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
An English version (and YouTube video) of this text can be found here
La marche sonore du marché Hamilton s’est déroulée dans le quartier entourant le marché du centre-ville d’Hamilton ainsi qu’au square Jackson, et s’est terminée dans le marché lui-même. Nous avons formé un seul groupe de 7 ou 8 personnes à travers rues et allées puis nous nous sommes arrêtés pour discuter. Nous avons ensuite formé de plus petits groupes pour traverser le marché, puis nous sommes réunis à nouveau de l’autre côté pour une autre discussion. Ces marches ont e lieu un vendredi après-midi (vers 15h00) et un samedi matin (vers 10h30). La marche du samedi a été enregistrées par Barb Woolner. Les groupes étaient constitués de quelques résidents qui fréquentent souvent le marché (une dame a mentionné qu’elle y venait 4 ou 5 fois par semaine), ainsi que de quelques visiteurs et nouveaux résidents. Les gens qui habitaient le quartier depuis longtemps ont pu discuter avec nous à propos du contexte historique du quartier et comment il a changé au cours des dernières années, alors que le marché a progressivement été recouvert et rénové. L’enregistrement sonore de la marche est envahi par le doux roulement d’un charriot d’emplettes tiré par l’un des participants. Les bruits des voitures qui passent semblent quant à eux s’étirer, à cause de l’eau qui s’accumule dans les rues en cette journée hivernale plutôt chaude.
Deux participants ont vite réalisés qu’ils avaient l’habitude de fredonner en marchant, un réflexe qui est devenu plus apparent dans le contexte de la marche en groupe. Lors de la discussion d’après-marche, plusieurs participants ont notés que leur écoute était plus attentive lors de la marche en groupe (en comparaison avec la marche en paires), mais que ce même groupe créait en eux une étrange sensation de conscience d’eux-mêmes. Si la tentation de parler est moins forte lors de la marche en groupe, au final cette absence de partage et de rétroaction semble moins profitable à la marche.
Quelques comparaisons ont été faites avec d’autres villes. Un participant a noté que les voitures sont plus âgées à Hamilton, ce qui modifie le bruit du trafic. Les gens semblent plus sociaux à Hamilton, leurs voix sont plus fortes qu’en d’autres lieux, comme à Montréal, où on entend moins les discussions et où les gens semblent se rapprocher pour discuter. Un autre participant a remarqué que certaines parties du square Jackson étaient plus intimes, de par la présence de plafonds abaissés qui encourageaient la discussion. Durant la marche du samedi, nous avons aussi remarqué le bruit insistant des semelles d’espadrilles qui grinçaient sur le plancher du centre commercial, provoquant un jeu de mot entre ‘squeakers’ et ‘sneakers’. Un autre participant a mentionné que l’espace autour des kiosques de légumes, qui attirent une grande foule, étaient plus vivant et bruyant. Les participants ont aussi mentionné l’omniprésence du bruit des réfrigérateurs, que la plupart n’avaient jamais remarqué auparavant. La marche du samedi a aussi été agrémentée de la musique d’un joueur de mandoline qui se mélangeait aux sonneries de l’horloge Birks ainsi qu’aux voix des commerçants et des passants.
Plusieurs participants ont constaté que leur sens de l’odorat s’aiguisait lors des marches sonores, ce que devenait encore plus apparent au marché. Vous remarquerez que l’on peut entendre, sur l’enregistrement sonore, de légers fredonnements d’appréciation émis par la personne qui documentait la marche. Lorsque l’on demande aux gens de concentrer leur attention sur un seul sens, cela provoque une hausse globale de la sensibilité des participants. Ceux-ci sont aussi plus alertes aux stimuli visuels ainsi qu’à leurs propres déplacements spatiaux, ce qui est probablement dû à leur vitesse de déplacement plus lente. Un grand nombre de participants ont souligné le plaisir qu’ils ont ressenti à prendre leur temps et à déambuler, pour un moment, sans horaire ou parcours précis. La marche se transforme en un espace et un moment liminaires, une expérience d’appréciation et d’exploration.
La version française de ce texte se trouve ici
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.
I would like to respond to some questions posed by Dave Madden in a recent posting on the blog. This is what he said:
“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?”
Thanks, Dave, I have been thinking about these questions a lot. Here is where I am at the moment…
There are many soundwalks that integrate speaking voices, from the approach of soundwalk.com to the commented walks of audiotopie and CRESSON researchers, to the way Viv Corringham works with meaningful walks. I choose in the current project to separate words and walk — to place emphasis on what precedes and follows a soundwalk, in which open discussion is important, but for the time of the soundwalk — and for the piece that is made of it afterward — words are minimal, but again with many words about the soundwalk in the blog, to contexualise it.
I always talk about listening before a soundwalk. I used to ask people not to speak, and now I ask them to be mindful of the power of their voices, the ability of the voice to command attention at the expense of other sounds. Nevertheless, there have been several occasions where people arrive late for a session, or are distracted during the initial discussion, and don’t hear this. In such cases, those people have sometimes attempted to engage other participants in conversation during the walk. In two cases, instructors accompanying students (public school in one case, university in another) did not listen to the initial discussion, and then took cell phone calls during the session. Interestingly enough, none of the students copied this example! While other participants sometimes seemed visibly irritated by attempts at conversation during the walk, noone has ever silenced anyone, or even mentioned their irritation in the discussion at the end — although in some cases, I received emails later complaining about the interruptions, as if awareness of the irritation only came with reflection. While a soundwalk participant once said in the discussion that not speaking interfered with her sense of personal agency, it seems that in such a time of listening, there are many different ideas about how to move together with the group, and what conditions to create for listening. Sometimes one person will complain about another’s non-verbal activation of what is around them (banging on things, making loud stepping sounds). Sometimes people will mention their fascination with loud sounds of another’s movements and how they decided to move away from that person so that they could listen to other sounds. Sometimes people really enjoy the sounds of the group, and the sense of intimacy that develops as we listen together, what they learn about the others through walking with them and listening to them as well as to the wider environment. It often happens that people approach the group and ask what we are doing, which leads to some conversation. I don’t think the move away from speaking leads people towards hi-fi soundscape listening but towards more attentive listening. People frequently comment on hearing complex overlapping sound formations in familiar places that they had not noticed with the same subtlety on other occasions.
Most of all, I think a soundwalk is a good opportunity to reverse figure and ground — and the figures in many of our lives are words: words in text that we read on billboards and signs and text messages and blogs, words of people we speak to in our daily lives, words of songs, even the words of the imaginary monologue in our heads as we worry and plan. It can be helpful to listen to what surrounds those words.
David, in the soundwalks you have done with groups, have you experimented with that methodology of doing a walk without speaking to people about figure and ground, and the power of words? What happens?