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  • 9.16.06

iLand: E.J. McAdams Notes (and Impressions) Day 6

iLAB Collaborative Residency

Engagement with Public #1

Under a blue sky dotted with lumpy cumulus, Hope and Michelle welcomed the gathered participants in Bryant Park at 41st and 6th Avenue. To start they presented the questions that they wanted the group to consider as we proceeded on the soundwalk:

• How does listening affect how we move?

• How does our movement affect our listening?

• How does your attention move from inside to outside and back?

• How does this affect how you see?

Michelle gave a short introduction to acoustic ecology.

(Noise envelopes our gathering, as workers deconstruct Fashion Week tent, car

horns, and buses changing gears.)

Michelle described the route and expectations of the soundwalk: to bring our full awareness to listening, to try and abstain from talking, and to be courteous to others not participating in the walk.

Participants were encouraged to choose one of the dancers who were all wearing brightly-colored shirts as their “lead bird” on the walk. Michelle was to be the “big bird” in case anyone lost the others.

Michelle then asked everyone to listen to the environment around them.

(Motorcycle idling, chatting of tourists on the outskirts of our group.)

Michelle then passed out earplugs and asked everyone to listen again.

(Sounds are fainter. Strangely, I start to see “better” the things that were there but

too quiet to hear including a flock of pigeons on a statue. )

She then signaled to us to take the plugs out.

(The rush of noise returns: truck reversing signals, a blare of car horns.)

Hope then asked the group to pick out one sound and respond to that sound with a movement or gesture, with a “state” or posture. “It could be a secret gesture.”

(I wiggle my toes.)

Michelle rang a bell to start the walk.

(Airplane engine overhead.)

Michelle led us south and then east through the park.

(Human conversations. Footsteps scraping on paving stones, occasional crunch of

brown, fallen London Plane tree leaves. First sound of autumn?)

Turned south at Carousel out of Park and turned east on 40th Street, moving at a slower than normal New York City pace.

(“What is this?” passersby ask. Hum of truck ventilation systems. No natural

sounds, although I can see the wind in the honey locust leaves.)

Passed by the park.

(Wall of library blocks sound. The stone has a quietness. “You made me come

late.” “You always come late.”)

Moved to the front of the Library.

(Much quieter away from the Fashion Week breakdown. A police whistle. Buses

on 5th Avenue shifting gears.)

Headed toward Lions.

(Wheeled garbage can creaking on stones. Sounds of garbageman opening

stationary can. Pigeons on the Lions. Sound of a bus kneeling. A little wind in the


Crossed 5th Avenue, headed south on 5th.

(Cars speeding south. “Ahora.”)

Took a left at 40th Street. Entered an alcove at 461 Fifth Avenue, off 40th Street, with tiny ornamental maples down the center of the space in 4 pots aligned north to south, shrubbery along the east wall with impatiens in the 6 planters aligned north to south. Entrance to the lobby on the west side.

(Whirr of floor cleaning machines through the open lobby doors.)

Exited and headed east again.

(Nearing construction: cement saw whine. Leaping happy kids – “Calm down

guys,” their father says. The click of a bicycle wheel.)

Crossed Madison.

(Notice strange figures carved in the stone fascade of a building. Ventilation fan for

building. In the middle of the block, stillness emerges. I can hear my feet, hear my

finger scratching my ear. All of a sudden I realize that each car honk is personal –

each as unique as its driver. Stillness persists.)

Crossed Park Avenue.

(Sweepers sweeping.)

In front of 101 Park Avenue we came to a plaza of gray stone shaped like a triangle. Two flag poles stood in the northwestern end and a fountain stood in the southeastern end. Honeylocusts lined the sidewalk around the plaza.

The dancers walked out onto the plaza and most of the participants relaxed on the fountain edge, while a few floated along the edges of the triangle plaza. Each started to make small gestures in response to the soundscape and slowly drifted into pairs and trios. Yves and Lise moved down into the southwestern corner; Laura and Alejandra used the space of flagpoles; and Hope who started off alone came into a trio with Rebecca and Biba.

All of the time the dancers and participants stayed silent and ignored the security guard, who kept walking through the plaza. He talked franticly into his walkie-talkie. He looked disturbed by the silence of the dancers and group. Tourists stopped and took photos.

Michelle rang the bell. The dancers returned.

Headed north on Park Ave, downhill.

(Out of nowhere I hear a fellow participant slam down a foot – purposefully? In

response I really want to make noise back at the soundscape.)

Stopped at 41st Street, crossed back over Park Ave again, stopping under the Pershing Square Bridge. Listened.

(Fans from Pershing Square Restaurant/Central Café. I thought it was interesting

that we had given this place of business the freedom to “pollute” the soundscape at

no cost to the polluter.)

Headed North to 42nd Street.

Recrossed so we were under the bridge.

(Every sound is amplified by the bridge. Struck by all of the idling, by the fact that

much of the noise pollution is tied up with air pollution too.)

Entered Grand Central Station.

(Quieter. The marble of the space absorbs the sound. An air-conditioner hums.)

Crossed concourse into main hall.

(Volume increases but the marble still absorbs, or possibly makes more distinct the

individual sounds in the soundscape. Conversations between individuals, between

individuals and cellphones. Flip-flops on floor. “Attention customers…Beware of the gap when entering and exiting the train. The Hall buzzes a little – what is that?)

Dancers fanned out bringing the participants in their flock.

Some descended the stairs.

Found Rebecca and her group, standing in place, moving and turning. Nearby Biba was walking, almost strolling. Barbara was slow walking and listening. Michelle was walking.

(The dancers presence seemed to imbue all the commuters with a dance-like quality.

It became hard to distinguish who was a dancer and who wasn’t.)

Hope appeared near Michelle.

Alejandra appeared and then disappeared.

(This movement from listening to writing is also starting to feel like a dance

my hand is doing.)

(My urge is to follow people with loud shoes.)

Saw Laura and Yves.

Lise came up from downstairs.

Michelle returned from Track 27 and the dancers started to flock to her.

(Woman waiting, twisting a plastic shopping back and forth, metronomicly. Girl

jumps with clappy shoes. “Subway 4,5,6, that’s where we’re going.”)

Hope circled us up very closely.

Michelle passed out pieces of paper quickly to different participants. Each piece had a note. The ones I received read:




(For some reason the direction, made it impossible for me to listen. I had hit a

listening wall.)

Michelle then led the whole group through the track area quickly and back out through the Graybar Concourse.

(Reverberations of outside sounds.)

Exited at Lexington and turned south toward 42nd St.

(Jackhammers. The quakes pulse under the pavement. It is hard to hear anything


Crossed Lexington.

(A trickling fountain at foot level feels like a gift.)

Stopped in front of Chashama (217 East 42nd St). The tour ended. A discussion followed that was recorded on film.

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