Jacek, what is soundwalking?
That’s a very broad question, but I’ll try to answer from two perspectives: my own and from what is kind of more generally considered soundwalking. So, to quote Hildegard Westerkamp, one of the pioneers of that practice, basically, a soundwalk is any kind of excursion into an environment which is motivated by us listening to it. Whether we do it with or without technologies or whether we do it on our own or in a group and the point of soundwalking is to connect or reconnect us with the environment, with how it sounds at the very moment to kind of reaching this sense of immersion in the here and now.
My approach to sound is slightly different. I treat soundscapes as a kind of gateways to not only the momentary – the way that the sound expresses itself in the moment or the sound expresses events that happen at the moment – but also as gateways into the past and into the future.
I like to kind of expand the perspective of soundwalking and use it as a kind of a vehicle to move us between different scales, between different temporalities and between different standpoints or different angles from which we can engage in this act of connecting with the environment. And the way I do it is by encouraging people to listen with whatever listening capacities they have, but also through technologies.
And, as a scholar in media, in communications and within a personal interest in technological developments within sonogram, I’m trying to treat technologies as our companions rather than enemies or something that is alien to our human nature and try to build kind organic synergies between the way we implement technologies in our lives and in our ways of understanding nature around us.
And all the ethical ramifications of that…
Exactly and of course, ethical ramifications, so I like to call my approach to soundwalking as kind of a kind of transversal listening or hybrid listening where basically listening becomes like a vector that cuts through different layers of the environment in a kind of geological material sense, but also in a temporal sense. So as we stand here for example, we’re not standing only here in this particular geography, but we are at the same time kind of benefiting from other geographies that surround us and we can actually hear, for instance, air traffic and through that sound we can connect with very distant geographies in a most direct sense, the geographies from which those planes arrive or are destined to, but we can also think of the plans around us as some of them are not necessarily native to this geography, right? They come from somewhere else. They pertain to different histories of, for instance, colonization and so on. And the same applies to temporalities. The sounds we hear today are here for some reason, right? They have roots in other sonic events that might not be directly accessible to us and this is also why I like to encourage imagination as a kind of natural component to soundwalking and listening and to enable a more speculative approach to how we listen. So instead of really trying to dissect and understand all the sounds around us to also think more imaginatively about what kinds of sounds existed before we stepped into that environment and what kind of sounds might exist in the future also because of our actions at the very moment.
We’re doing a soundwalk now here, mostly talking about sound walking, but it’s an experience and I’ve done it over the years and I encourage my listeners to do it because it’s a very rewarding practice and it’s one you can do anywhere, anytime. So before we run out of time, what would be a good question for people to ask themselves or to keep in mind as they soundwalk?
I think one important question would be what is my position within the soundscapes that I’m working through and how do I approach the soundscape? What kind of associations dominate my way of experiencing it, for instance, and start basically there and then trying to maybe gradually leave that zone and consider other ways of positioning ourselves in the soundscapes and by doing that, acknowledging the possibilities of other perspectives on the soundscapes and other ways of understanding and coexisting with it.
In other words, what is my position in listening ?
This episode with artist Jacek Smolicki was recorded on Friday March 24th, 2023 at 8.38am at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in New Smyrna Beach, Florida.
It’s a soundwalk about soundwalking but also about the role of acoustic ecology in the ecological crisis.
After completing our 5 minute conversation we heard a passing train and continued our conversation, which is part 2 of this episode.
I encourage listeners to do your own soundwalks. There are many guides and methods. One of my favorites is Soundwalking by Hildegard Westerkamp and also Jacek’s book Soundwalking through time, space and technologies.
I am grateful and accountable to the earth and the human labour that provided me with the privilege of producing this episode. (including all the toxic materials and extractive processes behind the computers, recorders, transportation and infrastructure that make this podcast possible).
My gesture of reciprocity for this episode is to the Children and Youth Artists’ Grief Deck! Artists’ Literacies Institute.
Jacek Smolicki (born during martial law in Kraków) is a cross-disciplinary artist, designer, researcher and educator. His work brings temporal, existential and critical dimensions to listening, recording and archiving practices and technologies in diverse contexts.
Besides working with historical archives, media, and heritage, Smolicki develops other modes of sensing, recording, and mediating stories and signals from specific sites, scales, and temporalities. His work is manifested through soundwalks, soundscape compositions, diverse forms of writing, site-responsive performances, experimental para-archives, and audio-visual installations.
He has performed, published, and exhibited internationally (e.g. In-Sonora Madrid, Moscow International Biennale for Young Art, AudioArt Kraków, Ars Electronica, Linz, and Historical Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sarajevo). His broad scope of site-responsive artistic and research work includes projects concerned with the soundscapes of the Swedish Arctic Circle, the Canadian Pacific Coast, the world’s tallest wooden radio mast in Gliwice, the UFO testimonies from the Archive for the Unexplained in Sweden, the Jewish Ghetto in Kraków, the former sites of the Yugoslav Wars, Madrid’s busking culture, and Alfred Nobel’s factory complex in Stockholm, among many other places.
In 2017 he completed his PhD in Media and Communications from the School of Arts and Communication at Malmö University where he was a member of Living Archives, a research project funded by the Swedish Research Council.
Between 2020-2023 Smolicki pursues an international postdoctorate funded by the Swedish Research Council. Located at Linköping University in Sweden, Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada, and Harvard, USA, his research explores the history and prospects of field recording and soundwalking practices from the perspective of arts, environmental humanities, and philosophy of technology.
In 2022/2023 he is a Fulbright Visiting Scholar at Harvard.
He is also an associate scholar at the Informatics and Media Hub for Digital Existence at Uppsala University. From January 2020 he is a member of BioMe, a research project that investigates ethical implications of AI technologies on everyday life realms. Smolicki explores sonic capture cultures and the impact of AI technologies on human and other-than-human voices.
He is a co-founder of Walking Festival of Sound, a transdisciplinary and nomadic event exploring the critical and reflective role of walking through and listening to our everyday surroundings.
Since 2008 Smolicki has been working on On-Going Project, a systematic experimentation with various recording techniques and technologies leading to a multifaceted para-archive of contemporary everyday life, culture, and environment. The On-Going Project includes Minuting, a record of public soundscapes performed daily ever since July 2010, for which he received the main prize at the Society for Artistic Research conference in 2022.
For info see https://www.smolicki.com/index.html.
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