‘Soundwalk’ event encourages NU community to pause, breathe and listen


Mika Ellison/The Daily Northwestern

Teaching artist Veronica Salinas leads soundwalk participants through a deep-listening meditation exercise.

Zella Milfred, Reporter

The chirping of birds, the churning of Lake Michigan, the roaring of a plane overhead — these are sounds overheard on Northwestern’s campus nearly every day, but often go unnoticed. 

About 30 NU students, staff and faculty met in front of the Ryan Center for the Musical Arts Tuesday afternoon to pause and truly listen to their surroundings. Two teaching artists from the Midwest Society for Acoustic Ecology led participants on a soundwalk around the Lakefill to pay attention to noises from both humans and the natural environment.

“It’s like you’re tuning into your ears and allowing your ears to pick up sounds that maybe you wouldn’t hear if you were hustling to class,” teaching artist Veronica Salinas said, who considers this exercise a form of meditation. 

SustainNU organized the soundwalk as a part of its Earth Month programming, and the event was sponsored by One Book One Northwestern. Most participants said they had never experienced a soundwalk before Tuesday’s event.

Following an introductory breathing exercise, Salinas and fellow teaching artist Sara Zalek led the group in a “silent parade” around the Lakefill, pausing at times to prompt participants to focus their attention on specific parts of their surroundings.

At the Lakefill’s entrance, participants stood at one side of the bridge where the sound of rushing water could be easily heard and then walked over to the other side, noticing how the water was silent.

Zalek encouraged participants to shift between kneeling down and standing up to notice how what they heard changed based on their physical orientation. 

Next to the lake, Salinas facilitated a deep listening mediation as participants stood in a circle. JS Anderson (Communication M.A. ’19), an NU audiovisual support engineer, said this meditation was her favorite part of the event.

“I liked the mediation because it felt kind of like a symphony,” Anderson said. “I have never been through a deep listening exercise with so many people in a community.” 

Anderson, who graduated from NU with a masters in Sound Arts and Industries, added that her favorite sound during the walk was the rhythmic crunching of pine cones under everyone’s feet.

Cria Kay, sustainNU’s program coordinator, said she was inspired to organize a soundwalk because of its connection to the environment in celebration of Earth Day.

“People don’t think about the auditory environment, which from a sustainability perspective, has a huge impact on our ecosystems,” Kay said. “And the way we cover up sound or create sound has a big impact on the animals we share our environment with.”

Both Salinas and Zalek said they hope the soundwalk offered participants a fresh perspective of their campus, as well as an opportunity to build relationships with their peers.

They told students to look out for more soundwalks hosted by the Chicago Park District this summer in collaboration with the Midwest Society for Acoustic Ecology. 

“We’re all walking through the same space, yet what we’re perceiving is actually quite different,” Zalek said. “We get to discover all of the different points of view that are walking along with us.”

Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @ZMilfred

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