Saturday, 28 May 2011

Soundwalk at Arnos Vale - initial impressions

The soundwalk at Arnos Vale today went well, despite technical hitches, more of which later..
Ten people joined me to explore the soundscape of Arnos Vale cemetery in a silent walk around this beautiful site. The weather was damp and windy but pleasant enough for a forty minute walk. I introduced the project and gave some brief instructions on how to do the sound walk. These are summarised in a previous blog posting.

View Arnos Vale Soundwalk in a larger map
Following the soundwalk we retired to the West Lodge to discuss impressions of the walk and to try to map our experiences onto a 3D map of the site using coloured stickers.
We had a very interesting discussion, which is summarised in brief below. I was heartened to hear that the participants seemed to enjoy the experience and find it of value. It was particularly interesting to have Paul and Hazel Sullivan along as they are visually impaired and so were able to bring an unusual acoustic perspective into the discussions.
  • Elaine A - comforting sound of traffic, likes being in the city sounds like the sea fitted in with the setting and noise of treet
  • Lorna - AV is in the city so you can’t expect total quiet but there is tranquility nonetheless more annoyed by traffic moving up the vale
  • Hazel - almost in a trance - like state, focussing on natural sounds
  • Paul the absence of traffic noise made him feel like he could almost see (in 3D), contrasted it with park street. felt like he could find his way around.
  • the cloisters were claustrophobic \ threatening not a nice space
  • Anne - the sound of the trees in the wind masks the traffic noise
  • Lorna - it would be interesting to do the soundwalk in the winter when the sound travels further and there is a distinctive sound of trees and saplings interacting - like wind chimes
  • Hazel - could appreciate the direction of the wind from the sound of the trees moving
  • Aircraft noise ubiquitous but not intrusive
  • There wasn’t anywhere on the site where you couldn’t hear traffic noise
  • Awareness of other senses is heightened, especially smell
  • could pick out church bells, dogs barking, bottles clanking, volunteers talking
  • Industrial noise was surprising
  • Steve - greater appreciation of 3d soundscape, particularly from birdsong. Notes the dominance of wrens, blackcaps. Enhanced visual appreciation.
I recorded both the walk itself and the discussion, or rather I thought I had recorded the discussion. I forgot to change the input from the external microphone to the internal mic so had just recorded silence! Anyway I think the notes above capture the essence of the discussion
We moved on to the mapping of the site using the coloured dots.

Red = people
Blue = traffic
Mauve = industry
Green = nature (prominent sounds)

The mapping exercise stimulated a bit of discussion, but I will need to reflect on how valuable this is in terms of understanding the soundscape. Clearly the noise of "people" is quite transient, although further soundwalks could reveal more of a pattern in certain areas, for example where houses back on to the site. Traffic and industry will generally be in the same places, but will vary depending on the hour. Lorna, who works on the site stated that there can be "industrial" noise from the operations on the site, for example when trees are being felled or chipped. I will work on getting the map transferred to a google map. After the mapping I asked people to fill in the questionnaire.
I think the walk was well received by staff at Arnos Vale and they excpressed interest in holding further sound walks for specific groups of visitors. My initial thoughts about the exercise are that it has provided an opportunity for users of the open space to experience, understand, and value the tranquility of the cemetery and that it also has potential as a consultation method when considering the designation of quiet spaces. I will do some further anaysis using results from the questionnaire that participants filled out at the end of the session.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Shaping up...

A very productive meeting yesterday with Felicia Smith, the public engagement officer at Arno's Vale Cemetery. We have pencilled in 28th May AM for the Arno's Vale sound walk \ audio tour and are working up some promotional material. I have also borrowed a digital sound recorder from the Southville Centre to record the sound walk and interviews. I have just trialled this and it is incredibly sensitive, picking up quiet conversations from across the office.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Research Activity - Soundwalk and mapping

1 Research Activity

Facilitating community evaluation of a potential quiet area using sound walks and mapping.

1.1 Introduction

The Environmental Noise Directive introduces a requirement for cities to nominate “Quiet Areas” for designation by government. Designated quiet areas would benefit from additional protection against increased transport noise by virtue of their designation. The designation of a quiet area would not restrict the uses of the open space, but it would be expected that the open space is currently “quiet”.

Arno’s Vale Cemetery could be proposed as a potential quiet area for designation by DEFRA. However, it is important to engage with users of the cemetery prior to any formal consultation process to find out how the users perceive the soundscape of the cemetery and how quiet and noise affect their enjoyment and use of the open space. Engagement with users will also inform the process of designation and help the local authority determine the most appropriate mitigation to protect the quietness of the area.

The soundscape will vary within the park as users are exposed to different sources, e.g. traffic, birdsong, other users. In order to quantify and assess both the actual soundscape and users perceptions I propose to lead a sound walk around the cemetery where users will actively listen and record their perceptions of the soundscape at different points in the cemetery.

It is always amazing to witness the sudden acoustic awareness of people when they are told to listen, not just hear.” (David Paquette)

Their comments and perceptions will then be mapped using a large paper map and post – it notes (or similar) after the sound walk. These will then be transcribed onto the bristolstreets online mapping portal, which already hosts a similar type of quiet area mapping at a city scale. I will follow up the group mapping exercise with a more detailed interview \ questionnaire with two or three users, if they are happy to participate. This will enable a deeper questioning of, for example, the social expectation of quiet, how the value of quiet changes with age and what the purpose of quiet is.

I will also record the soundwalk and use the recording as an aide memoire after the walk. I will make the recording available online.

The result of the research activity will be a detailed online map of a potential quiet area with recorded user experience of the soundscape, which will hopefully engender a greater appreciation of the acoustic ecology of Arno’s Vale by visitors and users. Along with analysis of the detailed interview notes from users I believe this could constitute a valuable resource for both the management of Arno’s Vale, and for policy makers who need to consider the designation of quiet areas in the UK and Europe.

1.2 Resources needed for Sound Walk


Provided by


Group of interested users \ friends of Arno’s Vale

Felicia \ Steve

I will contact users once a date is confirmed

Recording equipment


On loan from Southville Centre

Large paper map


Printed A2 or A1 with route of sound walk

Post it notes


Guide for participants of sound walk


See below

Post – walk questionnaire \ interview script


See below

Online version of questionnaire


Via google docs

1.3 Soundwalk guidance

"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, in a hotel lobby, in a bank; we may be shopping in a supermarket, a department store, or a Chinese grocery store; we may be standing at the airport, the train station, the bus-stop. Wherever we go we will give our ears priority."

Hildegard Westerkamp from her article "Soundwalking"

1.3.1 Getting Ready

To prepare for a soundwalk, you can do some warm-up exercises for your ears, much like you’d stretch your legs before a long walk:

· Close your eyes. Breathe deeply for a couple of minutes. Be present in the environment to which you are listening. Calm down the excess chatter going on in your head, reminding yourself that the goal is to listen to the external rather than your internal soundscape.

· Listen to the sound of your breath as an overlay on the soundscape. Play with your breath and listen to it in relation to the other sounds you are hearing. For example, focus on the sound of an approaching car. Pattern your breath on the sound of the car. Begin to inhale softly when you hear the car in the distance. Inhale louder as it approaches and passes, then exhale, first quickly then softly falling away as the car retreats. Working with your breath will do two things. It will help clear your mind of the excess clutter , helping you be fully present to the sound because you are listening to your breath and the sound together.

· Focus on one sound that you especially like. Go into the sound. Feel how the sound acts with your body – does it calm you down, energize you, or make you feel frantic? Be there with it for a couple of minutes. Don’t intellectualize.

· Gradually expand your awareness to the other sounds. Imagine an orchestra tuning up – one sound after another becoming sharper and clearer until you can hear all the sounds in tune with each other.

Breathe a couple more times. Now you’re ready to walk.

1.3.2 Start Walking

If you’re walking in a group, don’t talk. If you’re walking by yourself, don’t talk to yourself. That means don’t talk to yourself in your head either. This can be difficult!

The first thing you’ll hear is the sound of your own footsteps and if you’re walking with a group, the sound of their footsteps. To prevent your footsteps from dominating, walk softly. If you’re with a group, spread out as much as you can.

Listen for changes in the sound. Is the acoustic space the same as when you began? When you hear a change in the environment, stop and explore what makes it different. Jot down a few notes in your journal. These can just be single words that prompt a more detailed description of the sound when we return.

When you stop, try to focus on a sound that changes. Listen to it as it fades away and try to determine the point at which it becomes inaudible.

What is the most interesting sound? Least interesting? Why? If you’re in a group, find out if other people in the group have the same response.

Think of the pitch and rhythms of the sounds. What is the highest sound? Lowest? Are there any interesting rhythms?

Count the sounds. How many different types are there? Is there a lot of variety in this soundscape, or are the sounds all similar (i.e. All natural sound, all machine generated?)

1.3.3 After the walk: Some things to talk about

After your soundwalk, try to describe what you’ve heard. If you’re walking with a group, take fifteen minutes to debrief. Other people will hear things differently than you, and by listening to each other you will learn new ways of hearing. If you’re walking alone, write in your journal for fifteen minutes. This will help you increase your ability to remember what you’ve heard.

How would you describe this particular soundscape? If you recorded this environment and played it back to someone who hadn’t been on your walk, what would they tell you about this place?

After you have learned to soundwalk you will probably find that you stop cataloguing the sounds that you hear. Instead you’ll find that at all times and places you will be conscious of the sounds that surround you, whether good or bad, and will be able identify the sounds that make you feel peaceful or happy, and the sounds that cause you to feel apprehensive or disjointed.

1.3.4 Mapping the sound walk

The route and soundwalk will be displayed on a large map. Participants can record both the sounds and their emotional responses and thoughts by sticking post – it notes on the map. This will generate discussion leading to appreciation of the soundscape. The mapping will be transferred to the mapping portal after the event.

1.3.5 Interviews \ Questionnaire

1. How would you describe the "sound" of Arno's Vale?

2. Could you think of specific locations that seem to possess a particular sound or ambience?

3. What do you like about the soundscape of Arno's Vale?

4. What do you dislike? Why?

5. Describe your map. What are the main points of interests? Main sound sources?

6. Are there any sounds that you have not noticed before?

7. Is the soundscape different today than it has been on previous visits? How?

8. Should the soundscape be protected?

9. How?

10. How long have you been visiting Arno's Vale?

11. Date:

12. Sex: M F

13. Age Group: 19-24 25-35 36-45 46-55 56-65 65+

14. Additional questions from Arno’s Vale Public Engagement Officer