The Unheard Walks with Stepháne Marin at HearSay International Audio Arts Festival encourages new ways of listening. It begins in a room circled around a table. We are instructed to clip on a player with headphones as well as a small backpack. Stepháne’s movements are deft and graceful. He pulls our attention to him through eye contact and signaling with his hands. Although we have not yet pressed play on our recorders, the walk begins and we leave the Ballyhoura Apple Farm and wind up a path to a small meadow. Because we are on an audio walk, we are already attuned to the sounds our footsteps make together, far off warblers and nearby finches, and the gentle sound of the sun warming the Kilfinane hills. In the meadow, we circle around and without words, Stepháne motions to us to put on our headphones and press play. Together we follow him down the hill and into the village, behind the grocery market next to a lone generator that hums in an alley. The track in our headphones begins subtly and undulates in and out of our presence. Most immediately, this has the profound impact of turning our ears on with amplitude associated with special states such as meditation. We want to hear more, so we do.
Stepháne leads us through the market and on to the outskirts of town with a growing tempo, an increasing clip to his pace and the volume in our headphones. Just as we climb a stone wall, there is something of a torrential sonic downpour that sets upon us and together we begin to run across a verdant pasture. This is perhaps, the most joyous moment of our experience. Somehow Stepháne has convinced us, with the layers of sounds we all share, to run together as if we are being chased. When we reach the end of the pasture, our pace slows and we carefully climb a rocky outcropping presided over by a group of schoolboys. It feels like we have found that place outside of town that you only know about when you have grown up there. Together we look out over the rolling hills of Kilfinane and the boys elbow one another and look back at us. Stepháne motions for us to take off our backpacks and remove a second pair of headphones from our bags. We do, and collectively take the plunge into the next chapter of our story.
You may notice, that up until now, the actual sounds have not really be the subject of this walk. The beauty of Stepháne’s approach is how he carefully blends moments from the world in which you are wandering to create an almost augmented sonic field that builds presence. As we walk together listening, we become more there.
There is a curiosity with which the tracks build and subside, a longing as we wander on the outskirts of town past still houses. The life is in the track that leads us down the road to face the walls that seperate space. The birds and the deep tones in our ears take us over fences and beside a creek, where we change one more time, back to the first set of headphones.
We turn back to town and the tempo that carries us builds. As we round the corner back to the still houses, the first human voices we have heard in an hour begin to murmur about silence. Walking in between closed doors and quiet windows, we hear the voices of the residences reflect on how they experience silence. We don’t see these people, but we feel them.
Their voices grow with us as we circle one last time in between two large trucks and take off our headphones. The walk is over and at once there is the desire to talk and the longing to say nothing at all. More so than superimpose an audio track on our experience of the presence, The Unheard Walks brought us together to deeply listen. By carefully blending field recordings from the Kilfinane area with our actual experience of place during the walk, Stepháne raised the amplitude of our awareness and sustained our collective capacity to hear the world more.