​Soundwalking as Ecological Practice

Westerkamp ( Hildegard Westerkamp )
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First published in The West Meets the East in Acoustic Ecology, Proceedings for the International Conference on Acoustic Ecology, Hirosaki University,Hirosaki, Japan. November 2-4, 2006.

"As acoustic ecologists we know—in the spirit of genuine ecological consciousness—that we are positioned inside the soundscape: like all human beings we are listeners and sound makers in this world and therefore active participants in the creation of our soundscapes. Soundwalking is a practice that wants to bring our existing position-inside-the-soundscape to full consciousness.

Inherent in the act of going on a soundwalk is the assumption that the environment is worth listening to during every second of the soundwalk. Or, to put it another way, that it is worthwhile to devote a certain time span to the act of listening, no matter what may meet the ear. In that act the walking listener potentially develops a conscious relationship to the environment.

Simply put, a soundwalk is any excursion whose main purpose is listening to the environment. It is an exploration of our ear/environment relationship, unmediated by microphones, headphones and recording equipment. It is an exploration of what the ‘naked ear’ hears and how we relate and react to it. Such a soundwalk can be done as a regular practice, in a group or alone. Invariably in my experience, its effects on the participating listener are immediate, whether a walk is done for the first time or the listener is a veteran soundwalker: it opens ears to the sounding details of a place and listeners notice the unique soundscape characteristics of a location. Interestingly enough, aside from heightening aural perception, a soundwalk also alerts all other senses.

Soundwalking reveals the environment to the listener and opens inner space for noticing. It is precisely this that creates a sense of inspiration, excitement and new energy. Not only does a soundwalk raise general consciousness towards the acoustic environment, it also creates a living connection between listener and place. If done in foreign places, it establishes the connection between visiting listener and an unfamiliar culture and reveals the meanings of its sounds and soundscapes. At home soundwalking is always an effective way to gain deeper knowledge and information about the seemingly familiar, but often ignored sound environment. Generally one could understand the practice of soundwalking as an ongoing study of our aural perception in relation to the acoustic environment or vice versa, a study of the soundscape and our listening sense within the overall environmental, social, political and spiritual contexts of any given place..."

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