Soundwalking is one resource that may help to improve patients’ experiences of clinical settings. Soundwalking is a framed exercise in active listening. A soundwalk could take place anywhere such as a park, restaurant or the city block. Soundwalks have been organized for various groups, including New Music concert seasons, urban planning and ornithology gatherings, and conferences on sound.

Soundwalk methodologies have also been manifest in a “virtual” context; that is, where the participant experiences the acoustic environment as a three-dimensional recording played through headphones. The goal of the soundwalk is to prioritize the act of listening in order to become receptive to the sounds of the environment.

For many patients, clinical environments bring about anxiety, stress, uncertainty, and sometimes fear. Studies have shown that high anxiety levels can cause a breakdown in communication between patients and doctors. Although doctors and other healthcare providers are aware of this problem, implementing a system that is easy, affordable, and non-disruptive to the pattern of healthcare can be very challenging. Therefore, our novel approach is one of the first attempts at improving the psychological experience of patients in clinics by immersing them in a virtual environment using an easy and non-invasive method.

Soundwalks consist of 3 diverging parameters: time, space, and event. These become the parameters for deriving meaning from the sonic environment. During a soundwalk, the environment can be experienced from a performative perspective, wherein the listener becomes an active participant listening and attentively moving through the space. The sounds emitted are not limited to the environment and include the sounds produced by the participant, such as footsteps or breathing. This in turn leads to a real-time soundscape composition that is unique to the individual participating in the soundwalk. The premise of a soundscape composition is to re-contextualize or re-embody the environment. It provides the possibility to place focus or specificity on producing an imaginative space that the listener can associate with and evoke memories.
During focus groups and participatory design sessions, we noticed that some patients were sensitive to certain sounds. The health literature mentions this hypersensitivity, but almost no studies examined the nature of problematic sounds. Since sound and music pervades our projects, we therefore studied this phenomenon, which also resulted in an immersive system that includes spatialized sound in order to reduce the anxiety patients experience waiting for clinical appointments.

Simon Fraser University Pain Studies Lab

  • Dr. Diane Gromala
  • Dr. Chris Shaw
  • Mark Nazemi
  • Maryam Mobini
  • Tyler Kinnear – UBC