Balade Montreal Equinox Soundwalk
On the evening of March 21, the Soundwalking Interactions group got together for one final soundwalk—Balade Montreal Equinox Soundwalk—following four years of consistent soundwalks and post-walk discussions. The walk began at St. Laurent metro station (corner of St. Laurent and Boul. de Maisonneuve) and headed south towards the Palais de Congres and China Town. The route was not planned in advance and took roughly forty-five minutes to complete. I led the soundwalk, accompanied by three participants, through a series of interior spaces, busy sidewalks and alleyways.
The excursion was one of the most dynamic soundwalks that I have ever participated in. In part, this can be attributed to the location of the walk which transitioned through many borders within the city: namely, the Old Port, downtown and China Town. Liminal (or transitional) zones typically have vibrant sensory ecologies, often resulting in chaotic and competing sensory encounters. Andra McCartney has previously written on this site about the concept of econtonality vis-à-vis sounding environments and listening. This concept is particularly useful when mobilized in relation to urban sounds. As she writes:
The ecotone is a marginal zone, a transitional area where species from adjacent ecosystems interact. Some species in an ecotone are from neither ecosystem but thrive here and do not live elsewhere, because of the rich possibilities contained in such regions, which have characteristics of more than one ecosytem. Beaches and the edges between forests and grassland are both examples of ecotones, or the stratified fresh and salt waters of the confluence where river meets sea.
It is also worth noting that the dynamic intensity of the soundwalk came not only from a range of intermittent loud and softer bursts of sound, but also from temperature changes, gusts of wind, and a mixing of pungent smells dispersed throughout the walk. One of the larger objectives of this project is to better understand how sensory experiences such as touch and smell connect to hearing and various ways of listening during soundwalks. This particular part of Montreal, at this point in the year, seems to provide an ideal site for considering questions at the intersection of listening, walking and sensory experience. Additionally, this is a layered area of the city, with the Autoroute Ville-Marie running just below the sidewalks and with many entryways to Montreal’s Underground City—the more than 30 km network of tunnels, corridors and commercial spaces located below the downtown core of the city. This layering heightened the complexity of the walk given that while traversing along the sidewalks there were sounds coming from above and below.
The post-walk discussion took place in a restaurant in China Town. We opened with a conversation detailing some of the ways in which moving in a group of four while using recording equipment affects other pedestrian encounters. One listener noticed that we seemed to draw attention to ourselves as we moved through the Palais de Congres. Another participant remembered the way we altered people’s conversations as we passed by.
Michael Langiewicz, one of the recordists, recounted his experience of recording a group of skateboarders–which are heavily featured in the audio-visual piece below–and some of the phase issues he encountered while recording them.
Andra talked about how wind is often the most difficult element to deal with when making soundwalking recordings (and/or recording outside).
Another listener mentioned that he was surprised to find quietness in many of the alleyways near the Autoroute.
One of the participants discussed walking by the aftermath of an accident and how he was unable to record anything of note as the area was eerily quiet. Andra mentioned how we walked through an accident scene in Mile End on a previous soundwalk and felt that the experience was characterized by a “weird silence.”
Ben discussed how cinematic the walking experience felt, especially when magnified by recording.
The audio-visual soundscape piece below derives from three distinct soundwalk recordings by Ben Cardilli, Michael Langiewicz and Andrew Willson. Each recordist took a different forty-five minute route after they moved away from the St. Laurent metro station. I cut the recordings into 20 to 60 second fragments and then edited them together using quick cross-fades. Ben’s recording is panned all the way to the left; Andrew’s is to the right; and Michael’s is directly in the middle with the volume level slightly lowered. All three of the recordings play out at the same time throughout the piece.