The art of sound walking is slowly, but surely, moving out of its niche, and more into the mainstream. This, underscored by an amazing commission that, if you’re based in the UK, is waiting for you.
Historic England is working with the National Trust, to launch a series of sound walks focussed on six English high streets during Heritage Open Days, 10-19 September 2021, nicely coinciding with this year’s Sound Walk September.
The sound walks will be self-guided and create an immersive soundscape, unique to each high street, to inspire people to experience their environment in a new way. The sound walks will be made available to future visitors to the high street via an online, open access platform, for at least the life of the Cultural Programme, until March 2024, and beyond.
The tender is offered as part of the High Streets Heritage Action Zone National Commissioning Programme (how does that fit on a business card?), for which Historic England is working with the National Trust to launch a series of sound walks on six ‘High Street Heritage Action Zones’.
The walks should invite listeners to look closer at the heritage that’s on their doorstep, their local high street. Historic England envisions that the commissioned artists will work in collaboration with local people on each high street, to bring out the marvels that communities want to share, with co-creation at the heart of the project.
To engage local communities, Historic England will work with Heritage Open Days and local organisations to introduce the commissioned creatives to groups on each high street.
Tenders can be submitted by organisations, consortia, or individual creatives, experienced in co-creating stories, narrative, and content that is rooted in local people and their stories.
Applicants have to have worked with sound before, and be able to deliver six sound walks dispersed across the country. The appointed applicant will design, manage and deliver the project with support from Historic England and National Trust.
The six high streets will be picked from the list below, with one from each region:
- North West: Fleetwood
- North West: Barrow
- North East and Yorkshire: Huddersfield
- North East and Yorkshire: Hull
- Midlands: Buxton
- Midlands: Grantham
- London and South East: Tottenham
- London and South East: Reading
- South West: Plymouth
- South West: Redruth
- East of England: North Walsham
- East of England: Great Yarmouth
This is the first time that Historic England is looking at providing access to English Heritage through sound walks. Tamsin Silvey, Cultural Programme Curator at Historic England, says: “We decided that sound walks would be an excellent way of getting people to consider their local, everyday, heritage afresh. We want the commissioned artists to create self-guided immersive soundscapes inspired by local voices that guide visitors along a high street and encourage them to look at their environment in new ways.”
Previous innovative projects from which they are taking their cues include A Mile in My Shoes by the Empathy Museum, in which participants are invited to literally walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, A High Street Odyssey by Inspector Sands, a kind of audio drama set in a British High Street, and Hackney Hear, a (now defunct) mobile app which allowed the user to discover, through audio prompts, the London borough of Hackney. Tamsin: “We felt these were brilliant examples of using sound to unearth hidden histories and animate familiar places and spaces in a way that made people engage with the heritage around them.”
If you decide to submit, the technology you’d like to use is up to you. “We envisage the sound walks will be uploaded to an open access platform where each walk is transferred to a local organisation – for example a tourism office, Business Improvement District or cultural organisation – to host, so the walks have a legacy beyond Heritage Open Days.”
Tamsin continues: “Proposals should include suggestions for versions that can be experienced away from the high street and versions that are interpreted for deaf and hard of hearing people, so that the sound walks are accessible as possible as 1 in 6 adults in the UK are affected by hearing loss.”
Specifically, Historic England hopes that the commissioned sound walks will facilitate engagement between the public and English heritage. Tamsin again: “A third of the audience for Heritage Open Days doesn’t make any other heritage visits during the year; this commission therefore offers us the opportunity to reach groups who do not normally visit or engage with culture or heritage.”
Anyone over 18, based in England, and not enrolled in full time education, can apply, with Historic England particularly welcoming applications from artists who define as Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic, LGBTQ+ or are disabled, and organisations that are led by people with these experiences and working with these groups.