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World Listening Day - Soundwalks- Reflections

After participating in this year’s World Listening Day programs this weekend I began to reflect on what lead me to my involvement. I rarely talk about what exactly lead to my interests in soundwalks, soundscapes and composition, because I felt they were too personal. Especially when I’m talking about practices in sound art and acoustic ecology many deem as esoteric and inaccessible. But the roots of my practice came from a toxic climate of race, economics, violence, politics and place that we experience today. I moved from Chicago to Oakland, California in 1998 to study art in San Francisco at the height of the first dot-com boom. I was there to have time and space to be a better artist and for self-recovery. Unfortunately, most people I had dealings with there treated me as if I was there to take their spot in the art scene, take jobs, housing and opportunity away from them. All this, while still being treated as a degraded other, in particular being harassed by the Oakland Police Department.

 I continued to make art and work with very little space, time, resources or friends for the next few years. The few friends I had offered some relief while making art in arguably the hippest place on earth at the time. But my practice and chronic underemployment at the time offered diminishing returns. My health deteriorated, as I had taken too many trips to the emergency room and I couldn’t do what I needed to do to as an artist.

 After a debilitating panic attack sending me on my last and most expensive trip to the emergency room after my first two-person show opened in Oakland I knew I needed to let go of a lot of the fear and frustration amassed due to violence, underemployment, racism and loneliness. I checked out books on mindfulness and Zen. I found walking meditation the best practice to me of letting go. I also became more creative, present and focused in my daily life. I also felt connected, grounded to the space I sat or walked. Through meditation I felt that this was finally my apartment, my park and my city. As I was still composing and making art, I definitely was becoming more mindful of the sounds I was hearing when I was meditating in my apartment or walking around Lake Merritt on my days off. I decided to record more of my walks. I began to think of my recordings as art. These recordings are connections (to what, I didn’t know at the time). That these everyday things I recorded while walking are as significant as any of the art being produced, bought and sold in the Bay Area.

As I reflect on World Listening Day, I am also thinking of how soundwalks can be connective and empowering especially for people of color. When so many of us are angered and/or fearful of what we see and what has been done to us I feel that finding time to walk, breathe and listen quiets the mind. Along with seeking safe places and support communities, these walks empower us to be present and courageous.

I write this in response to these violent times. Upon my reflection, through breathing, walking, listening, I was able to quiet my mind. I was one with the ground I stood, the air I breathe and the sounds I hear. Making sure I was present when my presence was (and is) at best problematic.

Many thanks to all who supported me!

Sounds 2004-2005

Live Performance, Southern Exposure Gallery, San Francisco, Oct 2004

Sound Installation, "Oceanic Memories", Artists’ Television Access, Bayennale, San Francisco, July 2005

Artists Television Access Blog, In Transit: Chinese New Year in Black History Month


Thank you for this moving reflection Norman. It has been so lovely beginning to get to know you these past few months. Deirdre
Norman Long said…
Thanks Deirdre! I've enjoyed our walks and all the help you've given. It has been a pleasure!
bunmi ful said…
Thank you for sharing. During the many experiences of your guided sound walks I have enjoyed becoming increasingly aware of sounds/ soundscapes. I have enjoyed them as a practice of being more present. I have enjoyed them as a kind of performance improvisation where I'm simultaneously engaged as a spectator and the spectacle. I have also enjoyed the hyper awareness of the sensation of my body moving through space; like a dance =).

I find it fascinating to think of soundwalks as being connective and empowering. Thinking for a second about the different neighborhoods I have lived in and having the experience of using my ears to detect sounds to determine fight or flight...more specifically outdoors, I imagine that in the past, that has limited the experience of using my ears to enjoy what I heard. Now with embracing sound...more specifically outdoors, it does feel like reclaiming space and community; very life affirming.

A lot of ideas to think about.
Christopher said…
How inspiring to read your meditation on listening, healing and empowering presence! I cannot imagine life without soundwalking...

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