Hamilton downtown and market soundwalks
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The Hamilton market soundwalks explored the area surrounding the market in downtown Hamilton, through the city centre and Jackson square and finally through the market itself. We walked as a single group of 7 or 8 people through the streets and malls, and then stopped for a short discussion. We then split up into smaller groups to walk through the market, and then met at the other side for another discussion period. These walks took place on a Friday afternoon (3 pm) and Saturday morning (10:30 am). The Saturday walk was recorded by Barb Woolner. The people on the walk included some long-time residents who go to the market regularly (one woman said that she goes 4 or 5 times a week), as well as some people who were visitors or newcomers to Hamilton. Long-term residents were able to contribute a historical context on the area and how it has changed, as the market has been covered over and then renovated during more recent years. The texture of the recorded soundwalk from Saturday is suffused throughout with the quiet rolling of a shopping buggy pulled by one walker, which can be heard from time to time in the background. As it is a slushy winter day, water on the streets outlines the movements of cars with long sweeping strokes.
Two walkers noted that they habitually hum while walking, and became more aware of this in a group context. Asked about their listening experience in the larger and smaller groups, people noted that they listen more closely in the large group than in pairs but feel more awkward and self-conscious. There is less temptation to speak in that large group context but less immediate discussion and shared knowledge that enrich the walk in other ways.
Some comparisons were made with other cities. One walker noticed that cars are older in Hamilton, changing the traffic sound. People are very social in Hamilton, speaking with louder voices than in a place like Montreal, where people tend to stand closer together and speak in lower voices. One walker noticed that some parts of Jackson Square are more intimate because of lower ceilings, and seem made for conversation. On the Saturday walk, we noticed how squeaky people’s sneakers are on the floors of the mall, prompting us to call them squeakers rather than sneakers. One walker noticed that areas around vegetable stalls are louder and more lively, because more people seem to be attracted to those stalls. Walkers noticed the ubiquitous sound of refrigerators in the space, something that most had not paid attention to in the past. The Saturday walk was enriched by the mandolin player, whose music was heard now and then, mixed with the chiming of the Birks clock that hangs above the stalls, and the voices of customers and vendors.
Many people noticed how active their sense of smell is on such a walk, especially in a market. You may notice in the recording that the recordist sometimes makes hums of appreciation while walking through the space. There is something about asking oneself to pay attention to one sense that makes all of the senses more alert. People notice more visual aspects of the environment because of slowing down as well, and how they move through the space. Several people commented on how pleasurable it is to slow down and pay attention, to realize that they have no schedule during that time. The soundwalk becomes a liminal time and space, a time to appreciate and explore.