reflections on three recent soundwalks in Chicago

Dan Godston recording beehive
Dan Godston recording beehive

The World Listening Project has organized three soundwalks recently—at the Chicago Center for Green Technology and the Garfield Park Conservatory on August 1st, and by/around the Michael Reese Hospital campus on September 12th. It’s been good to be involved with these soundwalks, and the WLP and MSAE are planning several more soundwalks in the coming months. This post details what happened.

We met at CCGT at 10 a.m. on Saturday, August 1st. Hugh Iglarsh, Fereshteh Toosi, Eric Leonardson, and Dan Godston participated. We started in CCGT’s Resource Center, where Kelly Reiss from CCGT gave us a brief talk about the CCGT. Then we walked around the Resource Center, listening to the room,  touching and making sounds with some of the eco-friendly materials they had there—such as flooring material samples. We walked upstairs to the roof, where we heard an “above ground” soundscape of East Garfield Park, which included the sounds of street traffic, buzzing of electrical lines, and some insect sounds. While we were on the roof a Metra train came by, which was quite loud making its low end rumble felt. We walked down to the rear of the building, where we walked along an eastbound route toward the Element House which was designed by a team from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. We concluded the soundwalk at CCGT by walking along the curved trail in a field which is the south of the CCGT building complex. That field used to be a brown zone, because it was where a company named Sacramento Crushing had dumped industrial waste. Now, however, the field thrives with indigenous plants. After our soundwalk at CCGT, we met to talk about what we’d experienced.

Then we traveled several blocks east to the Garfield Park Conservatory. Coincidentally, Open Streets was happening on that day. It was great to see people of all ages in the neighborhood, enjoying car-free streets. The soundwalk at GPC started inside the greenhouse, and it finished in the park behind the greenhouse. It had started to drizzle, but then the rain stopped.

It was good working with the people at CCGT and GPC. We had coordinated these soundwalks with people at both places. (Before the soundwalk at CCGT, I had heard this interesting story on WBEZ, about Lake Michigan’s water levels, and water conservation. Sarah Moloney, a CCGT person with whom we coordinated, is part of that WBEZ piece.) Toward the end of the soundwalk at GPC, we talked with Julio Tuma, GPC’s beekeeper, and several of the volunteer beekeepers who were there. You can listen to an audio clips of the bees and conversation with beekeepers here:

You can view pictures of these two soundwalk locations on the “Soundwalks in East Garfield Park (August 1, 2009)” Flickr set.

We had another soundwalk on September 12th by the Michael Reese Hospital campus. The weather was gorgeous—in the 70s, with a slight breeze. We met at the corner of 31st Street and Cottage Grove Avenue, in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood. Chad Clark, Norman Long, Grahm Balkany, Eric Leonardson, Dan Godston, Jeffrey Helgeson were among those who took part. We walked north on Cottage Grove Avenue, east on 29th Place, north on Vernon Avenue, east on 28th Street, north on Ellis Avenue, east on 26th Street, and then we backtracked to return to our original meeting place.

The MRH campus is currently fenced off, because of the current demolition plans. Because of that, there were a number of aspects of the soundscape which we were unable to experience. However, here are some of the sounds which were experienced: the chainlink fence along the perimeter of the MRH campus; the wind in the trees in front of the Singer Pavilion; traffic on Lake Shore Drive; bikers, pedestrians, crickets chirping by the pine tree-lined parking garage; and automobile drivers/passengers on the streets by MRH. Chad Clark audio recorded the whole walk, while others took photos. Although some pieces of demolition and earth moving equipment were visible inside, and several security guard vehicles were slowly traveling through the campus, the equipment wasn’t being used and the security guard vehicles didn’t contribute to the soundscape.

The Midwest Society for Acoustic Ecology is among the organizations which supports the Gropius in Chicago Coalition’s efforts to preserve the buildings on the MRH campus. The soundwalk on September 12th highlighted a number of key aesthetic values which are found on the MRH campus, including the thoughtful acoustic design plans which were part of the campus—including the berms found in the several parks on the campus, as well as other acoustic design features found in the architecture there.