to how the same sonority can refer to different social and cultural codes that relate to various situations. For Daughtry, the acoustic territories are linked, then, to the borders constituted by sound and listening. They also refer to buildings and their absorbing or reflective characteristics within constantly changing environments that mediate, modify, or enclose sounds in a given time-space.


Although the possibilities outlined by the term acoustic territories seem to be of great power for understanding a series of processes that relate sound and space, it seems to us that Daughtry leaves an important aspect of the discussion regarding territoriality phenomena in the background, one that is of great importance to the issues we intend to address here. Brandon LaBelle’s definition of acoustic territory, which focuses on “movements between and among different forces” (2010: xxv), or Giuliano Obici’s (2006) term sound territory, which deals with the construction of borders and the attribution of qualities to the audible, also do not address these issues. What we try to outline here are the social disputes over the ownership of place that use music and sound not only to delimit spatial boundaries but also to broaden them or to express a local resilience of peripheral groups against actions that aim to silence or domesticate them. Daughtry assumes that a territory is a conquered space, “a place whose identity is maintained by force or threat of force” (2015: 125). Yet, besides being dominated, territory is also a “lived-space-time” (Haesbaert 2006: 2), appropriated and disputed by several co-present and conflicting social dynamics (Haesbaert and Limonad 2007: 42-43). This is the aspect we emphasize when talking about the relations between territorialities and sonorities.


The acoustic territory of the Santa Marta neighborhood is shaped, disputed, and retaken by the sound of Banda de Congo Amores da Lua through the social and cultural dynamics presented so far. This sonic “Holy War” contrasts the public and the private, the street and the temple, loud and soft sonorities, and impels the continuous (re-)establishment of symbolic landmarks of place. In that context, the boundaries historically delimited by sonic battles are maintained because the community demonstrates the power necessary to reaffirm not only its religious, but especially its sonic, practices in counterpoint to the imposed silence.



Territorial dynamics are, therefore, intrinsically violent because they imply the occupation of space by social agents against the resistance of others. After all, boundaries are built; one learns to listen to the place with its vibratory particularities, and strategies are devised to conquer space, to maintain it, or to take it from potential opponents who seek to usurp it. Such a connection between sound and violence shows that the sounds addressed here make public violence diffuse, even if unequally distributed, as agents are both its victims and perpetrators. Consequently, violence becomes widespread across society: conflict is more a medium through which the contradictions and hierarchies that structure it are inscribed and staged than a feature of the contexts into which such practices are inserted. In this sense, understanding the centrality of violence, mediated here by sound, becomes fundamental when describing the urban dynamics in Brazil, a country in which peripheral spaces, where the poorest people live, are often built in a disorganized way within a deregulated system that includes the undocumented acquisition of land acquired from private speculators. These conditions put this precarious population in a state of constant struggle for possession of their own territory in what anthropologist James Holston calls “insurgent citizenship” in an article discussing social movements in the struggle for housing in Brazil. According to Holston, they “face the structured with alternative formulations” (2009: 146). In such social dynamics, violence, rather than idiosyncratic or utilitarian, is the standard way in which one fights for citizenship and its rights.