While walking is a research project headed by Pohanna Pyne Feinberg, who lives currently in Montreal, and did a residency at the Dare Dare centre.
While Walking is a research project that explores walking as an artistic process and practice. How can walking contribute to the creative process? How can we understand walking as an art form? How does interaction with public space influence walking art practices? In what ways does the urban environment become a source of inspiration, distraction or perhaps intimidation? And, more specifically, what experiences do artists who are women encounter as they make art that involves walking the streets?
While Walking is an opportunity to learn from Montreal-based artists who walk as an aspect of their diverse art practices. Excerpts from recorded conversations with the artists will be shared in the format of an audio walk designed to enable the listener to reflect on the artists’ ideas while walking through the city.” While Walkingproject
La version française de ce texte se trouve ici
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.”
Andra McCartney led an hour-long soundwalk through Vancouver’s English Bay on Novemeber 9, 2011, with local residents and several members of the Vancouver Soundwalk Collective. I have included some of my impressions of the soundwalk and post-walk discussion below, along with a sound and photos piece, (aptly) entitled, “Vancouver English Bay Soundwalk.” English Bay is located west of downtown Vancouver and is one of the most densely populated areas in Canada. The Bay is well-known for its fireworks display in the summer, beautiful beaches, heavy construction, a mix of ‘nature’ and the ‘city,’ and a developed calming in the fall and winter months.
After the soundwalk, the group participated in a discussion that was recorded by Jennifer Schine (Simon Frasier University). The discussion covered everything from the layers of ‘urban vitality’ experienced in the area, with someone mentioning the way more lively sounds emanate from the high-rises in the summer months; to the way “a different breed of person” seems to move through the area during the quieter seasons of the year (fall/winter), and thereby associating quiet people with a better breed of people. There was also some really interesting talk of the difference between soundwalking in a group versus soundwalking walking alone. For instance, McCartney likened the group experience to an “ephemeral community,” which seems to connect well with her current ideas around love and listening. Repetitive listening and doing soundwalks many times in the same area are also important in her construction of intimate listening. Additionally, one listener talked of being led by listening on soundwalks (rather than being led by vision). To this participant, listening is a sense that slows things down and, therefore, is better for the nervous system. However, I would like to mention that this creates a hierarchy of the senses, by privileging listening over seeing (and idealizing it at the same time)… What about the power dimensions to listening, soundmaking and soundwalking?
The discussion also touched on the following ideas, which I will put forth in point form:
-The expectation of quiet in such a densely populated area.
-The way the area performs to keep outsiders at a distance: high-rise buildings make the area difficult to get through if you’re walking; the area is perhaps more easily accessed by cars; a lot of fences in the area; the beach is not well lit at night (somehow darkness seems complicit with masculine silence); the beach also cuts out the sounds of footsteps (which makes it less safe); access to the performance space on the beach was taken away by removing the stairs to the stage, as it ‘invited’ people to sleep there; it probably also ‘invites’ people to make noise.
-An idealization of ‘nature.’
-No bird sounds (which I hear from people a lot in soundwalk discussions).
-Quiet equals good citizen; versus noisy outsiders, who are a “different breed of person.”
-Nervousness/anxiety produced when sounds do not have an identifiable source.
-The sounds of the city make for “an uninteresting lover.”
After listening to the soundwalk and the discussion recordings, I developed a series of questions for McCartney in response to what I heard. Andra, have you ever conducted a soundwalk where you did not ask people to be mindful of their own talking? I think it might be interesting methodologically to see how people ‘improvise’ on a walk without being asked to be quiet beforehand. I wonder how this might affect group dynamics? Would people silence others making too much noise? Might they be less likely to privilege ‘nature’ sounds over the sounds of the ‘city’? Or, would people still remain quiet on soundwalks without even being asked to? Does the emphasis on quiet already direct listeners towards hi-fi soundscapes?
Below is a sound and photos piece that I produced using Schine’s audio recording and Andra’s photos from the English Bay soundwalk. At the end of the piece, I incorporated a sound sample from the post-walk discussion. The piece was edited by ‘cross-fading’ between audio clips and by playing with the volume levels. No digital effects were used in the piece, in an attempt to keep the sounds recognizable and connected to the context of recording.