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Sounds from the Underground

April 23, 2013 2 comments

Une version française de ce texte se trouve ici

What kind of soundwalking interactions to explore in Montreal during the long cold winter of 2013? Sounds from the Underground! In February of 2013, I asked several undergraduate students of sound courses in the Communication Studies program at Concordia University to go into Montreal’s underground city and record soundwalks through different parts of the complex. This is what I asked them to do:

Do four soundwalks, each walk being between 45 mins and one hour, in the underground city. You can repeat the same route at different times, or choose different routes each time. At least two of the walks should link with the CCA. You can find maps of the underground city online to guide your plans. I would like you to record the walk, listen back to the recording and write a descriptive summary about each walk (about one page or 350 words each time), and select a short excerpt (less than 90 secs) from each walk that is of particular sonic interest. Your summary should describe the route that you took, for future reference (or you could draw it on the underground city map if you wanted). Make sure that when you are doing the recording, you monitor on headphones and avoid excessive wind and clothing noise.

This method follows some important tenets of our research: firstly, the repetition of soundwalks through time, seeking a variety of recording perspectives and experiences of similar places, within each person’s practice as well as that of the group as a whole. Descriptive writing is used as a means of reflecting on each experience and situating it in relation to the others. Selecting sounds of sonic interest unearths recurrent themes and provides short samples of the underground ambiances for listening. What follows is a report written by the leader of our merry underground recording band, Natalie Arslanyan. Thanks to recordists Maximilien Bianchi, Kaeleigh d’Ermo, Mallika Guhan, Jacob Stanescu, Luciana Trespalacios, Nadia Volkova, and Alexandrina Wilkinson.

Sounds from the Underground: A City Unnoticed

Busy traffic, pedestrians crossing the street, car horns, and ambulance sirens – these are sounds often associated with describing city soundscapes, or what a city sounds like. Montreal, in particular, is known for the sounds of its street buskers, cyclists darting by, conversations in French, cobblestone roads, and church bells echoing off buildings in the Old Port. Like most places, these characteristics describe the city as it would be perceived from the ground-up; however, many disregard a significant and noteworthy area of Montreal, one which tends to go unnoticed – the Underground City.

Montreal’s Underground City is a discrete and concealed space. Located below the ground, it ranges from areas surrounding Guy-Concordia metro station, eastwards towards Beaudry, southwards into metro Champ-de-Mars, and westwards towards Lucien-L’Allier metro. For many, it represents a shopping centre, a link between surrounding businesses and metro stations, a place for entertainment, or an escape from Montreal’s harsh winter weather. Regardless, the various activities and sounds that occur beneath the streets of Montreal deserve great attention and exploration.

In an attempt to explore the Underground City, Prof. McCartney asked eight undergraduate sound students from Communication Studies at Concordia University to embark on several soundwalks throughout the underground, and to audio record the walks. During these soundwalks, the students stayed mainly within the underground space, later emerging onto city streets, and linking to the CCA, or Canadian Centre for Architecture. Their findings suggest that as in any other urban areas, recurrent sonic themes emerge and ultimately create a soundscape for the Underground City. The Underground City is also noted for its differences in ambiance and tone between different sections of the complex. The underground in all its vastness has the ability to guide individuals into unfamiliar places, leading to unpredictable situations and feelings of isolation and confusion. Finally, the students found a notable difference in ambiance between Montreal streets and the area of the CCA.

There are many distinct and recurring sounds that emerge from the Underground City, including those produced from metro stations and trains, escalators and ventilation systems, the presence of music, activity within food courts, and fountain sounds. Significant differences in ambiance were found between metro stations, the underground mall, and the streets above ground. One student speaks specifically about the change in soundscape from Les Cours de Mont-Royal, a shopping centre within the underground complex, to the Peel metro station, where “[t]he music faded to be replaced by a faint mechanical drone, and the beeping of Opus cards came into the foreground”.  In another situation, a distinction can be found between the “beeps, bustle, and hum of the Metro compared to the quieter boutiques that line the walls of Montreal’s Underground City”. Differences in soundscape can also be affected by the time of the day. Upon arriving to the McGill metro station at approximately 9:30 pm, one student felt a calmness and sense of dead-space within her surroundings. Had she entered the same station at 8:30 am the next morning during rush hour, she may have had an experience much different from her own.

One of the most notable and recurrent sounds throughout the Underground City is that of escalators and ventilation systems. The “overpowering drone” produced by both systems creates a shifting omnipresent hum throughout the underground, leading them to become unnoticed and less distinct among people walking by (https://soundcloud.com/nataliearslanyan/underground-city-escalators). As one student noted, “[i]t seems as though these are the baseline of the Underground City. They are everywhere and they colour the sonic landscape throughout”.

The clicking of shoes and high heels on the cold, tiled floors of the underground city is another distinct sound, and appears much more in the foreground in quieter areas of the mall  (https://soundcloud.com/nataliearslanyan/footsteps-underground; https://soundcloud.com/nataliearslanyan/underground-ambiance). The presence of music is also a recurrent theme of the underground. Music is heard through an intercom that is played throughout the entire complex, as well as in individual stores and in different shopping centres. The amount of music heard becomes an overwhelming experience, as “different snippets of top 40 songs coming at you from different directions; there is barely any rest,” (https://soundcloud.com/nataliearslanyan/music-1).  It is also not uncommon to see shoppers plug into their mp3 players and listen to their music through headphones. This form of music listening isolates the individual from the rest of their surroundings, just as the Underground City seems isolated and unknown from the streets above.

Some of the most interesting sounds were found in food courts: “the banging of pots, sizzling of fires, the sound of cash registers, all supported by continuous chatter…there seemed to be a sense of layering, almost like a musical composition,” (https://soundcloud.com/nataliearslanyan/underground-food-court). There seemed to be an increase in sound activity and attention drawn to food courts in comparison to other parts of the underground. As one student explains, “the ambiance of the food court was especially fun because I could listen to the jazzy soundtrack coming out of the speakers and do close-ups of restaurant machines that were still working.” Sounds produced from food courts are influenced by their location within the underground complex and the people occupying the food courts. For example, there is a significant difference in ambiance between the food court located in the Eaton Centre, characterized as chaotic with the presence of children and families, and the food court in Cours de Montréal, where business people are more likely to be found. The differences in volume and textures of sound vary between food courts throughout the underground complex; however, it seems that food courts are perceived as a central area for people to meet, relax, and take a break from their daily activities. The placement of a large water fountain in the middle of the Place Desjardins food court, for example, provides an additional sense of relaxation and simultaneously produces a sonically interesting, rhythmically and timbrally variable sound to the overall soundscape (https://soundcloud.com/nataliearslanyan/water-fountain).

Aboveground, the downtown Saint-Laurent area, filled with students, clubs, and bars, will sound considerably different from Montreal’s Old Port, with its large stone buildings, lesser evening activity and circuitous routes for traffic. This same concept of neighbourhood sound character can be applied to the underground complex, especially when considering “upper-class” and “middle-class” areas. As one student notes, “[d]oes something sound rich or poor? Probably not, but moving from the busy underbelly of the city to the upper reaches where movement is not done en-masse, things get quieter.” (Luciana – walking underground) The Eaton Centre is observed as ever-changing and chaotic, as opposed to Place Montreal Trust as being busy, yet relaxed. High-end sections, such as the Queen Elizabeth hotel and Les Cours Mont-Royal, are expressed as containing less “noise”. As one recordist notes, noise can be considered as “a number of sounds found to be unwanted/undesirable”, or sounds that create clutter within an environment. There is a contrast between high-end and low-end areas, in terms of how unwanted sounds, or “noise”, can be masked with other sounds. Another student indicates the projection of jazz music in the Place d’Armes metro station tunnel towards the Palais de Congres to overpower sounds of escalators and fluorescent lights. It is interesting to note how ambiance and tone within the Underground City can change from one area to another, regardless of all these sections residing under one roof.

The Underground City is capable of leading individuals unfamiliar with the area into unpredictable and interesting situations. One student unexpectedly found herself in the middle of a live concert, as she walked from the tunnel between Lucien L’Allier Metro and the Bell Centre around 10:00 pm on a Monday night. Although she anticipated it to be a quiet evening, she almost immediately felt that something was different, as she started “hearing the sub bass of what sounded like a dance track of some kind.” Without knowing, the student had walked into a Lady Gaga concert and did not realize until exiting the Bell Centre and seeing a poster advertising the concert.

Several soundwalk recordists encountered buskers within the Underground City. One recordist found a man busking with a guitar, cardboard boat, fishing pole, and a sign reading “fishing for change”. The Saint Henri metro station is noted as usually being filled with buskers. On one particular soundwalk, a student recorded the sound of three buskers playing a cover of a Pink Floyd song, accompanied by several homeless people whistling, talking, and clapping at Place-des-Arts metro. Another student notes her experience with a busker, as he looked at her suspiciously the closer she approached him, stopped singing for a moment, then continued after he felt she was at a far enough distance (). The information gathered from these students suggests that the presence of buskers is a distinctive feature of the Underground City, and that recordists cannot automatically assume that it is ok to record musicians playing in a public place, since the music is the source of their income.

Each recordist expanded their soundwalks to include Montreal streets, ranging from the Square-Victoria area, to Lucien L’Allier, to Guy-Concordia metro. In addition to busy roads and side streets, the Canadian Centre for Architecture was also incorporated into many of the recordings. The CCA is located between Boulevard Rene-Levesque and Rue Sainte-Catherine Ouest, two exceptionally large and busy streets in downtown Montreal.

Despite being placed within close proximity to highway 720, there is a significant change in soundscape upon entering the gates leading to the museum’s courtyard. There is also a deepening sense of hollowness and emptiness, as the sounds of bustling traffic lose much of their omnipresence. The soundscape is quiet and calm and for a moment, you can hear the sound of birds chirping. Suddenly, the sound of a siren appears – except there is a notable distinction between this siren and another siren heard through regular traffic. The quiet and desolate environment of the courtyard adds an eerie and isolated aesthetic to the siren, as its sound pierces through the city and bounces off the stonewalls of the CCA. Upon exiting the CCA gates, sounds of the city emerge once again – the turbulence of cars and trucks whisking down the highway, cyclists whizzing by, and the previously-heard sound of the siren now much less clear and distinct. It is amazing how architecture can affect the perception of sounds within a city. What would the Underground City sound like without escalators or ventilation systems? How would this change the overall soundscape of the Underground City?

Explorations of the Underground City present an array of observations and questions. Many of the soundwalk recordists noted their unfamiliarity with the world underground and experiencing the underground in the same way a tourist would, exploring it as unfamiliar territory. Some were familiar with specific underground spaces, such as areas around Bonaventure and McGill metro. One recordist explained how his perspective of experiencing the underground mall shifted from being less of an explorer and more of a listener, which allowed him to enjoy his time uncovering other mysteries of the Underground City. Regardless of the numerous strange looks received or having shoppers misread the use of a microphone as an interview opportunity, many of the sounds uncovered from the underground present an inconspicuous and unique dimension of Montreal, demonstrating yet another hidden treasure beneath Montreal’s surface.

Link to “Sounds from the Underground” SoundCloud webpage:

https://soundcloud.com/nataliearslanyan/sets/sounds-from-the-underground

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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.

Winter soundwalks

February 20, 2012 1 comment

Une version française de ce texte se trouve ici

Last month, the members of the Soundwalking Interactions Project (Andra McCartney, David Paquette, Dave Madden and Caitlin Loney) took part in a series of soundwalks in their respective neighborhoods (three in Montreal, one in Morin-Heights). Each member completed three 30-minutes weekly walks, followed by the production of an analytical summary. After gathering these reports, we each wrote short reports in which we explore the similarities and differences of each participant’s experiences. These summaries can be found in a previous blog entry.

One element that was highlighted in all reports was the role and impact of winter climate on the various walks. Dave has discussed the influence of weather conditions not just on the listening experience, but on his whole perceptual experience. For Caitlin, the temperature was mostly experienced through the changing sound of the snow or the ice on the ground. I personally found that the weather was having an impact on the pace and the duration of the walk. In a similar vein, Andra has noticed that weather conditions were influencing both the time of the walk and its overall orientation. These observations led us to propose another series of walk in the same environments, that time in April, to take into account seasonal changes.

Another aspect to consider is the impact of the spatial configurations on the unfolding of the walk itself; for example, while the three urban neighborhoods were providing a wide range of potential routes and environments, my own neighborhood had a more limited selection of paths and more homogeneous sonic spaces. The differences in sonic variety (both in quantity and levels) can clearly be observed when reading the various reports. Another important feature that was revealed is the notion of attitude, and of attention to the environment. Dave also discussed the inherent intersensoriality of soundwalking as well as the impact of the various sensory modalities on listening. Finally Andra questioned the relationship between the three successive walks we’ve done, and also pointed to the effect of resonance that was made possible by the weekly sharing of our individual experiences.

Marches sonores hivernales

February 20, 2012 1 comment

The English version of this text can be found here

Les membres de Soundwalking Interactions (Andra McCartney, David Paquette, Dave Madden, Cailtin Loney) ont pris part, durant le mois dernier, à un projet de marches sonores hivernales dans leur quartier respectif (trois à Montréal, une à Morin-Heights). Chacun a effectué trois marches hebdomadaires d’environ 30 minutes, suivies de la rédaction d’un résumé analytique. Nous avons ensuite rédigé de courts sommaires dans lesquels nous explorons les similitudes et différences entre chaque expérience. Les résumés et analyses peuvent être lus dans leur version (anglaise) intégrale dans cet article paru précédemment.

Un aspect fondamental de l’expérience de chacun fut la présence du climat hivernal dans les commentaires hebdomadaires. Si pour Dave les conditions météos influençaient non seulement l’expérience auditive même bien la totalités des modes perceptifs, pour Caitlin la température se faisait surtout entendre à travers la texture changeante du bruit des pas, selon la qualité de la neige ou de la glace au sol. Pour moi, ce sont surtout la cadence et la durée des marches qui témoignaient du temps. Finalement, pour Andra, le climat dictait plutôt l’heure (milieu d’après-midi) et l’orientation (vers l’ouest, pour faire face au soleil) de la marche. L’influence majeure du climat nous a donc menés à proposer une autre série de marches sonores au mois d’avril, pour tenir compte du changement de saison.

Un autre aspect à considérer est l’impact de la configuration spatiale sur le déroulement de la marche elle-même; par exemple, les trois quartiers urbains proposent une plus grande diversité de trajectoires et de lieux hétérogènes, contrairement à la campagne ou les choix de parcours demeuraient (à tout le moins dans mon cas) assez limités et relativement uniformes. Les différences de variété sonore (ainsi que de volume et de quantité) sont facilement identifiables à la lecture des résumés de marche; la question d’attitude (ou d’attention) et son lien à l’espace semble une autre composante importante qui pourrait être approfondie. Dave s’est aussi intéressé à l’intersensorialité inhérente à la pratique de la marche sonore, se questionnant sur les types de collaborations sensorielles qu’elle rend possible et de leur impact sur l’écoute elle-même. Finalement, Andra s’est questionnée sur le rapport entre les trois marches successives, ainsi que l’effet potentiel de résonance crée par le partage hebdomadaire des résumés de marches entre les membres de l’équipe.

The aural experience of physical space – An interactive installation

May 24, 2011 2 comments

by Kathy Kennedy

Une version française de ce texte se trouve ici.

The relationship of sound and space is a recurring theme in current sound art, and a new interactive work by Andra McCartney examines this trend in detail. I visited her work in progress recently in the Department of Communications Studies at Concordia University where Dr. McCartney was testing the piece with her graduate students. This interactive installation makes use of ambient field recordings recorded during soundwalks that are activated and manipulated by the movement of performers within a physical space. Recordings consisted of traffic sounds, elevators, urban and rural soundscapes punctuated by occasional birds, doors, cars, voices or music. They were all recorded in the immediate area surrounding where the work was installed. The room is dominated by a large projection covering an entire wall, displaying a grid of 16 equal-sized squares containing body images of the performers that reveal themselves with changing color intensity as they move through the space. This grid is a reflection of a comparable area on the floor where performers can move freely while activating the field recordings. The sounds are heard through four speakers on the floor, one at each corner of the large square.

Dr. McCartney and three of her graduate students each contributed four selections of 30 to 60 seconds in length, one for each square on the grid. Each participant’s four recordings were distributed in one corner of the floor space, creating a specific quadrant per person. The performers’ movements across this area were tracked by a video camera on the ceiling, and fed into a computer program (Max/MSP/Jitter). The movements activated the sound files attached to each square of floor as well as the body image on the projected screen.  In other words, the space on the floor became a stage for the performer that was reflected in the projected image. The velocity or intensity of movement translated into the volume of the sound file and intensity of colour in the visual image. Darker colours represented slower movement and the brightest colours came from the most activity.

All four performers (McCartney and students) moved freely throughout the space, trying to activate and shape sounds with different kinds of movement, affecting a combination of elements to create different sonic mixes. The visual stimulus of the screen increased the feedback loop between sound and physical position as performers watched the various squares light up with organic color traces representing the constantly changing velocity and amplitude of their movement. Sharp gestures, jumping or arm waving was implemented to create sharper attacks or spikes in volume, like a giant instrument being played by four musicians. This model for musical collaboration between players often gleans creative results, requiring all to constantly experiment with and adjust to new feedback.

As with all interactive work, it is worthwhile to qualify the nature and degree of interactivity that is solicited. The idea of moving through physical space to activate different sounds is a compelling one. It is much like real life, where we experience different sounds as we change place. However, this piece takes us into a new realm of possibility where sounds can appear from any direction (i.e. the four speakers) and remain ultimately beyond our control. Throughout this process of experimentation, the Max patch was being adjusted by collaborator Don Sinclair to randomly change the position of sound files so that interaction would stay fresh and new. Other modalities, such as permanent situation of sound files in specific quadrants, were also tried.

The choice of sound file, however, seems to me to be the most important factor in determining the degree of interaction. The field recordings selected were relatively ambient and lacking in distinctive information in the first few seconds of playback. Therefore it took some time to recognize one’s choice and even more time to affect change in volume.  Reaction time became an important issue in triggering interactive responses from the performers. The length of each excerpt seemed to also affect the tendencies of interaction. Some selections with clearer “sound marks” or distinguishing factors drew different responses, as performers tried to access them more often.

One important outcome of this interactive proposition was the fluidity and freedom of movement in performers. In an attempt to affect the audio response, each participant inadvertently became a performance-worthy dancer. I found the visual elements of the piece played an important role in the activity as well. Participants were responding to the spectral colour feedback, and I, as a spectator, enjoyed watching people engage in the process. The shadow of each body appeared on the projected screen, harkening poetically to the inescapable human footprint in all field recordings. In this work, each participant is intended to trigger sounds by their geographical placement and intensity of movement in that space.  This is not unprecedented in interactive works, but the notion of field recordings takes the listener immediately into the realm of ‘place,’ creating an illusory world of cause and effect. One moves in a highly charted, circumscribed world (the floor) in order to affect a much more amorphous world of audio.

There was a heightened or enhanced level of physical and aural awareness implicit in the interactive component of this work that was particularly enjoyable to witness. Navigating through physical space in order to access and alter field recordings (the aural experience of physical space) is a fanciful idea. It is also an important line of inquiry about how we occupy physical space, our awareness of sound being a fundamental aspect of that experience.

Loyola/Montreal West Soundwalks

February 24, 2011 Leave a comment

By David Madden

I recently led three improvised soundwalks through Concordia’s Loyola campus and the surrounding residential area.  The first walk was with a group of undergraduate sound students on January 21st, a very cold and windy day.  The other two walks were conducted on February 17th, a beautiful spring-like day with over seventy undergraduate students in a History of Communication and Media course.  Weather is an important factor in determining the various paths to take while on a soundwalk, whether improvised or planned in advance.  On the colder day, much of the route consisted of moving through many of the campus’s interior spaces, such as the library, Oscar Peterson Concert Hall, the Richard J. Renaud Science Complex and the CJ building, which houses the Department of Communication Studies.  In contrast, the warm weather on the 17th offered the perfect opportunity to explore the lively sounds of Montreal West:  light traffic, residents shoveling snow, intermittent bird calls, and elementary school students playing in the snow.

In the discussions that followed, many listeners described the various ways footsteps play into soundwalks.  One female listener found them “hypnotizing,” making it difficult to focus on other sounds; another found a communal and rhythmic element to the sounds of our shoes, keeping us “in-sync” throughout the walk; while another listener felt they added a nice “hum” while walking through the snow.  Certain students listened to the Loyola campus historically, trying to imagine how the soundscape might have sounded twenty years earlier and comparing the acoustics of the older buildings with the newer ones.  This comparative thread largely revolved around the lower levels of reverb and echo present in the newer buildings.

At Soundwalking Interactions, we are very interested in hearing about your soundwalking experiences.  Does this urban walk through a university campus and its surrounding area sound like anything you have encountered while on a soundwalk?  How do you feel about the sounds of the city, or the buildings that you walk through everyday?  Have you had any interesting sounding experiences while taking public transportation?  Please contact us via email or simply “leave a comment.”

Soundwalk in Montreal

February 15, 2011 Leave a comment

By Caitlin Loney

Une version française de ce texte se trouve ici

On January 25, 2011, members of the Soundwalking Interactions project (Andra McCartney, David Paquette and Caitlin Loney) went on a soundwalk accompanied by Hildegard Westerkamp. We took public transportation to the Biodôme, located near the Olympic Stadium, to visit a temporary “forest” (titled “The Ephemeral Forest”) created by the City of Montreal using discarded and unsold Christmas trees. People were invited to hang words of hope for the planet on the branches of these dying trees, a fact that made us only more curious about this site.

The recordings are presented in chronological order beginning with a bus from Outremont metro to Rosemont metro, then underground by metro to the Biodôme, ending in the Christmas tree park. The bus trip is marked by the incredible silence of the passengers; the only sounds heard are of the bus itself. The underground metro system which took us to the Pie-IX station presented us with a variety of sonic environments: the openness of Rosemont metro, the claustrophobic roar of the metro car, and the quiet afternoon bustle of downtown Berri-Uqam station. On our way out of Pie-IX, we encountered a corridor filled with whistling, moaning wind. Emerging outside, you can hear our steps crunching in dry snow. As we arrived at the tree-filled park, we were surrounded by pre-recorded bird sounds layered over long sweeping synth chords, a soundtrack reminiscent of nature shows and relaxation tapes. As shown in the photographs, the park was filled with green pine trees, their colour presumably preserved by the cold still one month after Christmas. From the small wooden cards decorating the branches of these discarded trees, we read aloud messages in French, English, German and Spanish about hope, peace and a brighter future for the planet.