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Silent soundwalk II, Thurn & Taxis, Brussels, October 2011

During my time in Brussels in October 2011, I led a silent soundwalk for 10 participants. The route was a slight deviation of the silent soundwalk I led back in June, this time taking in some of Sint-Jans-Molenbeek district. This area has much narrower, busier streets than the rest of the walk, and so this version gave a wider range of sound environments.

Photograph: Caroline Daish)

Leading a silent soundwalk requires a surprising amount of concentration. When walking I’m having to focus on where I’m going, particularly in a city I’m only partially acquainted with, while making sure I’m not losing any of the group. Nonetheless, I still managed to pay some attention to the sound world, and certain things really struck me: someone sweeping water with a broom inside a fish shop; fallen dried leaves scraping the pavement adjacent to the canal; the rumble of car wheels on cobble stones. I find it interesting that when walking in silence for a sustained period of time there are some sounds that appear to be highly amplified – sounds that might go largely unnoticed on any other day.
I noted in June that where the walk finishes, an area called Thurn and Taxis, was due for redevelopment. This process is now fully underway. Huge areas of what was a diverse but undervalued urban ecosystem (described as ‘wasteland’ by developers), has been stripped to bare earth, ready for building foundations. Instead of the sound of birds and insects, and the wind through trees and tall grasses, the predominant sounds are now diggers and trucks, as they heave tonnes of soil across the landscape.