Sound Escapes Sound Art meets Travel Writing

Speakers & Pineapples - Bacalar, Mexico

What does Berlin sound like? Which sounds best describe Tokyo? What kind of soundscape comes to your mind when you think of Mexico City?


We currently live in an essentially visual culture, and travel is no exception. Through digital media we daily relate to the landscapes and images of cities all over the world but… what do these cities sound like? Is it possible to imagine Amsterdam without the bicycles’ bells or Granada stripped of the guitar chords that sprout from each window in the Sacromonte neighborhood? Nomadic in essence, the Sound Escapes project focuses on the sounds — urban, natural, verbal, musical — that best define each city, in order to tell its tale in a resonant fashion.


The definition of sound map should not be taken too literally. The idea of map (…) should not be taken at face value, that is, as a two-dimensional means-to-an-end. (…) Not all swans are white, not all maps are two-dimensional. Maps are ultimately representations (…) and should be accepted as subjective truths insofar that the map is an abstraction derived from something – the geographical territory – but it is not the thing itself. [1]



Declaring both listening and walking as fundamental aesthetic practices [2], the preeminent attitude of Sound Escapes is that of the flâneur – the deliberately aimless pedestrian who wanders around the city, who ambles without apparent purpose but is secretly attuned to the history [and soundscape] of the streets he walks [3]. There is a degree of purity in the flâneur’s way, being open to all things foreign and unknown, whilst simultaneously aware that uniqueness often comes inside the most mundane of packages.




My name is Hugo Branco and I was born in Portugal. Amongst countless projects concerning arts, culture and technology, I’m one of the founders of the internationally awarded Viral web platform. I have a degree in Philosophy and a master in Digital Arts and was invited speaker at several international conferences about art, design and technology. Either as a DJ, producer, sound designer or field recorder, I’ve always loved to experiment with sound. With Sound Escapes I was able to combine it with two other great passions: traveling and writing.

Hugo Branco Field Recording Sound Escapes



Soundcloud / Flickr / Vimeo / Facebook



The idea was simple enough: to travel across several cities and write stories about how they sound like; to record sounds on the way and collaborate with local photographers and video artists, thus adding an audiovisual component to my stories; to compose a multimedia performance using the recorded sounds and images, and to present this work-in-progress at each of the visited locations.

Mobile Studio Setup Sound Escapes

But although this idea kept revisiting me every other night for the past year, it was not until certain conditions met that I finally took up the courage to put it into action. At some point in the end of 2014 I found myself in a situation where I was forced to leave the amazing house I had found downtown; the relationship I had been nurturing for the past year eventually fell apart; despite lots of prizes and international recognition, the startup I co-founded was still not making enough money as to pay for my salary; and the current work conditions and tax policy were making Portugal look progressively more like a death trap in a cheap costume.

On a rather enlightened afternoon, as I was preparing to look for a new house and job I suddenly remembered that, sometimes, good fortune comes under the guise of adversity, thus realising that it was time to set free the flâneur in me and hit the road once again.

As much as I love Porto, since my early twenties I’ve always found it difficult to stick around for long, having lived in at least seven different towns in the past ten years. I perceive the act of experiencing a city as an art itself and will gladly trade monuments and museums for sunny terraces on busy, hidden squares. Watching passersby, becoming aware of their rhythm and connecting to the city’s inner pulse: that’s what it’s all about. Being on the road gives me a sense of nowness I just can’t seem to find anywhere else.

On the Road, sombrero, bus - Mexico

It took me almost a month and a half to prepare for my trip: reading a lot about life and work on the road; researching possible destinations; making myself some dough to get started; further outlining my project; contacting prospective sponsors and partners; spending time with good friends; establishing forthcoming procedures and milestones with my startup partners; gearing up; and diving deep as hell into Portuguese bureaucracy as to cut off each and every legal attachment I might have.

I eventually made up my mind about heading towards Latin America for anything between six months and one year, and finally bought my ticket to Mexico. Happy with the idea of engaging in two of my biggest passions — sound art and travel writing — I accepted the fact that this first trip was actually just the debut season for something bigger. By this time I was absolutely sure that — as Jack Kerouac properly noted in one of my favorite novels of all times — I should once again perform my one and noblest function in the world: move. And I moved.


[1] ECHOXIII. “How to Make a Sound Map: Cartographic, Compositional, Performative.” Acoustic Ecology UoH. N.p., 04 Dec. 2013. Web. 27 Jan. 2015.
[2] See Careri, Francesco. Walkscapes: El Andar Como Práctica Estética = Walking as an Aesthetic Practice. Barcelona: G. Gili, 2002. Print.
[3] White, Edmund. The Flaneur: A Stroll through the Paradoxes of Paris. London: Bloomsbury PLC, 2008. Print.</>