World Listening Day: “Melancholy were the sounds on a winter’s night.”

mist dawns over winnall moors

Autumn walk: ice pond

a walk through winter: 25:00

“Melancholy were the sounds on a winter’s night.”
(Virginia Woolf, Jacob’s Room)

Wednesday the 18th July 2012 will be the third World Listening Day. Organised by The World Listening Project, the day takes place on the birthday of R. Murray-Schafer, the Canadian composer whose soundscape project led to the development of acoustic ecology and soundscape studies. The intention of the day is to foreground the sonic environment, shifting our attention to the sounds, which make up our everyday environment and: ‘to celebrate different ways we can focus on our soundscape’.
On this day events are organised at a public and/or private level, to give individual or shared attention to the activity of listening. Soundwalks are just one of the ways that organisations and individuals have chosen to celebrate the day. Walking and listening are sympathetic modes of transport that both place us within a landscape or environment. The philosopher Edmund Husserl ‘described walking as the experience by which we understand our body in relationship to the world’. The body and the sensations experienced through it, provide sides, distance, closeness and place to the space surrounding us, thereby diffusing the edges between our physical self and the landscape we inhabit.
In transporting us through a landscape, walking creates another innate relationship with the sensuous terrain of the environment, shifting weight and adjusting gait to create an immediate choreography in concert with the landscape. Walking also offers a method of encounter or composition, which privileges the unconsidered, values ‘casual contacts and facilitates contemplation.’ This encounter also uncovers the temporality of a landscape, as ‘the continuous “here” of the body ‘moves towards and through the various “theres.”’
In suggesting that ‘the treasures of the past environment pour into the living occasions […] of place and regions’, the philosopher A. N. Whitehead acknowledges that our present environment is to some extent informed by our previous environments: the physical and temporal ‘“there” ingresses into “here,” and vice versa.’
Listening to the winnall moors sound walks, we hear the absence and presence of somewhere and somewhen else. However, I am not intending to recreate a solid there (and then), but rather to shift attention to the moment as it appears here.  In their ideal ‘setting’ the walks are considered a form of audio guide (whispered Ariel like into the ear via headphones), enabling the listener to walk around the moors in the acoustic company of a previous season. Whilst the sounds of the present environment are welcome to spill into the previous and mingle, creating a unique temporal landscape that maintains sensuous notions of spatiality whilst ‘presencing’ itself immediately here, there and then.

Listening lets be, lets come into presence the unbidden giving of sound. In listening humankind belongs within the event. And as a presence, the sound is that which endures, which is brought to pass, the sound whiles away in the temporal presencing which is essential to it.’ Don Ihde (1976).

intermittent alarms from a solitary crow

frozen movements: sebastiane hegarty

It would seem appropriate, that the winnall moors sound walk project should celebrate and contribute to a worldwide day of listening. So here I share in full, the last of the four walks through a year in winnall moors.  That these final steps should circuit through winter, unintentionally leads me back to when I made my first recordings for the project in January 2010. Winter is where and when I feel the annual of soundscapes begins: as an edition of two CD’s the first, pair’s winter with spring and the second summer with autumn.  Each soundwalk is twenty-five minutes long; the time it takes to walk one full rotation of the reserve.
The anonymous voices that introduce winter, provide an anecdotal entrance to the moors. They accompany the listener into an empty landscape that lingers between presence and absence. These spoken memories disperse the borders of the moors out into the wider landscape, placing them within the cultural and personal histories of Winchester: then and there in free association with here and now. The oscillation of presence and substance suggested by the fragile disembodied voices, casts a pall of impermanence over the moors.  This transience enters into the very substance of the landscape: that which once flowed now solidifies, that which was then solid now melts or exchanges the concrete for the vaporous.
The air crystallizes underfoot, whilst ice traps the presence and absence of animals, which once walked on water. The soundscape creaks, crackles and fizzes in onomatopoeic exchange, the weight of my movement through the landscape, prefaced by the stressed tensile groans and clicks of boardwalks and the intermittent alarm of a solitary crow.
A sample of chalk taken from the bed of the River Itchen, adds to the harmony of quiet transubstantiation as ancient CO2 is released from the plates or bones of creatures that lived beneath millions of years of shallow warm seas: oceans that once existed where now this river flows.

There is something intrinsically melancholic in all of the sound walks and in particular the insubstantial quiet of the winter walk. Perhaps it is the lack of significant presence which seems to make nothing tangible or perhaps it is the audible loss of time that colours the sounds and reminds me (at least) what once was and now is no more. Or perhaps it is more personal, winter being the final walk, the ‘end’ of the project. As I listen I remember my presence but hear my absence. Through the act of recording I have surreptitiously traced my movement through and from the landscape: I have become a ghost listening to myself now no longer here.

snowfall over the boardwalk at winnall moors

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