Participatory Sonic Arts: towards a socially engaged art of sound in the everyday (The Som da Maré Project)

Pedro Rebelo, Rodrigo Velloso

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


Participatory and socially engaged art practices have, for a couple of decades, emerged a myriad of aesthetic and methodological strategies across different media. These are artistic practices that have a primary interest in participation, affecting social dynamics, dialogue and at times political activism. Nato Thompson in “Living Form: Socially Engaged Art from 1991-2011” surveys these
practices, which range from theatre to urban planning, visual art to healthcare. Linked to notions such as relational aesthetics (Bourriaud, 1998), community art and public art, socially engaged art often focuses on the development of a sense of ownership by the part of participants. If an artist is working truly collaboratively with participants and addressing the reality of a particular community, the long-term effect of a project lies in the process of engagement as well as in the artwork itself. Projects by New York based artist Pablo Helguera, for example, use different media to engage with social inequalities through participative action while rejecting the notion of art for art sake.

“Socially engaged art functions by attaching itself to subjects and problems that normally belong to other disciplines, moving them temporarily into a space of ambiguity. It is this temporary snatching away of subjects into the realm of art-making that brings new insights to a particular problem or condition and in turn makes it visible to other disciplines.” (Helguera, 2011)

Socially engaged practices develop the notion of artwork about or by a community, to work of a community. In this chapter we address how socially engaged, participatory approaches can form a context for the sonic arts, arguably less explored than practices such as theatre and performance art. The use of sound is clearly present in a wide range of socially engaged work (e.g. Helguera’s “Aelia Media” enabling a nomadic radio station in Bologna or Maria Andueza “Immigrant Sounds – Res(on)Art (Stockholm)” exploring ways of sonically resonating a city, or Sue MacCauley’s “The Housing Project” addressing ways of representing the views of urban dwellers on public scape through sound art. It is nevertheless rare to encounter projects which take our experience of sound in the everyday as a trigger for community social engagement in a participatory context.
We address concepts and methodologies behind the project Som da Maré, a participatory sonic arts project in the favelas of Maré, Rio de Janeiro.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Routledge Research Companion to Electronic Music: Reaching out with Technology
EditorsSimon Emmerson
ISBN (Print)9781472472915
Publication statusPublished - 2018


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