Last night, I went for a soundwalk after re-reading Hildegard Westerkamp’s piece on the subject. I used the following excerpt as a basis for my soundwalk:
“Start by listening to the sounds of your body while moving. They are closest to you and establish the first dialogue between you and the environment. If you can hear even the quietest of these sounds you are moving through an environment which is scaled on human proportions. In other words, with your voice or your footsteps for instance, you are “talking” to your environment which then in turn responds by giving your sounds a specific acoustic quality.
“Try to move
Without making any sound.
Is it possible?
the quietest sound of your body?
“(If, however, you cannot hear the sounds you yourself produce,
you experience a soundscape out of balance. Human proportions have
no meaning here. Not only are your voice and footsteps inaudible but also
your ear is dealing with an overload of sound).
“Lead your ears away from your own sounds and
listen to the sounds nearby.
“What do you hear? (Make a list)
“What else do you hear?
“Can you detect
The lowest pitch.
“Do you hear any
Intermittent or discrete sounds
“What are the sources of the different sounds?
“What else do you hear?
“Lead your ears away from these sounds and listen
beyond—–into the distance.
What is the quietest sound?
What else do you hear?
I walked the following route (from my house on Guildford Park Road up to the Cathedral):
At first I felt very self-conscious even though it was quite late in the evening and not many people were around. I tried to focus on the sound of my breath, my footsteps and the sounds my clothes made as I walked. I didn’t feel very ‘in the zone’ but as I walked up Ridgemont I started listening ‘outward’ (I.e. Not just to the sounds I was making).
At first it all seemed like noise, but then I was able to distinguish the different sounds. Most of what I could hear close to me was the trees rustling in the wind (it was a very very windy night). As the wind picked up, I could hear it rushing against my ears, not unlike the sound it makes on a microphone. It made me feel like the soundscape was interacting with me personally as I was the only person who could hear that particular sound.
Several aeroplanes went past overhead and there was a constant roar of traffic from the A3 which got louder and louder as I walked further up Ridgemont. Ocassionaly I would be able to make out one distinct engine from a motorbike or powerful car. Once I had arrived at the Cathedral, there were lots of interesting sounds in the soundscape – a bird was calling and I passed a dog and his owner. There were also electrical noises from the lights that light up the Cathedral and the flagpole was making a sound in the wind.
I gained a lot from the exercise because I now understand how to listen to the soundscape around me. If you try to view the world (or even just the bit of the world that you are currently in) as a massive soundscape, you begin to pick out and appreciate all the individual sounds. I can honestly say that I have never actively listened to the sound of traffic or aeroplanes going overhead – I am so used to tuning sounds like that out as ‘noise’. I think it is a bit like trying to watch a film and listen to the music – after a while, you just forget to listen and you almost tune the music out, hearing it subconsciously: all those sounds we hear on a daily basis that we tune out because they won’t have any impact on us are difficult to properly listen to because we hear them all the time when we’re not concentrating on them.