April 22 2022
Audiotopie & Angus Tarnawsky
Our final soundwalk, taking place on International Earth Day, was very different from our previous soundwalks. To begin, we met outside the John Molson Building on Concordia's downtown campus. We gathered in a group of roughly 14 people, and it was a sunny and frigid day. The streets were active with the bustling of city life; people going to work, construction happening on different buildings and streets, and the iconic sound of street cleaners that are present in the early spring weeks of Montreal, cleaning all that is left from the melted snow of the previous winter.
From all of this activity and noise, it was clear that this soundwalk was going to be different from the previous ones. Angus Tarnawsky and Audiotopie were the perfect soundwalkers for this scenario. Angus encouraged discussion on the soundwalk, talking about what we hear and are experiencing as we walked the downtown core. Meanwhile, Audiotopie came prepared with 4 of their state of the art portable speakers, long white tubes with speakers on each end. We were thus surrounded by these speakers on each corner of the group, being enmeshed in a world of different sound recordings from participants on the soundwalk.
Our walk led us to various downtown locations. We passed through the streets to an underpass under route 136, where the acoustic difference was noticeable with the echoing of the cars passing by. We exited onto Oscar Peterson park which provided us an excellent view of the city. Here things were a bit quieter, yet the cleaning machines were still very audible as they passed through the park and the neighbouring streets.
We continued to make our way up along the park to rue Guy. Once we passed back across route 136 to our original meeting location, the bustling of the city was once again audible. Small difficulties with Audiotpie's speakers meant we were left to be encompassed in the sounds of the city, reflecting of the tall buildings.
The Online Panel
After this amazing soundwalk we made our way back to the John Molson School of Business. Here we reconvened on the 8th floor of the building for pizza and lighthearted discussion, preparing for what would be a very promising panel. The panel on this International Earth Day consisted of Hildegard Westerkamp, Allie Martin, Antonella Radicchi, and was moderated by non-other than the organizer of the symposium, Kathy Kennedy.
Hildegard Westerkamp started this discussion with amazingly condensed and enlightening discussion of her life as a soundwalker and soundwalk composer. She discussed topics ranging from her early days of working with the Vancouver Soundscape disucssing noise by-laws, to her more recent work on the Wetlands project which allows listeners all over the world to tune into recordings done in various wetlands.
However, this was all a precursor to deeper, philosophical topics on the ever changing fludity of soundcapes and what about them so captivates our fascination. In a fludi manner, Westerkamp talked about how listening to footsteps makes us conscious of ourselves as sound makers in the world. How a person who hums will never be aware of the electrical drones that underlie contemparary society. This was all formed around the question "what is a soundwalk"?
To Westerkamp, a soundwalk is the opportunity to deepen ones listening practice, not just about understanding the sound environment, but about understanding one's listening and how it connects us to the environment and each other. This, for her, is why we should be encouraged to do it in groups. In a soundwalk, you are resetting your listening. When you want to listen to something it highlights the relationship of who you are as a listener, the impact the environment has on you and you on it, and how you see yourself in a group and a community. Without these sort of discussions, the meaning of a soundwalk could be lost.
Our next presenter was Allie Martin, who has a very different approach but shares in the sentiment of discussing the meaning of a soundscape. Martin's work focuses primarily on experiencing gentrification (specifically in the Washington, D.C. area) as a sonic and racial experience, embracing the notion of intersectional listening. Her methods range from enthnographic fieldwork, passive acoustic recording, and soundwalking. This includes a process of talking to locals, recording for long periods of time in one and area, and a mix of individual and group soundwalks.
Her work focuses primarily in one district name Shaw, traditionally an Afircan American neighbourhood in Washington, D.C. At the corner of 7th and Florida street, Martin discovered a chellphone store that plays nonstop recordings of Gogo Music, a genre that is iconic to this area. However, as gentrificaiton overruns this part of the city, stores and places like these are increasingly harder to find. This has led Martin to ask "what does gentrification sound like?" Sound and listening can be a speculative method through which we can understand ourselves and the environment. It offers different modes which need to exist with each other and be in constant dialogue with each other.
As Martin notes: "I am looking for three components in particular: enthnographic descripstions of the walk, analysis of what is heard, and some cosideration about how one's identity influences your place in the soundscape." IN other words, how does your identity reflect the soundscape? This, for Martin, is how soundwalks act as a point of entry into various knowledges and offer the opportunity to learn more about how we move in and around the world.
Our last presenter, Antonella Radicchi, has an equally unique background. She approaches soundwalk as an architect and urban planner. Her work is based on a humanist perspective which implies a tendecy to prioritixe the human experience of an urban environment. Soundwalks are equivilent to sense-walks, sensuous urbanism is about how we feel in our given soundscapes/urban environemnts. The ultimate aim of the soundwalk is to increase awareness of our sonic entironments.
She was first intorduced to soundwalks by Michael Southworth in 1967 who was considered to be the first urban scholar to lead a soundwalk (Boston, USA). Since then, she has worked in the field to develope a pocket guide to soundwalk. Her work focuses on different forms of documentation such as sonicshots, mental soundmaps, and how to guide listeners. This has led her to develop the Hush City app, which is used to collect data on quiet areas in different cities so that citizens can find silent places for listening. Created in 2018, it is designed as a participatory campaign for the update of the Berlin Plan of Quiet Areas. it uses feedback to design routes, plan, and design actions.
Radicchi ended her discussion by quoting R Murray Schafer: If we “regard the soundscape of the world as a huge musical composition…where we are simultaneously its audience, its performers and its composers” (Schafer, 1977) as architects and urbanists, how can we leverage soundwalking as a method to favor inclusiveness, equality, and accessibility?”
If you would like to view the panel discussion, you can watch it here: