Reading a travel essay is such a sensory experience–we smell cities and taste food, and, most of all, we rely on authors to give us a visual tour of their journeys through the close, detailed observation that is almost automatic to a travel writer. But visual observation is a luxury Ryan Knighton lost many years ago.
Knighton, a Vancouver-based writer, started losing his sight in his teens and is now almost completely blind. In April’s The Walrus, he turns to a sense we rarely read about–sound–to give a short aural tour of “As Slow As Possible,” a song being performed on an organ in Halberstadt, Germany’s, St. Burchardi Church. The song, written by John Cage, is set up to last 639 years (assisted by tiny weighted sandbags). Knighton timed his arrival to witness the changing of a new chord, which will play for another two years. He arrives during the last minutes of the old chord, at least ten minutes of first maddening, then familiar sound, punctuated by the “blasphemy” of his white cane tapping on the church floor.
The tour of sound is almost visceral–it reverberated in this reader’s chest, and I had the strange experience of creating a visual tour for myself, guided by Knighton’s ears.
(Note: The Walrus is a Canadian national magazine of culture and public discourse. Most travel pieces are in the Field Notes section. While the online articles are available only to subscribers, you can read an excerpt of Knighton’s article here. –AM)
Clarification: Jordan from The Walrus posted a comment (copied here) regarding subscriptions and archives: “While you do need to be a subscriber to gain full access to the current issue of the magazine, anyone is welcome to register for a free trial, which will allow them to read Ryan’s article plus the rest of the current issue.
The magazine’s archives — everything excluding the current issue and the one previous — are free for all users.”