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Vancouver English Bay Soundwalk

Andra McCartney led an hour-long soundwalk through Vancouver’s English Bay on Novemeber 9, 2011, with local residents and several members of the Vancouver Soundwalk Collective.  I have included some of my impressions of the soundwalk and post-walk discussion below, along with a sound and photos piece, (aptly) entitled, “Vancouver English Bay Soundwalk.”  English Bay is located west of downtown Vancouver and is one of the most densely populated areas in Canada.  The Bay is well-known for its fireworks display in the summer, beautiful beaches, heavy construction, a mix of ‘nature’ and the ‘city,’ and a developed calming in the fall and winter months.

After the soundwalk, the group participated in a discussion that was recorded by Jennifer Schine (Simon Frasier University).   The discussion covered everything from the layers of ‘urban vitality’ experienced in the area, with someone mentioning the way more lively sounds emanate from the high-rises in the summer months; to the way “a different breed of person” seems to move through the area during the quieter seasons of the year (fall/winter), and thereby associating quiet people with a better breed of people.  There was also some really interesting talk of the difference between soundwalking in a group versus soundwalking walking alone.  For instance, McCartney likened the group experience to an “ephemeral community,” which seems to connect well with her current ideas around love and listening.  Repetitive listening and doing soundwalks many times in the same area are also important in her construction of intimate listening.  Additionally, one listener talked of being led by listening on soundwalks (rather than being led by vision).   To this participant, listening is a sense that slows things down and, therefore, is better for the nervous system.   However, I would like to mention that this creates a hierarchy of the senses, by privileging listening over seeing (and idealizing it at the same time)… What about the power dimensions to listening, soundmaking and soundwalking?

The discussion also touched on the following ideas, which I will put forth in point form:

-The expectation of quiet in such a densely populated area.

-The way the area performs to keep outsiders at a distance:  high-rise buildings make the area difficult to get through if you’re walking; the area is perhaps more easily accessed by cars; a lot of fences in the area; the beach is not well lit at night (somehow darkness seems complicit with masculine silence); the beach also cuts out the sounds of footsteps (which makes it less safe); access to the performance space on the beach was taken away by removing the stairs to the stage, as it ‘invited’ people to sleep there; it probably also ‘invites’ people to make noise.

-An idealization of ‘nature.’

-No bird sounds (which I hear from people a lot in soundwalk discussions).

-Quiet equals good citizen; versus noisy outsiders, who are a “different breed of person.”

-Nervousness/anxiety produced when sounds do not have an identifiable source.

-The sounds of the city make for “an uninteresting lover.”

After listening to the soundwalk and the discussion recordings, I developed a series of questions for McCartney in response to what I heard.  Andra, have you ever conducted a soundwalk where you did not ask people to be mindful of their own talking?  I think it might be interesting methodologically to see how people ‘improvise’ on a walk without being asked to be quiet beforehand.  I wonder how this might affect group dynamics?  Would people silence others making too much noise?  Might they be less likely to privilege ‘nature’ sounds over the sounds of the ‘city’?  Or, would people still remain quiet on soundwalks without even being asked to?  Does the emphasis on quiet already direct listeners towards hi-fi soundscapes?

Below is a sound and photos piece that I produced using Schine’s audio recording and Andra’s photos from the English Bay soundwalk.  At the end of the piece, I incorporated a sound sample from the post-walk discussion.  The piece was edited by ‘cross-fading’ between audio clips and by playing with the volume levels.  No digital effects were used in the piece, in an attempt to keep the sounds recognizable and connected to the context of recording.

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