Sounds from the Underground: A City Unnoticed
What kind of soundwalking interactions to explore in Montreal during the long cold winter of 2013? Sounds from the Underground! In February of 2013, I asked several undergraduate students of sound courses in the Communication Studies program at Concordia University to go into Montreal’s underground city and record soundwalks through different parts of the complex. This is what I asked them to do:
Do four soundwalks, each walk being between 45 mins and one hour, in the underground city. You can repeat the same route at different times, or choose different routes each time. At least two of the walks should link with the CCA. You can find maps of the underground city online to guide your plans. I would like you to record the walk, listen back to the recording and write a descriptive summary about each walk (about one page or 350 words each time), and select a short excerpt (less than 90 secs) from each walk that is of particular sonic interest. Your summary should describe the route that you took, for future reference (or you could draw it on the underground city map if you wanted). Make sure that when you are doing the recording, you monitor on headphones and avoid excessive wind and clothing noise.
This method follows some important tenets of our research: firstly, the repetition of soundwalks through time, seeking a variety of recording perspectives and experiences of similar places, within each person’s practice as well as that of the group as a whole. Descriptive writing is used as a means of reflecting on each experience and situating it in relation to the others. Selecting sounds of sonic interest unearths recurrent themes and provides short samples of the underground ambiances for listening. What follows is a report written by the leader of our merry underground recording band, Natalie Arslanyan. Thanks to recordists Maximilien Bianchi, Kaeleigh d’Ermo, Mallika Guhan, Jacob Stanescu, Luciana Trespalacios, Nadia Volkova, and Alexandrina Wilkinson.
Sounds from the Underground: A City Unnoticed
Busy traffic, pedestrians crossing the street, car horns, and ambulance sirens – these are sounds often associated with describing city soundscapes, or what a city sounds like. Montreal, in particular, is known for the sounds of its street buskers, cyclists darting by, conversations in French, cobblestone roads, and church bells echoing off buildings in the Old Port. Like most places, these characteristics describe the city as it would be perceived from the ground-up; however, many disregard a significant and noteworthy area of Montreal, one which tends to go unnoticed – the Underground City.
Montreal’s Underground City is a discrete and concealed space. Located below the ground, it ranges from areas surrounding Guy-Concordia metro station, eastwards towards Beaudry, southwards into metro Champ-de-Mars, and westwards towards Lucien-L’Allier metro. For many, it represents a shopping centre, a link between surrounding businesses and metro stations, a place for entertainment, or an escape from Montreal’s harsh winter weather. Regardless, the various activities and sounds that occur beneath the streets of Montreal deserve great attention and exploration.
In an attempt to explore the Underground City, Prof. McCartney asked eight undergraduate sound students from Communication Studies at Concordia University to embark on several soundwalks throughout the underground, and to audio record the walks. During these soundwalks, the students stayed mainly within the underground space, later emerging onto city streets, and linking to the CCA, or Canadian Centre for Architecture. Their findings suggest that as in any other urban areas, recurrent sonic themes emerge and ultimately create a soundscape for the Underground City. The Underground City is also noted for its differences in ambiance and tone between different sections of the complex. The underground in all its vastness has the ability to guide individuals into unfamiliar places, leading to unpredictable situations and feelings of isolation and confusion. Finally, the students found a notable difference in ambiance between Montreal streets and the area of the CCA.
There are many distinct and recurring sounds that emerge from the Underground City, including those produced from metro stations and trains, escalators and ventilation systems, the presence of music, activity within food courts, and fountain sounds. Significant differences in ambiance were found between metro stations, the underground mall, and the streets above ground. One student speaks specifically about the change in soundscape from Les Cours de Mont-Royal, a shopping centre within the underground complex, to the Peel metro station, where “[t]he music faded to be replaced by a faint mechanical drone, and the beeping of Opus cards came into the foreground”. In another situation, a distinction can be found between the “beeps, bustle, and hum of the Metro compared to the quieter boutiques that line the walls of Montreal’s Underground City”. Differences in soundscape can also be affected by the time of the day. Upon arriving to the McGill metro station at approximately 9:30 pm, one student felt a calmness and sense of dead-space within her surroundings. Had she entered the same station at 8:30 am the next morning during rush hour, she may have had an experience much different from her own.
One of the most notable and recurrent sounds throughout the Underground City is that of escalators and ventilation systems. The “overpowering drone” produced by both systems creates a shifting omnipresent hum throughout the underground, leading them to become unnoticed and less distinct among people walking by (https://soundcloud.com/nataliearslanyan/underground-city-escalators). As one student noted, “[i]t seems as though these are the baseline of the Underground City. They are everywhere and they colour the sonic landscape throughout”.
The clicking of shoes and high heels on the cold, tiled floors of the underground city is another distinct sound, and appears much more in the foreground in quieter areas of the mall (https://soundcloud.com/nataliearslanyan/footsteps-underground; https://soundcloud.com/nataliearslanyan/underground-ambiance). The presence of music is also a recurrent theme of the underground. Music is heard through an intercom that is played throughout the entire complex, as well as in individual stores and in different shopping centres. The amount of music heard becomes an overwhelming experience, as “different snippets of top 40 songs coming at you from different directions; there is barely any rest,” (https://soundcloud.com/nataliearslanyan/music-1). It is also not uncommon to see shoppers plug into their mp3 players and listen to their music through headphones. This form of music listening isolates the individual from the rest of their surroundings, just as the Underground City seems isolated and unknown from the streets above.
Some of the most interesting sounds were found in food courts: “the banging of pots, sizzling of fires, the sound of cash registers, all supported by continuous chatter…there seemed to be a sense of layering, almost like a musical composition,” (https://soundcloud.com/nataliearslanyan/underground-food-court). There seemed to be an increase in sound activity and attention drawn to food courts in comparison to other parts of the underground. As one student explains, “the ambiance of the food court was especially fun because I could listen to the jazzy soundtrack coming out of the speakers and do close-ups of restaurant machines that were still working.” Sounds produced from food courts are influenced by their location within the underground complex and the people occupying the food courts. For example, there is a significant difference in ambiance between the food court located in the Eaton Centre, characterized as chaotic with the presence of children and families, and the food court in Cours de Montréal, where business people are more likely to be found. The differences in volume and textures of sound vary between food courts throughout the underground complex; however, it seems that food courts are perceived as a central area for people to meet, relax, and take a break from their daily activities. The placement of a large water fountain in the middle of the Place Desjardins food court, for example, provides an additional sense of relaxation and simultaneously produces a sonically interesting, rhythmically and timbrally variable sound to the overall soundscape (https://soundcloud.com/nataliearslanyan/water-fountain).
Aboveground, the downtown Saint-Laurent area, filled with students, clubs, and bars, will sound considerably different from Montreal’s Old Port, with its large stone buildings, lesser evening activity and circuitous routes for traffic. This same concept of neighbourhood sound character can be applied to the underground complex, especially when considering “upper-class” and “middle-class” areas. As one student notes, “[d]oes something sound rich or poor? Probably not, but moving from the busy underbelly of the city to the upper reaches where movement is not done en-masse, things get quieter.” (Luciana – walking underground) The Eaton Centre is observed as ever-changing and chaotic, as opposed to Place Montreal Trust as being busy, yet relaxed. High-end sections, such as the Queen Elizabeth hotel and Les Cours Mont-Royal, are expressed as containing less “noise”. As one recordist notes, noise can be considered as “a number of sounds found to be unwanted/undesirable”, or sounds that create clutter within an environment. There is a contrast between high-end and low-end areas, in terms of how unwanted sounds, or “noise”, can be masked with other sounds. Another student indicates the projection of jazz music in the Place d’Armes metro station tunnel towards the Palais de Congres to overpower sounds of escalators and fluorescent lights. It is interesting to note how ambiance and tone within the Underground City can change from one area to another, regardless of all these sections residing under one roof.
The Underground City is capable of leading individuals unfamiliar with the area into unpredictable and interesting situations. One student unexpectedly found herself in the middle of a live concert, as she walked from the tunnel between Lucien L’Allier Metro and the Bell Centre around 10:00 pm on a Monday night. Although she anticipated it to be a quiet evening, she almost immediately felt that something was different, as she started “hearing the sub bass of what sounded like a dance track of some kind.” Without knowing, the student had walked into a Lady Gaga concert and did not realize until exiting the Bell Centre and seeing a poster advertising the concert.
Several soundwalk recordists encountered buskers within the Underground City. One recordist found a man busking with a guitar, cardboard boat, fishing pole, and a sign reading “fishing for change”. The Saint Henri metro station is noted as usually being filled with buskers. On one particular soundwalk, a student recorded the sound of three buskers playing a cover of a Pink Floyd song, accompanied by several homeless people whistling, talking, and clapping at Place-des-Arts metro. Another student notes her experience with a busker, as he looked at her suspiciously the closer she approached him, stopped singing for a moment, then continued after he felt she was at a far enough distance (). The information gathered from these students suggests that the presence of buskers is a distinctive feature of the Underground City, and that recordists cannot automatically assume that it is ok to record musicians playing in a public place, since the music is the source of their income.
Each recordist expanded their soundwalks to include Montreal streets, ranging from the Square-Victoria area, to Lucien L’Allier, to Guy-Concordia metro. In addition to busy roads and side streets, the Canadian Centre for Architecture was also incorporated into many of the recordings. The CCA is located between Boulevard Rene-Levesque and Rue Sainte-Catherine Ouest, two exceptionally large and busy streets in downtown Montreal.
Despite being placed within close proximity to highway 720, there is a significant change in soundscape upon entering the gates leading to the museum’s courtyard. There is also a deepening sense of hollowness and emptiness, as the sounds of bustling traffic lose much of their omnipresence. The soundscape is quiet and calm and for a moment, you can hear the sound of birds chirping. Suddenly, the sound of a siren appears – except there is a notable distinction between this siren and another siren heard through regular traffic. The quiet and desolate environment of the courtyard adds an eerie and isolated aesthetic to the siren, as its sound pierces through the city and bounces off the stonewalls of the CCA. Upon exiting the CCA gates, sounds of the city emerge once again – the turbulence of cars and trucks whisking down the highway, cyclists whizzing by, and the previously-heard sound of the siren now much less clear and distinct. It is amazing how architecture can affect the perception of sounds within a city. What would the Underground City sound like without escalators or ventilation systems? How would this change the overall soundscape of the Underground City?
Explorations of the Underground City present an array of observations and questions. Many of the soundwalk recordists noted their unfamiliarity with the world underground and experiencing the underground in the same way a tourist would, exploring it as unfamiliar territory. Some were familiar with specific underground spaces, such as areas around Bonaventure and McGill metro. One recordist explained how his perspective of experiencing the underground mall shifted from being less of an explorer and more of a listener, which allowed him to enjoy his time uncovering other mysteries of the Underground City. Regardless of the numerous strange looks received or having shoppers misread the use of a microphone as an interview opportunity, many of the sounds uncovered from the underground present an inconspicuous and unique dimension of Montreal, demonstrating yet another hidden treasure beneath Montreal’s surface.
Link to “Sounds from the Underground” SoundCloud webpage:
Le terroir sonore du phare de Lachine / the sonic terroir of the Lachine light-house.
This piece is based on soundwalks around the Lachine light-house just to the west of Montreal, 1999-2000. The water and pier surrounding the light-house invite all kinds of crossings: people eating lunch, fishers, sunset-watchers in their cars, ducks, swallows, boats, gulls, sparrows, wind gusting, waves and waves from the end of Lac St. Louis, sometimes frozen into fantastic ice-cubes that tinkle riotously against the rocks, sometimes coated with a thin creaking skin of ice. The light-house stands tall, blinking. Mostly this sentinel is locked but one day it is possible to enter. I remember how strikingly audible the presence of the light-house interior was. Inside, I wanted to name it: “this is the…” but my voice trails off as the rounded metallic interior speaks back to me. “Hello?” Walking by the shore, I discover an old chain and lift it up and down on the rock, imagining the many steel hulls that were tied to this bank with such chains, when it was an industrial port. The voice of the fisherman brings me back to the present “Bonjour!”
McCartney, Andra. “Le terroir sonore du phare de Lachine.” Peripherique. Curated by Nicole Gingras. Groupe Intervention Video, December 2000. http://www.givideo.org.
Soundwalks at metro de la Concorde.
Part of the Audioparc event at Galerie Verticale in Laval, commissioned by Magali Babin.
I want to propose the notion of “balade sonore” as French translation for the English term soundwalk. Instead of “marche sonore” which seems a bit too military, or promenade, which evokes the idea of walking to show oneself, or even “dérive” in which like the Situationists one might seek to be completely lost or disoriented, I like the idea of “balader” … to do a “balade” –which has the same root in French as the word for song. A balade is also a way of slowing down. A balade is a bit vague. Not exactly lost, but not at all rushed. Slow, attentive, alert to all sounds, with all senses, all sensations.
A balade sonore or soundwalk is a form of creation and method of research that utilizes listening and sometimes recording as a way to explore a place on foot. Each soundwalk can be considered in a musical fashion, as a mnemonic tool, or as a source of information about the environment. People’s listening experiences can become the point of departure for conversations that bring together the epistemological, aesthetic and ethical dimensions of the places where sounds are found, and these same dimensions can be found in the detailed reflections of participants in soundwalks, in listening sessions afterwards, and in reaction to artworks which come from soundwalks.
There are many ways to listen. One can listen like a musician, thinking of the melodies, harmonies and rhythms of the sonic environment. One can create a musical piece out of the sounds heard. One can listen sensually, like a poet, linking senses — the touch of sound, the noises of images, the taste of a location. One can listen to sounds politically, thinking of which sounds mask others, which are more present, which dominate. Because we walk in a group, we can reflect on the internal dynamics of that structure. What can one hear of the group> Does this structure give our listening a certain dynamic or constrain it? One can listen historically to the place, thinking of the history of a certain place or culture, one can imagine its history, the people who lived there before, the sounds that are now gone, changed, or amplified. It is also possible to create imaginary bridges between different sounds, sonic resemblances that connect spaces separated in time and space, one place calling to another, echoing, producing an imaginary place in between that has characteristics of each. And one can listen as if listening to a lover. One can reserve a certain sort of attention, a certain kind of intent listening towards the sonic environment, which resembles the kind of listening that we do in the company of someone we love. With the Soundwalking Interactions project, we wish to concentrate our attention on the participants of soundwalks, and wish to talk to them about their different intentions and their specific responses to the sonic environment, their approaches to listening while moving through places.
I walked in the area around Metro de la Concorde in Laval, several times between June and September 2012. Here are some comments on what I heard during those walks.
La Route Verte.
Everyone loves the colour green. Close to the metro, there is a “route verte”, a cycling path that is also accessible to pedestrians. But I ask myself here, what does green signify in this context? A narrow asphalt laneway between barriers, cloistered between railway and parking lots, barriers of 2 to 3 metres in height, made of plastic and steel. Perhaps it is a green route just because of its very existence, a way that permits cyclists to quickly go from one place to another. But for pedestrians, who gain access only at street corners, there is no way out for long stretches, everything is closed off. Is this a green experience?
Close to here, I stand under large electrical structures while late-summer insects sing in the weeds underneath. Many insects, signalling the end of summer and beginning of school. Buzzing like electricity.
I think about the paths and what they might mean. There are ornamental paths that go nowhere, aesthetic paths of reddish stone that lead to a fence blocking the route or go round in circles. Will l listen differently on those paths? (self-consciously perhaps) Will my listening be more open or more linear, in between the lines? On escalators, rising and falling next to each other in the metro, is my listening directed by the rhythms felt underfoot?
There are different modes of transport integrated here: train, subway, buses, cars, pedestrians, cyclists. Which are most important in the design of the metro? Who uses this place at what times? According to what I found, after the 9 am rush finishes, it is cyclists who pass through most in the morning, around the metro itself. A bit further off, the sound of traffic is constant. There is little movement in the parking area after rush hour. Pedestrians walk from one entrance to another, but few seem to frequent the pleasant sitting space with wooden walkways and benches surrounded by tall grasses and subway vents, near the metro door.
A string of pearls
I think of our soundwalk near the Metro as like a string of pearls, where each sonic moment is one pearl on the string. Moments of listening stillness, moments of group listening-walking, moments where we stand and comment on what we have heard. Each moment has a distinct ambience, made of the movements of the group, the sounds of the environment, other sensations, and the effects of the commentary. The de la Concorde soundwalk contained many of these pearls, each a few minutes long, held together by listening. Walkers spoke of the eerie quietness of the residential area nearby, the lack of pedestrians on the street compared with more downtown locations. Walkers also remarked on the long length of the blocks, made more on car scale than on pedestrian. The most ubiquitous sound on the soundwalk was that of cars (comme toujours!) Close to the metro, people remarked on the strange and other-worldly breathing and creaking noises made by the subway vents, sounds that we heard as well in the installation of Jen Reimer and Max Stein.
The soundwalk was followed by a different soundwalk led by Eric Leonardson of Chicago, focused through interaction with stones picked up at the site, on the hill next to a vent (and replaced there afterwards). The group moved from one part of the site to another, clicking the stones to activate the architecture acoustically, at times conducted by Leonardson who asked different parts of the group to play to each other.
At the Ambiances in Action conference, we decided to do two simultaneous soundwalks. In the past, walkers had sometimes been frustrated by Andra’s slow pace, which some described as ‘melancholic’! So we decided to offer two walks, one more slowly moving, and one at a faster pace. Andra’s slowly moving group went through back alleys to the university. David’s faster moving group went through the tunnel and down to the highway. Both returned for a discussion at the CCA, where we told each other where we had been and what we had heard, and then talked about common interests. Many of the participants already include walking in their creative practice, so there were many points of common interest.
Here are two videos, from the same moment of the walk, experienced by each group:
Lors de la conférence Ambiances en actes, nous avons décidé de faire deux marches sonores simultanées. Lors de marches antérieures, certains participants avaient mentionné qu’ils avaient été gênés par la lenteur du rythme de marche d’Andra, allant même jusqu’à le qualifier de mélancholique! Nous avons alors proposé deux maches, une plus lente et une plus rapide. Alors que le groupe d’Andra s’est rendu jusqu’à l’université Concordia par les ruelles, le groupe de David, plus rapide, a traversé l’autouroute et est revenu par le tunnel de la rue du Fort. Nos deux groupes cesont ensuite rejoints pour une discussion au CCA. Plusieurs participants avaient déjà inclus dans leur démarche créative l’utilisation de la marche, ce qui a nourri grandement la discussion.
Voici deux vidéos se déroulant au même moment, selon la perspective de chaque groupe:
Aujourd’hui le vent siffle dans les feuilles d’automne.
Un grande érable tel une cathédrale de hautes feuilles,
Pins, épicéas, cèdres, cérises, pommes, chênes, peupliers,
tous ensembles font des habitations protégés pour les oiseaux
qui baladent dans les branches.
Pigeons, corneilles, mésanges, hirondelles,
rossignols, grives, bruants donnent vivement leurs voix
Et pour les passants, les plaisirs de
tous petits jardins insérés entre clôtures et rues,
faits avec amour par les résidents dans les espaces partagés
et les dernières fleurs qui perdurent en fin de saison.
Today the leaves whisper in the autumn breezes.
A huge maple makes a cathedral of trembling leaves overhead.
Pines, spruce, cedars, cherries, apples, oaks, poplars
make protected homes for the birds
singing and flying through their branches.
Pigeons, crows, chickadees, swallows,
robins, thrushes, sparrows freely give their voices
to the sky.
And for the passerby, there is the pleasure
of tiny gardens nestled between fence and road,
made with love by residents in shared space,
with flowers persisting to end of season.
(Recording by Andrew Simpson)
On May 19, members of the Soundwalking Interactions research group participated in the Résonances de la Fontaine performance, which took place in Parc Lafontaine, as sound recordists (or, as “sound-recorder people,” as Malcolm Goldstein puts it in the score). As already noted on this site, Resonances de la Fontaine is an environmental sound piece by Malcolm Goldstein in collaboration with the Soundwalking Interactions research project. In the score, which is comprised of two pages of notes and instructions written by Goldstein, he writes: “the music performance is the realization of a listening experience in Parc Lafontaine, Montreal—the sounds of that environment transformed through the improvised play of instrumental musicians and sound-recorder people.” Adding: “the sounds of the environment are not to be imitated. Rather, ‘resonances’ of this source material/sounds are to be played with—textures, tonal and noise qualities, rhythmic articulations, dynamic shapes, etc.—performed and extended.”
After a brief production meeting (and lunch) on the day of the performance, the six performers spent time listening at six distinct sounding stations in the park. We were given ten sections to choose from, which are marked by circles on the above map of Parc Lafontaine. I spent time listening and recording at two stations near the water, in the pétanque area near the centre of the park, in the area around the baseball diamond, in addition to the two sections running along rue Sherbrooke, one of which is almost in the ‘south-east’ corner of the park. My aural palette for the performance consisted of traffic sounds, two airplanes, singing, vocalizations, moving water, pétanque sounds, various groups of people talking, various footsteps, a few baseball sounds and the sounds from the children’s play area near the baseball diamond.
The performance lasted nearly one hour, from 5-6 PM, on a very sunny, beautiful, hot and mostly still day. Goldstein emphasized ‘improvisation,’ remaining ‘open,’ listening to each other and allowing for ‘space’ while giving his instructions for the performance. There was no rehearsal. For Goldstein, improvisation means trying break from old habits, intention(s), familiar sounds, rhythms, techniques and gestures. While working with a conception of improvisation that negates intention is complicated for sound recordists, in that, picking up a microphone is an act of intent, the recordists attempted to gather sounds in a less focused way. In the coming weeks, the Soundwalking Interactions group will be thinking and writing about our experiences in Parc Lafontaine in relation to soundwalking, improvisation, creating meaning, performance, listening and the role/influence our technology played in the production process leading up to the performance, in the creation of our palettes and during the performance.
Please have a listen and let us know what what you think.
Les membres de Soundwalking Interactions (Andra McCartney, David Paquette, Dave Madden, Cailtin Loney) ont pris part, durant le mois dernier, à un projet de marches sonores hivernales dans leur quartier respectif (trois à Montréal, une à Morin-Heights). Chacun a effectué trois marches hebdomadaires d’environ 30 minutes, suivies de la rédaction d’un résumé analytique. Nous avons ensuite rédigé de courts sommaires dans lesquels nous explorons les similitudes et différences entre chaque expérience. Les résumés et analyses peuvent être lus dans leur version (anglaise) intégrale dans cet article paru précédemment.
Un aspect fondamental de l’expérience de chacun fut la présence du climat hivernal dans les commentaires hebdomadaires. Si pour Dave les conditions météos influençaient non seulement l’expérience auditive même bien la totalités des modes perceptifs, pour Caitlin la température se faisait surtout entendre à travers la texture changeante du bruit des pas, selon la qualité de la neige ou de la glace au sol. Pour moi, ce sont surtout la cadence et la durée des marches qui témoignaient du temps. Finalement, pour Andra, le climat dictait plutôt l’heure (milieu d’après-midi) et l’orientation (vers l’ouest, pour faire face au soleil) de la marche. L’influence majeure du climat nous a donc menés à proposer une autre série de marches sonores au mois d’avril, pour tenir compte du changement de saison.
Un autre aspect à considérer est l’impact de la configuration spatiale sur le déroulement de la marche elle-même; par exemple, les trois quartiers urbains proposent une plus grande diversité de trajectoires et de lieux hétérogènes, contrairement à la campagne ou les choix de parcours demeuraient (à tout le moins dans mon cas) assez limités et relativement uniformes. Les différences de variété sonore (ainsi que de volume et de quantité) sont facilement identifiables à la lecture des résumés de marche; la question d’attitude (ou d’attention) et son lien à l’espace semble une autre composante importante qui pourrait être approfondie. Dave s’est aussi intéressé à l’intersensorialité inhérente à la pratique de la marche sonore, se questionnant sur les types de collaborations sensorielles qu’elle rend possible et de leur impact sur l’écoute elle-même. Finalement, Andra s’est questionnée sur le rapport entre les trois marches successives, ainsi que l’effet potentiel de résonance crée par le partage hebdomadaire des résumés de marches entre les membres de l’équipe.
On December 6th, members of Soundwalking Interactions, including Andra McCartney, David Madden, David Paquette, and Caitlin Loney, went on a soundwalk around the Montreal neighbourhood of Mile End with sound artist Victoria Fenner. Andra asked me to lead the walk as I live in the neighbourhood. It was dark (around 5pm) and cold, but with no snow on the ground. We began at Andra’s home, walked down the traffic-filled Parc Avenue, cut through a wet alleyway where men removed piles of metal bars from a van, across Bernard West and its small shops and cafes, and down the more residential Waverly, where we heard and saw the wail and flash of emergency vehicles a block away. Once we reached the usually bustling St-Viateur, we came across a very still accident scene in front of popular café Club Social: blocked-off intersection, person on a gurney, ambulance, police cars, fire truck, frozen bystanders. In our conversation minutes later, we all agreed that the soundscape was not what we expected. It had been extremely quiet except for the idling engines of the trucks and a few unrelated conversations passing through the accident zone; it seemed to clash with the flashing lights and intensity of the mood. Andra felt that some of the surreal qualities would probably come through in the recording, which can be heard from about 2:30-3:30.
After our short discussion at the end of St-Viateur, we continued walking around this semi-industrial area, where the wide streets were almost empty and large boxy buildings loom above. David P. remarked that the sound of our footsteps revealed the height of these buildings. As we continued towards the train tracks, a distant bell-like sound caught our attention (5:35-5:55), one of the few acousmatic experiences on the walk, having no visual cue. We guessed the sound had something to do with the trains. Soon after we came across another scene, which Andra later remarked was, like the accident, “strangely intimate” in the middle of a public space. A school bus with a chimney was getting a boost from a van; a steady high-pitch sound followed by a grumbling engine starting. Again, some of us commented on the dissonance between the sonic and visual. Victoria, who noticed a woman with a child tending a barbeque outside the bus, said she did not find the sound story that she expected.
Much of our discussion after the walk kept returning to this issue of visual cues creating expectation during soundwalks. Victoria contemplated,
…the visual and the sound sometimes work against each other, because you expect that you’re going to hear certain things, but sometimes, without the visuals, we wouldn’t know what was happening… so, how do we deal with our eyes when we’re trying to focus on the pure sound so that they don’t lead us to conclusions that are irrelevant to what we’re doing.
The Soundwalking Interactions team—minus David Paquette—led a soundwalk on November 21, 2011 for the Balance-Unbalance Conference at Concordia University. The conference brought together scholars, artists, policy experts, economists, etc., “with the intent of engendering a deeper awareness and creating lasting intellectual working partnerships in solving our global environmental crisis.” Before the walk, Andra McCartney opened with a fifteen-minute talk, where she outlined various (potential) ways of listening and some of her ongoing research interests and projects.
The walk began in the John Molson School of Business; then headed south along Guy to Sainte Antoine Ouest; along Sainte Antoine and north through the tunnel on du Fort; and then east along rue Baile and back to the Molson Building. Approximately fifteen people participated in the walk, including Andra’s artistic collaborator, Don Sinclair, from York University. The post-walk discussion lasted forty minutes and covered everything from the sounds (noise) of the cars, the lack of bird sounds and the way the sounds of the city change depending on the time of day. There were far fewer cars on the road during this walk as it took place on a Saturday afternoon. Some participants also related the sounds encountered on the walk to previous sounding experiences. For instance, one listener took the ‘high road’ through the tunnel on du Fort as he connected the experience to the Scottish Highlands. The discussion closed out with a presentation by Sinclair and McCartney about their interactive soundwalk and dance project, which is demonstrated in the video below.