The footsteps as way to play (read and re-write) the urban
The footstep is not only – as I mentioned at the beginning – the primary sound produced through the physical contact between the walker and the environment. It is also the most basic, common, and simple way to interact both with the acoustic contexts and with the soundscapes in which we are immersed. Through our footsteps, we continuously re-write our auditory situation and actively interlace with the many other rhythms and auditory dynamics taking place in urban space by means of our own personal rhythm, connected to our gait. Moreover, in producing this unintentional sound while walking, we are also interacting with the acoustic qualities of the environment, and we can perceive sonic thresholds between differing architectural spaces with varying surfaces: sizes of alleys or tunnels or the difference between asphalt and stones covering the ground. Nevertheless, in our everyday walking practice, this double process remains, for the most part, unnoticed.
By amplifying this sound or simply by asking us to assume an active listening position, the artists, through the projects detailed above, highlight both layers of this dynamic interaction. They create new rhythms and resonances and actively provoke sound events that merge and enter in dialogue with the environmental sounds and the acoustic situation. By re-framing an everyday sound produced through an everyday practice in an everyday situation and conferring to it an aesthetical status, they destabilize and provoke our ordinary modes of experiencing, triggering a process of appropriation of place through exploration, action, and soundmaking. Through this, they emphasize an embodied contact with the environment, underline the effects of presence created by the footsteps, and reveal the auditory interplay between the walker and the urban. Urban space becomes a sort of expanded instrument to be played through a physical, material interaction between feet and ground, establishing a conscious process of reading and re-writing. In other words, these works highlight the relational character of sound through the relational practice of walking.
In my opinion, this process of reading and rewriting is activated through many forms of mobile soundmaking in public space. If we take a look at other examples of ambulatory sound practices, we can find more “aesthetic” ways of interacting with the acoustic environments and/or with urban soundscapes: through the voice, as in Viv Corringham’s Shadow Walks; through musical instruments, as in Michael Parsons’s Echo Piece (Canary Wharf) (2009) or Jérôme Joy’s Fanfare Parade (2014); or through mobile speakers, as in Kaffe Matthews’s sonic bikes or Ligna’s The Future of Radio Art (2005-6), to provide just a few examples.
Therefore, by using the step – the most basic human act connected with movement – these ambulatory sound practices could be interpreted as a “zero degree” of a wider series of mobile actions that highlight our auditory interaction with the multiple and ongoing dynamics of urban space, which use sound and movement as a way to both perceive and appropriate the context, engaging with – in various ways – the form, the history, the meanings, the rituals, the uses, the processes, the rhythms, or the material structure of the city.