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Buenos Aires Soundwalk and Discussion

By David Madden

Une version française de ce texte se trouve ici

A soundwalk is an opportunity to explore and refine various ways of listening.  One might engage with an acoustic environment through structural listening (focusing on intrinsic musical properties), listening for meaning, restricted listening (associated with each discipline and interpretive community), political listening (the way a constellation of political locations affect listening), disciplinary listening (the relationship between disciplinarity and listening), socially aware listening, improvisational listening, subjective listening, historical listening (wherein subjects think of other times they have walked in that place or in similar places), and evocative listening or the sensual aspects of listening.

Andra McCartney led a group of listeners on a soundwalk through Buenos Aires in early December 2010, as part of the Balance-Unbalance colloquium.  Starting at the Borges Cultural Centre, the group quietly made a loop from the pedestrian mall on Florida, to the park of Plaza St. Martin and finishing back at the Cultural Centre.  In the discussion that followed, listeners focused on the difference between soundwalking alone and in a group, which often leaves onlookers wondering why so many people are silently walking through an area, extending the reach of the walk beyond those directly taking part.  Participants also listened subjectively—making connections between how the sounds of the body relate to the environment.  For instance, one listener commented on the intensity of their footsteps and the sounds of their shoes, particularly stilettos on pavement.  Another related her experiences during another walk in a quite different area, which she had done blind-folded. Even though many of the listeners were very familiar with the location, there were numerous surprises and first time experiences along the way, including an encounter with a bagpiper, which someone referred to as a “surreal” moment. Also, making a direct connection to the audibility of environmental issues, there was a public demonstration against corporate agriculture taking place in the park as the walk happened.

Upon returning to Montreal, McCartney produced a short sound and image piece entitled “Look down, look up and listen in Buenos Aires”,  mixing together photographs of the area and excerpts of the soundwalk done with the group in Buenos Aires as part of the Balance-Unbalance colloquium. The sound editing draws attention to the changing urban environments of the walk and is guided by chance operations, using an eight-side die to determine which fifteen-second sonic excerpts to include in the piece. The montage incorporates one second cross dissolves between fifteen second excerpts of different moments from the forty minute walk, making connections between the patterns of the broken pavement, a historical plaque, the ground and its limited vegetation and mixed detritus, and the view from above: the skyline, jacaranda trees and painted ceilings of urban malls.

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