Urban Soundwalks at Biennale des bewegten Bildes, Frankfurt am Main, Germany
Une version française de ce texte se trouve ici
In late October 2013, Andra McCartney was invited to Frankfurt, Germany for the B3 Film Festival to lead soundwalks, a composition workshop and to give a lecture about soundwalks and expanded narration. She was invited by Prof. Sabine Breitsameter, one of the curators of the festival and professor for sound & media culture at Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences.
I (Philipp Boss, 20 years old, student of Prof. Breitsameter) assisted Andra with the planning and performance of the soundwalks and the workshop. We met a few days before the festival and I showed Andra my choice of possible soundwalk routes through the picturesque historic city centre of Frankfurt, where the festival took place.
The festival centre was near to the old market place “Roemer”, which is surrounded by old, half-timbered buildings with many enclosures and atriums. These “isolated” places formed a nice acoustic contrast with the busy streets and the riverside, which were also located nearby the festival centre. The place formed altogether an interesting environment for soundwalking experiences and I was very excited about the following days.
The first festival day started for us with a children ́s soundwalk in the morning.
Andra introduced the 9-10 year old children to the topic of soundwalking and then we led the group of 18 children over the market place, over the busy street and to the riverside. The children were really attracted by my field recorder & headphones, so I gave some of them my headphones to hear the environmental sounds through the microphones. The reactions were really interesting. One child said: “I didn ́t know that one makes so much noise just by walking!” Others were surprised by the general loudness and amount of different sounds of the city soundscape through the microphone. They could not imagine how our brain filters “unimportant” sounds and that some of the sounds were only hearable for us when they were amplified through the field recorder. Back in the festival centre, Andra started a discussion by asking the children what they heard and which sounds were pleasant or unpleasant for them. Most of them categorized traffic noise and car signals as unpleasant sounds and water sounds, birds and the blowing wind as pleasant. The sound of church bells caused multiple opinions. Some of them find them to be pleasant and some of them found these sounds disturbing, repetitive or boring. It was also very interesting to hear how the children developed their own soundscape when they came into the quiet conference room, playing clapping games and vocalizing.
In the afternoon, Andra gave a lecture about soundwalks and expanded narration.
You can have a look on her milestones from this lecture in the blog entry from October, 29th. After the lecture, the composition workshop took place. Andra did a short soundwalk with the participants as an introduction, while I prepared the workshop room. The participants were a group of 15 students from film and sound production background. When they came back from the walk, Andra started discussing with them about the experiences they had had and about the general method of soundwalking.
The aim of the workshop was to compose a small soundpiece/soundscape from the sounds in the festival environment. I gave out field recorders to the workshop participants and then they had one hour to collect some sounds in the festival area. I also took part in this activity and focussed on the sounds of a huge building lot near the festival centre.
The sounds of metal, heavy construction workers and machines fascinated me and I started to record from various positions and distances.
After this short recording session, the participants presented some unprocessed sounds that grabbed their attention. I presented this recording from the inside of an empty trash bin next to the building lot.
Then we started to process our sounds with our own laptops & DAWs. Andra showed us an example of a noisy, high-pitched shrieking street car sound, that she transformed into a really nice harmonic sound, just by pitching and layering that same sound. I also pitched my trash bin sample down and tried to make a deep drone as a basis for my final soundpiece.
We composed and arranged our soundpieces in one hour. After that we presented and discussed our final pieces. I ended up in composing something really abstract. I wanted to point out interesting frequencies in the recordings of the building lot, which had a really broad frequency spectrum. I tried to create an “essence” of the building lot sounds and wanted to show how much different frequencies are heard in every single sound.
In the next two days we led three more soundwalks around the festival environment. The participants were students, professors, pensioners, and people from the workshop. Most of them came from a film or sound background or were just interested in media art. In the post-walk discussions nearly everyone was positively surprised about soundwalking. Many participants found the soundwalks relaxing and meditative, but there were also people who found it stressful due to the traffic sounds and the building lot. An interesting statement came from a woman who lives in the city center. She said she had never heard her city like this before. Before the soundwalk experience she tried to avoid concentrating on her hearing when she was walking through the city, but on the soundwalk her ears suddenly started to open up and she discovered a complete new soundscape of the city she has been living in for years. It seemed to me that the soundwalk was a really spiritual, mind opening experience for her.
Another woman asked Andra why the soundwalk has to be a walk, because she can concentrate more on the soundscape when she is standing on one point and only listens. Andra answered that it is absolutely okay to stop during soundwalks and just intensively hear for a moment, but soundwalking is also about exploring different sound environments and pointing out the differences between them, many of the participants were for example fascinated by the room and loudness differences between the market place or the building lot and the isolated atriums and enclosures.
Altogether, the work with Andra McCartney was very inspiring for me, and I am very thankful that I got the opportunity to take part and even contribute to her soundwalk and research work. These three days really influenced my urban hearing and brought me further in my studies and artistic work.