Nick Jaworski is a music professor at the University of Illinois. One of the assignments for his students includes composing a soundwalk. He has been composing sound walks for a few years now and because of the trial and errors in his composition he has published a few notes with guidelines to follow for a beginner in soundwalk composition.
- Brainstorm character, plot, and genre ideas before location and route – It might seem odd to think about character before going out and exploring your surroundings, but spending just a little time thinking about potential characters, what might happen to them, and how the story might be told goes a long way in focusing your attention when you start scouting locations.
- Explore your surroundings. Remember, choosing a location that you are very familiar with might cause you to rely too much on your real-life experiences. This causes some people to create a soundwalk that is interesting to the few who share that experience with you. The most interesting and evocative soundwalks that my students have created involve routes that were specifically designed to tell a story. Keep this in mind.
- Decide on a route and document it. You could sketch it out, take notes, a series of pictures, or make a video. In fact, you could do all of the above!
- Figure out the timing for the walk. While making a video is one way to document the walk, simply writing out the timings between important landmarks allows for the greatest flexibility when editing together your soundwalk. When I created mine, I simply walked the route, then made notes of important landmarks and places that I might want to stop. Once I had my list, I made an audio recording (using my iPhone) of me completing the entire walk. As I walked, I made note of when I arrived at various points (and when I might reference other landmarks, “I’m passing the clock now.”). Lastly, I sat down and timed both the location of the landmarks in the entire walk and the distance between each individual landmark. Timing your walk this way allows you to make adjustments to the timeline if you end up wanting your listener to linger longer at specific locations.
- Test your directions. Create a track with all of your directions. You can include some narration and plot if you want, but the main purpose of this track is to ensure that your directions are clear and that they help the listener get from point A to point B. Test the track on somebody else who is unfamiliar with the walk. Get feedback on parts that were unclear, fix them, and test again. Once this part gets settled, you can go on to adding plot, character, and narration.
- Record your audio with character and plot. I found it useful to record my audio while watching the timer. This allows you to see how your narration is fitting within your time constraints. You can take multiple takes (on multiple tracks) of your narration and piece it together as you go, adjusting the time as necessary.
- Add sounds and music*. This is where a simple audio tour turns into an immersive experience. The use of sound effects and music work to create the hyperreality. Listening to and participating in a well- constructed soundwalk feels a lot like being thrown into the center of movie – with you’re as the main character.
- Test! Now that you’ve added plot, character, and sounds, it’s important to make sure that your soundwalk can still be navigated by somebody who has no idea where they are going before starting. Make sure that timings are correct, that all safety precautions have been taken, and that the narration is clearly audible at all times.
- Revise – Make whatever adjustments are needed after your previous test.
- Test again! – Made revisions? Then, you have to test the whole walk now, preferably with somebody who has never done the walk before.
11. Repeat steps 9 & 10 (as necessary). Remember, a walk that a listener can’t easily complete becomes practically useless. Testing is the only way to get things right.
12. Share with the world!
I found these guidelines to be quite helpful to begin my soundwalk with.
Watch a soundwalk composed by one of Nick’s students: here It’s quite raw and unfinished which was quite interesting as all the sound walks I have been referring to -for instance Hildegarde Westerkamp, Janet Cardiff or Gabrielle Reuter – have been very professional and polished. You can see the soundwalk composed by the student was designed without any obligations and are full of creative plots.