Failed Utopias

This enquiry comprises a series of ‘soundwalks’ for investigating the social, spatial, political and psychogeographical contexts of space, questioning assumptions of ‘progress’ in urban planning, regeneration and city development. The soundwalks take the form of an embodied, interactive participatory performance practice, where I take a selected group of individuals on designated routes through urban space. The distinctiveness of my method is to use sound recordings as part of the walk (combining field recordings augmented with interview and archival material) to create a hybrid and improvisatory soundscape that problematises the relation between past and present, live and recorded. Using this method to intervene in specific sites (Berlin, Aix-en-Provence) associated with moments of postwar optimism and the Modernist impulse, this enquiry highlights the failure of these utopian visions through an experiential event, that is then unpacked by involving the group further in post-walk discussion.

Whilst drawing from the related disciplines of urban studies and human geography, this original approach to ‘soundwalk’ methodology has been developed and tested as a means of critiquing space through numerous participatory performances (e.g. Spaces of Uncertainty, Stuttgart, 2016; Island Walk, invited by Bohunk Institute, Nottingham, 2017). The significance of this enquiry is evidenced through my invitation by the curators of the Mobile Audio Fest in Aix-en-Provence to develop this method as a new sonic-artwork composed for the festival (2015) shown in dialogue with work by internationally-renowned artists including Christina Kubisch, Owen Chapman and Peter Sinclair. This soundwalk was reflected upon in my article ‘Reflections on OpenCity Aix’ in PAUST (Performance Architecture Urbanism Space Theatre) I was subsequently invited to develop a new soundwalk using this method as part of the international conference UrbanTOPIAS: Discussing the Challenges of Changing Cities, Berlin, 2016.

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