World Sounds #003 – Demonstrations

dem·on·stra·tion    /ˌdemənˈstrāSHən/
Noun: A public display of group opinion, as by a rally or march.

I find the soundscape of a demonstration to be fascinating. The power that can be generated by protestors is phenomenal, and this power is most often expressed orally. I’m similarly moved by the power of a crowd at a sports match – thousands of people all chanting in chorus with one another, expressing as a group their individual desires for their team to succeed. At a typical demonstration there are the added frustrations of not being listened to. Demonstrations increase the visibility of the cause, display power, promote a sense of solidarity and energise the participants.

Throughout 2011 and the beginning of 2012 we have seen worldwide coverage of many significant demonstrations. Recent protests that come to mind are the Occupy protests and the Arab uprisings across the Middle East as well as the recent online protest against recent US anti-piracy congressional bills (SOPA & PIPA). As I have already discussed, I find the soundscape at a group demonstration to be very interesting. But what also fascinates me about recording these events is that they can quickly become a piece of history – how many people at the time of Martin Luther King’s now infamous speech (made during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom) would have foreseen it’s importance throughout the last century?

On a personal note, I’m really interested in the sonic differences between demonstrations around the world. Hence, if I am lucky enough to stumble across a demonstration on my travels, I’ll always get my handheld out and hit record. Below are a couple of examples of demonstrations that I have had the chance to record. The first was recorded in my current home city, Paris, where there are demonstrations nearly every week. The traditional route that starts at Place de la République and finishes at Place de la Bastille passes right in front of my apartment block, so I often have the opportunity to head out and record. The second featured recording was made in Bangkok, Thailand during my stay back in 2010.

10 March 2011, Boulevard Voltaire, Paris 11, FRANCE
At this time, the International Community had recognised Alassane Ouattara as the rightful winner of Ivory Coast’s presidential election. The previous president, Laurent Gbagdo claimed the election results were rigged and refused to hand over power. A succession crisis followed, resulting in Gbagbo’s eventual arrest and him being charged with crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court. The recording below is of pro-Gbagbo supporters protesting against France’s involvement in helping the UN-backed president, Alassane Ouattara gain control of the country. The French military had begun strikes on Gbagbo’s residence a few days before and the demonstration was an immediate response by Gbagbo’s supporters living here in Paris. Despite the severity of the situation, the demonstrations were more like a carnival with each of the protestors in very high spirits.

16 March 2010, Siam Square, Bangkok, THAILAND
A prolonged series of political protests occurred in Bangkok, Thailand in 2010 from March to May against the Democrat Party-led government. The opposition party – the National United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) (known as “Red-Shirts”) – had called for Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to dissolve parliament and hold elections earlier than the end of term elections scheduled in 2012. The following negotiations failed to set an election date and the ongoing demonstrations escalated into prolonged violent confrontations between the protesters and the military. More than 80 civilians and 6 soldiers were killed, and more than 2,100 injured by the time the military successfully cracked down on the protesters on 19 May. On the 16 March, I was staying in the Siam Square area and witnessed a mass of “Red Shirts” pass through. Naturally, I grabbed my handheld and captured as much of the protest as I could.

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