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On January 31st, 2011, Andra McCartney and David Paquette took part in a soundwalk organized in the context of the graduate course Media Technology as Practice, taught by McCartney in the department of Communication Studies, Concordia University. Students were first introduced to the practice of soundwalking, and were invited to share the lead of the walk with Andra, at any time they felt inspired.
The walk began on the Loyola campus and moved southwest towards the Montreal West train station. Some of the participants took an active part in the soundwalk by producing sounds, exploring different objects and surfaces of street furniture. We then walked on the train platform all the way to Westminster Ave, before heading North to Curzon Str. A train finally passed as we were heading north, and we stopped to listen to it for a moment. We then headed back to campus through on Sherbrooke. A student took over the lead and brought the group to the Loyola chapel, where we sat briefly, listening to the quiet reverberating space. One student played notes on the piano. Then, we walked through the AD building all the way back to the CJ building, using the elevators to get back to the classroom.
In the discussion that followed, students exchanged on the types of sounds heard and their various significations. One student described the sound of cars as the “urban breathing” [respiration urbaine], another talked of the various sonic bubbles that go from the group to the larger social environment all the way to the larger space of the city. The walk was described as a series of sequences which begun with an initial movements towards synchronization between participants (synchronization of the steps, the pace, notably), and then moved towards an opening to the space of the park, and an interest for a new environment never visited before. One student came to the realization that the practice of soundwalking was quite similar to her daily experience of the city.
The visit of the chapel was revealed to be the result of chance, the student who took the lead at that moment saying that she wanted to visit a new part of the campus without knowing it was a church. Many students shared a positive experience of the relative silence in the chapel and the few musical notes that filled the space. Finally, students discussed the challenge of focusing their attention on listening to outside sounds rather than their internal voice. and also mentioned the performative nature of soundwalking in a group. The notions of play and interaction was also addressed by one student who described the soundwalk as “this opportunity of 40 minutes to play”, as well as an experience that can bring the group together through shared silence, comparing the soundwalk to Quaker meetings where “there’s something being transmitted within that silence, which is never quite a silence because we all have thoughts occurring in our heads and things that are unsaid but that alter the situation.”