Soundwalk 1: researching the pathways

Views across from Warborough to Wittenham Clumps

I have spent the past few days researching how best to present the soundwalk that I am planning to instigate on Sunday July 18th around a section of the A4074 for World Listening Day. Documentation of this event will be included in the A4074 radio show that I am researching and recording at the moment, so as well as being part of World Listening Day, the event is part of the A4074 project. There is a nice parallel here since the A4074 project shares many of the intentions that lie behind World Listening Day; namely celebrating the practice of listening, and becoming more aware of one’s environment.

To give a little background a soundwalk is a walk undertaken with the intention to deliberately listen to the sounds of the environment whilst walking through it. It was a technique for engaging with the soundscape devised by R Murray Schafer, and it has gone on to become a hugely popular participatory artform for artists like myself who are interested in finding ways of framing or presenting everyday sounds to audiences.

A soundwalk seems on its surface to be a simple idea; a group of people meet somewhere and agree to walk through that place, admiring or focussing on the sounds they hear along the way. Sometimes such walks are recorded, sometimes people speak to each other during soundwalks and sometimes people engaged in a soundwalk ‘play’ the landscape by actively making sounds out of the things they find, thus adding to the existing soundscape with their own actions and presence. For myself I like the most basic form of the soundwalk which involves heading out into a landscape together, listening to it, wandering off in different directions and drifting back together at the end to talk about what was heard. In reality it is often a little bit more messy than this since our sociable inclinations and the desire to converse, talk and meet each other in language is sometimes at odds with the more solitary pursuit of listening to sounds. I wrote before about how profoundly I enjoyed the sense of listening with other people at Dallas Simpson and Matt DaviesAudible Fields event. And I am very interested in how the lovely social aspect of being around other people can be successfully entwined with the pursuit of hearing the world around us, and full of questions about how I can instigate a sense of shared experience/active listening through the way I present and organise my proposed soundwalk.

I’m wondering about what tools I have as an artist for drawing attention to the soundscape and for inviting others to join me in listening to and enjoying the sounds in a way where they become more than just the  background to our chatter.

Inlet near the River Thames

…I think having a route map makes it easier for people to take a walk at their own listening pace, and so I have been plotting a route and designing a map to give to soundwalkers who join me on the 18th. To this end, Saturday saw me, the EDIROL, and OS 171 heading out to Warborough – near Shillingford – to record simple, straightforward written instructions for route-finding on the proposed soundwalk. I don’t think it’s essential for anyone to stick to this by any means, but I think that having a structure provides the confidence to listen without worrying about where you are going (since you can always check the map) and some geographical reference points, should your ears lead you far from the beaten track.

Part of the path along the soundwalk guideline route

The guideline route includes several sections of the A4074 road itself (under, beside, along) as well as some flat meadows, wooded paths, Dorchester Abbey, views across to Wittenham Clumps, and a bit of the Thames path. The walk took me about one and three quarter hours to complete at a dawdling pace with much stopping to photograph things or re-word my recorded instructions.

According to my online research on this route, the distance covered by the guidelines route is 4.76 miles. There are 3 stiles that I can recall, and the walk is mostly along well-trodden paths or tarmac surfaces. I have also planned things so that the walk begins in a place where everyone can park – and to which buses run – the X39 or X40 – (though sadly infrequently) from Reading and Oxford. The soundwalk will end at the 6 Bells Pub in Warborough where everyone can drink a tasty ale and talk about what they heard. From my limited experience of such things I think everyone who comes on the soundwalk will want to talk about what they heard whilst out dedicatedly listening in a way that perhaps they have not before, and the post-walk chatting and socialising aspect of the soundwalk is to my mind a very important aspect of the whole experience.

I would really appreciate any insights from anyone here about how I can set up the walk in such a way as to make it both a playful and warm invitation to listen to the soundscape and a celebratory, sociable event… what are your expectations of a soundwalk, what would you hope to experience if you decided to come to a soundwalk? And if you have ever been on a soundwalk before… what was your experience?

5 Responses to Soundwalk 1: researching the pathways

  1. Wendolene says:

    I’ve never done a soundwalk before, but I think your idea of giving people a map and landmarks is a good one. In my experience, people are more likely to chatter when nervous–like if they’re worried they’ll get lost.

  2. Liz T. says:

    Maybe you could have designated points for stopping and talking. I will definitely try to come.

  3. Pingback: The Domestic Soundscape » Blog Archive » Soundwalk 2: The Nocturnalist

  4. Awesome tour… How lovely are those Old England pics, especially the inlet image… I would love to have snippet from it, together with their location, uploaded at http://ubimark.info/map a World Listening Day associated site, which is sponsored by Purdue University.

  5. Pingback: The Domestic Soundscape » Archive » Walk 2012 guidebook writing

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