Viv Corringham is a singer, walker, listener, based in New York. In her longterm project Shadow-walks, she walks with people in their hometown to explore their sense of place and the walk’s link with personal history and memory.
Below, Viv discusses the background of her work.
Shadow-walks (at home) is a stay-at-home version of my longterm Shadow-walks project, adapted for these times. I am a vocalist and walking sound artist. I work with communities and their sense of place, especially very familiar places, the idea of home and how this relates to memory and personal history.
I have been working on the project Shadow-walks for almost two decades, in Asia, Europe, Australia and the Americas. The process is straightforward. I arrive in a new place and ask local inhabitants to take me on a special walk, one that has been repeated many times and has meaning for that person. While walking together, I record our conversations and their stories. I then go back along the same route alone, trying to get a sense of my previous companion’s traces on the walk, and I sing what I feel using wordless improvisations.
James Joyce wrote that places remember events. I find this idea very engaging – as if everything that happens leaves traces that we might be able to sense. The project Shadow-walks is an attempt to make a person’s traces, their shadow, audible through my singing, improvising voice.
My dilemma in 2020 was how to continue this work in a pandemic. The project is essentially embodied: walking through a place in physical proximity with another person.
The motion of walking allows a certain mental freedom and translates a place to a person kinaesthetically. Sung improvisations and shared conversations flow more easily with the motion of walking. But when it became impossible to walk with people because of lockdowns or travel restrictions, I needed to find a different approach. I decided to ask volunteers to send me recorded descriptions of their special walks. These could be walks they remembered, daily walks they wished they could still do, or walks they could take alone but not with me.
My singing in the original Shadow-walks project is an intuitive response, using my body- memory of the shared walk. I remember what happened in different places as I walk the route alone – perhaps we were laughing or maybe the person was recounting a painful memory. Something we saw together might stir a memory when I reach that place and trigger my singing. Or the walk might have had a definite shape that I use like a vocal score. Without these cues from a physically experienced walk the improvisations in Shadow-walks (at home) have to respond to how I imagine the walk from listening to people’s recorded descriptions.
For Geert Vermeire’s haunting tale of sleeping, dreaming and butterflies in The Alps I emphasised this dreamlike aspect through my singing and by scrambling his story into fragments that evoke rather than explain.
Amanda Gutierrez, a Mexican woman based in Montreal but stranded by lockdown in Abu Dhabi, shared thoughts and feelings about safety as a woman, the meaning of home and her own situation in which she felt like a bird migrating from place to place.
Rick Wilson described his regular local walk in a Welsh landscape, which he is still able to do. He recorded the description as he walked the terrain. I improvised my singing as I listened to his words and I felt as if I was walking there with him, through the vivid detail and sense of place his words conjured up.
Catherine Clover’s special walk by the Merri Creek in Coburg, a suburb of Melbourne, Australia, is one that she and her dog do daily. Her description of the walk branched out to include her interests in connections between Indigenous languages and landscape.
My imagined versions of these described walks no doubt differ from the actual territories walked by the participants, but my vocals continue to reflect my attempt to sense anoth- er person’s traces. And as with my earlier Shadow-walks, in this Shadow-walks (at home) version I am moved and inspired by people’s willingness to share their intimate memories, emotions and insights.
Viv’s reflection is the sixth in a series of the artists shortlisted for the Sound Walk September 2020 Awards talking about their work.