›Walking in the City. Hidden Sounds and Mobile Places‹

A miniature for mobiles inspired by Michel de Certeau’s seminal text ›Walking in the City‹, based on the radio aporee app
Silly Walks
John Cleese, The Ministry of Silly Walks

›The act of walking is to the urban system what the speech act is to language. It is a process of appropriation of the topographical system on the part of the pedestrian (just as the speaker appropriates and takes on the language); it is a spatial acting-out of the place (just as the speech act is an acoustic acting-out of language).‹ (Michel de Certeau)

Unterschiedlicher Straßenbelag in der Berliner Ackerstraße II (Willkomm 2006)Photo by Judith Willkomm

›Walking in the City. Hidden Sounds and Mobile Places‹ is a sound art installation in public space, accessible via a customised smartphone app. Listeners are invited to explore and appropriate an area of hidden sounds–and to compose their own radio play by walking.

Footsteps weave places together.‹ (Michel de Certeau)

Vorderseite_KOSMOS_Einladung_2013_final_0©: Kerstin Kühl, 2013

›Walking in the City. Hidden Sounds and Mobile Places‹ was created and presented in September 2013 as an exceptional soundwalk for the KOSMOS Summer University 2013 ›Modern Walking. Innovative Urban Mobility‹ (here’s a video clip on KOSMOS Summer University).

Originally, a soundwalk is a very specific method in sound studies, developed by R. Murray Schafer and Hildegard Westerkamp in the course of the World Soundscape Project. Soundwalk participants would typically follow a predefined path, all silent, while carefully listening to the changing sounds of the environment as well as to their own steps–their own acoustic presence. An educational and a research tool at once, the soundwalk is meant to raise people’s awareness for the rich soundscapes of everyday life, and so did Holger Schulze’s introductory soundwalk along Koppenplatz, Ackerstraße, and Bernauer Straße. However, when we reached our final destination, the discovery of a hidden topology of sound recordings turned out to be an experience entirely different.

A video by Uschi Feldges | bagagefilm.de

A widespread lawn at the former border strip of the Berlin Wall is now invisibly covered by a grid of coordinates. Hidden sound recordings are attached to different locations. The listeners are encouraged to stride across this field of hidden sounds, while their shifting positions are tracked by a GPS-based smartphone app. Sound recordings are then replayed via headphones, depending on the listeners’ actual locations.

The everyday has a certain strangeness that does not surface.‹ (Michel de Certeau)

Unterschiedlicher Straßenbelag in der Berliner Ackerstraße I (Willkomm 2006)Photo by Judith Willkomm

Unlike the soundwalk’s predefined route, participant’s paths were now open to exploration and changes in direction. Wearing their headphones, not knowing what sound they would come across next, the listeners were found carefully investigating the whole area, literally step by step, inching their way forward, sometimes returning to a previous location, sometimes proceeding towards the next sonic discovery: Alternating with several quotations from Michel de Certeau‘s sensitive observations on walking in the city, more than twenty field recordings from different places in Berlin are arranged to form a hidden soundscape–including the noises of building sites or sports stadia as well as the more subtle sounds of whispering in the church or footsteps crunching the gravel.

It is true that the operations of walking can be traced on city maps in such a way as to transcribe their paths and their trajectories. But these thick or thin curves only refer, like words, to the absence of what has passed by.‹ (Michel de Certeau)

TrajectoriesTrajectories tracked via GPS during a ›Walking in the City‹ soundwalk

In addition, all participants were asked to draw a map of the area, indeed: to map this topography of hidden sounds, using all kinds of lines, diagrams, pictures, or symbols. These carefully hand-drawn sketches now complement the mere trajectories–›these thick or thin curves‹–tracked by the app, thus providing a rich account of the personal experiences, individual tactics and agency of the participants.

Some of the maps drawn by the participants (Susanne Jany, Renata La Rocca, Friederike Schäfer, Gilberth & Rafael)

›Walking in the City. Hidden Sounds and Mobile Places‹ is online and ready to use, and you are kindly invited to listen to the sounds and even draw your own map (a template is available here, please share your map with me)!

Unterschiedlicher Straßenbelag in der Berliner Ackerstraße III (Willkomm 2006)Photo by Judith Willkomm

How to?

1. Within reach of a WiFi-Network, download the radio aporee app for Android or iPhone (beta). Start the app, choose ›sync sounds‹ from the menu, then select ›Walking in
the City. Hidden Sounds and Mobile Places‹ from the list. Hit the button ›start download‹ (synchronizing all the sounds in advance will improve the performance during the walk. Of course, you can delete all the sounds at any time to free disk space).

2. Don’t forget your headphones! Visit the lawn next to the Berlin Wall memorial at the corner Bernauer Straße and Gartenstraße. See the exact location on OpenStreetMap.

3. Once arrived at the designated area, choose ›start walk‹ in the menu, then select again ›Walking in the City‹ from the list. The app will immediately replay the intro (please note that the app needs GPS enabled and mobile web during the starting process).

4. Compose your own radio play by walking! Stand still, if you want to listen to a particular
recording–move on, if you want to hear something else.

Silly WalksJohn Cleese, The Ministry of Silly Walks
[Every miniature for mobiles is based on an app created by media artist Udo Noll (available for Android or iPhone). Please note that the radio aporee ::: miniatures for mobiles for iPhone is still in beta phase. For more information on the app or how to create your own miniatures for mobiles, see aporee.org/mfm/app. For other miniatures for mobiles see Berlin Ackerstraße (2006-2007), Sonic Landscapes, or Verwisch die Spuren!]

About Sonic Agents

Cultural anthropologist studying the sonic environment
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