Week 1: Soundwalk

This week I experienced Janet Cardiff’s sound walk experience, Her Long Black Hair which guides you through the lower part of Central park.  Through the walk Janet takes you on her journey as she looks for the locations where a set of photos were taken of a woman with black hair.  The photos accompany the audio in a perfect and enticing way.  This was the first soundwalk that I have ever been on and I found it fascinating.  The way it made me feel, think, breathe, relax, walk, etc was all encompassing and an experience that I did not anticipate as a began walking.  While the sounds behind Janet’s voice change depending on where you are in the park, the sound of birds and Janet’s steps create the baseline for the piece.  At first I found her quiet voice and the sound of her steps to be somewhat anxiety provoking. As if something spooky was about to happen.  Perhaps this was the New Yorker in me, knowing to be aware in parks in the city.  It was interesting, however, how by the end of the piece these same sounds created a peaceful, calm state. Since I grew up in New York, I had a strong connection to a line Janet says in the first track as you enter the park, it went, “Things will change, not in a big way, but enough.”  This immediately stuck out to me as an indicator of what this experience would become.  Reflecting on the experience in its entirety I feel like that quote perfectly summed up the experience.  It took me out of my element and out of the city.  Of course, I was not really away from it, but it was “enough” and what I needed.  The walk gave me a minute to experience the city I have spent my life walking through.  At the end of the last track, as I took off my headphones and began to walk out of the park, I realized how quiet the park felt, how calm I was, and how I was noticing all the little surrounding sounds.  I even found myself hearing my own footsteps as if I was missing the sound of Janet’s. 

Along the way, there were a few aspects of the audio and the way the soundwalk was choreographed that stood out.  Although a sound walk seems like it would be an auditory experience, I was amazed by Janet’s ability to trigger so many senses.  I felt the ground with each step that I took as I smelled the trees, heard her audio and took in everything there was to see.  At times it was almost unnerving how difficult it was to decipher what was real and what was in the recording.  I often even found myself stopping to pause the recording to check if there was really someone walking that close to me or if it was just in the recording.  The quality of the sounds showed how immersive sound can become.  At one point Janet passes a guy talking under one of the archways, I noted how the real man standing before me was gesturing as if it were him talking.  It was even difficult to determine what I was really seeing with my own eyes.  As I approached the main fountain Janet says that she sees a Asian couple taking wedding photos.  With this picture in my mind I turned toward the fountain and as if my imagination became reality, a real life Asian couple came into sight as they posed for a wedding picture. I also found the use of music to be fascinating.  For the most part music was used as we passed under archways.  This made the audio really echo in my mind.  Sometimes music was played over the sound of her steps while other times it took over the entire track.  Also, the musical interludes progressed from faster more aggressive rock to slow a slow opera.  This progression added to the change in how you feel as you experience the soundwalk.  First you are anxious and engulfed by the busy city, and then you are slowly calmed by the quiet of the park.  Overall, I really enjoyed this experience and the soundwalk technique.  The walk took us through a story and a place and we were made to fully embrace the feelings that came with it.  I cannot wait to go on my next soundwalk sometime soon and experience a whole new set of sensations and emotions. 

This link shows some of the raw recordings I took this week for my soundwalk project.