Sound walk

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

On Saturday last, I went for an electrical walk. Artist Christina Kubisch has developed headphones which detect electromagnetic fields and transmit them as sound signals. The wearer is free to go wherever they wish, wearing the headphones, although a map is helpfully provided. Kubisch says that "the “electrical walk” is not an event, rather it is a slow walk which might reveal what was unknown before."

I started from the Goethe-Institut where the headphones are collected. I walked towards Hyde Park, with an ever present hum in my ears. This hum rarely diminishes, and stays almost constant throughout the walk with the only changes being an intensification.

Outside the Austrian Trade Commission, the hum became very loud: hummmmmmmmmmmm
Outside residential homes, it became more insistent: hrurmrurmrurmrurmrurmrurmm

Passing cars zip by like wasps, with a high-pitched zzzzzing.

A bus was like a larger bee, with more another high-pitched but longer zzzzzzzzziiiiiiiiing.

The induction loop for hearing aids at Imperial College amplifies the sounds of the foyer, so everything sounds louder.

The lifts in The Science Museum have an LED screen to show the floors. When the screen changes, the headphone make a rattling noise: tsht-tsht-tsht-tsht

Television screens made a loud, incessant din: rnarrnarrnarrnarrnar

The hums became louder and lower in pitch near CCTV cameras: huuuuuuuhhhhhhmmmmmm

The security shields at the shop of the Natural History Museum make a harsh, staccatto sound: rat-a-tat-tat-tat-rat-a-tat-tat-rat-a-tat-tat-tat

I went to a tube station. Oyster card readers make a beep to our hears, but with the headphones this beep was harsher: zitzitzitzitzitzit

A tube train was a cacophony of noise.

I passed a traffic warden who made the headphones louder than any other person.

The whole walk was fascinating, for the very reasons Kubisch stated. The headphones reveal what is there but we cannot see, nor can we feel. The revelation of these electromagnetic fields is unsettling. The magnetics are ultimately not harmful, but what effects could they have on our bodies?

Hearing electromagnetics as sounds gives them with a physical sense. They become real, and are all around and invasive. The walker in a city is transformed from a free, strolling flaneur to an element within a greater forcefield, surrounded and followed by invisible boundaries.

More information on Christina Kubisch - Electrical Walks here.


girl w/ headset said...

hey there we have the same birthday!

BostonPobble said...