Meditations on Music: Soundwalk

The piece began when I opened the door in the common room to the outside. The near-silent airtightness of the inside was broken by the immediate roaring of the waves and rushing of the wind. Location-wise and pitch-wise, the waves were on the bottom and the wind was on the top. The frequencies that made up each sound were spread over huge ranges, but the deeper ones bellowed underneath while the high ones tore over me. I was surrounded in sound, stereo filling my ears and exciting every part of my sonic perception’s inner workings. As I listened, certain gestures by the wind rustled certain leaves, providing a new texture that was subtle, but as soon as it was heard, it could not be ignored. On the deck, I was far from the water, and not yet in the woods, but their prevalent roles in the piece rang regardless, full and unrelenting. But the elements were not loud enough to mask the contrasting scratching and scribbling of notes in my book, taking down every sound I could and attempting to commit its beauty to memory. As I stood up to move closer to the beach, the first movement ended.
Soundwalks, in essence, are a practice where one deeply observes the sonic environments of various places, noting the sources of sound, liminal spaces, how different sources act as instruments and so on. Oftentimes, there is an emphasis on how the environment functions as a composed piece. Listening this way can change the audience’s perception, bringing meaning to sounds they otherwise would probably tune out. I have loved soundwalks since I started doing them, and during a weekend at Björklunden without instruments to play or concerts to attend, this was the perfect music to write about.
Moving closer to the beach, towards a bench underneath trees but still a bit distant from the water, I noticed the clarity of the waves increase. Instead of a constant drone, each wave was now a smooth, rich note with many in long chains. The change of clarity was not because the sounds farther back were muffled—they sounded just as clear—but because the context had changed. It was not until I moved forward that I noticed the difference. After sitting on the bench, I bowed my head to write in my notebook and began noticing my role in the piece. I was already perceiving sounds differently due to my mindset, but with the movements of my head and ears, I could physically change the sound, lowering and raising the pitch of the waves while the wind’s drone remained the same. With this discovery, I forced myself to listen deeper, slowly recognizing subtleties like the gargling of water. I moved closer, standing on the beach, and the clarity changed yet again—I could now hear the attack and decay of the waves, punctuating the piece of mostly monotony up to this point.
The movement at the beach ended as I began exploring the liminal space of the woods. The longest movement, walking through the woods also had the biggest sonic variety. The previous sounds were still all there, but the leaves and trees became more pronounced above me and below me. From high up, leaves flapped like pages in a book, the sound elevated but also reaching down to me. At my feet, the leaves made different sounds, occasionally crunching or letting out a damp crackle. As I moved farther and farther into the woods, more and more trees creaked and swayed, singing like a chorus. Despite the plethora of sounds and being outside for about half an hour, I realized that I had not heard any wildlife yet, but right on cue with this thought, shrill tweets from a bird sounded, reacting to the creaking chorus. The mechanical chirps resounded in the tunnel of trees, others joining in soon after, two groups working together and against each other.
Later in the piece, it became difficult not to interact with the rich soundscape around me and I felt myself singing and whistling, noting how the different sounds and pitches reverberated, if at all, in the open space that felt closed as well. Outside but surrounded, throat singing resonated startlingly well, bouncing off bark and escaping into the treetops and over the water. I continued collaborating with the nature as I walked uninhibited through the woods until the outro of the piece. Approaching a long road, I realized the sounds had been the same for a while, but also that I was lost. I allowed the piece to end as it faded out with stagnancy and my diminishing focus and directed my attention to getting back. With detailed memory of the sounds I heard on the way to the end and my listening heightened, I was able to backtrack to a recognizable point and hear the sounds of the wind turbine, signaling me that I was close. Björklunden’s symphony still ringing my ears, I relaxed inside, letting it permeate the rest of my thoughts that night.

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