Hyperessay #3: The Audio Narrative

“When forced to synchronize ourselves with the disembodied pre-recorded voice, our sensory impressions are amplified.” — Janet Cardiff

I was surprised how applicable this thought from Cardiff was when I retraced my aural walk while listening to my audio narrative. It’s true in very simplistic sensory terms: for example, of all the times I’ve walked down Falls Road to McCabe’s, never have I recalled hearing birds chirping like I was strolling through a park. I promise there is nothing park-like about this stretch of town. Yet there they were, a big surprise to me when I heard them on the recording, and on the second walk I didn’t see or hear them again. Nor did I ever really — really — think about the effect my clanging stairs have on me until now. Especially when I’m expecting someone to visit me, or when I’m really wishing someone would, that sound triggers a much more emotional response in me than I thought. I doubt I would have recognized that without this project.

At the same time, taking this walk again while listening to my audio narrative also offered a somewhat surreal experience, as Schaub described as when “we cannot immediately assign what we hear to the outside world or the world inside the headphones.” The cars and busses beeping and rushing past… those are very familiar noises to me when I’m out on Falls Road. More than once I couldn’t quite tell if it was coming through my headphones or happening in real time.

But on a different sensory level, my aural walk was also like the micro-narrative Chambers discusses, the kind of narrative that describes “not merely a space but a place.” Of all the landmarks I chose to discuss, I’m not surprised I subconsciously chose that “Greatest City in America” bench. Not only does it give the listener some kind of feeling for this place as a whole, but that bench is highly symbolic of my own bittersweet feelings towards Baltimore… affectionate yet jaded, critical yet defensive. I came to this city when I was 18 and somehow have managed to stay for 11 years. I’ve planned to leave almost every year, and some job or relationship has always compelled me to stay “just another year or two.” Hearing myself describe my close surroundings was a reminder of my place in this city, and my relationship with it.

Walking by those kids as they were talking trash — my favorite part of the recording — was another example of this reminder of place and my view of Baltimore. I loved that scene… classic Baltimore. They were a group of four early-teens, walking to the corner store, and the big one with the big mouth (isn’t that how it usually is?) was pea-cocking to his friends about how when they get to the store, he’s “gonna get the big drink, y’all know what I’m talkin’ ‘bout. That extra large.” I hear that, and I feel like I’m home. That’s a comforting feeling, and it describes this city well. Yet nothing about that scene could describe who I am. I don’t speak, think, or act that way, ever. Just walking down the street I wouldn’t pay it any mind. But hearing it over and over during this editing process and then again on my walk, I’m surprised how much it served as a reminder of place; that no matter how much I might love this broken little city, I’m a tourist in Baltimore, even if I’ve lived here for a decade.

This is especially surprising to me, as all I really set out to do was to record a lighthearted walk to a bar.

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