A couple of months ago, I was walking near Mill Ruins Park with friends and artists Naomi Crocker and Michael Legan. Naomi asked if either of us had ever thought about how cities sounded in the past. We thought aloud about how trolleys, horses, buggies, newspaper boys, grain elevators may have once characterized where we were. We lamented that there aren’t sound archivists in this way, people dedicated to conserving the sonic landscape as well as the built. While we walked, our sneakers rustled the grass and patted the pavement. The river rushed in the distance.
When I think about what characterizes a place, I think of how it moves, and the sounds this movement can create. For Lawrence Halprin, who designed the first iteration of Nicollet Mall, a street is composed of dynamic elements that activate and are activated by people moving on the street. In his book Cities, the chapter entitled “Choreography,” Halprin says:
While walking in the city down a quiet street, the surroundings are comparatively static. Buildings and objects move past at a slow speed and the effect is relatively quiet and unhurried. Objects are seen in the same position long enough so that their relationship is clearly established and perceptible. The cross movements and staccato qualities arise only from other pedestrians who establish movement patterns of their own. The crisscross sense of overlappings comes mainly from these opposings and crossings, and they create eddies of motion, like water currents in a river.
Benches, water fountains, plants, and otherwise fixed objects in the space are in motion because of a person’s shifting perspective as they navigate a space and create visual and acoustic variance, simply by being there in their unique body. I thought about the sounds and tempo of my body, and my body walking Nicollet Mall. So, on November 5, 2019 I took a walk and recorded it on a Zoom H1N Handy Recorder. I started at the library and went south, crossed 8th street, then walked north. It was a bit cold and windy. It was getting dark out. As the visual quality of the mall diminished, I became more aware of the sounds of rush hour.
A little over halfway through, I took a detour into the IDS to see the fountain inside the Crystal Court. I exited. Buses hissed. Marvin Gaye was piped in through outdoor speakers. People smoke cigarettes, I cough. There’s business talk—it moved past me, and I past it.
Many thanks to Michael Legan for adjusting the levels on this file so that it is more listenable.