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Jocelyn Beausire

Sound Walk Writing

As someone used to causal and semantic listening, taking a day of reduced listening was
an enlightening, if sometimes overwhelming, experience. Most frequently I exercised the
listening method while in transit – walking to class, walking to work, walking to run errands. It
was interesting in these moments because the sounds helped root me in the present, and instead
of my mind racing around to what was going to happen next, it was almost as if the sounds I was
hearing was making my journey into a sequence of distinct sound moments. At first I had a hard
time not thinking about the sounds causally, but eventually I grew better at it, and especially
found it helpful to think about them as if they were all coming from the same, indeterminable
source. In these moments, I was able to relate the sounds more to each other, in terms of patterns
and pitches and timbre, the qualities of the sound from different sources was more easily
comparable. For instance, listening to people talking far away and leaves rustling near me
(although at the time I wasn’t identifying these sources), the sounds began to mesh into each
other. In the sense that these things formed a kind of music, I would say that music is
unavoidable in life. In the sense that there were fragments of composed music throughout my
day – from the earphones of others, from people whistling, from practice rooms – I would also
say that music in that sense is unavoidable, unless one completely quarantines oneself.
In the process of writing the assignment, I approached a building I pass everyday on my
way to school and my way home, which is behind the Henry Art Gallery near the intersection
with 42nd Street. When I neared the building, I was aware of a mechanical buzzing and whirring,
but when I approached closer on my sound walk, I realized there was a symphony of sounds
coming out of the building. I decided to pick that location as the center for my sound walk. I
wanted my sound walk to encompass the feelings I had about the journey of walking being a
location in itself. I also wanted to explore the idea of a sound experience changing people or
altering their understanding of themselves and their surroundings. Thus, I based my composition
on three movements, before, during, and after, with a notable climax. The beginning involves an
introspective search for music within one’s own body, building a relationship to the sounds of the
outside world. The piece does so through the repetition of nonsense words, which play to the
motif of travel but, with repetition, these words are heard semantically, then merely causally (as
they lose meaning), and then, with care, with reduced listening. Thus the voice melds into the
sounds of the environment, the performer learns from the environment, absorbs the sounds, and
emerges changed. The focus is transit and how the journey of the piece is a snapshot of sound
and experience, and the song as transformative for the composer, the performer, and the
Although these are definitely lofty goals for my first composition, this assignment really
did alter the way I interact with my surroundings, and the role sound plays in my life every day.
Through exploring the idea of sound in travel, the passing of musical time through physical
distance, and blurring the source of sounds to create abstractions, I gained new knowledge about
the relation of sounds to each other and to the listener.