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Silent soundwalk III, Thurn & Taxis, Brussels, May 2012

On the afternoon of Sunday 13th May 2012, I led a silent soundwalk for 8 people through Brussels, as a part of my participation in the TIK Festival. A silent soundwalk is more precisely described by R. Murray Schafer as a listening walk, which is: “simply a walk with a concentration on listening”. Schafer continues: “This should be at a leisurely pace, and if it is undertaken by a group, a good rule is to spread out the participants so that each is just out of earshot of the footsteps of the person in front….The soundwalk is an exploration of the soundscape of a given area using a score as a guide. The score consists of a map, drawing the listener’s attention to unusual sounds and ambiances to be heard along the way.” (Schafer, 1994: 212-213).

The hour-long soundwalk started from the courtyard of OKNO and Q-02, and re-traced parts of two previous silent soundwalks that I led toward Thurn & Taxis in June and October of 2011. Fortunately, a couple of the participants were present at the first of this series of walks, and so were also able to experience how the soundscape had changed (or not) in the past year.

Ongoing development of Thurn & Taxis, which will eventually see the area refashioned into “accommodation, shops, offices, services and public utilities” according to one of the site’s real estate developers, presented a new soundscape to me. What I found interesting was that, since no obvious work had been carried out for a short period of time toward the north west portion of the site, some of the channels caused by tractors and bulldozers (clear in the photograph above) had temporarily developed into small bodies of water, which were the home to a family of Canada Geese while I was there. Larger ponds underneath the three bridges that span the site were chocking with thick algal blooms, and were teeming with all sorts of insects including beetles and dragonflies.

Once the soundwalk was complete, I got the participants to note their immediate thoughts from the walk in a written survey, prompted by a few questions. The following are some anonymised responses:

Write down some of the most prominent sounds that you heard along the route.
– Planes passing, the wind in the leaves
– Children playing football, distant sirens
– Car noises and people talking

Write down any unexpected or unusual sounds that you heard.
– The different sounds my footsteps made on various surfaces
– Resonance of a camera shutter in the Thurn & Taxis hallway
– a fly passing next to me
– Ducks flying

Do you think the experience of walking in silence in a group modified how you listened and what you listened to?
– No. I soon forgot I was in a group and explored my own things, but walking in silence together has been a bonding experience
– Totally changed. Normally sound is a sort of warning to watch and see…
– Definitely. Walking in silence did but for a total immersion I think the sense of smell and sight are still too powerful to get lost in the soundscape

Many thanks to those who joined me on the walk and were happy to share their thoughts with me and others.

Schafer, R. M. (1994) The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World. Rochester, Destiny Books.