week_1: commenting on the sound walk 'Her long black hair' created by Janet Cardiff (2004-05

Note: this comment is about track #1 (out of 6 tracks in total)

Project URL: https://phiffer.org/hlbh/

I like this piece from the first moment I listened to it. The women voice over the background soundscape of the city immediately captured my attention. The starting of the piece with the sound of the rain, set the tone. Interestingly, the piece begins when the rain stops, as is venturing outside when the city is still wet. The soundscape immediately after the rain highlighted horses, cars, sirens and voices, placing me into Central Park as memories of it walking with my wife and daughter came to mine activated by the walking sound of horses. It is probably the only place in NYC where I've previously seen horses, so the sound distinctly set the unique aspect of the park in relation to other areas of the city.

Cardiff sets the time in which the piece takes place by recurrently referencing contemporary actions and contrasting them with the past captured by the photos she describes. Photos taken years before at the same location. Physical location remains, two moments in time converge. The authors used 'walking' as metaphor for this: 'one step into the future, one into the past, ... the body caught in the middle, stays in the present'.

There is a strategy that Cardiff uses to bring the listener into the visuality of the photograph through sound and that is, the use of the sequence: word > image description > music. She first mention the word photograph > then the image is described and immediately after > music supposedly played at the time the picture was taken is presented. She brought me back to the past while imagining the moment captured in the photograph.

Another aspect used by the author as she narrates the story is to 'synchronize' the listener by commanding certain actions:

'I want you to walk with me'

'try to walk to the sound of my footsteps'

She also describes the surroundings to place the listener into the scene, 'framing' the story as it develops. Conversations of people passing by is heard, adding an element of spontaneity that gives the piece a real-time feeling.

There is a looping or repetition of space: city > park > city > park as well as transition from day > night > day, immersing the listener in a temporal loop while the story develops further. During these transitions of time and space, Cardiff creates suspense/anxiety/stress by giving the listener concrete cues that we all are exposed to while walking at city parks:

'... someone walking/following behind ... '

'... I am scared but seems pretty safe ...'

'... I am in the park ... [be careful in there]' the male voice on the phone answer

On the second photograph that she describes, a voice is 'activated' that transport the listener to the past and right into the place and time in which the photograph was taken. The 'sonic activation' of a photograph 'translate' the narration of a visual cue into sound space.

It was interesting to note that at some moment, several people shouting 'hello' can be heard and suddenly ... the phone rings and a male voice saying 'HELLO' can be listened. It appears that the intention was to 'announce' or 'prepare' the listener that an unexpected event was to come. Or perhaps an entry point into a conversation in present time by different location and, by this means the dislocation of space within contemporary time; the juxtaposition of a phone call that has to be contemporaneous (you cannot call to the past) with the description of a photograph as a registry of the past.

While the narrator is walking and an unexpected event happened, that is a dog walking by, the author uses that event in time and space to reference a dream she had 'last night', giving the feeling to the listener that he/she is listening the piece 'today'. Furthermore, there is anxiety (again) in the description of the dream, adding more suspense or stress to the previous clues the author gives about feeling unsafe.

I found the beauty of this piece in the rhythmic sound of the footsteps, punctuated by the soft voice of the narrator and contrasted by all the sounds from the city and the park.


Allison Meier (2017) 7 Audio journeys that let you scape New York while walking its streets. Hyperallergic; URL: