Speculative Soundwalking is a mode of headphone-based interactive public art. It asks participants to move through a specific public space, listening to soundscape compositions that imagine the history and possible future of the space they inhabit. As they move and listen, they are invited to embody their future existence in it, and consider their relationship to that place through the lens of the soundwalk itself. Upon returning there in the future, they will remember their experience of the soundwalk, enriching their relationship with that place going forward. For artists, Speculative Soundwalking is therefore a framework for creative sound art projects that seek to shape emplacement (affective relationship to, and identity formation in relation to place) through Deep Listening.
Speculative Soundwalks can be realised through any audio platform, but were originally designed to use the Echoes app, which tracks each participant’s GPS location and triggers audio files to be played when they enter a specific area within the project site, as defined by the artist. This allows participants to use their own device and headphones, moving at their own pace through the piece rather than locked to a prescribed timeline. If the piece needs to be experienced as a group in a ‘performance’, a silent disco-style system can be used.
Using the medium of headphone-based audio walking (not unlike guided audio history walks for tourists) allows Speculative Soundwalks to inhabit public space with very little equipment, and no additional infrastructure, lending itself well to small-budget climate activist work, or work exploring other social movements.
I established the medium of Speculative Soundwalking through Listening to Abu Dhabi, my undergraduate capstone project at NYU Abu Dhabi in 2018 (although didn’t coin the term until later), in response to a growing movement of ecological sound art and GPS-based audio work in the fields of acoustic ecology and climate activism.