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.