Mapping Manchester’s Quiet Spaces

Rae gave a fascinating portrayal of the walks she undertakes mapping sounds with others around Manchester. As groups descend from the cacophonous hustle and bustle of Oxford Road onto the canal below the sounds change, become quieter and shift to the drips and bird screeches of the waterscape.  She told how people became palpably calmer and more able to manage urban life, as they settled into their audio recording.

As Rae spoke we could not help but attune to the noises of the Brooks Building murmuring around our open-plan corner space. Academic and student-scapes …. someone comes to use the photocopier… created machinic intrusions that assaulted our senses. The  views out onto the Hulme community through the glass, flooded in sunlight, collided with the other noises, fracturing and diffracting our sense of ourselves as we sat enthralled by Rea’s stories and sensibilities.

Professor Gabrielle Ivinson

Mapping Manchester’s Quiet Spaces is an artist-led project focusing on the relationship between sound levels in the city and mental health run by Rae Story at St Luke’s Art Project in Ardwick. We began with a listening exercise bringing our focus to the acoustic environment. Rae briefly summarised her work in arts and health over the last twenty years, making the distinction between art and creativity and emphasising the role of art as inquiry.

Case Study: 2018 Winter Canal Walk used methodologies inspired by Murray Schaffer from the WorldSoundscape project (60’s/70’s era Canada) participants ‘sampled’ the sounds and their feelings as the group walked from a city central roadside location to the Bridgewater Canal.

At the session, Rae played a selection of the recorded sound samples and those present were invited to listen closely trying to pick out details of the acoustic environment. (This reflected the methodology used in the original walk). The findings of the walk were presented – (peoples subjective and emotional response to the sounds) and the last part of the session was a lively discussion about the loss of green ‘breathing’ spaces which it turns out are so valuable to our mental well-being. In particular we talked about the history, rise and fall of Pomona (a 2km island strip of land between Manchester and Salford – until recently an overgrown accidental wildlife sanctuary soon to be developed into flats. We discussed the attunement to listening that occurs when one performs field recordings and listening exercises on a regular basis, sometimes referred to as Deep Listening. We talked about the development of a more sensitive sense by which we can anticipate and read the landscape even before we get there.


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