Audience Participating in Soundwalk
Pictured: Audience participating in Soundwalk though park


Guided Soundwalk is an live performance work produced by NCBI service users in collaboration with artist Siobhán Clancy.  This project featured in Dublin Culture Night programme for 2009.
Guided Soundwalk was supported by The Arts Council’s Artist in the Community Scheme and managed by Create, The National Development Agency for Collaborative Arts.

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Media

Narrated Video documentary of the Guided Soundwalk with Audience Feedback

Photo Slideshow from Guided Soundwalk

To download a screen reader friendly version of the press release for Guided Soundwalk click Press Release_Guided Soundwalk

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Description of the Project Process

The  Guided Soundwalk was developed as an interactive means for a mainstream audience to augment their awareness of sound and the effect of ground surface textures in an urban environment.  The environment we chose was a city-centre pedestrian route connecting 5 major cultural venues of varied acoustic character; Trinity College Dublin, The National Gallery of Ireland, Merrion Square Gardens, The Royal Irish Academy of Music and The Science Gallery. All venues were very supportive of our proposed event including Pearse Train Station.  Instead of following pre-recorded or mapped directions as is the norm for soundwalks, the service users decided to lead the direction of the soundwalk themselves and provide guidance for the audience.

There were 5 of us who were visually impaired who were leading the walk so that was a change from the typical situation we find ourselves in.”   – Christy McEvoy, NCBI Service User and Guided Soundwalk Guide

We also preferred the sound itself to be live; to be fully focused on the actual experience of walking and to take full advantage of the diversity of places, the rhythm of surface textures and ambience on our route.  The combination of these ambitions coupled with the diverse expectations of participants on the night brought us several challenges of which the two main ones were:

1.the limitations of sound quality in a mobile event

2. the expectation of some participants on the night that the event sought to simulate the experience of a ‘blind’ person

Our first challenge was sound quality.  A long cane had been fitted with a microphone at the end connecting to a CB unit at the handle. The sound recorded through the cane was transmitted from this handle unit to five others individually embedded in 5 umbrellas carried by the audience.  These speaker units suspended in the umbrellas contained the transmitted sound of the cane within the dome without blocking the ambient, navigable sounds of the surrounds which one can use to orientate oneself. The frequency of the walkie talkies unfortunately inhibited pure sound quality but rather like a Fauvist artwork, the heavy texture of the medium expressively depicted the vaired surface environment in contact with the cane.  We hoped to show how a long cane, like a person, can go beyond a traditionally recognized role and have the potential to be an artistic conduit.

I tried to maximize changes in texture for example when we got to pedestrian crossings, I continued to use the stick to maximize tactility of the footpath. People were wondering would I normally do that and of course the answer is I wouldn’t.” – Christy McEvoy, NCBI Service User and Guided Soundwalk Guide

In relation to the second challenge it became apparent during the event that many people had expected to participate in an experience where they could learn ‘what it is like to be blind’ and the feedback reflected this.  From the beginning we had stated in our information material that this would not be the case for the simple reason that without training or orientation, such an activity can deliver a highly reductive experience of a person with vision impairment.

The feedback was quite interesting.  Some people got the idea, and others didn’t.  Those that didn’t felt we were trying to simulate blindness which couldn’t be done of course, it would be a foolish thing to attempt.” – Christy McEvoy, NCBI Service User and Guided Soundwalk Guide

The long cane used by the guide has long been associated as a visual emblem of a ‘blind person’. However, not all people with vision impairments use a long cane.   While one participant blindfolded herself for the duration of the walk as a personal investigation, our main focus was to present the long cane outside of its usual context and also that of its user.  One of the guides referred to the experience as a ‘rehabilitation of the long cane.’  “The emphasis on what we were doing was to encourage the Art of Listening. In recent times, the art of listening is being forgotten about. The sense of vision is taking over to the expense of all the other senses, not just the sense of hearing. People just regard the only thing of important as what thjey can see, whereas all of the sounds and all of the senses have a part to play in life.” - Christy McEvoy, NCBI Service User and Guided Soundwalk Guide

We feel the soundwalk was a very worthwhile experience . The challenges served to highlight issues for us and to question the common perception.  Not only did it afford service users of NCBI the opportunity to actively interact with cultural venues in the city in an innovative way but it also brought visibility and credibility to that interaction as well as a critical debate as to the intentions and outcomes.  It is a noteworthy achievement that in a week dedicated to ‘Social Inclusion’, The NCBI Guided Soundwalk was the only event in the Culture Night Programme to be devised and directed by a Disability Arts group.  Feedback from the audience addressed the challenges we faced openly and with genuine interest and added positive impressions;

 “It was an interesting form of meditation in that it gives you something to focus on as you walk through the city ……. it definitely created a heightened awareness of sound.”

“I always thought a blind person missed so much but in many respects they have an awareness that is enviable.”

“..it had a lovely kind of playfulness about it.”

“ …(it) makes you think about people using sound actually to navigate.  …. its not about the quality of the sound coming out of the walkie talkie.  Its about what the sound actually means for people at the other end of the stick.”

Art is a means of expression that invites others to interact with the ideas, experience, achievements and ambitions of the individual in the position ‘at the other end of the stick’ be it a paintbrush, chisel or long cane.  One notable feature of our Guided Soundwalk event was that it was heavily subscribed by practicing artists but very few people with a vision impairment participated despite the fact it was hosted by peers of NCBI.

We proposed to showcase the documentation and response to the Guided Soundwalk in an accessible way in order to further the discussion on its challenges and merits and also to facilitate participation by audiences with vision impairments. Find out more about this at Escape into Sound Exhibition.