The demise of the high street has been anticipated across the UK and beyond, and this impending crisis has been exacerbated by Covid-19. If we wish to ‘save the high street’ what are we trying to save, and why? We challenge the idea that retail and leisure activities are the sole contribution that high streets make to cities and neighbourhoods, and proceed from a conception of the high street that foregrounds practices of care, sociality and mutuality, often in the face of precarity.
From spontaneous warmth and generosity offered at moments of transaction or service, to sites of non or anti-capitalist mutuality, or in-kind trades in response to specific capacities and needs, these activities challenge narrow articulations of citizenship and belonging, and support sophisticated forms of collectivity that often form strategies for survival in ‘high streets where there is [...] enduring austerity, [...] and long-standing processes of state marginalisation’ .
Following LaBelle’s identification of the potential of the sonic ‘as a means for enabling new conceptualizations of the public sphere and expressions of emancipatory practices’ , we propose careful listening as a way to (re)think and (re)make the spaces of the high street in ways that draw attention to these forms of collectivity, and support productive and agonistic relations, intensities and concerns.
Through an interactive audio-textual environment, this website invites you to remake spaces of Sheffield high streets in listening. Sound compositions comprised of field recordings from three ‘patches’ —barbers shops, busy pavements and a pay-as-you-feel cafe—are the basis for sonic exploration. With each composition, textual artefacts emerge on the page: provocations, quotations, and critical and journalistic writing, augment, subvert, amplify and dissonate listening, in relation to your navigation of the site.
This environment is not intended to represent the spaces of the high street, but rather, through the associations, interruptions and collisions between text and listening awareness, transform them and make them anew. We see this process as a basis for developing constructive modes of listening that can be taken with you on your travels.
1. Suzanne Hall, Interview with Suzanne Hall by Studio Polpo, interview by Anna Holder, publication forthcoming.
2. Brandon LaBelle, Sonic Agency: Sound and Emergent Forms of Resistance (London: Goldsmiths Press, 2018), 4.
3. Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins (Princeton University Press, 2015).