Elastic City was started to answer the question, "How do you travel in a city that you live in?" Founder Todd Shalom's answer was to discover a new way to experience it—in a series of walks, designed and executed by various artists chosen by him. Todd, a poet, performer, and active member of the New York Society for Acoustic Ecology, gives his own walks based on sound. The most recent of these soundwalks, "Brighton Zaum," expands the participants' experience of the city through an awareness its noises, while also giving them the chance to actively create sound poetry with the city. A guide, a leader, a teacher, but above all an artist, Todd melts into the background of the walks, allowing the participants to use the practical and poetic awareness he gives them to open up to the city in a completely new way. "Brighton Zaum" continues through August. Buy tickets here. Other Elastic City walks are here.

One of the first things you established on the Brighton Beach walk was that people don't notice the sounds they hear everyday, which you drove home by showing less than half the participants could recognize the sound of their keys with their eyes closed. Why do you think it's important for people to become aware of everyday sounds, especially the everyday sounds of the city they live in? Because it's an oft ignored sense. I mean, pretty simply. We all have our taste in music, but we really don't know the sounds that we live with. So the idea is if we can tune more into the sounds of the environment, the sounds that are around us, then we'll make more conscious decisions of what sounds we want to have in our lives, what sounds we choose to create, and what sounds we choose to have.

Part of your role in the Brighton walk was giving definitions of acoustic terms, such as attack and decay, and pointing out examples of them throughout the walk. What do you hope the knowledge of these terms and what they refer to will give the participants? It kinda ties into the last question. There is an education component to this walk. I mean it's kinda a 101 primer in acoustic ecology terms but also some terms from acoustics. I think with a knowledge of these things one can be informed of how they listen. And in doing so, it really brings the focus to listening. Some people do not know that sounds are waves, that sound is vibration. So when we did that exercise with acoustic shadows, this idea that walls or other things can actually block the sound waves and that's why we don't hear something as well or sound is muffled or something. It's like I just want people to more fully realize the sounds that we're listening to.

The name of the Brighton Beach walk, "Zaum," is a poetic ideal where the sounds of the words are holier than the things they represent—so are the sounds that people discover on the walk transcending the city, or holier than what they're showing about the city, or bringing people closer to the city? I can't speak for anyone, except for my own experience. My intention is that we simply play close attention to the sounds, and that we also pay close attention to the sounds that we make as well. That's why when we're doing exercises and actually making poems out of sound, as opposed to out of words, we're doing so in an effort to explore how we communicate with each other. And then when we make a visual poem, for instance, some people actually responded really well to that. Some people communicate better using non-verbal language. Other people by using sounds that are not words. And then other people using words. We really try to explore all those things on the walk. Also we're in a neighborhood that's Russian. And there was a Russian girl on the walk. So she had a totally different interpretation of what was going on, especially when we had our eyes closed and at different points when we could hear people. But for us, it's all quote "Russian" if you don't actually understand it. So we're listening to Russian as if it is sound poetry.

The Brighton Beach walk ends with the group collaborating on writing a poem in the sand, which you refer to as moving back to a language we all know, after spending the walk in the language of sound. Do you see your walks moving beyond sound, and if so, what do you see as the unifying principle behind the walks? I do think my walks, my walks personally, I do think they'll move beyond sound. There'll probably be a sonic element, given that it's something that I'm interested in and that it's something that comes very fluidly for me. At the same time, this walk is an extension on walks I've done before. Usually the soundwalks are active listening walks. We create sounds at times but in this walk we're actually exploring it through visual poetry and sound poetry. Like making sounds with our mouth that we don't do in my previous soundwalks. So I do think I'll continue to build upon this idea of making poetry in different media. That's actually been really exciting for this walk, to see how people respond. And it's really invigorating to me, so I want to keep pushing on that.

You choose each person to design a walk based on their expertise. So as a poet, what expertise do you bring to your walks? I guess it's just the idea of me having expertise that I'm shy about. I don't know if I'm ready to admit I have expertise in any area. Sort've artistically how I moved is that I started off in poetry, and then moved to creating sound works, like sound art, and then moved into more performative works. It's always been interesting—for instance, Walter Murch, the film editor, would say that a cut in a film is like the blink of an eye. So how do you translate then, a line break in a poem? How does, I don't know, how does the juxtaposition between something that's left on the street with the surrounding buildings, become sculptural? It's like I look on the street for its poetry, according to whatever vocabulary I've just kind of built up, the ways in which things are communicating with each other. And sometimes it's really obvious, and then sometimes you might have to manipulate the situation in order to make it that. Sometimes on these walks we are manipulating the situation by going into a grocery store and playing the sounds that are there. We are actually creating our own work. And sometimes the work is really, the majority of the time, already there. In other words, the street has all poetry we use, it's a question of really focusing ourselves to realize that.

You've done these walks in San Francisco, Tel Aviv, and Buenos Aires. But how does it change to lead a walk in a city you know more intimately, like New York? I know all those cities intimately. Because I've lived in them. But New York is the one I know the best, because I grew up around here. It is a little less exotic here for me. You know, the trash cans don't stick out as interestingly. The fire hydrants are not so unique to me. So it's a really good challenge, because it makes me push pass the potential one-dimensional relationship between "oh wow, that's weird" or "different" and actually makes me look harder at things. In other words, like I can't take some cheap layout of "oh this is different, therefore it's interesting." I have to more fully investigate, and really understand my relationship to it, because I don't have the strangeness or exoticness, and can't rely on something that's eye-catching.

You refer to your walks as performances, and I was curious as to what you see your role is in that performance. I just gave an interview where they asked me this question. And I kinda was like, well, cheaply I can refer to them as performances. I think they're performative. But I think they're a genre unto themselves. Because in many of the walks there is an educational component, there's a participatory aspect, chances are you will have some sort of emotional experience, you might be put in a vulnerable spot, you may be entertained. There are all these different things going on, and I think performance can accommodate most of that. The educational component is not necessarily part of a performance, though it can be. Most of the walks have something educational in them, because they're led by people who, you know, that's their angle. The font designer knows all about fonts. So if you're on her walk, you're going to learn not only about your relationship to these things, but you're probably also gonna learn about maybe the history of architectural lettering. The walks are performative, but I can't say they're actually performances.

A lot of the walk is dependent on the interaction between the people participating in it. For instance, one part of the walk people pair up and one person leads the other whose eyes are closed, and then they switch. How do you design the walks to foster enough community that people don't feel self-conscious—around each other, and around the people around them who aren't participating in the walk? I've been giving the walks for a while now, and I also know as a participant, there's a certain level of vulnerability that I think that I'm comfortable with, and I realize intuitively what's too much for someone. If I'm willing to quote "make a fool out of myself," then hopefully it gets everyone else feeling comfortable enough to know that they can do so too. I think it really takes the artist, and I say the artist because I'm not just speaking for me, but everyone else on all of their walks, I think it really takes them letting themselves be vulnerable, and letting everyone watch that, experience that, and let them know it's okay, even preferred—that you can be yourself, and that you're not going to be judged for it. Quite the opposite; that's how this dialogue moves forward.

How do you think a participant can get the most out of your walk? I would say come in with an open mind. Really. And also don't have the expectations that you're going on a walking tour.

What's the craziest, or the most unexpected, thing that's happened on a walk? Well, two things that jump out at me actually happened on the same walk. This was a Carroll Street soundwalk that I gave last year. Now keep in mind on these walks, no one is talking except for me, who's leading everyone. And so we just finished walking down a street that had a lot of sounds of birds, and we make a left, and we hear neighbors from across the street yelling at each other. This one guy is this young, hot-shot deejay, blasting his music. And on the other side of the street is this family, with their baby literally in their hands. Both people are like at their doors, yelling at each other from their stoop. And the family with the baby is saying, "Your music is so loud, you're waking our baby" and the deejay being like "You don't know who I am, you have no respect." They're like, literally having this argument about sound, and noise, and we're literally walking right through it. It was theater, it was street theater. Everyone was like, holy shit, was this planned? That was one thing. And then the other, on that same walk, when we did the part when we open our eyes, when one person leads the other person with our eyes closed, I said okay, when you get to that corner, it's okay to open your eyes. And people did, and they looked up, and in the distance was this graffiti by this well-known graffiti artist that I had never realized before was there, and it says "Open your eyes." When these things happen, they're signs to me, something like 'this walk is meant to be.' When things align themselves like that, it's absolutely beautiful, it's both bizarre and wonderful.