Khaya: I am so honored and thrilled to have been shortlisted for this award, not only because I want to win it, but because I get to reflect on and tell the story of how and why it was created.
The first day I talked to Noah was during the height of the COVID19 pandemic, in the COVID-era makeshift employees-only section of a bar where he was helping my best friend, the bartender. I had special privileges when my best friend was mixing drinks, so I got to be inside the warm Williamsburg bar while the rest of its patrons drank in an outdoor patio area called “the shack.”
In the dimly lit bar my crush for him enhanced as we tentatively pulled down our masks and got to talking about sound walks. I recommended he experience Her Long Black Hair, one of my favorite pieces, which takes the listener on a loop through central park on a quest to match the locations of photographs taken of a woman with long, dark hair and a red peacoat.
The creator of the sound walk found the photographs at a flea market and constructed an imaginative and beautiful work that made me feel like I wasn’t in a physical city but wandering in someone else’s dream.
The next time I went to the bar, I was sitting in the shack with some friends and Noah told me he had made the trip across boroughs and did the sound walk. I was shocked he followed through, and giddy because it meant he probably liked me. But nothing came of the relationship at that time.
Noah moved back to Maine, where he’s from, and I stayed grinding away in the city, eventually working at that same bar.
We wrote each other letters.
The letter writing eventually led to my visiting him in Maine in January 2022, a week before I was to go to London for a two month songwriting trip. We wrote our first song together then, and started our band, Telescope Club. We FaceTimed almost every night while I was in London, and he ended up coming to visit, something that meant so much to me as I was alone in a new city. I was 24, and I was lost even if I didn’t know it.
For me, going to London felt like an escape from a hectic life back in New York, where I’d piled up jobs and commitments, where the hustle never stopped and I never felt like I had time to breath. I gave up my lease and committed to moving out of New York City.
I went to London (which is dumb, I know, because it is just as expensive and crazy as NYC) and wrote songs with strangers every day.
At this point I was gambling, hoping that one of the songs I wrote made me some money so I could make art for the rest of my life.
When I wasn’t writing songs I was alone. Walking, writing, reading, exploring, searching.
One day on an aimless walk I stumbled upon Merlin Trotter’s boat, home of the tarot reader along the regent’s canal. The word tarot stood out to me as if painted in neon because of how desperate I was for guidance, the way a almost anything looks good when you’re hungry.
When Noah came to visit, upon walking along the regent’s canal, I brought him to Merlin Trotter. After we left, while meandering down the canal, the idea for the sound walk began. It was completely inspired by Her Long Black Hair.
We picked several locations and photographed them. We sat in pubs and brainstormed what the locations had to say, what we had to say about them, how they connected, what they could show us.
Noah: Khaya introduced me to a couple of well-known sound walks and I was hooked on this new (to me) form of art. As musicians we live within sounds realm and work to evoke emotions or desires or past memories. A sound walk adds another dimension and makes a single experience of a piece of art more memorable and engaging by bringing in physical space, real sounds, nature, smells, and bodily motion.
We had a trip planned to London and we had been recently inspired by Her Long Black Hair to incorporate images that have nostalgia and longing. So we planned, but only a little bit, and when we got there I burned the rest of the scraps of change I had in my pocket on a 35mm point-and-shoot, some rolls of film, and we walked the canal for a couple hours.
We came upon some cool spots, my favorite of which being the “shark”.
Looking back, these spots were relatively arbitrary and random; I likely decided to take a picture based more on what I thought would be a good shot rather than how we could elaborate on philosophical ideas in the elements of the scene. But when I look at the images now, they seem so familiar and real.
When I listen to what we wrote and narrated, I am brought back to how I felt when I was standing there behind the camera. I’m not sure if anyone else learned to feel nostalgic about the sounds and images as I did, but I think we at least succeeded in capturing our own little time machine; a tool that whenever we feel like it, will transport us back to the canal, together, to see the plastic shark amongst the current, even long after they have decided to remove it.
Khaya: Lovesick, I returned to New York earlier than planned. I was too alone in the foreign city, but didn’t feel any more comfort in my own. I toured with my band, travelled far and wide to write songs, and visited Noah in Maine. I was growing exhausted with the travel, and waiting for the more settled time in my life that Merlin promised was coming in the next six months.
Here are words that Noah and I wrote in introduction, in exploring why Tarot was so intriguing to us at the time:
The truth is that life is unpredictable. As humans, we tend to not accept this, and rather than to accept change as a constant, we attempt to predict it, control it, stabilize it. So, let this walk be a challenge… be open to change. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll end up on the canal with a new perspective.
It was written in a tone directed to an outside listener. But obviously, these words were for us. I wanted to feel comfortable with my rapidly changing life, with the gaping blank that was my future as a girl in her twenties living in fairly catastrophic times.
I went back to London in October, to follow up on the songs from the previous trip, and to mark the physical and temporal element of the sound walk with the photographs Noah and I had taken at the start of that year.
In the hours leading up to my flight from Maine, Noah and I anxiously printed the photographs with the QR codes to the sound walk on them, bought picture frames, and dreaded the minute we’d have to say goodbye.
I couldn’t have predicted that it would be the last time I’d be away from Noah for a year straight.
We now live together, off grid in midcoast Maine, in a house we built ourselves on his grandmother’s land. Merlin was right, and I am in a more settled time. Noah and I play shows, record and tour as Telescope Club. We hope to make it back to London one day to perform.
So to get the notice that something we made together during such an unstable time in both of our lives was recognized, let alone listened to by anyone other than ourselves is extremely affirming to the radical change that my life has undergone in the past couple of years. It makes me feel like I’m in the right place, which, in the scary times that are 2023, is a comfort I do not take for granted.
The winners and honourable mentions of the SWS Awards 2023 will be announced in January 2024.