Soundwalk – Passing Stranger

Video and Sound / Week 1 / Soundwalk – Passing Stranger

I’ll be honest. My expectations from a soundwalk weren’t very high. “Coupling a walk in the street with an audio file, what’s so new about that? People do that all the time.” is what I had in my mind.


The soundwalk turned out to be a revelation, a new experience. I opted for Passing Stranger, due to my affinity towards the Beat Generation ( incidentally, I had presented the book cover for Jack Kerouac’s Dharma Bums in the visual language class earlier in the day ). Kerouac, Ginsberg, Whitman, Hara, Mayer and so many others; to listen to their voices, to listen to their words, to be acquainted with where they spent most of their lives, it was beautiful. Listening to unashamed, charismatic, cracking, prophetic voices of artists and finding my way through the concrete structures, through their tombs (in a metaphoric sense) I felt transported back in time.

“PASSING stranger! you do not know how longingly I look upon you”
– To A Stranger, Walt Whitman

The first verse from Whitman’s poem ‘To a Stranger‘ talks about how the poet longingly looks at the passing stranger and gets nostalgic. The difference this time round was that it was not the poet looking at the stranger, but the stranger looking at remnants of the poet, a place that has established itself as a reminder of the poets and authors who had prospered in this very setting. The place has changed, of course. But there are still clues, hints, memorabilia, remnants that can be found here and there, trying to retain themselves in the ever-changing city of New York.

The audio was what made it all come together. The incoherence with which Passing Stranger switched from monologues to jazz music to the commentaries, it was historical reverie. My favorite bit was the story where Jim Jarmusch talks about Ginsberg’s apartment, of how poets would come there to collaborate, to drink, to celebrate, of how Ginsberg would throw down his key from the fourth floor apartment in a sock, of how Kerouac used to write in that very place. And to look at the structure, while Kerouac recited his spontaneous lines, I could visualize it all playing out in front of me.

Underneath, are some photographs taken while I was walking through the East Village:

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