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.

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