Electric Walks – Mobile Music #9


Electric WalksElectric Walks is an analog example of mobile audio sound art. The work was created by Christina Kubisch and follows on from her earlier experiments with electromagnetic installations. The installations used headphones that allowed the listener to hear the sounds of audio as it travelled through wires throughout the installation, with Kubisch determining the audio. Kubisch later moved away from these fixed installations towards a more aleatoric experience with Electric Walks. To achieve this she developed headphones that allowed the sound of the preexisting electrical devices to be heard.  This allows the listener to experience the sound of things like ATMs, mobile phones and lighting and to hear the invisible world of electricity that exists in their lives.


Kubisch’s interest in hearing electromagnetic induction lies somewhere between the aesthetic of the electrical sounds and drawing the listener’s attention to the invisible world of electricity around them. The work provides a window into the inaudible electrical frequency spectrum allowing the listener to hear the induction of the electrical devices all around them and is the most analogue mobile music work I have come across to date. It allows the listener to hear the sounds of electrical devices that they meet on a daily basis by using custom headphones that can convert frequencies in the electromagnetic spectrum to sound. All electrical devices create an electromagnetic field around them and magnetic coils in the headphones pick up these fields. The electromagnetic signal is then amplified and passed to the headphone speakers for the listener to hear. By walking around area with different devices the listener can hear the sounds of the devices in action.


The sounds of electrical devices vary with each device with some of the sounds being compared to minimal techno artists Alva Noto and PanSonic. Kubisch herself has said that listening to some sounds for extended periods is similar to the drone music of the composer La Monte Young. Sounds from local infrastructure, trams and metros, contribute to the sonic characteristic of a city and give each city its own sonic character. Audio examples from different Electric Walks installations are available on Cabinet Magazine’s website and provide an idea of what might be heard, but part of the experience is open to the listener exploring the invisible sonic landscape and cannot be captured as a recording.

An aspect of the experience of Electric Walks is to allow the listener to hear the electromagnetic noise of their everyday life and to be aware of the invisible electromagnetic frequencies around them. When the walks are hosted, Kubisch provides the participants with a map of areas of interest in the vicinity, but the listener is not required to follow the map and encouraged to explore using the headphones. The audio is an aleatoric experience with the listener able to control the audio through their movement. The work is an example of locative sound art and is an elegant approach to making the listener aware of the ubiquity of electrical devices in our everyday lives.