A new series connecting walking, listening and sounding.
Leaving Footprints: Listening, Walking And The Body
By Jack Chuter
One of the charms of walking, particularly on a path that carries me away from a familiar environment, is that it prompts a temporary shedding of the social self. I break free from my constellation of responsibility. I’m liberated from the internal environments that assign me a role: the office that beckons my cognitive input, the home that requires my upkeep. When I walk alone, unconsciously putting one foot in front of the other, I drain away my identity to leave just the act of sensory engagement. And this act is voluntary; nothing I encounter actually needs to be heard or felt or seen, and doing so produces nothing of concrete value. Walking generates one of the rare instances of existing and sensing for its own sake, unobstructed by the ego that presses itself upon the mind like a headache. The longer the walk, the greater the sensation that I am melting into pure experience.
When I listen to the most immersive works of field recording, I encounter the very same collapsing of subject and object. The body ceases to act as the boundary between recordist and environment. The body instead becomes the environment. Combining the experiences of walking and listening – as explored in the Footfalls series, through field recordings captured on walks through various locations across the world – can lead the body to transform into a fluid, dynamic entity. Its edges are governed by the fluctuating field of listening, stretching out to encompass the howl of the Tokyo metro announcing its arrival; reeling skyward to include the roar of passing planes; unspooling behind me, like a cardigan thread caught on a protruding twig, to embrace the placative sibilance of restless leaves. And this body respires with the shrinking and expanding of the soundscape. The emergence and disappearance of distant sounds – the exuberant decree of the Portuguese market-seller, the shouts of London schoolchildren – produce jolts of growth and retraction in this body. At one moment, the body’s edges press against the perimeter of a grocery store, tracing voices and checkout beeps as they splash against nearby walls. The next moment, the walker moves outside: the body spills all over the busy urban streets, stretching across the roads like an open parachute, set quivering by the rumble of traffic noise and choirs of rain. I hear not a walker navigating space, but space itself performing glides, leaps and pirouettes, pulling certain sounds and territories and conversations to the foreground and slowly abandoning others to silence.
Occasionally, this fantasy falls apart. I hear the rustle of a recordist’s winter coat. I hear their footsteps crunching over the stones beneath. Occasionally, the recordist is engaged in conversation and speaks directly into the microphone. Perhaps the recordist even makes deliberate contact with the surfaces around them, tapping a branch against a metal gate or kicking an object along the pavement. The body – of the listener, of the recordist – becomes a physical entity again. I’m forced to pull focus until the boundary between the body and environment reasserts itself. In some field recording this can be seen as a terrible faux pas, yanking down the curtain that conceals the microphones and wires, reminding us that this experience is being mediated by technology and the recordist who operates it.
For some, this generates an unwanted distance between themselves and the experience. Yet over recent years, I’ve found myself drawn to field recording that balances the immersion of listening with acknowledging the presence of its recordist. There are numerous reasons for this, but crucially it leads me to contemplate the sense of responsibility that counterweights the liberation of listening. As much as I enjoy the illusion of being a passive, non-material entity floating through the environment, it is important to remember that listeners and walkers occupy space and inhabit the scenery. We halt the wind and block the sunlight. We trample the earth underfoot, eroding natural surfaces as we pass through. We generate noise that declares our presence wherever we go, either contributing to ensemble of people in social congregation or carving the soundscape with a brashness of a blunt knife. We alter the atmosphere of spaces, for better or worse. We make others feel unsafe simply by being present, or feel unsafe and viscerally present in ourselves. We can fantasise during these experiences that we exist purely to receive, but we helplessly continue to generate resistance, exert weight, remain visible. Even the most transcendent excursions leave footprints.
vár spoils you with blurry melodies, intricate synth work, and washed-out drone aesthetics before fading amidst field recordings of ocean waves. it practically demands a replay immediately after the disc has run its time. childish, fickle, but at the same time ephemeral as spring itself miso
It's getting near impossible to pick favourites from Jason Corder's expansive catalogue,( there are SO many gems!) - but this offering approaches the finest moments of our 20th+ century avantgarde- more akin to works like Part, Ligeti, Reich- we came up with the phrase "Chamber Ambient" just for this work - ( !! ) -a sonic experience not to be missed. -ss/tm/am editions vaché