A little while ago, I was asked about the ways I gather material to write, and I thought of the sound walk I joined during the midwinter jazz festival last year. It was, I think, a good way for a writer to enter into a scene, to become immersed in it, a way to see beyond the preconceptions and assumptions that often blind us to the nuance of everyday life.
We set out in the early evening, a small band of strangers weaving our way in complete silence through the Saturday night crowds in Melbourne. Leaving Federation Square, we trailed past the drifts of conversation and gusts of laughter floating above the crackling waters of the Yarra River, through the diners chattering over coffee and wine in Degraves Street, to the jostling shoppers and revellers in the Bourke Street Mall. From there we wound our way through hallucinatory laneways lined with silent wolves, monsters with louring green eyes and a large, reclining cat in fishnet stockings, before returning to the forecourt of Federation Square.
Interestingly, one of the first places we visited was a multi-storey car park. Normally I would notice very little in such an unlovely place. Perhaps I might be conscious of cars sneaking up behind me, but I would be in a hurry to leave that temple of fumes. This time I was impressed at a visceral level as I stood looking around a vast, monolithic echo chamber. I was conscious of the titanic forces buttressing the construction, and in awe of the tons of concrete raised above my head. I could almost feel the sound, bouncing and echoing, reverberating off the hard surfaces. Underlying this, there was a subterranean buzz, a frisson, as people arrived in their evening finery, the men in sharp suits and women, with hair swept high, draped in shimmery confections falling to the oily, polished floor.
At the end of our walk, we were free to speak but I was reluctant to break the spell, even though I had gathered a swag of sights, sounds, smells, ideas and impressions and couldn’t wait to share them. Without the threads of chatter to connect me I felt very separate and alone in my skin, but, at the same time, awash with sensation, tingling from the chill of the night air and intoxicated by the parallel world I had just entered.
The experience was intense but so easy for anyone to conjure up. In many ways it was the exact opposite of a hot shower. Alone in my cubicle, I close my eyes, toss my head back and wander for a few moments in the outer reaches of my mind. My focus is entirely inward as I relish the play of hot water over my skin. In contrast, listening on a sound walk is focused entirely on the outer world. It is a journey so strange, so other, that it is like stepping into a foreign city. While I was not consciously trying to be mindful because I was listening with a little more care, all my senses seemed to chime in.
Lisa Roberts br>
– Assistant Editor.