I think it’s fair to assume that if you follow this blog you will know what a soundwalk is. But for those unfamiliar with the term: this fun and interactive practice essentially involves a small group listening, and sometimes recording, while moving through a physical space at a slow walking pace.
Soundwalks can be powerful tools when used in creative and educational contexts, as they take everyday elements such as familiar soundscapes and the action of walking, and focus the attention of participants to events and structures (be it geographical, architectural or even social) that are often ignored. I like to use them often in my work, and also find myself going back to soundwalking even just to rediscover sounds I feel I’ve grown too accustomed to.
It can easily be argued that there are as many soundwalk styles as there are recordists, but recently I have come across a couple of interesting variations on the theme, which I thought I might present to you in a quick roundup.
– Recorded soundwalk: the meat & potatoes, the traditional soundwalk as we know it. Here the soundwalker’s presence is only hinted at through the sounds we hear recorded, and possibly some minor elements (sometimes accidental, sometimes left in deliberately) such as clothes rustling, coughing, breathing, etc. The sounds here are resolutely center stage, and there are no vocal interactions or narration of any kind by the recordist or other group participants.
This first example by Loundscape recorded at the Parco Nord in Milan is strongly dominated by the birds chirping and the recordists’ footsteps.
From a quiet natural environment to the hustle and bustle in the ‘Rue du Faubourg du Temple – A Soundwalk‘ by Des Coulam. This impeccable quality, wide recording plunges us from the get-go into a busy, ethnically diverse neighborhood in daytime, as we progressively and deliberately move through its streets.
Another great example with a slightly different approach is this ‘Limerick Soundwalk March 2014‘, by the Irish duo Softday:
In addition to those taken while walking, here there are quite a number of recordings here taken from static positions, which I find is a good way to successfully highlight specific sounds while giving the recording room to breathe (such as the train station, or the accordionist on the high street towards the beginning).
– Annotated soundwalk: I like to use this term to define soundwalks that do not use commentary as such, but provide a sparse description of the sounds encountered, as if in written annonation. Check out this ‘Balade sonore sur les quais de vive voix’ by Giles Malatray, aka Desartsonnants. We are on the Quais de Saône in Lyon, but in addition to the recorded sounds of the environment we get vocal annotations on what we hear, often delivered with humour (“One voiture…deux voitures…trois voitures…beaucoup de voitures!!” “Freins de bus!”). Not quite a commentary, more of a lighthearded punctuating, and very enjoyable.
Spoken word is also introduced in this series of ‘Liminal Warwick Bar Soundwalks‘ by David Prior, with the additional element of inserts in the form of reactions from listeners and participants:
– Narrated soundwalks: these present a dominant narrative or spoken content, and even additional elements such as music. Unlike those we just looked at above, where the sole purpose of the spoken parts was to punctuate or bring attention to the sounds, here the narrative dominates the recording (albeit still with reference to the sounds captured). Here is a nicely packaged example which describes the Rosengård area of Malmö, narrated by Cynthia Guarachi (in Swedish).
Narrative soundwalks run the gamut in terms of topics and styles. They can be educational, mood-setting, and even be aimed specifically at the travel & tourism field (in which case they often stray into audioguide territory).
But also narrative is an example of soundwalks that I find quite unique in their personal and almost ‘journal-entry’ approach: Audio Days (aka Richard Fair)’s walks in and around the Norwich area. A lovely example is this ‘Musical Forest’ walk in Brandon Country Park. Richard’s enthusiasm is infectious, and makes for a great listen.
I hope you enjoyed these examples, and if this was your first experience of soundwalks that it will inspire you to discover and audio-explore. If there are ay particular ones you’d like to recommend do share them below!