Sensory studies arises at the conjuncture (and within) the fields of anthropology • sociology • history • archeology • geography • communications • religion • philosophy • literature • art history • museology • film • mixed media • performance • phenomenology • disability • aesthetics • architecture • urbanism • design

Sensory Studies can also be divided along sensory lines into, for example, visual culture, auditory culture (or sound studies), smell culture, taste culture and the culture of touch, not to mention the sixth sense (however it might be defined)


Jennifer Schine


This paper will explore how the practice of soundwalking can be a tool for memory retrieval. I ask: How are memories created and remembered in the mind and felt within the body? What happens to our perception of self, home, and knowing as we move through spaces and places of significance? I aim to explore the subject of memory and movement within the context of soundscape studies; these notions require an understanding of how we “hear” the past and re‐evoke our acoustic memories as we move and act through our environment. Traditional methods for recalling the past involve mainly visual cues and focus on materiality (Bäckman, Small, Wahlin & Larsson 2000) —we look to photographs and hold personal objects, etc.—while remaining visual‐centered and localized. I suggest that it is the physical act of moving our body through meaningful environments that unifies the senses, places and knowing and that brings together the local past into the present experience (Casey 1987). My main focus is to understand the ways in which people—both as individuals and as groups—remember and construct the past. This paper explores how the production of memory and act of remembering are evoked during the process of memory walks (or soundwalks) as a way of understanding and engaging with the world.



Barry Truax’s Acoustic Communication, an informative text within the field of soundscape studies, describes the important concept of an acoustic community—one in which sound functions positively to create a unifying relationship with the environment. For this characteristic to occur, it is necessary for sound to be heard clearly within the area and to reflect the community. Acoustic cues and signals are aural reminders and temporal nods to the rhythms of daily life; they help define an area spatially, temporally, socially and culturally. An acoustic community is thus linked and defined by such sounds that signify not only daily and seasonal cycles, but also the shared activities, rituals and dominant institutions of the area. A community with good acoustic definition can easily recognize, identify and derive meaning from the soundscape. For a soundscape to be unique (and memorable), distinctive and varied acoustic features are required. These features include the analytical concepts from soundscape studies: sound signals, keynotes and soundmarks (Schafer 1977). Through years of listening, such sounds acquire strong associations by members of the community and thereby create a strong continuity with the past (Truax 2001a).

In his second chapter, “The Listener” Truax complements his communication model of listening and concept of acoustic community by examining the importance of recollecting historical sounds. This is done through informant interviews of the community in what the World Soundscape Project (WSP) has termed “earwitness accounts”. In the early 1970s, the WSP at Simon Fraser University studied the Vancouver soundscape; the project later included a cross‐Canada field recording tour and a study of five villages in Europe. Due to Vancouver’s relative youth as a city, there was great opportunity to study the historical soundscape through both archival research and interviews (Truax 2001a). The WSP discovered that the earwitnesses who they interviewed had amazingly vivid aural memories, even if they were recalling acoustic memories from years past. From these accounts, an “acoustic map” of the early city was produced which suggested that historical Vancouver “was defined geographically in at least some people’s minds by its sounds” (Truax 2001a).

Beyond archiving important historical sounds for the sake of documentation itself, understanding earwitness accounts reveals how different sounds provide useful information, patterns of association and, perhaps most importantly, which sounds are meaningful enough to be remembered. What Truax is interested in is “the way in which sounds are stored in memory, not separately, but in association with their original context, betray[ing] a fundamental aspect of the listening process” (Truax 2001a). In this vein, it is important to examine cultural “soundmarks”. Much like the concept of landmarks, the notion of soundmarks is indicative of sounds that are unique and imbued with strong associations within a shared acoustic community. Such sounds are used to convey information (or act as sonic markers) and have become preferred sounds of a community. Since soundmarks usually gain status over years of listening, inhabitants understand these sounds to be a part of the community’s identity. As such, soundmarks achieve an historic importance and become cultural artifacts worthy of preservation (Schafer 1977). In addition, soundmarks are important with regards to the acoustic profile of a community and help to define the “acoustic horizon”—the most distant sounds that can be heard in a soundscape—which create an acoustic border for those who live both in and outside the area.


Extending from WSP, in The Tuning of the World (1977), R.M. Schafer documents a cross‐cultural analysis of sound preferences. He maintains that most sound preferences appear to be learned associations that may provoke nostalgia when heard in later years (Truax 2001a). According to Schafer, there is a romance that builds up around the “disappearing” sounds from the past. As new sounds are created, tension and a nostalgic reaction for older and familiar sounds may be induced. Schafer’s personal sound preferences coalesce around romantic notions of rural communities and “authentic” soundscapes; he laments the loss of a time when sounds were tied to the mechanisms that produced them. Schafer advocates against the proliferation of noise pollution while moving towards an aesthetic acoustic design (Schafer 1977). According to Truax, sound preferences may be shared within a country or community or as patterns of association based on personal experience on an individual level. Certain sounds may “remind one of pleasant or unpleasant memories and therefore evoke a conditioned response” (Truax 2001a). Within the context of Schafer’s sound romance, which conjures up nostalgic reactions of listeners, Truax asks: “When does a sound become a ‘sound romance’? And moreover, how do these types of reactions which are based on habitual ways of understanding sound, affect individual and community behavior?” (Truax 2001a). I hope to explore Truax’s question which leads us to another point of inquiry taken up later in this paper: Why are certain memories remembered?


By walking, we are in a dialogue with the environment; both literally and figuratively, we re‐situate ourselves into our story. Anthropologist, Jo Lee, suggests that the act of “walking can be understood as a personal biography: the body moves, in part, due to its links between past, present and future in a life” (Lee 2004). This understanding of place as constituted by movement, memory and biography is a new concept, emerging from such interdisciplinary fields as: soundscape studies (Järviluoma; Hyvarinen; Truax; Kyto; Vikman), ecological anthropology (Ingold; Lee), and ecological psychology (Gibson). In addition, the effects of the practice of walking on memory retrieval have been studied within such disciplines as: psychology, education, social sciences, health and medicine and gerontology (Stones; Dawe). Exercise and dance movement therapy have also reported on the positive affects of movement within the context of people with dementia and memory recall: “The findings reveal that engaging people with dementia in a way that draws on past experiences, such as dance and songs they had once enjoyed, can open possibilities for communication…” (Stones & Dawe 1993).

Health research now shows that there is strong evidence for an exercise-memory link (Eisner 2004). Theory behind this link suggests that cardiovascular exercise significantly improves oxygen to the brain which translates into measurable benefits in cognitive functioning. Studies have found that walking is associated with higher performance in learning and recalling as “aging tends to reduce the ability to retrieve information from memory on one’s own, and exercise may protect against this reduction” (Eisner 2004). Researchers have also noted that exercise helps individuals perform tasks associated with the frontal lobes of the brain—an area that shows the earliest and greatest amount of age‐associated losses. The cognitive processes controlled by frontal lobes include functions for working memory (a system that performs important functions of maintaining information in memory in midst of distraction). Within this line of study, there is growing research that examines effects of exercise on reducing and even reversing effects of aging on mental functioning (Eisner 2004). These studies provide support for the hypothesis that non‐strenuous physical exercise has positive acute effects on meaningfully cued memory (Stones & Dawe 1993). More importantly, however, these health studies reveal that the body is capable of recovering memory through movement and specifically through the practice of walking. This idea is further extended into the realm of movement and dance therapy—the belief that the body’s capability to recover memory is lodged in the musculature of the body itself (Kowarzik 2006; Chaiklin & Wengrower 2009). These concepts of “body‐mind” and embodiment are useful in understanding how human behavior is affected in the interrelationship of the psychological, physical and social. According to dance/movement therapists, Sharon Chaiklin and Hilda Wengrower: “the body relays information—our emotional history— that remains stored in our musculature and other physiological systems…manifested in the individual’s postures, gestures, use of space, and movements, large and small” (Chaiklin & Wengrower 2009). Thus, through movement and motor action, emotional history and thoughts of individuals can be uncovered.


The exploration of soundwalks has been used as an important tool for aural awareness by scholars within the field of acoustic ecology and communication (Schafer; Westerkamp; Smith; Järviluoma; Southworth). Soundwalking is an exploration of sound with the intent of active listening—hearing all environmental sounds while moving in and throughout the environment. It is a practice to re-remember sounds and re‐learn how to hear. According to composer and sound ecologist, Hildegard Westerkamp, “it is exposing our ears to every sound around us no matter where we are. Wherever we go, we give our ears priority…we need to stay in touch with our surroundings, as every sound carries very specific meanings no matter where we live” (Westerkamp 1974). Soundwalks are also forms of autobiographical practice, revealing knowledge about both the self and the social consciousness and collective memory of place.

The act of walking can be a very reflective action. Understood as a personal biography (Lee 2004), we remember as we walk. This is especially the case if we revisit routes coloured with meaning and of particular importance—this can be on both an individual and collective level. It is extremely evocative to walk along a path from childhood; we draw together aspects of place and biography through the walk and walking, itself, even if we have not visited the route for decades. I suggest it is not just the act of walking, but the embodiment of the walkor what social scientist, Sarah Pink, calls the emplacement of the walkthat re‐evokes our remembering. Anthropologist and author of Empire of the Senses: The Sensual Culture Reader, David Howes makes a distinction between the two terms: “embodiment implies an integration of mind and body, the emergent paradigm of emplacement suggests the sensuous interrelationship of body‐mind‐environment” (Howes 2005). Memory is not merely activated through the visual surveillance of landscape, but by our interrelated perceptual understandings and bodily movements—of being in and engaging with the physical and sensory environment—that includes our aural perception and other sensory outlets.

Perspectives on the construction of locales and places are common within the discursive terrain of social science; the investigation of walking provides a way of looking at both the theoretical commitments to place and the mind‐body holism debate (Csordas, 1994a; Shilling, 1993; Nast & Pile, 1998). With this in mind, Lee draws together the study of place with that of the body, emphasizing the ‘emplaced’ nature of experience and adding the aspect of walking within this framework. Lee’s study introduces a project that focuses on the everyday walking practices of people in and around the city of Aberdeen, Scotland. Understanding place as constituted by movement, Lee connects walking in regard to the senses, wayfinding and material culture within anthropological discourse. In examining childhood, Lee suggests that the “resulting embodied patterns of learning [to walk] are likely themselves to contain memories and skills learnt at previous times. Walking therefore reflects both learning and remembering” (Lee 2004).

Through the practice of soundwalks, I am interested in how the experience of sound (or sonic sensibility), companioned with the act of walking, affects our sense of time, place and personhood. How does listening affect our inner self and our memories? And, in turn, how does listening inform the environment? As listeners, we experience a relationship as we walk, understanding our inner voices and a larger shared social environment where we are all connected. And in both moving and listening, we can recognize the embodiment of memory and the close relation of place to the moving body. What does movement in our environment do during that moment of recollection? To understand this, we must understand that memory is contextual; moreover, the past is constantly being mediated and produced through memory work. The moment of recollection is thus important to examine.


Twenty‐five years after the WSP’s Five Village Soundscapes project, an extension and follow‐up soundscape study called Acoustic Environments in Change (AEC) was produced. The villages of the former WSP project were re‐visited and researched by an interdisciplinary Finnish collective in order to develop original ethnographic research methods, questions and theoretical ideas around concepts of memory and sound. In addition to the cultural study of memory, nostalgia and social remembering, the collective repeated some of the former WSP tests and data collection methods in the five villages in hopes to identify continuities within changes (Järviluoma, Uimonen, Vikman & Kyto 2009). One such comparison focused on a key informant Mr. David Graham—a town clerk in Dollar, Scotland—who was interviewed by both the WSP researchers in 1975 and in the AEC study, almost three decades later. This was the first time that the WSP researchers used the technique of taking an informant back to places of memory. Once he returned there physically, Graham’s personal memories were prompted and he was able to communicate extensively about the past soundscape in Dollar with exceptional sensory detail (Schafer 1977).

As part of the collective, ethnomusicologist, Helmi Järviluoma, has written four articles within the AEC publication: her analysis of sonic memories attempts “to clarify and define the overlapping concepts of social, collective and cultural memory” (Järviluoma 2009). A consistent theme throughout her work explores how the past is constantly mediated and being produced through memory work. In the article, “Lesconil, My Home: Memories of Listening”, the practice of soundwalks (or what Järviluoma has termed “sonic memory walks”) are utilized to prompt her informants to remember the sound of places, usually associated with childhood. This notion is summed up in her paper heading: “I’m walking, therefore I’m remembering”. Using a gendered analysis of the soundscape, Järviluoma focused on memories of middle‐aged and elderly women in the fishing town of Lesconil, France. The study established two small groups of women (all of whom were born in Lesconil). Each woman was asked to choose a path charged with meaning and lead the group along the landscape. This was an interesting strategy as the groups seemed to prompt each other in their remembering. An outcome of the study suggested that many sounds shared by the acoustic community became social memories shared by a large group of Lesconil inhabitants. For example: the sounds of storms were shared as an unpleasant sound for the group. However, it is interesting to note that sound memories are not necessarily transmitted between generations. Fishing as a livelihood in Lesconil has almost disappeared and, for the younger generations, the sounds associated with storms do not necessarily signify fishermen struggling to keep their boats afloat. The sounds of storms thus elicit different meanings for the younger and older generations in the town (Järviluoma 2009).

With respect to sonic memory walks, Järviluoma maintains that “places are saturated with memories and the knots of memories gradually loosen up when a person enters into a dialogue with the past” (Järviluoma 2009). It is this idea of entering into a dialogue with the environment—at the intersection of the past and present—that interests me and what I see as the crux of Järviluoma’s study, she states: “Spaces is a system of places; a place is a space that is special through the meanings connected with it. When we move, the places become activated and we enter into a dialogue” (Järviluoma 2009). Similar metaphors are used by both Lee and Ingold: Lee considers the relationship between the environment and the everyday lived experience of people on the ground, whom walk and navigate their routes, as a discourse (Lee 2004) while Ingold terms this notion as a “continuous intercourse with the environment—and this intercourse is the life process” (Ingold 2004).

The AEC project examines how the senses construct the understandings of past places, “as we move in flesh and blood through the environments that use to be important to us” (Järviluoma 2009). Certainly, by walking along meaningful streets, paths, forests or fields, we have all felt this connection of movement, memory and placemaking, both as an individual and as part of an acoustic community. If we have chosen a path connected to our childhood, most of us will have some memory of the smells and sounds associated with our youth. The act of walking thus connects us to a certain part of ourselves that lives outside of time. A reflexive understanding of routes, journeys and exploration helps to theorize place, movement and memory. Both Lee and Ingold describe a double awareness in walking between outward and inward perceptions: “Firstly, walkers can progress outwards to perceive their surroundings in a detailed way, and secondly, they can also turn inwards to the realm of thoughts and the self. In between such outward and inward perceptions, however, there can arise a directness to some of the feelings and experiences generated by walking” (Lee & Ingold 2006).

Myself, the practice of cycling is particularly meaningful in the way I make sense of place and personhood. Biking is a series of familiar gestures, a consistent movement, not only in its circular form, but in way in which I explore a city. My body relaxes on a bicycle, understands its mechanics and language and, for the duration of the ride, I have a conversation with an old friend. In Järviluoma’s words, as the subject using and moving in space, I ‘loosen up’ my knots of memories as I move between memories of the area and a more recent and continuing exploration of it. Lee and Ingold describe this connection as the walker’s “boundaries between the body and the environment [that] are blurred by the movements of both” (Lee & Ingold 2006). The walk (or bike ride) thus becomes part of the dialogue with environment as we begin to connect our personal biographies with the route in which we move.


There is something evocative in revisiting environments that we once moved in and experienced as children—it is important to note that the colloquial expression ‘childhood haunts’ evokes a nostalgic sentiment. It is also important to note that our childhood perception is understood to differ from our adult point of view as memory distorts and is interpretive. As Järviluoma points out, “memories are not copies of the past into present, but always in transition” (Järviluoma 2009). Memories, like sound, are thus contextual and temporal. The French novelist, Marcel Proust, suggests that it is the moment of remembering that is important. This extends into the idea that one’s emotional state and memory are complicit at the subsequent moment of recollection. In other words, the past and the way it is remembered are coloured by one’s current situation and state of mind. As a soundscape researcher, Järviluoma understands this connection between event and emotional state at the time of recall. She has termed this notion of re‐experiencing a sonic event as ‘hearing‐point memory’.

The ‘hearing‐point memory’ (or re‐experiencing sound) is an interesting notion, especially with respect to inner listening and inner voice. If aural memories are imbued with context, then to invoke the context can re‐evoke the acoustic memory. When revisiting a meaningful acoustic environment—and if the structure of the soundscape or soundmark has remained intact—we may hear the same or similar sonic event. Often, however, even if the soundmark has changed or disappeared, we are still able to “hear” these sounds without the physical stimuli. Are we listening when we internalize sounds, voice and music? What are we hearing? As mentioned, the senses help to construct understandings of past places, allowing us to experience and embody the echoes of memory. One such powerful and evocative example is the ability to remember a loved one’s voice—perhaps the voice of a parent. Try to remember the sound of your mother speaking your name and you may hear your name and her voice effortlessly; you may even become emotionally charged. This is due, in part, to our relationship to the context of the spoken word—where a cognitive‐pattern in the auditory cortex of the brain is triggered. We particularly remember inflections, repeated phrases and sounds imbued with meaning—all of which may apply to hearing our name being said by our mothers. And, within the context of mind‐body holism, this experience of sound memory is understood to locate itself within our bodies.

As noted, it is not just our current situation and state of mind that affects memory recall. Scholars, such as memory theorist, Svetlana Boym, have observed that along with repeated events, experiences imbued with strong emotions are best remembered (Boym 2001). In her book, The Future of Nostalgia—a foundational text for the AEC project—Boym examines the concepts of nostalgia, history and memory. According to Boym, the definition of nostalgia (coming from nostos—a returning home and algia—a sense of longing) is a yearning for a home that no longer exists or has never existed. Utilized by AEC scholars, Hyvarinen, Järviluoma, Vikman and Kyto, the term is divided into two parts: restorative and reflective. The former is described as an emotional remembering, considering itself truth and tradition while idealizing the longed for home. The latter is understood as the longing, itself, and as a rational remembering that is not merely melancholy, but that offers ethical and creative challenges in the reconstruction of the past (Hyvarinen


Although remembering is central in the materialization of nostalgia, memory and nostalgic‐memory differ in their aesthetic evaluation. For Boym, “nostalgia is a sentiment of loss and displacement, but also a romance with one’s fantasy” (Boym 2001). Boym traces the history of the concept of nostalgia from the 17th century notion of a curable disease (akin to the common cold) to a 21st century incurable modern condition. The term, first coined in 1688 by a Swiss doctor, describes a nostalgic as someone possessed by a mania of longing with amazing capacities for remembering sensations such as tastes, sounds and smells (Boym 2001). According to Boym’s historical research, sensory modalities such as: gastronomic and auditory nostalgia were of particular importance. Swiss scientists found that “rustic mother’s soups, thick village milk and folk melodies of Alpine valleys [were] conducive to triggering nostalgic reactions in soldiers” (Boym 2001). And, as early as the 17th century, the nostalgic effects of soundmarks and sonic keynotes were being documented—for the Swiss, it was the sounds of cowbells; for the Scots and Highlanders it was the forlorn of the bagpipes. Music was also understood to be a memorative sign and, as Boym writes: “The music of home, whether a rustic cantilena or a pop song, is the permanent accompaniment of nostalgia—its ineffable charm that makes the nostalgic teary‐eyed and tongue‐tied and often clouds critical reflection on the subject” (Boym 2001).

As a curable condition, the remedy for nostalgia was believed to be the physical return to the motherland; however, by the end of the 18th century, doctors discovered that a voyage home did not always treat the symptoms—nostalgia was not merely a demographic disease. What then was the nostalgic’s object of longing?

Although we tell different stories of belonging and nonbelonging, Boym suggests that the emotion of longing might be what we all share as human beings. And, as a typology mentioned above [restorative and reflective], nostalgia “characterizes one’s relationship to the past, to the imagined community, to home and to one’s own self‐perception” (Boym 2001).

It is in this vein that soundscape researcher, Tero Hyvarinen, understands the object of nostalgia. In his article, “’Putt Putt’ and ‘Mur’: Old Inboard Engine and Nostalgia”, Hyvarinen examines the set values attached to the sounds of a kerosene engine. His study reveals the changing significance of the sound: from a source of power associated with fishing activity to the wonderful sign of spring to an element of local identity and, finally, to a source of aesthetic pleasure (Hyvarinen 2009). Hyvarinen states that scholars, including Boym, have too negative a definition of the term as nostalgia is not limited to an abstract attitude, but contains characteristics and qualities that help to facilitate remembering (Hyvarinen 2009) —characteristics that may even manifest as a positive activity. According to Hyvarinen, nostalgia is most useful if we treat it in broad terms and not merely as an emotional phenomenon of idealized memories. He states: “Of course it can be a sad and futile yearning for a disappearing sound. However, at its most fruitful, nostalgia for the sound of the old engine opens up possibilities for sensible acts from the point of view of the soundscape, such as the aim to acoustically design engine sounds” (Hyvarinen 2009). As part of an acoustic design, the sound of the kerosene engine— and the provocation of nostalgia—can thus be an analytical tool that contains information, sense perception and even enjoyment.


In this paper, the relationships between memory, the senses and movement have been examined from the viewpoint of embodied sound cognition and the practice of soundwalking. I have offered a link between such interdisciplinary fields—soundscape studies, anthropology, psychology, education, health and medicine, and gerontology—in the understanding of both individual and collective remembering. As I previously mentioned, when we walk, we form a relationship with place and personhood, connecting our biography with the route in which we move. Sensory ethnographer, Sarah Pink, contends: “While individual memories are related to collective memories, it is also worth noting the relationship of the senses and memory in the context of biographical research” (Pink 2009). The experiences of sensory modalities, memory and movement in our environments are thus valid sources of ethnographic information.

Soundscape studies include an empirical understanding of the senses as interrelated and interconnected; the discipline’s theoretical framework has historically explored aural sensibility, perception, and knowledge and has utilized the practice of soundwalks to walk and engage with others. As Lee and Ingold describe: “We cannot simply walk into other people’s worlds, and expect thereby to participate with them. To participate is not to walk into but to walk with—where ‘with’ implies not a face‐to‐face confrontation, but heading the same way, sharing the same vistas, and perhaps retreating from the same threats behind” (Lee & Ingold 2006). Since the discursive terrain of sensory ethnography (Pink 2009) is part of a new and growing paradigm in ethnographic and scholarly practice, soundscape researchers have an opportunity to voice what other disciplines have previously failed to account for. The question then becomes one of methodology: How do we learn about other people’s sensory embodied knowing and remembering? And, in turn, how do researchers situate their own sensory emplacement and memory in relation to the people that they study? What this paper offers, then, is an exploration of walking and listening with others and how the practice of soundwalking can be a method of understanding, itself: “the record of the walk, and of the experience it affords, is just as important—and just as valid a source of field material—as the record of the ‘discourse’ that might have accompanied it” (Lee & Ingold,2006).

Jennifer Schine is a graduate student in the School of Communication at Simon Fraser University. Her research investigates concepts of identity, memory and movement within the field of acoustic communication and soundscape studies. She is interested in the relationships between audio heritage, listening practices and other worldviews.


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