This past Saturday, I ventured up to The Metropolitan Museum of Art to embark on the sound walk Soundwalk 9:09. The walk consists of traveling from The Met Fifth Ave to The Met Breuer and is named for the time it takes to walk between the two locations: nine minutes and nine seconds. Upon reading the overview of what this sound walk should be, I was really looking forward to the experience; unfortunately, I wasn’t really a fan.
Let’s first talk about what worked. The walk between the two locations–an eight-block jaunt–was, any way you chose to parse it, a beautiful stretch full of rich ambient city sounds which provided the perfect ambiance to accompany this journey, making it a truly unique, personalized experience.
What didn’t work for me was much of the composition which consisted of “sculpted and filtered” sounds modified to enhance the experience. To me, the tones were eerie and unsettling and, ultimately, I found myself trying to ignore the distracting and manipulated sounds. Also, while at first glance, the 9:09 reference in the title may seemed to be a clever reference, it ended up being fairly useless without any sort of guide to track the progress of the walk, though, admittedly, with being able to choose your own path, that would be hard to do, but not impossible.
As someone who is 6’6″, I have a longer gate than most. As a person with a disability who uses a cane to walk, I tend to walk on the slower side. Timing-wise, I ended up trying find someone to pace myself behind whom I sized-up to be a person of average height, weeding out lollygaggers staring at their phones and people with small children. Nevertheless, my 9:09 sound walk downtown to The Met Breuer ended more than a minute before I arrived. Starting off the sound walk by highlighting sound of the composer’s own steps, allowing the listener to get a sense of pace, would have improved my experience. Also, because of my issues walking, I had trouble negotiating the unevenness of the pavestone walkway bordering the park, making that part of the walk burdensome and a bit painful.
Because of my difficulties on the walk downtown, I took a different path at a faster speed and found myself approaching The Met Fifth Ave with about 2 minutes left to spare. I quickly turned my hustle into a mosey, but still felt that the timing was a big issue with this sound walk.
To end on a positive note, I will say that the area for this walk, which undeniably lends itself having to a robust city soundscape, is perfect for a sound walk. While trying to drown out the unpleasant din created in this piece commissioned by MetLiveArts, I found myself more attuned to the distinct noises that combine to create a rich background to a subtle, but unignorable, urban soundtrack and am grateful for that experience.