aural thoughts

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  1. Over the weekend of 7-9th of September 2018 I attended and lead a walk at ‘The 4th World Congress of Psychogeography’ in Huddersfield and the Colney Valley.

    Psychogeography is an area of enquiry which investigates people, landscapes/spaces and their interactions and intersections. As a practice, it is thought to have started as part of the 19th century situationist movement. On their website, the Congress explains:

    “Guy Debord, a leading figure in the Situationist International, refers to psychogeography in terms of how environments might affect the emotions and behaviours of individuals in conscious and unconscious ways. The practice then of psychogeographical walking, also known as the derive/drift, is a way of departing from the usual mode of walking for work or leisure purposes and is seen as a way to creatively and playfully explore different places. Therefore derives/drifts are different to a casual walk, stroll because the aims are to explore what places we are drawn to and discouraged from. Chance and spontaneity are key to the process of doing derives/drifts.”

    (http://4wcop.org/#about)

    In the past, psychogeography has been an area often dominated by western, able bodied, straight men. The papers and projects of this conference clearly aimed to challenge and questions this perceived dominance. There where papers on both queer and non-human viewpoints, gender ideas within walking practices, and canine and human collaborative walking, among others.

    The full programme of the Congress can be found online here.

    The first day of the conference was a day of presentation and discussions, held in Huddersfield’s University. The second day consisted of walks, events and bus rides, all of which moved the participants through the Colney Valley – practising psychogeography rather than talking about it. Unfortunately, the weather was not co-operating, so the second day took part mostly in a persistent rain, but that, fortunately, did not deter the very determined group of psychogeography conference attendees!

     listen

    Listening as Vague Terrain

    My contribution to the conference was a walk called ‘Sonic Margins’, taking place in the village of Slaithwaite. I am a sound artist and my research investigates ‘inner sounds’ – sounds we hear as part of our inner world of thoughts, emotions and desires.  The overall theme of the conference was ‘Vague Terrain’, and I wanted to consider what a sonic ‘Vague Terrain’ would be, in the context of space/place. Designing a listening walk where the focus is ‘inner’ or imagined sounds presented me with a few problems. Firstly, how do you get people to listen? Mostly, we are so preoccupied with the visual, the aural takes second place (if even that). To refocus the participants attention towards the aural, I decide to start the walk with a short listening exercise, using photographs as a sonic trigger.

     civichall

    Civic Hall

    I also did not want the walk to be too long, as I wanted to keep the focus on listening and avoid lengthy periods of walking, which would distract from the main aim of the walk – exploring a Sonic Vague Terrain. Based on this, I designed a short walk, starting at our base, the Civic Hall in Slaithwaite, a lovely old building where the group of conference attendees gathered for some lunch before heading off for the various walks and events taking place in the village, stopping at 3 different places in the village, before taking us back to the Civic Hall.

    Considering listening as Vague Terrain means more than imagining the sounds of the past or the future. Can we, through listening both outwards and inwards, access thresholds of space, sound and experience?  Can we access a deeper level of listening, one that considers our inner experience, perhaps other people’s experiences and the affect of this listening on both the landscape and the participants?

     canal

    The mill and canal

    The walk
    the sound of transience, strength and fear
    We walk down a small side street in the rain. The mill looms large in front of us. It is a working mill, but it is a Saturday, and everything is quiet. We stop near the stream, which use to help power the mill. I give each participant a prompt to listen to.  ‘sound of strength/sound of despair/sound of resilience…..’ Everyone finds their own space and the group falls quiet. Sounds start to emerge. Water. The bells of a distant church. Far off traffic. Slowly tuning in to other sounds – the deafening sound of working in the mill. The undercurrent of sound in ideas of strength, resilience and hardship, thinking of the women working in mills. The group slowly gathers together again and we collective decide to move on.

     arch

    Railway arches

    We continue, walking up through a warehouse yard to what looks like a dead end in an industrial area. I reassure the group with a joke and keep walking. After turning a corner, we come out just underneath the large railway archers, hidden behind warehouses and scrap yards. A few chairs have been put out next to the arches, perhaps for the people working around to use, perhaps rubbish, perhaps for something else. I hand out more suggestions of sounds ‘sounds of transience/sound of withdrawal/sound of nostalgia’ and again, we listen. The arches tower over us and the silence spreads out. We all listen for a non-existing train. Slowly other sound emerges – sounds of not belonging, of moving between places, of fading greatness. We gather slowly again and move on. One of the participants tells me, happily ‘I found my sound!’

     

     grave

    Graveyard

    We walk up a step slippery staircase just behind the train station. We follow a small path on a sloping hillside. Trees and undergrowth are thick and green. On our left side is a low stone wall. We come to a place where the wall has collapsed, scattering stones across the path we are walking on. We stop and look towards the trees, and realise we are looking at a graveyard, the trees and undergrowth hiding a scatter of old gravestones. We stop and listen, some people moving further along the path. The rain is still falling, dripping through the trees, slowly. I distribute my last suggestions for sounds ‘sound of transcendence/sound of fear/sound of death’. The sound of the trees is gentle and persistent. Other sounds seep through. The vast sound at the edge of consciousness accompanying the idea of a different world, a threshold, a passing through. A bird takes flight among the trees. The walk is finished, and we gather together again, heading back to the Civic Hall.

    Afterthoughts

    This was the first time I have attempted to introduce ‘space’ or ‘place’ into my practice exploring inner sound, and although the walk went well, there are a few things I have reflected on which I feel I could develop. As I was designing the walk, I considered whether it would be useful to mention or introduce the ideas which had influenced me choosing certain locations and what had influenced my prompts. In the end I decided against it, wanting to keep the experience as free from ‘interference’ as possible, allowing instead for a ‘personal’ listening experiences. Where I to do this walk again, I would involve the participants more in this process of personal contextualising. Private, personal listening experiences are, of course, fine. If you want to explore listening as a ‘Vague Terrain’, however, the concept of going beyond your ears, perhaps even your own, contained sense of self, is important to consider. One way of ‘opening up’ the listening experience would be to consider the other members of the groups, what they hear and if we are listening towards the same thing – the past, the future, the imaginary. In developing this walk, I will push further out into the sonic vague terrain, readapting the walk to other spaces.

  2. I love sound and listening, and I need no encouragement to appreciate sound - I just find it endlessly fascinating. I have, however, been thinking about the connection between sound, listening and mindfulness lately. I decided to do some research on it and write a bit about how sound and listening can be closely connected to mindfulness and mental wellbeing.

     

    sound therapy

    Sound has an ancient relationship with meditation and healing. Tools and practises such as Australian digeridoos and Tibetan singing bowls have been used for centuries both to heal, in celebrations and ceremonies and to promote wellness- both spiritual and physical. These days, it has become very popular to use ‘sound baths’ for relaxation and meditation. A ‘sound bath’ is where the participants completely immerse themselves in sounds – of gongs, Tibetan singing bowls and bells, for example. There are scientific studies to suggest that these kind of sound therapies do have a measurable effect, and that sound can help to reduce tension, anxiety, even relieve pain.

    "Sound has an ancient relationship with meditation and healing."

    A review of several hundred scientific articles revealed that there is strong evidence that music has both mental and physical benefits. Rhythm, in particular, can provide pain relief. Other effects are improved cognitive abilities, better memory and feeling less stressed.

     

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    Photo by Reynier Carl on Unsplash

     

    be in the moment

    Sometimes I just go about life, rushing from one place to the next, thinking about the future or what I am going to have for dinner - I am sure you have been there too. If I stop, look around, listen to the world around me, I usually discover something nice, beautiful, or unexpected. A conscious listening practice, or even just the one-off listening exercise, can help to do just that. 

    "Stopping to listen, even just for a moment, can re-connect you to the here and now, and in doing so let you take a break, ground yourself and re-connect to the here and now."

    In her article “Soundwalking: The joys of combining strolling and listening” April Clare Welsh describes how the practice of soundwalking – a walk with a focus on listening – comes with mental as well as physical benefits.

    “Listening walks like this can help us feel more grounded and connected to our environment, as well as providing the obvious benefits to our physical health. With its meditative dimension, the practice of soundwalking shares similarities with mindfulness – both lending their focus to participating in the present moment – and can offer a soothing balm in rough times.”

     “Soundwalking: The joys of combining strolling and listening” April Clare Welsh

    Stopping to listen, even just for a moment, can re-connect you to the here and now, and in doing so let you take a break, ground yourself and re-connect to the here and now.

     

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    Photo by Alberto Frías on Unsplash

     

    self soothing

    Self-soothing is a technique that can be used to manage emotions like anxiety or distress, ground ourselves and calm our minds. Often this is done by finding something to distract or to re-focus on the here and now. Babies are usually good at this - sucking their thumbs is a great example. As grown-ups, we might need to think about other methods to self sooth. Sound and listening can be a great way to do this. Forcing yourself to stop, breath and listen to the sounds around you is a great way to stop your mind racing and bring your focus back to the here and now. For many people, listening to music is a great way to self sooth, as is listening to nature sounds, like rain or the ocean waves. Intentionally focusing on listening or regular listening practices can help you to self-sooth, by refocusing your mind, and also by helping you realise which sounds are helpful and calming for you, and which ones are not. 

     

    enjoyment!

    Last, but absolutely not least, sound and listening can bring so much joy! And that is important for our wellbeing too! I have so many memories of sounds that are enjoyable – the sound of the waves by the sea in summertime. The sound of birds, when I step out in my garden or outside my front door in spring. The kids playing a couple of houses down from where I am now. If I stop and listen, especially for an extended period of time, I find I more often than not discover sounds I really enjoy listening to, or a sound which bring back a nice memory. What could be more important than that, after all?