This afternoon I took the train up to Central Park with my iPhone and my headphones to… listen to? experience? walk through? Janet Cardiff’s sound walk, “Her Long Black Hair.” I really enjoyed it.
There was something surreal about the way that the recording overlapped with the sounds of the city. Immediately as it begins, you’re sitting facing the street traffic as the cars whiz by, and you’re not sure if the sounds of tires and horns is coming from your headphones or from the street in front of you. (The reality is that it’s both.)
My favorite moments throughout the whole piece were like these, where it almost tricks you into thinking a sound is coming from the outside when it’s actually in the recording. There was a part when I was walking by some tall rocks with children climbing all over, and it took me a second to realize that the voices of children I could hear talking to each other about climbing did not belong to the ones in front of me.
I also enjoyed the semi-linear, ambiguously fictional tone of the piece. It almost made it feel like a kind of proto-virtual reality, or even a type of videogame — after all, you follow her directions and feel rewarded whenever something lines up between the recording and your reality. Like when Cardiff describes the bird on the head of a statue, and you see it in front of you.
One of the most poignant moments on my walk was under a tunnel. In the recording, there is a man singing. On my walk today, there was a man drumming. As she has you linger and listen, the two pieces of music lined up in my ears as an experience that was uniquely mine.