Go on one of these soundwalks. Make sure you prepare while you have access to a laptop, it’ll make things easier.
Her Long Black Hair, Janet Cardiff (iTunes podcast. Search on laptop and add to your library or use online links at URL above)
Passing Stranger, Pejk Malinovski (online link to MP3)
Soundwalk 9:09, John Luther Adams (soundcloud)
Oil Twitchers and Barge Spotters: A Field Guide to Whale Creek, Floating Studio for Dark Ecologies (iTunes)
Dust Gathering, Nina Katchadourian (use the MoMA app)
Write your reactions and post on your blog.
About a month ago, just after I arrived to New York, I went to this soundwalk in Central Park. It happens at night, and the experience is all guided through. There is narration, music, and they also recorded the sounds of the steps, so you know how fast you should walk. There are instructions such as “keep left”, “turn right”, “stop under the tree”, letting the audience know where it needs to go, not needing to think about path decisions during the experience. It is very informative, and invites you to look for animals in the park. I honestly thought it was a bit to fast for me to really dive into enjoying the space, even though they suggest that you stop the audio if you want to explore at any point.
We arrived at The Met, and there were a lot of people in front of it. We walked down 5th Av while kids played on the water fountain. We set up the audio, and started heading to The Met Breuer. My earbuds were not very loud, so though I could hear the soundtrack, the sounds in the street were very hearable.
As soon as the soundwalk started, I realized I was in a state of altered awareness. Movements around me would draw my attention, and I’d be attached to them until something else crossed their path. The sounds around me would also be very intense, merging with the soundtrack. I can’t really tell what was the track and what was the street.
The relation between the trees in Central Park and the traffic in 5th Av were accentuated by the track. Anyways, I felt like the it was too heavy for what I was seeing, but I really got into it, and at some parts the sound in the street was so loud I wouldn’t even hear the track. Finally, when we got The Met Breuer, it made complete sense. The heaviness of the sound completely matched the building I was walking towards, and it made me feel like the soundscape was preparing me for it.
We decided to change the street for listening to the uptown track. This time, there were many stores, and I could feel the nuances on the sound, but it seemed like it was very close to the other track – again, if I can even tell what was the track and what were the sounds of the street. Since we were walking up an avenue, we had to stop many times, so the soundwalk ended quite soon, and we didn’t get the experience of seeing Met while hearing it.
I really enjoy having these two experiences to compare. I specially chose Soundwalk 9:09 because I knew it was very different from the Synanthrope Preserve, though around the same area.
In both of them, I felt the pressure of time. One at the moments in which I needed to keep track of the steps so I wouldn’t stay behind the narration, and the other one because I knew it would end up before I got the place in case I wasn’t fast enough – which happened in both Uptown and Downtown walks.
The main difference for me is that in the first one, I didn’t have much time to pay attention to anything that wasn’t being asked me. I wasn’t able to relate freely to the space and explore the feelings it brought to me. In Soundwalk 9:09, the state of awareness that it creates was the center of my experience. I remember clearly seeing birds flying and having a specific sound to accentuate their movement, or connecting the chaotic noise of the traffic to the eyes of the people coming my way. I had space to think, and experience what was around me.
I believe sound is the media that better interacts with architecture. We are used to using our eyes to experience space, so if we need, for example, to consult a map or use a camera, we cannot deeply perceive the things around us.
What are other possible ways of engaging people in the space without monopolizing their vision?