SOUNDwalks

A current area of interest in my practice, that I have been developing through my association with SOUNDkitchen, is the creation of SOUNDwalks. A soundwalk is essentially a guided walk, often conducted in complete silence, in which participants are encouraged to actively listen to the environment in which they are walking. Contemporary soundwalk practice includes variations on this concept and may include guided listening exercises, sound making interactions with the environment and sound recordings.

Working in collaboration with SOUNDkitchen co-director Annie Mahtani we devised our first soundwalk at Edgbaston Reservoir, Birmingham in 2013 as a commission for Still Walking Festival. This was a guided group walk that included silent listening to the live environment as well as some guided listening exercises designed to help the walkers focus their listening. We also developed the concept of augmented listening which occurred at several stations or point on the walk. We were interested in introducing our field recording practice as a way of augmenting the natural hearing abilities of the walkers. To achieve this we set up live microphones at predetermined sites such as hydrophones in the water of the reservoir and small microphones suspended high in the branches of a tree. The microphones were connected to an amplifier and headphone splitter allowing the walkers to plug in their headphones and listen to the live environment from a different perspective. In addition to the live microphones we included prepared field recordings of both the immediate environment and locations that were visible from the walking route. Walkers were given these recordings in advance and listened to them on their devices when instructed to do so. For example the sound of evensong transported the walkers inside a local church, the steeple of which was visible from the Reservoir and a recording made from the top of a distant building presented the soundscape of the city centre. We played a recording of footsteps in the snow made at the Reservoir in winter which transported the listener to the same location at a different time of year and a contact microphone recording of ants in a tree stump allowed them to listen inside the wood.

This approach of combining live and augmented listening became the format that we used for several subsequent guided walks in other Birmingham locations. You can find further information and documentation on the SOUNDkitchen website at https://soundkitchenuk.org/projects/soundwalks. We documented one of these walks by combining the recordings used in the walk with field recordings made along the route. You can listen to SOUNDwalk: Grand Central and SOUNDwalk: Ponta Delgada below:

All of the walks we devised form 2013-17 were guided group walks requiring live streaming of recordings or tracks downloaded to devices in advance. In 2018 thanks to funding from the University of Birmingham we developed our SOUNDwalker smartphone app. The app uses a map and GPS to locate the walker and show them the walking route. When the walker enters into designated listening zones audio recordings are triggered. This platform removes the need for a guide and allows users to take the walks at their leisure. The app is available for both iOS and Android platforms from the Apple app store and Google play. You can find more information and download links on this webpage https://soundkitchenuk.org/soundwalker.

We have devised several walks for the SOUNDwalker app and plan to continue expanding the library with new walks and by converting our earlier walks for the platform.