Hildegard Westerkamp says "A soundwalk is any excursion whose main purpose is listening to the environment. It is exposing our ears to every sound around us no matter where we are. We may be at home, we may be walking across a downtown street, through a park, along the beach; we may be sitting in a doctor's office..." ("Soundwalking", Sound Heritage 3(4), 1974: 18).
In this same article, Westerkamp includes a poetic text that leads the listener through an initial soundwalk. I reproduce it here in full:
Start by listening to the sounds of your body while moving. They are closest to you and establish the first dialogue between you and the environment. If you can hear even the quietest of these sounds you are moving through an environment which is scaled on human proportions. In other words, with your voice or your footsteps for instance, you are "talking" to your environment which then in turn responds by giving your sounds a specific acoustic quality.
Try to move Without making any sound. Is it possible?
Which is the quietest sound of your body?
(If, however, the sounds you yourself produce are lost in the ambient noise of your surroundings you experience a soundscape which is out of balance. Human proportions have been disregarded here. Not only is your voice inaudible but your ear also is assaulted by a multitude of loud and chaotic noises.)
Lead your ears away from your own sounds and listen to the sounds nearby.
What do you hear? (Make a list)
What else do you hear? Other people Nature sounds Mechanical sounds How many Continuoussoundscontinuoussoundscontinuoussoundscontinuoussounds
Can you detect Interesting rhythms Regular beats The highest The lowest pitch.
Do you hear any I . n . t . e . r . m . i . t . t . e . n . t . o r . d . i . s . c . r . e . t . e . s . o . u . n . d . s Rustles Bangs Swishes Thuds
What are the sources of the different sounds?
What else do you hear?
Lead your ears away from these sounds and listen beyond .... into the distance
What is the quietest sound? What else do you hear? What else?
what else?So far you have isolated sounds from each other and gotten to know them as individual entities. But each one of them is part of a bigger environmental composition. Therefore reassemble them all and listen to them as if you are listening to a piece of music played by many different instruments. Be critical and judge if you like what you hear.
Pick out the sounds you like the most and create the ideal soundscape in the context of your present surroundings. What would be its main characteristics? Is it just an idealistic dream or could it be made a reality in our modern society? (Westerkamp 1974: 19-20)
There are several places in this soundwalk where Westerkamp's intense listening is evident through the way that she guides the microphone. For instance, at the lookout, she guides the microphone closer to the vent as the airplane crosses overhead, constructing a dialogue between these two very different mechanical sounds. In the sunken garden, she moves the microphone to different points close to the waterfall, revealing percussive rhythms in the water that form interesting polyrhythms with the drumming. At the creek, she moves very close to the rocks and branches channeling the flow of water, making apparent the changing rhythms, pitches, and timbres that these structures produce.