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.
Une version française de ce texte se trouve ici
In September 2013, Andra McCartney was invited to be keynote presenter at the Expanding Ecomusicologies symposium at the Centre for Music, Media and Place at Memorial University in St. John’s Newfoundland. She led a soundwalk, consisting of two movements: first, a twenty-minute group walk along the campus’ grass, gravel and marshy paths; and second, a thirty-minute walk where listeners were encouraged to move through a market (and surrounding area) in smaller clusters. Both parts of the soundwalk were followed by a discussion.
As Andra discussed with the group after the second part of the walk, this particular method for soundwalking was developed while preparing for another walk at a market in Hamilton, ON. In the lead-up to the latter, Andra received a letter from one of the market’s vendors addressing how he perceived the practice of soundwalking to be bourgeois, and that the participants would disrupt the regular activities of the market by distracting patrons. Taking the vendor seriously, Andra informed listeners to break into smaller groups once they reached the market. Moving through the Hamilton market in this dispersed way enabled the participants to maintain a certain level of anonymity during the soundwalk, and gave each small group a different experience of soundwalking, which led to animated exchanges about different listening experiences, in the discussion at the end.
During discussions in Newfoundland, many comments centred on the changing group and social dynamics between the two distinct parts of the walk. One participant mentioned that in the larger group he felt that the perceptual field was more limited because the higher density of people seemed to make the space smaller. When the walkers split into smaller groupings, one listener felt overwhelmed by the cacophony of the market and was unable to concentrate in an environment with so many sounds vying for attention.
As is common in post-soundwalk discussions, some participants mentioned the prominent presence and rhythms of footsteps, and how the sounds of footsteps alter depending on the textures of the ground. There was also a lot of laughter and questions coming from the participants. One listener asked whether it might be more suitable to use the term “listening walk,” rather than soundwalk, given that listening is the primary activity of the walk; to what extent we create our own soundscape while soundwalking; and whether intent varies between practitioners. Andra answered that while some scholars and practitioners prefer to use the term “listening walk” (eg. Greg Wagstaff), she prefers soundwalk because the term is more widely known and opens up more possibilities beyond listening, especially in relation to the interaction of the senses and the reality of sound production while walking, with members of the group inevitably producing sound as they walk. Lastly, as Andra points out, intentions vary considerably depending on the practitioner, with some producing sound intentionally in response to the environment.
Towards the end of the discussion, participants mentioned some of the ways that soundwalking functions as a relaxing, almost meditative practice. As Andra points out, social workers and psychologists use walks in therapeutic situations, in part because walking calms people, but also because young people who might be somewhat inhibited in regular therapeutic contexts often open up a little more while walking through familiar neighbourhoods and places. Someone added that this approach is also used with dementia patients as a way to continuously (re)train the senses.
Finally, the post-walk discussion closed out with a question from one of the listeners who asked: “how much of what’s going on in the rest of your life impacts that fifteen minutes of walking and how you listen?” For example, he discusses how he was particularly sensitive to car sounds throughout the walk because he is having car troubles. Andra relates this to what she calls “listening standpoints”—your background (e.g., woman, immigrant, academic), and all of the things that inform experience—and how these various standpoints affect how one listens (even though we might think we are listening with open ears while soundwalking). Andra goes on to suggest that it is good for listeners to be aware of their standpoints and that they can then attempt to try to listen in other ways as well, if possible.
Andra’s last comments revolve around a sonic experience of a visual art object: a sculpture on the campus that has round holes that are just head-size. Another small group of participants saw Andra playing with the sculpture in the distance during the soundwalk and decided to follow suit. Hildegard Westerkamp played with a metal sculpture in the Queen Elizabeth Park soundwalk that she first did in the 1970s. Furthermore, one of the World Soundscape Project’s walks of the Louvre involved going around to different paintings and thinking about them sonically (e.g., looking at a painting and imagining the sound). Imaginative listening is something that happens regularly on soundwalks, on top of or intermixed with the soundscape you are actually hearing while walking and listening.
Some lingering questions that were raised in the listening discussion: how might political listening play into the Newfoundland soundwalk experience? How does privilege operate as a listening standpoint? And, is a quiet soundscape necessarily a privileged environment? What types of situations do you feel comfortable in while remaining silent; where do you feel comfortable soundwalking? How might soundwalking operate in an unstable political setting, as a protest or political gesture?
(Recording by Andrew Simpson)
Une version française de ce texte se trouve ici
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.
Résonances de la Fontaine, an environmental sound performance by Malcolm Goldstein for the Soundwalking Interactions Project, is taking place in Parc Lafontaine May 19, 2012, from 5-6 pm (rain date, May 20). Goldstein (violinist/composer) will be joined by Philippe Lauzier (saxophones), Rainer Wiens (prepared electric guitar), Andra McCartney (recordist), David Madden (recordist), and Magali Babin (recordist).
Working with a soundscape score created by violinist and composer Goldstein, three musicians and three sound recordists will listen in different parts of the park over the afternoon, following Goldstein’s score based on a map of the park. A performance at the end of the afternoon will be inspired by the listening experience.
The performance will be outdoors on the terrace of the Espace La Fontaine restaurant, which is just about in the centre of the park overlooking the water. Members of the Soundwalking Interactions Project will be on hand to direct people to the performance space.
Résonances de la Fontaine est une performance sonore environnementale produite par Malcom Goldstein pour le projet Soundwalking Interactions et qui aura lieu au parc Lafontaine durant le 19 mai 2012.
Goldstein (violoniste/compositeur) performera en compagnie de
Philippe Lauzier (saxophones)
Rainer Wiens (guitare électrique préparée)
Andra McCartney (enregistrement audio)
David Madden (enregistrement audio)
Magali Babin (enregistrement audio)
La performance se tiendra à l’extérieur de la terrasse du restaurant de l’Espace LaFontaine, au centre du parc près du lac. Les membres du projet Soundwalking Interactions seront présents pour diriger les participants.
Dr. Emily Thompson is a history professor at Princeton University interested in the history of technology with a particular focus on late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century America. From her faculty page at Princeton, she writes that her research “explores the cultural history of sound, music, noise, and listening, and focuses on how these phenomena and activities intersect with technologies like the phonograph, motion pictures, and architecture.”
Thompson’s most widely known and cited work is The Soundscape of Modernity: Architectural Acoustics and the Culture of Listening in America, 1900-1933 (2002). In the book, she examines changes to aural culture in the U.S. in the early twentieth-century. Thompson argues that modern technology changed the way people listened along with transforming America’s soundscape—i.e. what people heard.
Thompson writes that during this period (1900-33), “sounds became signals,” positing that the “desire for clear, controlled, signal-like sound became pervasive, and anything that interfered with this goal was now engineered out of existence” (3). Moving away from Murray Schafer’s conception of soundscape and drawing on the work of Alain Corbin, Thompson defines the soundscape “as an auditory or aural landscape. Like a landscape, a soundscape is simultaneously a physical environment and a way of perceiving that environment; it is both a world and a culture constructed to make sense of that world” (1).
The Soundscape of Modernity is referenced in two of Andra’s articles on this site: “Ethical questions about working with soundscapes” and “Soundwalking: creating moving environmental sound narratives.”
Thompson is currently working on a book project entitled Sound Effects, which looks at the working lives of those involved with film exhibition in America from 1925-1933, including projectionists, sound engineers, musicians, and editors. For more information on Thompson and a more comprehensive list of her publications, please refer to: Emily Thompson
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.