Week 2: NYU Tisch 8th Floor Soundwalk

Over the past two weeks, I made a sound walk with three fellow ITP students that takes place on the 8th floor of the NYU Tisch building.  The experience of making this soundwalk was challenging from both a technical and artistic perspective.  This was my first time using any sound equipment.  To take my recordings, I used a zoom recorder and the microphones that come with the recorder.  Getting the right sound without any noise can be very challenging and often requires better microphones than the ones attached to the zoom recorder.  The Audition editing software was also new for me, so this provided an additional learning curve.  From an artistic perspective I found it challenging to convey a meaning or direction to the user using sound cues during the soundwalk.  We had ideas about where people would look, but moving there attention where we wanted it to go through sound cues meant careful planning.  In the end, our execution of this was certainly not perfect. 

When we began this process, we walked through the Tisch building as a group and tried to find an area that we found interesting.  We eventually decided that the 8th floor would be the location of our soundwalk. We then walked through the space and created a general map of the things that stood out to us.  We noticed connections though the space that interested us like the green in the buildings out the windows and the theme of McDonalds out the first window and on the wall in a photograph. We then made a list of all the sounds we needed to collect for our sound walk and split them up.  We met again after gathering the recordings to write a script for the narration part of the soundwalk.  We worked hard on only putting narration where we thought it was absolutely necessary, and tried to let the soundwalk guide you as much as possible.  From there, we found someone who works on that floor and narrated the script to her as she walked through the space (Figure 1).

  Figure 1 : User testing the script

Figure 1: User testing the script

This gave us great insight on where we needed more direction.  It also helped that we tested this out with someone who worked on the floor because she made some suggestions that we would not have known otherwise.  For instance, she told us that they were about to change the artwork on the walls so we had to make sure that the artwork that we pointed out on the soundwalk would stay.  Next, we recorded the script and organized the clips in a general order.  We met a final time to edit the clips and plan out the timing.  It was important for us to do this on the 8th floor so that we could walk through as we edited to time out each section properly.  Finally, we user tested the soundwalk with a fellow ITP student to ensure it worked the way we had envisioned.

Our soundwalk takes you through the 8th floor of the Tisch building and picks up on themes, sounds, and images that fill the space.  While looking out the first window, we play noises that reappear later in the walk.  When you see the water tower you hear water sounds,  when you see the McDonalds building you hear a crunch sound like someone is eating a french fry, when you notice the green in all the buildings you hear a light switch sound.  All of these noises and images repeat later in the walk.  We then play with the contrast of the bustling city outside and the serene image on the wall next to the window.  We then move the listener down a creaky hallway, amplifying the real creaks with the creak recordings. Later, as the listener is drinking water, we whisper the words “the single self” as those words come into view on the physical wall in front of you. The whole sound walk ends very abruptly on purpose.  We wanted the listener to feel a little lost and a sense of, “whats next,” when the recording ended.  They are physically at the end of a hallway, alone, so the abrupt ending is meant to leave you feeling stranded and confused. 

This process of making this soundwalk gave me a huge appreciation for the soundwalk I previously went on in central park.  Sound is a powerful tool but our brains are very good at deciphering real sounds from recordings.  It is thus, hugely challenging to create a soundwalk that tricks your mind into confusing reality with recordings.  Not only do the sounds need to be well recorded, but the edits and transitions need to be flawless to get this type of result.  Timing also needs to be a carefully orchestrated part of the soundwalk.  If the timing is off, you can loose the focus of your listener.  This is why it would have been even better if we had user tested on more than just two people.  Evoking meaning and pointing out subtle themes adds another level of complexity to a soundwalk.  I found that the timing of certain sounds required precision in order to convey the proper feeling or meaning.  These subtle adjustments could make or break a soundwalk.  Overall, I enjoyed this experience to explore and learn from/with my classmates.  While not perfect, the soundwalk resembles the original idea we had.  With some more edits, perhaps a clearer meaning could be conveyed and our classmates could experience what we experienced during our first meeting. 

You can find the soundwalk at this link.