8 Dec

A soundwalk presentation refers to audio designed for listening along a prescribed route.

There are various ways of presenting and experiencing artworks based on sound and / or using sound as a component, but the basic concept is not new.  As innovative consumer technologies multiply, interdisciplinary artists adapt quickly, utilizing contemporary tools for delivery of ideas, visuals and audio. In the history of the soundwalk genre, it is important to make note of the museum / gallery system of renting out recorders and headphones for use on self-guided tours through exhibitions.

In a contemporary twist, this is a form that can be, and is adapted for use by artists in a variety of ways. Any number of videos or films can be screened as part of one installation when headphones are provided for listening to the accompanying soundtracks. When sculptures or two-dimensional works (photographs, paintings, or prints) are exhibited, each work might be equipped with accompanying headphones hanging close by. The idea would be to move around the artwork, viewing while listening to a soundtrack that forms another component of the work.

The gallery setting presents a more simple option for presenting audio as it is relatively simple to install the necessary hardware for listening.  If the work is a sound piece written to be experienced outside in the world, in a particular setting, other solutions for delivery need to be imagined and tried. If the work requires the audience to move along a directed path, it might be called a soundwalk or locative sound project. One delivery solution is to request your audience to download the soundtrack to their cellphones before heading out on the trail. By leaving easily recognizable markers along your trail, you can alert participants of specific sites that relate to the sound that you have constructed for listening in a specific location.

Downloading soundwalk programs in-the-field is possible in areas that have Wi-Fi access.  GPS map tags can also be used to locate specific sites where portions of the audio has been designed for and designated for listening. In places where wireless / cell phone signal access is unreliable, other solutions must be found. In 2010, Aram Bartholl embedded USB drives into outdoor environments [1], and in 2011, Chris Allick embedded MP3 Players into sites. [2] While these platforms might work well in urban settings, the placement of similar infrastructure in remote areas is not always appropriate and non-obtrusive solutions are required.

Sometimes it is important to remember more direct means of communicating, of presenting ideas.  Live delivery requires practice and use of performative skills but this method has the advantage of freeing the delivery from technology. Onsite actors that move along the walk with the audience might be engaged to present the sound content. While this might appear to resemble the tradition of theatre, the variation is that the delivery is intended as an animation of the walk rather than the performance of a play.

Fundamentally:  A constructed soundtrack, or even a speaking voice, can carry more complex, more complete messages than visual cues alone.  A good example is the case where a poem, intended for video and entered as text over image, must be spare.  Texts must be cropped to hold the interest of the viewer as well as to permit a reasonable time for viewers to read the words that work in concert with image flow, and ambient sound if present. Timing is everything and spoken word is sometimes exactly what is needed.

In the end, the importance of content cannot be understated.

 

[1] http://datenform.de/blog/dead-drops-preview/

[2] http://chrisallick.com/thesis/html5.html

1 Comments

  • Nancy Schofield says:

    The idea of investing an outdoor environment with sound that relates to a trail of paintings, sculptures, etc. is fascinating. Whether the sound is downloaded on cell phones or spoken by various participants along the route, It enables the viewer to become more engaged on different levels. I look forward one day to see the results of your research.

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    About Valerie LeBlanc

    Originally from Halifax, Nova Scotia, pluri-­disciplinary artist and writer Valerie LeBlanc has worked in Canada, the United States, Europe, and Australia. Her creations travel between poetry, performance, visual and written theory. Valerie LeBlanc has been creating video poetry since the mid 1980’s, and is the creator of the MediaPackBoard (MPB), portable screening / performance device. In the fall of 2012, she published her play The Raft, through Basic Bruegel Editions.

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