When Austin tries to explain what echolocation means to him, his enthusiasm is almost tangible. This is how it started 2 years ago: Somebody sent him a YouTube film about echolocation being used by the blind. Soon he started to teach himself. After a while, when he found out that it worked for him, even at age 33, he took an intensive 3-day course. His teacher had warned the group that during an the intensive 3 day course it can be difficult to sleep. Austin told me that this was true. When trying to sleep after the first day, he could almost feel the blood pumping towards his visual cortex, that was underdeveloped as he was blind from birth.
You have to imagine echolocation as a kind of sight. An enlargement of the bubble that you live in when being blind, as normally your knowledge about the world around you is limited to the lengths of your stick. But now you start to experience objects that are further away. Like for Austin, another reason for him to stay awake was that he could experience the ceiling above his bed for the first time. And this was so amazing, that he couldn’t sleep.
The next day after some more exercises, his teacher said: “Welcome to the world of the sighted.” I asked Austin if one could consider him an immigrant in a new world, or at least a new world of experience.
Trying to understand I continued listening to Austin. He explained how echolocation is not only helpful in getting around, but how it also gives a profane aesthetic experience: “like when I am now walking between trees and buildings, I can experience the two simultaneously… that is great. Or movement… I can see things move, even in one click. So I like clicking at moments that a car passes by, or when the sliding door of the elevator closes. ” Austin: “Echolocation is a passive thing. You can not force the objects to emerge. You need to learn to see. And then it is fragmented. Imagine a situation where light goes on every time for only half a second. That is what it is like. ”
We decided to do an experiment using a set of binaural microphones. Would it be possible, if we record Austin while tongue clicking, that he can see again what he saw, when he plays it back? So we went around some familiar ground, to experiment. Austin went around and he named each object first, and then made it visible via a tongue click. Austin said: “It is like I am audio-photographing.”
And after, we played it back over his headphones. Austin made some adjustments to the sound levels. He listened carefully. And the miracle happened, he saw some of the shapes emerging.
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Whoever want to listen to the sound files individually, Austin selected some that are in his experience very clear:
microphones used: Soundman