Digbeth Listening Walk – David Prior

A great mix of people gathered at the bronze bull in Birmingham on a sunny March Friday afternoon ready to utilise both our walking and listening skills.
This walk is an ear opening experience that gave us all a very different ‘view’ of Birmingham. Lead by composer David Prior (one half of Liminal, along with architect Frances Crow), we are encouraged to listen – really stop and listen – to the sounds surrounding us.

The first lesson we learn is that perhaps we hear the noise surrounding us because that’s what we expect e.g. cars and people, but what are we missing? On the first exercise stop outside Bullring, I noticed a can of drink being opened – a soft sound heard in possibly the noisiest part of Birmingham! Thereafter, David devised exercises to help us work out how high and how far the sounds we hear come from. Instruments are handed out to amplify the sound world: basic ear trumpets transform the environment and while the stethescopes are usually silent, when they work they really work.

Aside from our newly honed listening skills, we are treated to a slow walk through Birmingham’s markets and into the Fazeley Street area of Digbeth, streets we otherwise wouldn’t walk on without a specific purpose. The most treasured fact I learnt was how an “owl’s head is a spoffle”. “If you ever get a chance to poke an owl’s head…” suggested David, and went on to describe how the owl’s head is largely feathered, like a BBC fluffy outdoor microphone. If you are flying fast through the air but listening out for the mouse on the ground, your head needs to be a spoffle

David has an archetypal analogy for all the acoustic spaces we move through: Bullring was a canyon, St Martin’s a cavern, the indoor market a forest… other spaces were their own analogy: viaduct tunnels and open brushland. Walking through Birmingham without noticing all these sound conditions will now be impossible.

(Rickie Josen)