The Dust & Shadow soundwalk is an experiment in attunement to an urban desert environment through diverse forms of listening. Walking in silence through the Sonoran dust in the shadow of civilisation, the walkers may begin to hear the murmur of matter, uncover desert refugia amidst urban life, and forge new connections with the unexpected.
The walk is an invitation to the walkers to viscerally engage with the urban desert, using the entire body as an antenna or listening device. Listening is an inherently intimate form of perception – hearing comes to existence when the eardrums are touched by vibrations created by other entities. Some of the sounds heard during this walk have been processed through the ears, fingertips and digital devices of FoAM Earth. The soundtrack is a reflection of our experience of the desert; our attempt to read the desert through the language of experience. The soundtrack contains a multitude of voices heard in different parts of the Sonoran desert and Colorado Plateau. Many of these voices are present in the urban environments too, but are too quiet to notice. Some of these voices have been amplified and layered beneath and between the drone of the city. This soundtrack exists not to cover up or emphasize existing sounds, but to weave them into a new sonic fiction – one in which Phoenix becomes a city in the desert rather than a city despite the desert.
Instructions for a self-guided walk
North Shore Volleyball Courts Tempe, AZ 85281
(E Lake View Drive under the 202 highway overpass at Tempe Town Lake. The walk is a loop starting from the volleyball courts)
GPS coordinates 33.435206,-111.941293
Download the GPS track: from Mapbox:
Hand-drawn map of the walk with a few landmarks (NOTE: this map is not to scale, use the GPS track to get the exact path of the walk)
Before the walk
This walk includes a soundtrack as part of the experience. You will need to bring a phone (or other device) with earbuds or headphones for listening during the walk. The audio can be streamed on Soundcloud:
Please do not listen to the soundtrack until you begin the walk. When you start the playback take a few moments to experiment with listening at different volumes.
During the walk
As a participant in this walk, we invite you to practice noticing and attunement.
To begin with, notice what you are bringing to the walk. What physical conditions, moods and thoughts might influence your experience? Do not attempt to change them, just be aware of your condition as you begin the walk. During the walk, notice if or how this condition changes. What resonates, disrupts, calms or agitates you? Try to stay as present as possible.
Walk slowly (if you walk in a group, walk in single file). Slow enough to be able to pay attention to the complex relationships in the environment. Experiment with changing the rhythm of walking. Notice how you react to a change of pace.
Notice the environment you are walking through. From the vastness of the sky to the tiny particles of dust; from the shapes of the rocks to the shapes of the cars; from the wholes to their parts and back again. Occasionally stop and look around, or close your eyes and sense the sonic and tactile textures of the environment. Take this time to attune to the landscape in it's vibrant stillness. Notice the difference between your experience of the environment when moving and standing still. Try to be as still as a rock. If you find standing still to be difficult, pay attention to something that is moving in your visual or aural field, without moving yourself.
Notice what is going on with others around you – other people, plants, animals, stones and land formations. Notice how you respond to them, without taking any specific action. Simply allow everything to be as it is. Notice that just by being where you are, you are coming in and out of relationships with multitudes of others.
After the walk
When you finish the walk take a few moments to reflect on your experience. How did it affect your physical, emotional and mental states? How did it influence your experience of the environment and the various lives unfolding within? Have you had any insights about your relationship to the desert? How might these insights influence how you engage with the desert in your daily life?
The Dust & Shadow Walk is one of FoAM's experiments in re-framing relationships between urban dwellers and their desert habitat. The walk is part of our investigation into environmental issues in the North-American Southwest, through the lens of arts and culture. Rather than focusing on single issues or solutions, we explore entangled layers of causes, lifestyles and worldviews that underlie systemic challenges in the region. And deeper still, we re-imagine the myths, metaphors and emotional dimensions of living in the region in the early 21st century. Our regenerative work is situated in this mythical dimension. From the myth of the desert as an empty void to an experience of the desert teeming with life.
We began re-imagining the desert from a panpsychic perspective, assuming that everything around us is alive and possesses an inherent, elemental consciousness. Even though the specific languages remain incomprehensible to us as temporary observers, we propose that the history, present and future of the environment is continuously being told and retold in the manifold languages of its inhabitants - humans, plants, animals and mineral formations alike. In order to be able to comprehend this ambient mythology, we propose a contemporary form of geomancy for the age of climate chaos, an embodied reading of the landscape as it is and as it could be. In the city, human voices (including the droning voices of our technological devices) tend to drown out the voices of others. We ventured into parts of the Sonoran Desert where other voices can still be heard. We hovered on the edges between urban and biological deserts to attune to their complex rhythms and relationships. We observed, listened and practiced a craft of noticing that we began to call "desert attunement". Experiencing the desert in this way is both humbling and endearing. The vast geological scales cast long shadows in space and time, imposing a silent, harsh indifference, all the while inhabited by the tiniest of critters, who fill the air with a delicate chorus of chittering, chattering and clicking.
The Dust and Shadow soundwalk was designed by FoAM.Earth in collaboration with LCT, supported by GIOS and Synthesis Center. The first public walk was hosted by the Museum of Walking on 24th March 2018. With special thanks to Ron Broglio for the location scouting, local knowledge and enthusiasm during the research and production process of this soundwalk.