Announcing the winners of the SWS Awards 2022

Setting our sights on Sound Walk September 2023, we also close the year 2022, which includes announcing the winners of the Sound Walk September Awards 2022.

After announcing the SWS22 shortlist in November, based on excellent work from our newly created Online Jury, our Grand Jury deliberated on narrowing down that list of 13 soundwalks to just a few.

Contrary to previous years, the Grand Jury this year was able to identify a single winner. On the other hand, they selected no fewer than three honourable mentions.

Whereas in 2020 and 2021, with the pandemic raging around us, we were somewhat surprised by the still large number of submissions, the numbers in 2022 were somewhat smaller. We suspect the cause being that, at least for commissioned pieces, the submissions for 2020 and 2021 had already been ‘in the pipeline’ before COVID came and shook things up.

Whereas in previous years, events during SWS were also eligible for the SWS Awards, we decided to exclude these for 2022. It is simply not reasonable to expect that a jury, any jury, can meaningfully review events remotely, while the chance that more than one of the members of the jury would be present at any one event is too small to be reasonably likely.

The final tally of submissions for the SWS Awards 2022 was 69 pieces, down from 91 pieces in 2021, but still up from 65 pieces in 2020, which we take to indicate that our reach is increasing. (Though for both 2020 and 2021, the number of eligible works was even larger due to the inclusion of events.)

We’ve been very happy to see that the quality of the submitted pieces has never been higher, in terms of content, context, production, and breadth. This perhaps made the selection process somewhat more challenging, while this at the same time was eased by our being able to lean on our new Online Jury, using a new and comprehensive reviewing process which allows for a much clearer and more objective selection process.

Prizes

The winner receives a one year gold membership of WLC, valued at 100 euros. The honourable mentions receive a one year silver membership, valued at 50 euros. In addition, winners and honourable mentions will receive a physical commemoration, an award. Keep track of our social media to see them popup over the coming weeks.

Winner: Ghosthunter N16

The winner of the SWS22 Award, Laura Mitchison, impressively takes home the prize for a second time, also having come away as a winner of the SWS20 Awards.

Here’s member of our Grand Jury John talking about Laura’s piece:

This work is a highly evocative sound walk. It can be appreciated in the comfort of your own home, but if you are in town, Ghosthunter N16, or Are you a Ghost Hunter? affords the perfect excuse to visit the fascinating Old Church in Stoke Newington, East London. Kaleidoscopic vignettes are folded into this ostensibly short but substantial walk, which opens up the multi-layered psychogeography of the church and churchyard. A careful blend of registers and multiple voices is at play but is never overly complex.
We are led by a personable guide, Abstract Benna, who addresses the listener directly, woven with a second voice, that of the informed expert, Jean Sprackland. Other voices include Stoke Newington School students exploring the significance of abolitionist James Stevens, and a contemporary man who inhabited the life of a graveyard fox.
The geographic signposting ensures we are situated in the right location.
There is a nuanced use of ambience, with the sounds modulated by the shifting acoustic architecture, most prominent with the resonant singing voice of Sam Lee, who is acoustically in place.
Overall the work is successful due to the dramatic pacing and control of the polyphony of narratives expertly edited by Laura Mitchison.

Honourable mentions

Competition was fierce, but the three honourable mentions, below, stood out just a tad more from the remainder of the shortlist.

Birling Gap

Tony Onuchukwu created a soundscape with a focus on Birling Gap. Read Grand Jury member Andrea‘s take:

Birling Gap is a coastal hamlet that forms part of the Seven Sisters coastline, a series of towering white chalk cliffs overlooking the English Channel near Eastbourne, East Sussex. Described by the National Trust as “[a]n ever-changing landscape, where the South Downs meet the sea” due to the constant effect of erosion, Birling Gap is a place of sublime beauty.

Isabella Bonner-Evans and Tony Onuchukwu translate the majestic atmosphere of Birling Gap into a sound walk, replete with a melodic soundtrack accompanying Bonner-Evans’ tranquil narration.

Birling Gap is an intimate meditation on walking, eternal transformation, and the interconnection between memory and place. We learn about the monumental landscape from the narrator and how her geographical marvel is inextricably woven with her introspective expedition that oscillates between joy and remorse.

Night Walk

This piece was created by Eleanor Rycroft. This is what Grand Jury member Annie thought of Night Walk:

Night Walk follows a group of 17 women walking through Clifton Downs, Bristol, at midnight in July 2022. A significant area for histories of gender, sexuality and race in the city, the listener is let into this unique political act of reclaiming space through a raw and honest walk addressing critical current issues about the safety of women in a location historically associated with sex-work and, with a history of sexual assault and rape culture, as recent as 2021. 

The jury felt that this was an extremely powerful and moving work revealing unheard voices and herstories through the staging of a protest empowering women and addressing the inequalities embedded in society. Personal stories question the privilege and power of women walking, exposing the dichotomy of the importance of walking for mental health against the dangers for women walking alone. The walk can be experienced in any location but for those able, it invites listeners to walk along the same stretch of the Ladies Mile.
The technical production is affected by wind noise but the rawness of this adds to the energy in the walk that gives it urgency and agency.

Our co-founder Andrew ads to this:

When I first listened to Night Walk, I thought the sound design of the walking piece was clumsy, with jump cuts and limited cross-fades between studio recorded excerpts and snatches of conversations recorded outdoors with the walkers taking part. On the second listen, I realised how brilliant the content was, and what it was trying to achieve, in celebrating women walking together, and, in turn, I also learnt a lot about the history of the Ladies Mile and Clifton Downs which I had always thought was public space open to anyone.
I hadn’t appreciated the contested history of the area nor thought it had had such a colourful one. Clearly this midnight walk – a protest march – needed to be documented but Night Walk is much more than that as it is a joyous celebration, into which you are plunged, and you can’t help be feel that you are walking together with the participants.

Wanders in the (wild) smart city

Jo Scott submitted two pieces for this year’s award, both, in a way, complementing each other. Here’s what Grand Jury member Josh has to say about Jo’s piece, Wanders in the (wild) smart city.

Out of research comes art, which is not necessarily a foregone conclusion. Jo Scott has produced a thought-provoking and also beautiful sound walk. It brings to our attention the unnoticed and overlooked, exploring the unseen digital networks monitoring and assessing our behaviour, without us being aware of this. We are often not surprised to see statistics about our urban space – the number of road users, when people are out and about, where they park their car – but we often forget that we are contributing to these numbers, that we are a living, unwilling, statistic.

Whenever we cross the road or stop at a traffic light, these actions are increasingly recorded and stored for posterity. It’s this hidden and non-consensual activity to which Scott draws us, then spotlighting and playing on its presence, like a will-o-the-wisp suddenly revealed by torchlight. In fact, Scott draws us unwittingly towards the spirituality of the smart city – bringing the elusive ‘data spirits’ into life musically.

Through this combination of artistry, urban commentary and movement, Scott conjures the spirit of psychogeography, encouraging us to re-see our environment and develop a dialogue with the unseen. The range of recording techniques, use of narrative voice, music, and field recording made this a stand-out piece, effortlessly combining different recording and production techniques.

Scott also intended to ‘prompt more porous and open states of being’, and while being a lofty aim, the tangential spirituality which pervades the piece brings us closer to achieving that through metaphor. An engaging and enjoyable piece, which stands up to closer scrutiny with or without its accompanying research.

Our co-founder Babak adds to this:

Scott’s soundwalk is intriguing, topical, funny, relevant, political, and well produced. The user is taken on a walk through Manchester, where the narrator uncovers both the more visible and more hidden features of the urban landscape which are part of the now common surveillance infrastructure monitoring our every move in almost whichever city we find ourselves in.

Manchester has tried to be a kind of trailblazer for the concept of the smart city, and started implementing technologies, in cooperation with IT market leaders, at a time when we, the general public, not yet understood the consequences of surveillance capitalism.
It’s never too late to turn back the clock on this abuse we experience daily, but this has to start with us understanding how we are affected, and this begins by us educating ourselves. Wanders does exactly that, and is not only insightful, but funny, and fun, too.

Changes are a-coming

Looking ahead to what’s happening this year, we’ve got a major announcement just around the corner, so keep an eye out.

Meanwhile, we have decided to move towards working with an Advisory Board for walk · listen · create, a consequence of which being that we have disbanded the Advisory Board for Sound Walk September. The SWS Advisory Board will be transformed into a Grand Jury, to the extent that this process was already started for 2022, with members serving a maximum of three years (though we might make a small exception to that for 2023).

If you are interested to serve as part of either the Online Jury or Grand Jury, give us a shout.

The first submissions for the Sound Walk September Awards 2023 have already come in. What are you creating this year?

Thank you!

The SWS Awards involve a lot of people. Besides the three founders of WLC, this includes a Grand Jury and an Online Jury, all of whom took significant amounts of time to review all submissions.

Of course, this award would be impossible without you, walking artists, creating, and then submitting, your work. Please, don’t stop!

Finally, we’re also able to make this happen, thanks to our broader community, specifically because of those that support WLC with gold and silver memberships. Thank you!

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