Just a quick note to comment on a soundwalk I recently attended, led by my good friend Helena Krobath. We spent over an hour in the most beautiful sunshine walking through the Wall St./ McGill area and ending up at New Broughton beach. In addition to the rich soundscape the walk was also very fragrant – sun, I find really brings out fresh greenery smells, tree bark, distant salty ocean breeze, and once we got down to the beach, very much heavy seaweed-salt water and shell sand smell. (but don’t ask me to describe shell sand smell, I just feel like I could smell it) The soundscape in this area has a fascinating history, of which I only know that once it was a fisherman’s ghetto of Asian migrants (Korean?) and in general the area has stayed vastly industrial, with big cargo ferries and oil tankers rolling in and out, refueling, loading, unloading. While the oceanview nature of the region has overwhelmingly moved it in the direction of gentrification pushing real estate prices up (check out Avant: the newest in East Van oceanfront living), the soundscape remains saturated with the rumble of harbour machinery, freight elevators, constant roar of cargo trucks, the passage of cargo trains and the clanking of switching tracks, squealing brakes, and nearby Memorial Ironworkers’ Bridge (Second Narrows) commuter traffic.
I definitely still love soundwalking, but especially in groups, I catch myself paying attention to many other sensory elements besides sound, even more so than sound. It’s an opportunity for introspection more than anything. Similarly to a soundwalk I went to in Queen Elizabeth Park last summer I was remembering a lot of childhood memories – climbing trees, playing in bushes and ditches, exploring the abandoned weed-ridden areas hidden behind and away from residential areas. So much joy and adventure and sense of discovery playing in abandoned construction sites, wooded areas and ditches, boarded up houses, etc. This neighbourhood with its combination of (now) fancy houses and the very industrial harbour reminds me of my childhood. The smell of the wild bushes that ran alongside most of the walk were very strong memory triggers. Walking in a large group of people is not really a novelty for me (hasn’t been for a while) but at this point *not recording* is a novelty so I do find myself being less of a dedicated, intentional listener, and more simply letting sensory experience flood into memories and into stream of consciousness and introspection. To re-answer the crux of all questions, it’s not that sound presents a massively different and unique view of the world, it’s that intentionally tuning into one sense provides an opportunity to open all senses in a different way – it creates a different framework for perception, than the one we habitually use, which is primarily informed by semiotic shortcuts, that is, a cerebral, conceptual and culturally-informed way of encountering the world. And to me this is the key part – listening, yes – but why! Just to unlearn passive behaviours – no, that has never been good enough for me.