Today I was able to head up to Harlem with two of my friends to test my sound walk, and thankfully, the weather cooperated. It was a little nerve wracking to have friends test something that’s a pretty personal project. Still, it was a good time.
There was one major thing that I thought was going to be a problem. Because I had started doing the recordings before I knew I was going to make a sound walk, it was harder to map out a route. And while I knew I could’ve set it up with the intention of having the user pick their own path through Harlem, I wanted to anchor it at least somewhat. And it works, if not optimally.
My feedback from my users was good, and the issues were minimal. Right out of the gate, one of the things we discovered was that if you weren’t careful in how you paused the audio, it restarted from the beginning. The second, and perhaps (to me anyway) the most glaring problem, was that because the walk is loosely anchored around two stories and two locations, I needed to time them out better.
As it is currently, the user gets a set of instructions, to set out, but no real instructions on how long to stay at each location. Which meant, that had I not been there, it would’ve been difficult for the users to figure it out. Sure, they would’ve gotten where I wanted them to be eventually, but it was still confusing. Going forward, I’ll have to time it out, so that I can make sure the user understands how long to stay at each stop, and when to move.
I’d been curious to see if either of my users would notice the music that I used throughout the piece. While I’d been concerned that the choice of using the instrumental track to Nina Simone’s ‘Strange Fruit’ would be a little too on the nose, people who recognized it (or that I asked directly) said that it fit the overall mood & aim of the piece.
Even with the things that I perceived to be big problems, the experience had the effect that I wanted it to. When I was talking to Melissa afterwards, I asked how she felt listening to the Field Guide in Harlem, where she was in the minority. She replied that it was something she definitely noticed and was aware of. I’ve asked some friends who aren’t local to listen to it, and even without them being in the intended environment, the feedback has been positive.
While I’ve been concerned with how the audio sounds, listeners have said that it “sounds exactly how it should”, and that the “raw quality” is a good thing. So far, the overwhelming majority of the people who’ve listened to or experienced the walk, have been white. Which is what I’d expected for the most part.
Overall, I’m happy with what I’ve finished thus far. Ideally, I’d like to refine things over the summer. Tighten up the timing of the walk, add more clips from different people, and see if there’s ways to expand the project.
Documentation can be found here.