[Cover Photo: Amanda Gutierrez, as part of the soundwalk workshop at Yollocalli Arts Reach]
Have you ever walked through a Chicago park with your eyes closed? Listened to the sound of traffic, birds chirping, or people playing sports? Noticed the sound your feet make walking on a pile of leaves?
If you’re intrigued, check out soundwalks, a feature of the 2017 Night out in the Parks Series. Eric Leonardson, the founder and co-chair of the Midwest Society for Acoustic Ecology and professor of sound at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, is the driving force behind bringing soundwalks to Chicago parks. He believes soundwalks essential to appreciate all Chicago has to offer, especially when most people are plugged into their phones and consider the natural outdoor sounds a nuisance.
Eric describes the soundwalks as a mindfulness practice with measurable health benefits. The majority of what we hear in Chicago is considered noise pollution, like construction sounds and traffic, which cause people to constantly cover their ears. Eric says,
“Making a conscious decision to do something so simple opens up your awareness, and allows for a deeper connection to the place you are walking.”
Soundwalking allows a person to notice the details of sounds once they really listen. Eric says it can be extremely relaxing and therapeutic.
Soundwalking & Acoustic Ecology
Soundwalks have roots in acoustic ecology, which is a field commonly associated with social sciences in the academic world. Acoustic Ecology is a multidisciplinary field that is specifically focused on sound and its relationship to aesthetics, engineering, music, science, and psychology. Eric says,
“All these disciplines share knowledge to understand the importance of sound in terms of human communications.”
In scientific fields, walks can focus on listening to different ecosystems to monitor the health of the environment. In social sciences, acoustic ecology and the practice of soundwalking allows people to tune into the cultural diversity of areas. People often hear multiple languages, notice the presence of different street foods, and can hear how spaces change throughout time.
Many artists who lead the walks encourage participants to draw a map of what they heard after the walk. Putting the soundscape into a visual helps solidify what was heard. Eric says overall the soundwalks raise awareness of these different relationships and can provide insight to how we design our environment.
Night Out in the Parks
Soundwalks are FREE events, held across Chicago as a part of the Chicago Park District’s Night Out in the Parks. The walks will be led by various artists who have connections to science, such as landscape architect Norman Long and multidisciplinary artist Sara Zalek.
Check them out at the locations below: