As part of our assignment, I went on the sound walk Her Long Black Hair by Janet Cardiff, in Central Park. It was the first sound walk I've been on, and it set the bar pretty high. The binaural recordings had me turning my head, seeking the source of the sounds, only to realize that they existed only in my private reality. I was completely immersed, getting quiet satisfaction from knowing that I was experiencing a secret, hidden layer to the setting I was sharing with so many other people.
Cardiff spoke about this too – the layers in everything, and how we're never seeing them all. The walk revealed several layers in time – the time she made the recording, the time the photos were taken, the time of the various historical events that had been memorialized in the park... and at the same time, there was a timelessness – the things she saw that were almost undoubtedly going to occur again, and again, (for some time into the near future, at least) – the loud family by the children's zoo, the asian couple taking wedding photos by the fountain, the selfies being taken at the bridge. I liked how she casually addresses this —
"a man just walked past wearing a t-shirt that says 'time is an invention' "
The walk was retracing Cardiff's steps, going through an experience she had already gone through, and this created a sense of closeness as she empathized with the sights, sounds and sensations one experienced in the park. The little experiments made the experience more engaging by inviting action on the listeners part.
While she spoke of several different events, ideas and thoughts, there was a running narrative – the photos she had found and her quest to identify the where they had been taken, and the story behind them. Using the photos as part of the material for the walk helped enforce the narrative, and anchored the experience.
I was uncertain how much of a cognitive load it would be to sync my physical location with the audio, but she transitioned smoothly between giving instructions and narrating, and I was comfortable within the first few minutes. I would have been happy to carry around the little friend in my head for a while longer.
Creating a sound walk
In trying to come up with a narrative for the sound walks we were to create, we identified a few questions to ask ourselves / things to think about...
- what perspective does the listener have in the experience? are they an observer or are they being spoken to? could it be possible to make it feel like the narration is in first-person / the voice-in-our head?
- what is the relationship to time in walk? is it irrelevant? are we going through the sites of a past event? are things happening in real-time?
- how do we negotiate the lack of control and feedback?
- how do we keep the narrative going and make the instructions clear at the same time, without breaking the feeling of immersion? can we weave the instructions into the story?
We went through a bunch of ideas, and often found ourselves describing a "sound movie", so to say – imaging a curated sequence of events. It was also hard to remember what the perspective would be and how instructions are being shared, and maintaining a narrative along with this.
Today we got our binaural microphones working, which provided some direction – using the sound localization to add a mysterious/disconcerting layer to an otherwise mundane experience – being taken on a tour of the floor.
Here are a few initial binaural recordings: