Saturday, February 04, 2017


The "Sacred Mountains" class continues Tuesday with more on sound - mountain sounds, but also how sound can be used as a form of expression, and indeed of research. A colleague will be coming to class to share his work with sound as a form of ethnographic research, and sent us a link to some "sound walks" he did around Kathmandu last year. Unlike the composition of sounds we heard at the Rubin on Thursday - 120 hours of sound, recorded in 200 places, concentrated into 20 minutes -  these invite you to a specific place and time. I recognized the voices of several people I know, not to mention familiar sounds like bells, chanting monks, tooting motorbike horns - and, in one which involves the ascent of a hill (the picture above is one of those accompanying it), crunching leaves and labored breaths.

An article my colleague sent about soundwalks explains the practice's roots (many familiar to me, such as Thich Nhat Hanh, Michel de Certeau and John Cage!) and development into forms of art and civic engagement, always commited to locality, to slowness, to listening.

A walking pace (andante, 75 beats per minute, like that of a relaxed and active heartbeat) is slow in musical terms, slower than the pace of the sound-cyclist, the sound tourist, the sound safari; it is a reflective pace. While recording, even slower movement – andante grazioso, 60 bpm – is often necessary to reduce wind on the mic. The walk is slow movement, where stillness is only temporary and motion is more or less audible. In many soundwalk recordings, it is possible to hear sounds of the recordist, traces of breath, gait, touch and presence that are more often effaced in still recordings. This emphasis on slowness, human movement and a focus on particular places brings attention to the presence of the soundwalkers and their ways of interaction in that place ...

Soundwalks seem designed to get us to attend more to the soundscape of our own worlds, rather than as invitations to worlds we don't know. Let's see how this reminder of human locatedness plays with the class!

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