“Places and traces” by Viv Corringham

Reading Aimilia’s fascinating writings based on Spaces Speak, Are You Listening – a book I found very interesting – I thought I’d write a little bit about the work that I do.

I am particularly interested in people’s sense of place and their relationship with very familiar places.  Much of my work has developed in response to this, especially my ongoing sound project Shadow-walks. This began in 2003 and has occurred in 19 places in USA, Canada, Asia and Europe. It involves three main elements: walking with others, listening to environmental sound, and my own improvised singing.

There are well-known traditional links between walking, singing and the sense of place, such as the Aboriginal song-lines or the Kaluli song paths. Anthropologist Steven Feld studied the Kaluli people of Bosavi, Papua New Guinea and has described their practice of song paths, the poetic song texts that take listeners on a journey through a local area. The philosophy of song paths is that knowing where you are is knowing who you are. Feld’s writings were an important influence in the development of my work.

I became very interested in everyday sounds, inspired by working with composer Pauline Oliveros and learning her method of “Deep Listening”. My fascination with environmental sounds and musical improvisation led me to consider methods of exploring places and interacting with them vocally. My first attempts, in 2002, were called “Vocal Strolls” and became a regular show on London’s Resonance FM radio for a time. Vocal Strolls consisted of wandering through the city while listening to the environment and responding with improvised singing.

Shadow-walks began with the intention of incorporating other people’s experience of place into my work. James Joyce wrote that places remember events and I found this idea very interesting—that everything that happens leaves traces that we might be able to sense. So that if a person walks through certain places repeatedly along the same route, perhaps the ground retains traces of that person’s history and memories. Shadow-walks is an attempt to make a person’s traces, their shadow, audible.

The process of a Shadow-walk is straightforward. I arrive in a new place and ask to be taken on a special walk, one that has been repeated many times and has meaning or significance for that person. While walking together, I record our conversations and environmental sounds. This is followed by a solo walk in which I attempt to sense my previous companion’s traces on the walk and to make them audible through improvised singing in the location. These recordings are then selected and edited to become the final work, the Shadow-walk. Shadow-walks have been shared in various ways: as audio-walks, radio pieces, at listening posts around a town and, most frequently, as sound installations in art galleries. It is very important to me that they are presented in some way in the place where they were made, to the people who shared their special walks with me.

Chicago Phonography in “Here/Not There” at Museum of Contemporary Art


“A group of local artists really care about the sounds of our city. So much so, that they’ve placed them on display. For WBEZ, Michael DeBonis explains.”—Richard Steel, WBEZ host.


Opening at 7 p.m., Tuesday, July 21 Chicago Phonography in “Here/Not There” an installation and five performances in Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art with Chad Clark, Brett Ian Balogh, Eric Leonardson, and fellow members of Chicago Phonography for the MCA’s Here/Not There series.

mca.jpgMuseum of Contemporary Art
220 East Chicago Avenue
Chicago, IL 60611
Tel: 312.280.2660 | 312.397.4010
Admission is FREE all day on Tuesdays
July 21—26, 2009

The opening on Tuesday night will include a live performance by members of the Chicago Phonography collective. More performances will take place over the course of the installation’s one-week run (July 21—26). The times and dates are listed below.

Chicago Phonography at Enemy 2009Chicago Phonography is a sound collective that performs with audio recordings culled from Chicago’s urban soundscape. Collectively mixing their recordings to leads audio electroacoustic dramas for the ear, or listening plays that can only be experienced in sound. The challenge posed by the Here/Not There series is in stretching something ephemeral — performance — into something more lasting. It explores how something can be experienced in one place and yet offer a sense of the experience in another, in this case, sound recordings made at the MCA and surrounding Chicago neighborhoods are contained with a continuous gallery installation.

Listen to Friday’s report about our show on WBEZ’s “Eight-Forty-Eight” Program.

cityscape_projection2The installation uses a computer driven video projection and a four-channel playback system designed by Brett Balogh to create a wall-sized 3-D cityscape. This visual rendering of downtown Chicago extends the environmental sensation of Chicago Phonography’s live sound performances into an experience of the immersive nature of sound itself, with its similar sense of chance narratives.

The installation will be on display at the McCormick Tribune Orientation space (12 X 12 Gallery) inside the MCA for the entire week, during regular museum hours, and live performances will occur on:

  • Tuesday, July 21 at 7 PM, (4th floor atrium)
  • Saturday, July 25 at 11:30 AM—12:30 PM, and at 2:30 PM—3:30 PM (4th floor atrium)
  • Sunday, July 26 at 11:30 AM—12:30 PM, and at 2:30 PM—3:30 PM (MCA Plaza, outdoors on the steps that lead up to the west entrance)

Additional performers and audio contributors will include:

  • Steve Barsotti (Seattle)
  • Todd Carter (Chicago)
  • Noé Cuéllar (Chicago)
  • Chris Hammes (Chicago)
  • John Kannenberg (Ann Arbor)
  • Joshua Manchester (Chicago)
  • Jen Mosier (Chicago)
  • Greg O’Drobinak (Gary)
  • Linda O’Keefe (Dublin)
  • Patrick Scott (Chicago)
  • Aaron Zarzutski (Chicago)

More recordings of Chicago Phonography’s past performances are available on the Internet Archive.

Historical footnote:

Past Chicago-focused projects involving recorded urban soundscapes include the Chicago Soundscape Project, led by Dawn and Lou Mallozzi in 1996. This unusual essay by Hans U. Werner, Sound Designer and Klang-Author for Radio and Television from the Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR) describes the effort, inspired in part by R. Murray Schafer and the World Soundscape Project. The ongoing Favorite Chicago Sounds, led by Jesse Seay and supported by the Experimental Sound Studio, uses the Internet has an open-access, public forum for soundscape recordings. FCS began in 2006 and is part of an international project started by Peter Cusack in 1998. The World Listening Project, founded in Chicago (2008), is supported by the Midwest Society for Acoustic Ecology to promote local, regional, and international projects in field recording and the awareness of a wide range of listening practices in relation to the environment.

Originally uploaded by giantmolecules.
This is Brett Balogh’s Flickr set of the install, opening, and today’s performance. Here’s the direct linked to the set below. Enjoy!


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