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Soundwalk response by Denis Kra

Soundwalk Report:
« A response to the soundwalk through your own idea of how to do that »

Auteur: Denis Kra

COMS876 / COM7161: Media Technology as Practice

Prof: Andra McCartney

Concordia University

February 28, 2012

L’écoute des sons ou la marche pour l’écoute des sons, communément appelée «Soundwalk», est une activité à laquelle mes frères et moi avions été initiés très tôt dans notre enfance par notre papa. Il nous a appris à écouter les sons qui ont une signification, et ce, dans le but de savoir prédire le présent et le futur proche. Ainsi, pour aller cultiver dans notre plantation, faire une course en ville ou faire un voyage, nous écoutions des sons afin de savoir si notre déplacement débouchera sur du bonheur et de la joie ou si au contraire, on sera exposé à des problèmes ou frappé par un malheur.

J’aime particulièrement écoute les sons tôt à l’aube (le matin dans l’intervalle de temps compris entre la nuit et le lever du soleil). Dans cet intervalle, il se produit des sons qui prédisent le futur proche, notamment au sujet des événements qui se passeront dans le courant de la journée: des sons de bons ou de mauvais augures, des sons évocateurs de bonheur ou de malheur que seuls les initiés peuvent décoder et tirer des enseignements. Par exemple, certains bruits humains, particulièrement les pleurs des bébés, les chants d’oiseaux, les cris d’animaux domestiques ou sauvages, le bruit du vent et la direction du vent, le bruit des insectes, etc.

À bien y penser, je m’aperçois qu’on écoutait tout ce qui était naturel et on n’accordait pas d’importe aux bruits émis par les entités non naturelles. C’est à dire par exemple les bruits des voitures, des moteurs ou les bruits de tout autre objet fabriqué par les humains ne nous intéressaient pas pour l’écoute des sons. Étant donné que l’intérêt de notre écoute des sons est porté sur le sens de ces sons, il nous arrive parfois d’entendre un oiseau chanter un chant de bonheur, ce qui nous fait savoir que la journée sera heureuse ou sans problème. Si nous avons une commission à faire dans cette journée, ce seul chant d’oiseau évoquant le bonheur nous prédit que cette commission sera un succès. Cela nous procure une grande joie pour amorcer la journée, pour aller au champ ou  pour effectuer toute activité que nous avons projetée dans cette journée. Mais parfois c’est le contraire qui arrive, nous entendons les sons qui prédisent le malheur, et ces jours-là nous ajournons ce que nous avions prévu faire, et nous restons à la maison tout en observant la prudence pour ne pas être victimes de malheur.

Ce qui est quelquefois marrant, c’est que, même si nous savons qu’il y aura bonheur ou malheur, ce bonheur ou ce malheur ne se porte pas toujours sur ce que nous croyons. Il se porte parfois sur des situations auxquelles nous n’avons pas du tout pensé. En plus, nous ne pouvons pas savoir de quelle nature sera ce bonheur ou ce malheur, ni d’où il proviendra. C’est une science traditionnelle assez intéressante, mais qui reste encore inexacte.

J’aime particulièrement écouter les sons à des périodes des pointes comme l’aube, le midi, le crépuscule et minuit. C’est des périodes chargées de beaucoup d’informations cosmiques véhiculées par les créatures naturelles de l’univers. Mes lieux préférés pour faire ses écoutes de sons sont:

– Pour l’aube, à la véranda de la maison familiale au village pendant que tout le monde dort encore, à la fenêtre dans une maison silencieuse en ville avec mon regard tourné au dehors et perdu dans le firmament.

-Pour le midi, lorsque je suis en ville, assis par exemple dans une cafétéria, dans une gare, dans un parc, etc., j écoute les bruits naturels tout en faisant abstraction des bruits artificiels. Quelquefois si possible, je m’isole en pleine forêt ou dans le bois où il y a peu de bruits artificiels. Dans ce lieu, on a l’occasion d’écouter le bruit du silence, des oiseaux, des insectes, en somme, le bruit de la manifestation de la terre. Et quelquefois dans ces lieux, en pleine inspiration d’écoute, on peut entendre des voix venues de nulle part, des paroles brèves aussitôt entendues, aussitôt rompues. J’ai été moi-même témoin de beaucoup de choses étranges lors de mes écoutes de sons en pleine forêt pendant les périodes de midi.

– Pour le crépuscule, je préfère être également en pleine forêt. C’est une période de transition où les êtres en éveille durant le jour rentrent pour dormir et les êtres de la nuit se réveillent pour vaquer à leurs activités. Par exemple, il a des insectes, des oiseaux ou des animaux nocturnes qui s’éveillent alors d’autres des mêmes espèces rentrent pour dormir. Dans cette transition, l’écoute devient passionnante, car les bruits qu’on écoute à ce moment sont de véritables messages pour ceux qui savent lire et décoder les bruits et les signes. Les personnes de culture traditionnelle, qui ont une vie typiquement en relation avec la terre ou la campagne, peuvent vous en dire davantage.

– Pour les périodes de minuit je m’exerce à l’écoute du son lorsque je suis au campement. Mais en ville, cela ne m’est possible actuellement que quand je me retrouve tout seul, ou quand par chance tout le monde chez moi dort avant minuit et qu’il n’y a plus de bruits artificiels. Ce qui est très rare à la maison.

Récemment dans le cours COMS876, nous avions fait une marche d’écoute de sons «Soundwalk». Le procédé et motif sont différents de ce que je suis habitué à faire tout seul dans ma campagne. Cette marche a consisté à longer une partie du chemin de fer qui traverse le quartier, à sillonner quelques rues du quartier, puis à retourner sur le campus de l’Université Concordia, tout en rentrant dans quelques bâtisses de l’Université avant de retourner en classe. Chaque participant de la marche a fait le compte-rendu de ce qu’il ou elle a écouté. Moi, j’ai particulièrement entendu le bruit de moteur des voitures, de chauffage, des oiseaux, des humains, ainsi que le bruit du vent et de la neige qui tombait sur mon habit. Cette marche a été audio enregistrée par David Paquette et immortalisée avec les photos prises par Magda. Cette marche m’a paru assez originale et excitante d’autant plus que c’était pour moi la première fois que je faisais du «Soundwalk» en ville en groupe et en compagnie des amis de classe. À la fin de cette randonnée, j’ai pensé à l’utilité et à la signification des sons que nous avons chacun écoutés, mais ce n’était pas l’objet de ce cours.

Le «Soundwalk» pourrait également se faire sans rendez-vous. On pourrait pour ce faire, disposer en permanence sur soi d’un appareil d’enregistrement, et enregistrer les sons partout où on se trouverait: au travail, en chemin sur les routes, dans les centres d’achat, au restaurant, à la maison, etc. L’écoute de ces sons enregistrés peut procurer du plaisir à bien des personnes notamment les voyageurs, les touristes qui ont enregistré ces sons pendant leur séjour à l’étranger ou à une période leur vie, etc. Ces sons peuvent aussi servir de mémoire du temps ou d’une époque et les réécouter plusieurs années plus tard peut réveiller les souvenirs de ces époques. Exemple pour une personne âgée, réécouter les sons qu’elle a enregistrés dans sa jeunesse il y a 40 ans, lui procurera un très grand plaisir, car ces sons constituent pour elle des souvenirs de sa jeunesse et lui font revivre mentalement ces périodes.

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Vancouver English Bay Soundwalk

December 20, 2011 Leave a comment

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.

Balance-Unbalance Soundwalk

December 19, 2011 Leave a comment

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.

Carleton: Interactions in a Lucid Soundwalk

December 3, 2011 Leave a comment

On November 18, 2011, Andra McCartney visited Carleton University in Ottawa to lead a soundwalk and present a paper on Luce Irigaray and improvised listening, as part of the Second Graduate Colloquium for the MA in Music and Culture.

The walk was approximately 30 minutes and took place around the university’s campus, which is surrounded by the Rideau River and its rapids, as well as trains and roads. In the post-walk discussion, one participant remarked that at one point during the soundwalk, there were several levels of sound: the river, a train, and the beeping of a truck backing. This can be heard at 3:03 of the soundpiece. He commented that normally he would focus on the river and reject the truck, but that during the walk he was trying to be open to the soundscape as it was. Andra had noticed this point of the walk as well, and noted the rhythmic complexity of the layers, along with the sounds of overhead gulls.

Another person wondered if they should also include the sounds made by participants as one of these layers. She brought up the issue of the sometimes opposing roles of soundwalk participants as both bodies moving through space as well as “impartial observers”. She was struck, especially when some participants rattled locks or threw stones in the water, by a sense of “being in the moment and creating sound” during the walk. At the same time, she said she felt an “exclusion of [our] own presence, as though [we were] an observer and not actually embodied in the space, for instance not talking and trying to ignore the sounds [we were] making in preference to everything around [us]”. Andra felt that while, in some ways, the practice of soundwalking can separate participants from the environment by walking a silent group, at the same time, listening draws people into the environment, especially when listeners hear sounds they normally wouldn’t.

There was also a lively discussion around improvisational listening. One participant felt that all listening is improvised, since we listen to things differently each time we hear them. He noted that, “if I’m listening to a piece of music that I’ve listened to a thousand times before, that doesn’t mean that I’m not improvising as a listener…. I can choose to listen to the oboe part or I can choose to listen in a kind of global way.” Another stated that non-improvisational listening is actually hearing, and that the act of listening is an “active process that is always improvisational by virtue of our agency as listeners, choosing what to focus on”.

Andra suggested that it was the extent that mattered, giving the example of a planned soundwalk where everything is pre-determined versus one where the route is decided in the moment. Someone else offered the sound metaphor of resonance versus dampening to understand the relationship between improvisational and non-improvisational listening: there is a constant struggle between creative, improvised listening and forces of authority and convention that try to dampen it. For him, the question of extent has to do with how quickly these forces clamp down on moments of improvisation and bring it back to the “correct” interpretation.

English Bay Soundwalk Reflection

November 23, 2011 Leave a comment

By Jennifer Schine (jschine@sfu.ca)

November 18, 2011

On Wednesday 9 November, as part of Vancouver New Music’s soundwalk series (http://newmusic.org/free-community-events/soundwalks/), I had the pleasure of recording Andra McCartney’s hour-long night soundwalk around English Bay in Vancouver. As participants, we were asked to engage with our own practices of listening in hopes that this walk would contain something surprising and thought-provoking for all of us. Andra asked us to reflect on our complex listening relationships with the sensorial, (inter)personal, cultural, political, environmental and economical experiences of place, space and history, especially considering the city of Vancouver as we walked and listened to the area.

What this walk highlighted for me was the various levels of listening that can occur in a place and within oneself. These levels not only include physical levels of verticality, but temporal levels of seasonality and times of day, emotional levels, historical levels and levels of memory. For one of the participants, a resident of the English Bay area, this walk evoked memories of his summer soundscape. In his mind’s ear, he was brought back to warm summer evenings and the different sonic levels of people on their patios all the way up the tall buildings: “some people barbeque, some people talk on their phone, some people are just hanging out and having drinks after work. It’s a wonderful sound”. Several more of the walk’s participants also described sounds that were reminiscent for them; that upon hearing these sounds, they were brought back to moments of their past. As the group walked down Davie Street to the beach, we passed a circle of flagpoles. The sound of the clanking of metal against these poles was very musical and created different pitches. Andra found these tinkling sounds to evoke the sounds of boats at anchor, of sails hitting against the mast. This sound was joyful for her and so during the walk she was compelled to stay close to the flagpoles for a while. Another soundwalker heard the flagpoles as an “elementary-school-type sound”, which also brought a lot of joy to her.

Later in our discussion, several members of the group were struck by the presence of the many high-rises in English Bay and the impact of these massive buildings, not only on the soundscape, but as fortresses, themselves, demanding a type of navigation as a walker on the ground. During our discussion, Andra mentioned how she was relieved when we discovered a tiny alleyway behind one of the commercial buildings on Denman Street, which we could “cut through”.  She said, “I like to cut through [between buildings, but here in the English Bay area] you have to go all the way to the end of the block, which is part of the reason I kept taking us all the way to the end of the block…it’s something that is very characteristic of this area”. Because soundwalks are comprised of two parts, the sound and the walk, it is interesting to reflect on both the sounds that we hear and how we literally walk in an area.

The acts of both listening and walking can also be reflexive actions that draw together aspects of place and biography through the soundwalk, itself. One of the walk’s participants, Hildegard Westerkamp, mentioned, “I find that you don’t forget places where you have a done a soundwalk”. Her statement resonated with me and I started to think about the cities and places that I know more deeply because I have soundwalked them. “Cities and places”, Hildegard said, “whether you’re a visitor or live there, become internal maps…and because of that have become kind of signifiers. Other [places] are not as defined because they haven’t been soundwalked yet”. Which places do I know because of a soundwalk? This is part of the beauty of walking and listening, of becoming familiar with a place, and as Andra says, “of going back to an area over and over again”. And, this explains a little bit about Andra’s own practice, of choosing an area and soundwalking it repeatedly. I like to consider this familiar listening to my city as a conversation with an old friend. As I move and listen in space, I move between memories of the area and a more recent exploration of it. And, in experiencing these various “levels” of a place through the act of soundwalking allows for a certain depth that can become a conversation and even a potential for pleasure.

 

 

Balance-Unbalance Soundwalk

November 21, 2011 Leave a comment

On November 5th, 2011, Andra McCartney led a soundwalk at the Balance-Unbalance conference at Concordia University. The walk began at the Molson School of Business building, followed along the Ville-Marie Expressway and through the downtown neighbourhood surrounding Concordia University.

Vancouver New Music Soundwalk

September 19, 2011 Leave a comment

On Wednesday, November 9th from 7-8:30pm, Andra McCartney will lead a soundwalk around the English Bay area of Vancouver, hosted by Vancouver New Music. The walk will explore the varied soundscape of this area, made up of shopping areas, beaches, parkland, residential streets and roadways. There will be a discussion before and after the soundwalk.

For more info, please visit Vancouver New Music.

Also, the Vancouver New Music website is offering DIY soundwalk instructions. Follow the link and the site will generate unique soundwalk instructions for you to follow on your next soundwalk. My instructions were:

  1. Begin listening.
  2. Go outside.
  3. Walk — listening — to the nearest shop.
  4. At your destination, identify the softest sound you can hear. Locate this sound.

This morning, following these instructions, I walked to the corner store nearest to me in the Montreal neighborhood of Mile-End where I live. On the way, I heard distant metal-on-concrete drilling, buzzing chainsaw glissandos, the swell of near and far traffic, a bass-heavy pop song in Doppler effect from a speeding car, and the crazed squeals of recess as I passed a grade school. Inside the isolated soundscape of the small store, I listened closely for the first time out of hundreds of visits: a quiet, two-way greeting with the owner (both in our second language); the loud clang of the metal bell behind me; radio music  with intermittent static; and dense layers of refrigerated hum. The softest noise I hear is glass clinking. It’s coming from behind the industrial fridge doors; most likely the owner’s son (it is only ever the owner or his son who work there, everyday, from 9am to 11pm) restocking beer.