Monday, March 10, 2014

MDDN 314: First Soundwalk Attempt

So, to get a feel for doing a soundwalk, I tried to plot out one today along one of my favourite walking routes. This was just to get into the mindset of really listening to the environment. This proved to be a little more challenging that I initially supposed. It's not the easiest thing disregarding your other senses...well, disregarding them is probably a bit of an overstatement, but you get my point.

The route I traversed today with starting points for the audio logs.

Point #1: St Peters Cathedral
Starting off in a very interesting space aurally was a bit of a boon, as it provided a good dynamic for then stepping outside. One of the most interesting things about stepping into the church is the floor. The floor has obviously got some solid wooden boards in it, but gives way to vacant space below as there is a very satisfying *clomp clomp* noise when you walk. The other obvious thing is that churches and cathedrals have amazing acoustics, and with it being in the middle of a Sunday service, there was amazing choral music coming from within.

After the church, I left and turned right down Willis St, paying close attention to the sounds of the street as well as the sounds coming from the two other churches on the route.

Point #2: The Hangar
Coming around the corner onto Dixon St, there's a coffee place a little bit down the street. One of the best parts of this particular section was the way the sound from the cafe got louder as you got closer.

The sounds of the cafe almost take over your ears as if you were stepping into a bubble. It's actually quite surreal and sounds really cool on the recording. That was the aspect of that section of the soundwalk that I enjoyed a lot. Being able to pick out little sections in the sound "waves" of the cafe was a really big part of this soundwalk section.

The way the different sections of sound change in volume and alter in dominance is quite amazing. I love the way the mind chooses what is relevant as well as the actual physical sounds playing off against each other.

Point #3: Dixon St Crossing
This section I chose because the sound of the rustling leaves in the wind is quite a nice feature, since it really highlights the fact that there are always little green spaces in the middle of the Wellington CBD, even if it's still a city.

The way the sounds of the traffic come in waves as it passes by provides a dynamic backdrop to the soundscape.

Point #4: Alleyway Behind The Met Shop
This is another favourite little nook of mine. Situated behind the Met Shop and a Korean restaurant, it provides another little bubble from the city noise. The effect the semi-enclosed space has on the sound quality is really cool. It's surprisingly quiet as well as distorted.

One of the features of the space is the sound of one of the kind of broken vent fans. It sounds clunky and in need of a good oil or replacement. Occasionally you can hear the sound of a siren really well in the space, and sometimes if you're very lucky, you can hear some seagulls, serving as a gentle reminder of how close you are to the sea.

The space itself will however always provide an industrial feel to it, with the way the sounds echo reminiscent of a concrete jungle.

Point #5: Cuba St
Cuba St is where the life of the city is. People talking, children screaming, many many feet and a busking musician. The life of the city can be felt here. The sounds of the cars are but a distant hum as the voices of many fill the space around you.

The way the sound echoes gives you a sense of how well used and populated the space is. At night, the story changes completely, as the gentle hubbub of the city gives way to more individual, pin-pointable noises and voices.

Passing by the different shops provides a constantly changing stream of sounds. Whispers of different songs and the sounds of cash registers and clothes rails fill the motive space.

Point #6: Towards Michael Fowler
The older, more historical buildings here change the way the sound works, and the distinctly smaller number of people fills the sound space in a smaller way. The loss of control of the space to auto mobiles allows them to take over the sound scape with occasional singular waves of grey noise.

Passing by more coffee stores, the sounds of the coffee grinders running and the used coffee being knocked out provides a respite from the softer sound of the quiet ends of Cuba St.

Point #7: Route Into Civic Square
One of Civic Square's entrances is a small gap between the glass walls of the Michael Fowler Centre and the Town Hall's concrete shell. This space opens up quickly, but at the smallest point it is quite narrow. This divides the two sound worlds rather beautifully.

On the one side, you have the sound of the vehicles quite prominently, and then when you step through, they are overtaken by the distant roar of the six-lane Jervois Quay filtering over the walls of the square. The space feels huge, and the sound emulates this. Voices can be heard all around as people flow to and from the wharf and the city.

However, the space still feels quiet. It's a place of solace in the realm of the concrete jungle. The wind still whistles through occasionally, but that is but a small worry.

Point #8: Under The Wooden Bridge
Travelling down the stairs alongside the overpass/bridge, one feels this is the road less travelled by pedestrians. The wind picks up, and the lack of crossings make traversing the road troublesome.

That said, the sound of the cars is amplified and distorted by the concrete ceiling the bridge provides. The reverberation of the sounds could almost be mistaken for the ocean at times.

A lack of human noise makes the space feel a little barren, yet safe at the same time.

Point #9: The Wharf
Once again, the people hum takes over again. Coming out under the bridge and jumping onto the wooden wharf structure, the whole audio scene opens up. The sound of the people is directed towards you by the huge curvature of the space.

On this particular day, there was a competition on, and everyone was cheering. The sound of the microphones begins to pervade the air. Are we at the racetrack? It feels like that could be the case. The white noise of the water fountains flows and ebbs as you walk past it.

The sound of many footfalls on the wooden bridge slats as you cross it provides a steady, irregular rhythm, and allows the sound of voices to dull a bit.

Point #10: Te Papa Museum
Moving along the wharf towards the museum, the amount of people decreases. They are all watching the competition. Excited children yell about the pretty things in the container pop-up shops.

Passing the Te Papa logo, I tap on the different parts of it, and the result is very oddly musical. The metal, musical sound feels out of place among the ambient, white noise.

As you enter the museum, the sliding doors squeak as they open. People's feet shuffle as they move across the textured carpet entrance. The audio space closes up, and it's again obvious you've entered an indoor space, yet one that feels impossibly large.

Point #11: Wharf Farmer's Market
The rustle of the plastic bags as you enter the market is a big feature. People stuffing the bags and their baskets with all manner of food and other things changes the backdrop again. Music is everywhere. Buskers are left and right, and the loudest music gets your attention.
A big band with a dancing rhythm catches your ear. The trumpets call out over the noise of the crowds. The sizzles of many cooking stoves give the sounds more depth. Leaving the edge of the market, the individual conversations of the masses that move with you become more apparent.

You wonder what they are talking about, and why their bags are rustling still. Did they not find all they needed to in the market?

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