WALKING, LISTENING, AND MAPPING THE SILENCE

BY KATERINA TALIANNI.

Katerina Talianni explores the methodology behind her soundwalk and soundmap collaborative project, the Impossible Inaudible Soundwalk

Our listening practices are shaped by today’s technological developments. Sound and media art works such as installations, soundwalks, and soundmaps that use geolocative media have influenced and utilized new modes of listening. Creative sound artworks are seeking to engage listeners, who are navigating space, to participate in the aesthetic completion of a piece.

Mobile listeners are at the same time immersed in their privatised ‘auditory bubble’ described in Michael Bull’s account of iPod culture, and also experiencing the relationship between the aural and urban space, detailed in Brandon LaBelle’s essay Acoustic Territories on how sound circulates through the built environment. These two main ideas: on the one hand, the privatized and intimate listening experience; and on the other, the traces of a communal auditory life, have influenced the work of sound artists. Here, I will approach this duality through a discussion of a collaborative sound artwork, which resulted in the creation of a soundwalk and soundmap.

The idea of collective creativity has informed our practices in designing and organising the ‘Impossible Inaudible Soundwalk’ workshop in February 2016 at the University of Edinburgh; this has also been the only pre-requisite for the aesthetic result. In collaboration with Akoo-o group of artists, this workshop—funded by Innovative Learning Week and the Urban Emptiness research project—invited participants to question their preconceptions of noise and silence, and to discuss the idea of urban voids and emptiness. NoTours was used for creating the soundwalk and soundmap, an open-source software platform for creating site-specific and interactive artworks with the use of locative media technology, developed by Escoitar collective.

The title of the project, Augmenting Emptiness: The Impossible Inaudible Soundwalk, was inspired by Douglas Kahn’s seminal work Noise, Water, Meat: A History of Sound in the Arts. The central idea of the workshop was to listen to the silence and understand it, in the way Voegelin describes it as, ‘not the absence of sound but the beginning of listening’. Participants listened, recorded, and mapped their sounds and soundscape compositions, as an alternative way to navigate the physical locations—creating a hybrid space that can be accessed through walking and listening. Composed audio and field recordings interweave with the walker’s physical surroundings giving voice to the buildings, the streets and the people that traverse them. At the same time, the participants’ relationships with the sounds are foregrounded and their memories, routes and routines are made audible.

Field Recording: wind sound

Background Sound (inspired by the constant presence of wind in all field recordings): a composition by Dana Papachristou, member of Akoo-o artists group and co-leader of the workshop

The processing of sonic data and sound composition upon the map can be described as a creative and experimental approach to cartography compared to the traditional gridded representation of sound on the map. Interactive soundmaps have been popularised through sound art practices since the late 1990s, at the intersection of soundscape studies and acoustic ecology. Projects such as Radio Aporee and the British Library’s UK Soundmap have proliferated the concept of the soundscape and conveyed information about the acoustic environment in interactive and meaningful ways.

Although soundmaps function as an informative and interactive way to share the aural characteristics of our surrounding space, mapping the experience of the embodied and communal sonic perception of the environment calls for a more creative and collaborative cartography. Scholars have argued that traditional gridded soundmaps tend to dislocate sound from the experience of listening, and fail to re-map the “‘in-between-spaces’ of memory, artistic expression and cartography” (Anderson 2015) due to the “soundmap’s broad or disconnected temporal or geographical reach” (Ouzounian 2014). As a result, artistic practices, such as Janet Cardiff’s Her Long Black Hair (2004) and Christina Kubisch’s Electrical Walks (2004-2013), which invite their audiences to actively listen to their everyday surroundings, became the basis on which we structured The Impossible Inaudible Soundwalk.

composing-on-the-map-katerina
Composing the Map

Employing a bottom-up approach we worked collaboratively within all stages of the soundmap and soundwalk production. The collective outcome, therefore, has expanded the boundaries of the soundmaps. We mapped the relationship between sound and space, and succeeded in communicating the often overlooked or ignored empty spaces by deploying field recordings and soundscape compositions as a mediated way of experiencing urban space with an intention to listen again, critically. The final product is a map of listening, rather than a map of sounds.

map-katerina
The Impossible Inaudible Soundmap

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Katerina Talianni is a PhD candidate in Music at the University of Edinburgh. Her research, titled ‘Walking-with-sound: creative agency, artistic collaboration and the sonic production of social space,’ investigates creative sonic ways of producing social spaces.

Cover image © Tom Parnell, ‘Scottish Centre for Regenerative Medicine, Edinburgh’ 

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