Sensory Postcard: Limerick Soundwalk

So, I’ve been meaning to put up a bunch of my impressions of Limerick online. These come from a visit in the end of March for the Urban Soundscapes and Critical Citizenship conference there at UofL. As well as being the first time travelling for me in quite a long time, I also attended a beautiful soundwalk as part of the conference, led by Softday – Mikael Förnstrom and Sean Taylor. They were both recording the walk with monitoring headphones and high-quality furry mikes. I made a few recordings with my phone, but also spent large portions of the walk (which was around 3 hours long) just listening and taking in the rare experience of being in an unfamiliar place.

Surprise surprise the experience was about much more than just sound! It all started with even getting to the Milk Market (the starting point of the walk), getting lost, getting found and generally stressing out about not having enough directions and control. Once I started out soundwalking, however, I made a conscious effort to relax into the unfamiliarity and to reflect on how my (now North American) sensibilities affect my experience of being in a different place. It struck me that no one besides me was too worried about controlling all the information, knowing everything, being in charge. So I started just rolling with it and listening. I remember literally the feeling of relief that spread in my body when I decided not to worry about following the group or getting lost, etc.

With regard to the soundscapes that we went through I had an overwhelming sense that even the traffic noise was a bit quieter overall than what I’m used to in Vancouver. I am not sure if that’s the case really but I felt that the entire surrounding built environment was a little less overwhelmed by hums and drones and other constant irritants. Perhaps it was a quiet Saturday morning as well. Perhaps it was the European style cobblestone roads that create less noisy friction than asphalt. Going in the train station was an extra delight, not only because it was rather Harry Potter evocative (as are most train stations now) but also the wonderful resonance in the station space with the echoing PA announcements and soft shuffling of people and suitcases around. I got a coffee from a delightful little coffee stand and just enjoyed that European feeling of calm and not sure how else to describe it but ‘human scale’ sensibility. In North America I often feel brushed on all sides by a kind of cold institutionalism. Big sanitized buildings and institutions.

This next one is another stop of the soundwalk where we stopped by the cathedral and went in there to record. It’s amazing to me how ok everyone there was with us recording. Sean even went around all over the gift shop with his big microphone, no one even batted an eyelid. I recorded a short segment of the gift shop as well because I love Irish accents especially when middle-aged ladies are speaking it, and I also appreciated the crisp ringing sound of the cash register and coins falling in – I find it so antithetical in a way to the idea of godliness and faith. Hah. But anyway. The sound below is the calming little waterfall sound of a little Virgin Mary shrine.

And this last excerpt is the soundscape in a daffodil park by the Limerick Art Gallery site we stopped at. The park is right in the middle of several busy streets, and despite its serene visual appearance the sound of traffic overwhelmed its soundscape. That and the extremely loud leafblower, which I found ironic in a park where you’re supposed to enjoy the quietude and the leaves! Well, there was precious little quietude to be had, but I did try to capture some vocal birds nearby. You had to get very close to the bushes to hear them clearly though. But visually, the park was quite pleasant.

One of the other highlights of the soundwalk included walking at 8:30 am on a Saturday through the UofL campus, by the green athletic field, listening to a number of unfamiliar songbirds, the weather crisp but sunny (later on it got increasingly cloud). I remember the sense of calmness and freedom that I felt inside my whole body in those moments. Of course that was before I got lost and almost didn’t make it. Another highlight was walking along the edge of the Shannon river, under a big traffic bridge, the water and the structure working together to reflect all the sounds of the city – traffic, birds, talking, sirens, construction, wind. It was an interesting moment to look visually at the city laid out alongside the other river shore, and at the same time to have all the sounds of the city reflected across like a sonic postcard, conveying a wholeness of the soundscape as the ‘face’ of the city.

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