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
I have been reading Walking Archives: The Soy Children, by Argentinean artist and writer Eduardo Molinari. He walks us into the GMO soy fields of Monsanto, covering more than half of cultivated lands in that country. There is an oblique connection to the work of Soundwalking Interactions: the Buenos Aires soundwalk in December 2010 by chance crossed paths with a Monsanto demonstration.
Molinari says: “My archive … took shape based on three sources or types of documents: copies of the AGN’s [national archives] official photographic material, the photographs I take on walks, and lastly what I call junk or garbage documentation: scraps and fragments of print media (magazines, newspapers, graphics in general) and publications (books, posters, postcards, maps, etc.) Those three elements, joined together as a manual collage, have created the Documents of the Walking Archive…. The process behind the relationship between the Walking Archive and the collective processes I take part in has been coloured from the outset by the dynamic of the walker: it’s a relationship that’s always in context, always linked to others, always open to new forms of knowledge and practices. That’s why I refer to the Walking Archive as a project in which walking as an aesthetic practice and collective and interdisciplinary at ion are at the core.” (2012: 2)
Molinari, Eduardo. Walking Archives: The Soy Children. Brooklyn, NY: Autonomedia, 2012.
On December 6th, members of Soundwalking Interactions, including Andra McCartney, David Madden, David Paquette, and Caitlin Loney, went on a soundwalk around the Montreal neighbourhood of Mile End with sound artist Victoria Fenner. Andra asked me to lead the walk as I live in the neighbourhood. It was dark (around 5pm) and cold, but with no snow on the ground. We began at Andra’s home, walked down the traffic-filled Parc Avenue, cut through a wet alleyway where men removed piles of metal bars from a van, across Bernard West and its small shops and cafes, and down the more residential Waverly, where we heard and saw the wail and flash of emergency vehicles a block away. Once we reached the usually bustling St-Viateur, we came across a very still accident scene in front of popular café Club Social: blocked-off intersection, person on a gurney, ambulance, police cars, fire truck, frozen bystanders. In our conversation minutes later, we all agreed that the soundscape was not what we expected. It had been extremely quiet except for the idling engines of the trucks and a few unrelated conversations passing through the accident zone; it seemed to clash with the flashing lights and intensity of the mood. Andra felt that some of the surreal qualities would probably come through in the recording, which can be heard from about 2:30-3:30.
After our short discussion at the end of St-Viateur, we continued walking around this semi-industrial area, where the wide streets were almost empty and large boxy buildings loom above. David P. remarked that the sound of our footsteps revealed the height of these buildings. As we continued towards the train tracks, a distant bell-like sound caught our attention (5:35-5:55), one of the few acousmatic experiences on the walk, having no visual cue. We guessed the sound had something to do with the trains. Soon after we came across another scene, which Andra later remarked was, like the accident, “strangely intimate” in the middle of a public space. A school bus with a chimney was getting a boost from a van; a steady high-pitch sound followed by a grumbling engine starting. Again, some of us commented on the dissonance between the sonic and visual. Victoria, who noticed a woman with a child tending a barbeque outside the bus, said she did not find the sound story that she expected.
Much of our discussion after the walk kept returning to this issue of visual cues creating expectation during soundwalks. Victoria contemplated,
…the visual and the sound sometimes work against each other, because you expect that you’re going to hear certain things, but sometimes, without the visuals, we wouldn’t know what was happening… so, how do we deal with our eyes when we’re trying to focus on the pure sound so that they don’t lead us to conclusions that are irrelevant to what we’re doing.
The Soundwalking Interactions team—minus David Paquette—led a soundwalk on November 21, 2011 for the Balance-Unbalance Conference at Concordia University. The conference brought together scholars, artists, policy experts, economists, etc., “with the intent of engendering a deeper awareness and creating lasting intellectual working partnerships in solving our global environmental crisis.” Before the walk, Andra McCartney opened with a fifteen-minute talk, where she outlined various (potential) ways of listening and some of her ongoing research interests and projects.
The walk began in the John Molson School of Business; then headed south along Guy to Sainte Antoine Ouest; along Sainte Antoine and north through the tunnel on du Fort; and then east along rue Baile and back to the Molson Building. Approximately fifteen people participated in the walk, including Andra’s artistic collaborator, Don Sinclair, from York University. The post-walk discussion lasted forty minutes and covered everything from the sounds (noise) of the cars, the lack of bird sounds and the way the sounds of the city change depending on the time of day. There were far fewer cars on the road during this walk as it took place on a Saturday afternoon. Some participants also related the sounds encountered on the walk to previous sounding experiences. For instance, one listener took the ‘high road’ through the tunnel on du Fort as he connected the experience to the Scottish Highlands. The discussion closed out with a presentation by Sinclair and McCartney about their interactive soundwalk and dance project, which is demonstrated in the video below.
On November 18, 2011, Andra McCartney visited Carleton University in Ottawa to lead a soundwalk and present a paper on Luce Irigaray and improvised listening, as part of the Second Graduate Colloquium for the MA in Music and Culture.
The walk was approximately 30 minutes and took place around the university’s campus, which is surrounded by the Rideau River and its rapids, as well as trains and roads. In the post-walk discussion, one participant remarked that at one point during the soundwalk, there were several levels of sound: the river, a train, and the beeping of a truck backing. This can be heard at 3:03 of the soundpiece. He commented that normally he would focus on the river and reject the truck, but that during the walk he was trying to be open to the soundscape as it was. Andra had noticed this point of the walk as well, and noted the rhythmic complexity of the layers, along with the sounds of overhead gulls.
Another person wondered if they should also include the sounds made by participants as one of these layers. She brought up the issue of the sometimes opposing roles of soundwalk participants as both bodies moving through space as well as “impartial observers”. She was struck, especially when some participants rattled locks or threw stones in the water, by a sense of “being in the moment and creating sound” during the walk. At the same time, she said she felt an “exclusion of [our] own presence, as though [we were] an observer and not actually embodied in the space, for instance not talking and trying to ignore the sounds [we were] making in preference to everything around [us]”. Andra felt that while, in some ways, the practice of soundwalking can separate participants from the environment by walking a silent group, at the same time, listening draws people into the environment, especially when listeners hear sounds they normally wouldn’t.
There was also a lively discussion around improvisational listening. One participant felt that all listening is improvised, since we listen to things differently each time we hear them. He noted that, “if I’m listening to a piece of music that I’ve listened to a thousand times before, that doesn’t mean that I’m not improvising as a listener…. I can choose to listen to the oboe part or I can choose to listen in a kind of global way.” Another stated that non-improvisational listening is actually hearing, and that the act of listening is an “active process that is always improvisational by virtue of our agency as listeners, choosing what to focus on”.
Andra suggested that it was the extent that mattered, giving the example of a planned soundwalk where everything is pre-determined versus one where the route is decided in the moment. Someone else offered the sound metaphor of resonance versus dampening to understand the relationship between improvisational and non-improvisational listening: there is a constant struggle between creative, improvised listening and forces of authority and convention that try to dampen it. For him, the question of extent has to do with how quickly these forces clamp down on moments of improvisation and bring it back to the “correct” interpretation.
By Jennifer Schine (firstname.lastname@example.org)
November 18, 2011
On Wednesday 9 November, as part of Vancouver New Music’s soundwalk series (http://newmusic.org/free-community-events/soundwalks/), I had the pleasure of recording Andra McCartney’s hour-long night soundwalk around English Bay in Vancouver. As participants, we were asked to engage with our own practices of listening in hopes that this walk would contain something surprising and thought-provoking for all of us. Andra asked us to reflect on our complex listening relationships with the sensorial, (inter)personal, cultural, political, environmental and economical experiences of place, space and history, especially considering the city of Vancouver as we walked and listened to the area.
What this walk highlighted for me was the various levels of listening that can occur in a place and within oneself. These levels not only include physical levels of verticality, but temporal levels of seasonality and times of day, emotional levels, historical levels and levels of memory. For one of the participants, a resident of the English Bay area, this walk evoked memories of his summer soundscape. In his mind’s ear, he was brought back to warm summer evenings and the different sonic levels of people on their patios all the way up the tall buildings: “some people barbeque, some people talk on their phone, some people are just hanging out and having drinks after work. It’s a wonderful sound”. Several more of the walk’s participants also described sounds that were reminiscent for them; that upon hearing these sounds, they were brought back to moments of their past. As the group walked down Davie Street to the beach, we passed a circle of flagpoles. The sound of the clanking of metal against these poles was very musical and created different pitches. Andra found these tinkling sounds to evoke the sounds of boats at anchor, of sails hitting against the mast. This sound was joyful for her and so during the walk she was compelled to stay close to the flagpoles for a while. Another soundwalker heard the flagpoles as an “elementary-school-type sound”, which also brought a lot of joy to her.
Later in our discussion, several members of the group were struck by the presence of the many high-rises in English Bay and the impact of these massive buildings, not only on the soundscape, but as fortresses, themselves, demanding a type of navigation as a walker on the ground. During our discussion, Andra mentioned how she was relieved when we discovered a tiny alleyway behind one of the commercial buildings on Denman Street, which we could “cut through”. She said, “I like to cut through [between buildings, but here in the English Bay area] you have to go all the way to the end of the block, which is part of the reason I kept taking us all the way to the end of the block…it’s something that is very characteristic of this area”. Because soundwalks are comprised of two parts, the sound and the walk, it is interesting to reflect on both the sounds that we hear and how we literally walk in an area.
The acts of both listening and walking can also be reflexive actions that draw together aspects of place and biography through the soundwalk, itself. One of the walk’s participants, Hildegard Westerkamp, mentioned, “I find that you don’t forget places where you have a done a soundwalk”. Her statement resonated with me and I started to think about the cities and places that I know more deeply because I have soundwalked them. “Cities and places”, Hildegard said, “whether you’re a visitor or live there, become internal maps…and because of that have become kind of signifiers. Other [places] are not as defined because they haven’t been soundwalked yet”. Which places do I know because of a soundwalk? This is part of the beauty of walking and listening, of becoming familiar with a place, and as Andra says, “of going back to an area over and over again”. And, this explains a little bit about Andra’s own practice, of choosing an area and soundwalking it repeatedly. I like to consider this familiar listening to my city as a conversation with an old friend. As I move and listen in space, I move between memories of the area and a more recent exploration of it. And, in experiencing these various “levels” of a place through the act of soundwalking allows for a certain depth that can become a conversation and even a potential for pleasure.
On November 5th, 2011, Andra McCartney led a soundwalk at the Balance-Unbalance conference at Concordia University. The walk began at the Molson School of Business building, followed along the Ville-Marie Expressway and through the downtown neighbourhood surrounding Concordia University.