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Thinking

Soundwalk: An exploration of Acoustic Ecology

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Being an opticentric species, we forget that our first experience of the world, even before we are born, is an auditory one. A mother’s body serves as a natural acoustic space as it amplifies her voice for the baby she carries. Mother tongue is learnt through listening before the visual act of learning to read. Yet how often do we really listen to the spaces we inhabit?

The Soundwalk, held in conjuction with the Willoughby Visual Arts Biennial, took place in the retail hub of Sydney’s north shore, Chatswood. In a place where the senses are assaulted by retail and glorious food smells, we were challenged to just listen. 

The walk was led by Anthony Magen, an acoustic ecologist, who took a group of us through Chatswood’s arcades, laneways and open spaces with just one rule: no talking, just listening. Have you ever seen a bunch of people walking in a group without talking and just listening? We listened to things we ordinarily bypassed. Generators; escalators; birds; wind through laneways; each other’s footsteps; trolleys; cars squealing through carparks; skateboards and a lady singing to a baby in the park. 

Once we were used to this way of listening, things were more acutely noticeable. Vertical space and horizontal space in the acoustic; the sudden vacuum when you go from the open-air carpark to a department store.

By editing our voices out of our experience, space was created for something to happen, something to exist. And in this case, listening like never before. 

“Our problem is that sound is not important in our culture.  We know the world from the visual, not from the other senses.  I had to be taught other ways of understanding.” Bernie Krause, sound recordist, Wild Sanctuary.

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