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Underground sounds project on CBC Cinq à Six

Underground sounds project on CBC Cinq à Six

Interview on the CBC Radio One program Cinq à Six, about the underground sounds project and soundwalks done for the Soundwalking Interactions project in the underground city, during the winter of 2012. Inspiration for this project from Suzanne Martel’s science fiction novel, Surréal 3000 is explained.

Entrevue à l’émission Cinq à Six sur CBC  Radio One à propos des projets sonores souterrains et des marches sonores menées dans le Montréal souterrain dans le cadre du projet La marche sonore comme processus d’interaction durant l’hiver 2012. L’inspiration pour ce projet, soit la nouvelle de science fiction Surréal 3000 de Suzanne Martel, y est discutée.

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Sonorités souterraines

April 23, 2013 1 comment

An English version of this entry can be found here

Quels types d’interactions sonores devrions-nous explorer en ce long hiver 2013 à Montréal? Les sons souterrains! En février 2013, j’ai demandé à plusieurs étudiants des cours de production sonore du département de communications à l’université Concordia de compléter des marches sonores dans le Montréal souterrain. Voici ce qui leur était demandé :

Complétez quatre marches sonores d’environ 45 à 60 minutes dans le Montréal souterrain. Vous pouvez répéter le même parcours à des moments différents, ou bien choisir quatre parcours différents. Au moins deux marches doivent croiser le CCA. Vous trouverez en ligne des plans de réseaux souterrains pour préparer vos parcours. Vous devrez enregistrer les marches, puis par la suite vous écouterez chaque enregistrement et préparerez un résumé analytique (environ une page ou 350 mots) pour chaque marche. Finalement, vous devrez sélectionner pour chaque marche un court extrait (moins de 90 secondes) qui présente des particularités sonores. Votre résumé devrait inclure la route parcourue (vous pouvez aussi dessiner votre parcours sur un plan). Lors de l’enregistrement, utilisez des écouteurs pour calibrer le niveau sonore et éviter les bruits de vent ou de frottement.

Cette méthode se base sur un nombre de principes au cœur de notre recherche : D’abord, la répétition de marches sur une période donnée permet la diversification des expériences et des perspectives sonores autant dans la pratique individuelle que dans les discussions de groupe. Le résumé analytique agit comme outil réflexologique et aide à la discussion avec les autres étudiants. Finalement, la sélection d’extraits sonores significatifs permet d’identifier des thématiques communes et fournit du matériel sonore pour supporter les discussions en classe. Le texte qui suit est le rapport de recherche produit par la leader de notre joyeux groupe de preneurs de sons souterrains, Natalie Arslanyan. Merci aux participants, Maimilien Bianchi, Laeleigh D’Ermo, Malika Guhan, Jacob Stnescu, Luciana Trespalacios, Nadia Volkova et Alexandrina Wilkinson.

Sonorités souterraines : Une ville dissimulée

Circulation lourde, piétons qui traversent la rue, klaxons et sirènes d’ambulance — tous des sons qu’on associe généralement à l’environnement sonore des villes. Montréal est surtout reconnue pour le son de ses musiciens ambulants, le bruit des cyclistes qui passent à toute vitesse, les brides de conversations en français ainsi que le bruit des pavés et l’écho des cloches d’église rebondissant sur les murs des édifices du Vieux-Port. Comme c’est généralement le cas, ces caractéristiques sonores décrivent la ville comme on la voit, au-dessus du niveau des rues; cependant, on oublie alors l’autre face importante de Montréal, celle qui se dissimule sous nos pieds : la ville souterraine.

Le Montréal souterrain est bien caché, à l’abri des yeux et des intempéries. Le réseau s’étire autour du secteur du métro Guy-Concordia, vers l’est jusqu’à Beaudry, vers le sud jusqu’à Champs-de-Mars et vers l’ouest jusqu’à Lucien-L’Allier. Pour plusieurs, la ville souterraine est d’abord un lieu de consommation, un fil conducteur entre galeries commerciales, stations de métro, espaces de divertissements, bref, le lieu idéal pour fuir les rudes hivers montréalais. La grande diversité d’activités et de sonorités qui emplissent la ville souterraine font qu’elle mérite malgré tout d’être explorée, étudiée.

Dans le but d’explorer la ville souterraine, Prof. McCartney a demandé à huit étudiants, tous inscrits au profil production sonore du département de communication à l’université Concordia, de réaliser un nombre de marches sonores avec captation audio. Durant ces marches, les étudiants demeuraient en grande partie à l’intérieur du réseau souterrain, empruntant cependant parfois des voies extérieures, notamment pour rejoindre le CCA, soit Centre Canadien d’Architecture. À travers ces nombreuses marches et captations, on voit apparaître , comme c’est généralement le cas dans tout autre espace urbain, une série de thèmes récurrents qui constituent en quelque sorte la trame sonore de la ville souterraine. On remarque aussi la grande diversité d’ambiances, qui modulent au gré des différents secteurs du réseau. Ce réseau qui tend aussi à faire découvrir des lieux jamais visités, et qui provoque des situations parfois imprévisibles, ainsi que des sentiments de confusion et d’isolement. Finalement, les étudiants ont relevé le contraste entre les ambiances des rues de Montréal et celles qui bordent directement le CCA.

Plusieurs sons distinctifs et récurrents ont vite été remarqués : les sons associés aux stations et aux voitures du métro, les bruits des systèmes de ventilation et ceux des escaliers roulants, la présence de musique, les diverses activités des aires de restauration et les bruits blancs des fontaines. Des différences marquées ont été perçues entre les ambiances des stations de métro, celles des galeries commerciales et finalement celles des rues extérieures. Un étudiant a spécifiquement mentionné le changement drastique qui s’opère entre Les Cours de Mont-Royal, un centre commercial situé dans le réseau souterrain, et la station Peel, où « la musique fait progressivement place au bourdonnement mécanique et aux bips sonores des cartes Opus. » Dans un autre cas, la distinction est notée entre « les bips, les bruits et les bourdonnements du Métro et les boutiques plus calmes qui bordent les couloirs de la ville souterraine. » Les différences de tonalité peuvent varier selon le moment de la journée. Lorsqu’elle est entrée à la station McGill vers 9:30, une étudiante a ressenti une lourde impression de calme et de vide. Si elle était arrivé une heure plus tôt, durant l’heure de pointe matinale, son expérience aurait vraisemblablement été très différente.

Les son les plus récurrents à travers le réseau souterrain sont ceux des escaliers roulants et des systèmes de ventilation. Le « vrombissement incessant » produit par ces deux sources crée une sorte de bourdonnement, qui, malgré ses modulations selon les différents espaces, finit par se fondre dans l’environnement sonore et devient presqu’imperceptible. (https://soundcloud.com/nataliearslanyan/underground-city-escalators) Comme l’exprime un des étudiants, « C’est un peu comme la tonalité de la ville souterraine. Ces sons sont omniprésents et ils marquent l’ensemble du paysage sonore. »

Les cliquetis des semelles dures et des talons hauts sur les tuiles froides du réseau souterrain constituent un autre son distinctif, particulièrement audible dans les secteurs plus tranquilles des centre commerciaux. (https://soundcloud.com/nataliearslanyan/footsteps-underground;https://soundcloud.com/nataliearslanyan/underground-ambiance) La musique, diffusée par des haut-parleurs à travers l’ensemble du réseau ainsi que dans les magasins et les centre commerciaux, est un autre son caractéristique du réseau. Son omniprésence devient parfois accablante et « les extraits du top 40 qui proviennent de partout à la fois ne permettent aucun moment de détente » (https://soundcloud.com/nataliearslanyan/music-1). Il n’est pas rare d’ailleurs de croiser des usagers qui se réfugients sous une paire d’écouter reliée à un lecteur audio portatif. Cette forme d’écoute isole la personne de son entourage, comme le réseau qui semble lui être isolé du reste de la ville.

Certains des sons les plus intéressants proviennent des aires de restauration : « le cognements des casseroles, le crépitement du feu, les bruits des caisses enregistreuses et toutes ces brides de discussion… On croyait entendre des couches sonores, telle une composition musicale »  (https://soundcloud.com/nataliearslanyan/underground-food-court). On peut observer une hausse de l’activité sonore dans les aires de restauration, comparativement aux autres secteurs du réseau. Comme l’explique une étudiante, « l’ambiance des aires de restauration était particulièrement agréable, parce que je pouvais écouter les musiques jazzées qui provenaient des haut-parleurs tout en faisant des captations rapprochées du bruits des machines dans les restaurants. » La variété de sons qu’on y rencontre dépend de la position des aires dans le réseau complexe, ainsi que des personnes qui les fréquentent.par exemple, on note des différences importantes entre l’ambiance de l’aire de restauration du Centre Eaton, plutôt chaotique avec les bruits des enfants et des familles, et elle des Cours de Montréal, où on retrouve surtout des gens d’affaire. Malgré ces  de volume et de texture, les aires de restauration demeurent des lieux centraux qui permettent au gens de se rencontrer, de relaxer et de faire une coupure dans leurs activités quotidiennes. Ainsi, l’ajout de grandes fontaines d’eau comme celle de la Place Desjardins ajoutent à l’ambiance de détente et produisent un environnement sonore plus diversifié (https://soundcloud.com/nataliearslanyan/water-fountain).

Au-dessus du niveau de la rue, il existe des différences notables entre le quartier qui borde la rue St-Laurent, avec ses clubs, ses bars et les nombreux étudiants qui s’y balladent, et le quartier du Vieux-Port et ses immeubles de pierre, son calme relatif ses avenues tortueuses. On peut retrouver sous terre les mêmes types de caractères sonores propres à chaque « quartier », surtout en ce qui a trait aux zones de classe moyenne et celles plus aisées. Un étudiant se demande en effet, « existe-t-il des sons plus riches, ou plus pauvres? Sûrement pas, mais quand on se déplace du sous-sol de la ville vers les plus hauts quartiers, ou les déplacements ne se font pas en masse, l’ambiance se calme » (Luciana – Walking Underground). Alors que l’environnement sonore du Centre Eaton est décrit comme étant instable et chaotique, celui de la Place Montréal est plutôt considéré comme étant occupé, mais calme. Les sections les plus raffinées, telles l’hôtel le Reine-Elizabeth et Les Cours Mont-Royal, semblent contenir moins de « bruits. » Comme l’observe un des étudiants, le bruit peut être défini comme « des sons considérés nuisibles ou indésirables » ou bien des sons qui remplissent inutilement l’espace. On constate clairement le contraste entre les lieux de classe moyenne et ceux plus chics au niveau de la présence de bruits indésirables et de leur effet masquant sur les autres sons. Une autre étudiante a remarqué l’utilisation de musique jazz dans le tunnel qui relie le métro Place-d’Armes au Palais des Congrès pour masquer les bruits des escaliers roulants et ceux des éclairages fluorescents. Il est fascinant de constater à quel point l’ambiance se transforme d’un espace à l’autre, même si tous ces lieux font partie du même réseau souterrain.

La ville souterraine peut aussi conduire ceux qui l’explorent à faire des découvertes imprévisibles. Une étudiante s’est retrouvée en plein concert musical alors qu’elle empruntait le couloir entre le métro Lucien-L’Allier et le Centre Bell, vers 22h00 un lundi soir. Une soirée qui semblait d’abord plutôt tranquille a rapidement été interrompue par « le bruit grandissant de basses profondes qui sonnaient comme une chanson dance. » Sans le savoir, elle s’est retrouvée en plein concert de Lady Gaga, ce qu’elle n’a réalisé qu’à son départ du Centre Bell, tapissé d’affiches annonçant le concert.

Plusieurs étudiants ont rencontré des musiciens ambulants dans les différents couloirs du réseau, tel ce guitariste qui prenait place dans un bateau fait de carton et qui arborait une canne à pêche et une affiche disant « je pêche de la monnaie. » Le métro St-Henri est généralement rempli de musiciens. Au métro, Place-des-Arts, lors d’une marche sonore, un étudiant a enregistré trois musiciens qui interprétaient des compositions de Pink Floyd, accompagnés par plusieurs mendiants qui sifflaient, chantaient et tapaient des mains. Une autre a raconté sa rencontre avec un musicien qui, l’observant s’approcher avec un regard inquiétant, s’est tu quelques instants avant de recommencer sa performance alors qu’elle s’éloignait. Ces nombreuses histoires soulignent le caractère distinctif de la présence des musiciens dans la ville souterraine, ainsi que le rapport complexe entre les preneurs de sons et les musiciens, pour qui la musique représente leur gagne-pain.

Tous les étudiants ont continué leur exploration à l’extérieur du réseau souterrain, allant du Square-Victoria jusqu’à Lucien-L’allier en passant par les secteur Guy-Concordia. En plus des rues bruyantes et des allées plus tranquilles, plusieurs étudiants se sont rendus jusqu’au Centre Canadien d’archtecture, situé entre le Boulevard René-Lévesque et la rue Ste-Catherine, deux artères montréalaises majeures.

Malgré sa proximité à l’autoroute 720, on constante un changement d’ambiance drastique alors qu’on passes les barrières menant à la cour du musée. On ressent alors une impression de vide et d’espace alors que les sons du trafic perdent de leur omniprésence. L’environnement sonore est calme, et on peut entendre, pendant quelques instants, les chants des oiseaux. Puis, une sirène perce le calme, avec une sonorité bien différente de celle que l’on entend habituellement à travers les bruits de la circulation. L’environnement calme et austère de la cour ajoute une touche sinistre et angoissante à la sirène, qui semble percer les sons de la ville pour venir bondir sur les murs du CCA. Alors que l’on ressort de la cour, les sons de la ville réapparaissent, le bruits des camions et des voitures provenant de l’autoroute, les cyclistes qui nous frôlent et les sirènes qui semble maintenant moins claires, moins distinctes. Nous sommes frappés par l’impact de l’architecture sur la perception sonore urbaine. Quel serait l’environnement sonore de la ville souterraine sans les bruits des escaliers et de la ventilation? Quel impact cela aurait-il sur les autres interactions sonores?

Ces explorations de la ville souterraine soulèvent un nombre de questions et d’observations. Plusieurs étudiants ont constaté leur ignorance de ces espaces souterrains, et ont pu les découvrir comme s’ils étaient des touristes dans leur propre ville. D’autres constataient leur grande familiarité avec certains spécifiques, surtout dans les environs des stations McGill et Bonaventure. Un étudiant a remarqué un changement progressif dans sa démarche, se concentrant moins sur l’exploration et plus sur l’écoute active, e qui lui a permis de mieux apprécier ses déambulations souterraines. Malgré les regards inquiets provoqués par la présence du microphone, les enregistrements recueillis révèlent une dimension unique et inconnue de Montréal, trésor sonore caché juste sous nos pieds.

Visitez notre page « Sonorités souterraines » sur SoundCloud :

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

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

Balade sonore / soundwalk Montreal

Balade sonore / soundwalk Montreal

23-03-13 14:00 – 16:30          March 23

Venez vous joindre au groupe de recherche “La marche sonore comme processus d’interaction” pour une balade sonore qui aura lieu dans le centre ville et le Quartier chinois, suivie d’une rencontre discussion. Nous nous donnons rendez-vous à la sortie de la station de métro St-Laurent, coin sud-est de Maisonneuve et St-Laurent. Beau temps mauvais temps! Gratuit!

Come join the Soundwalking Interactions team for a soundwalk in the downtown and Chinatown districts of Montreal, followed by a group discussion. We will meet at the exit of St-Laurent Metro station, on the South-East corner of Maisonneuve and St-Laurent. Free for everyone, whatever the weather is!

Le terroir sonore du phare de Lachine / The sonic terroir of the Lachine light-house

March 1, 2013 2 comments

Le terroir sonore du phare de Lachine / the sonic terroir of the Lachine light-house.

http://facs-newmedia.finearts.yorku.ca/andra/phare/terroir.html

This piece is based on soundwalks around the Lachine light-house just to the west of Montreal, 1999-2000. The water and pier surrounding the light-house invite all kinds of crossings: people eating lunch, fishers, sunset-watchers in their cars, ducks, swallows, boats, gulls, sparrows, wind gusting, waves and waves from the end of Lac St. Louis, sometimes frozen into fantastic ice-cubes that tinkle riotously against the rocks, sometimes coated with a thin creaking skin of ice. The light-house stands tall, blinking. Mostly this sentinel is locked but one day it is possible to enter. I remember how strikingly audible the presence of the light-house interior was. Inside, I wanted to name it: “this is the…” but my voice trails off as the rounded metallic interior speaks back to me. “Hello?” Walking by the shore, I discover an old chain and lift it up and down on the rock, imagining the many steel hulls that were tied to this bank with such chains, when it was an industrial port. The voice of the fisherman brings me back to the present “Bonjour!”

McCartney, Andra. “Le terroir sonore du phare de Lachine.” Peripherique. Curated by Nicole Gingras. Groupe Intervention Video, December 2000. http://www.givideo.org.

Soundwalks at metro de la Concorde in Laval, QC

November 20, 2012 Leave a comment

Soundwalks at metro de la Concorde.

Part of the Audioparc event at Galerie Verticale in Laval, commissioned by Magali Babin.

Balade; balader.

I want to propose the notion of “balade sonore” as French translation for the English term soundwalk. Instead of “marche sonore” which seems a bit too military, or promenade, which evokes the idea of walking to show oneself, or even “dérive” in which like the Situationists one might seek to be completely lost or disoriented, I like the idea of “balader” …  to do a “balade” –which has the same root in French as the word for song. A balade is also a way of slowing down. A balade is a bit vague. Not exactly lost, but not at all rushed. Slow, attentive, alert to all sounds, with all senses, all sensations.

A balade sonore or soundwalk is a form of creation and method of research that utilizes listening and sometimes recording as a way to explore a place on foot. Each soundwalk can be considered in a musical fashion, as a mnemonic tool, or as a source of information about the environment. People’s listening experiences can become the point of departure for conversations that bring together the epistemological, aesthetic and ethical dimensions of the places where sounds are found, and these same dimensions can be found in the detailed reflections of participants in soundwalks, in listening sessions afterwards, and in reaction to artworks which come from soundwalks.

Listening

There are many ways to listen. One can listen like a musician, thinking of the melodies, harmonies and rhythms of the sonic environment. One can create a musical piece out of the sounds heard. One can listen sensually, like a poet, linking senses — the touch of sound, the noises of images, the taste of a location. One can listen to sounds politically, thinking of which sounds mask others, which are more present, which dominate. Because we walk in a group, we can reflect on the internal dynamics of that structure. What can one hear of the group> Does this structure give our listening a certain dynamic or constrain it? One can listen historically to the place, thinking of the history of a certain place or culture, one can imagine its history, the people who lived there before, the sounds that are now gone, changed, or amplified. It is also possible to create imaginary bridges between different sounds, sonic resemblances that connect spaces separated in time and space, one place calling to another, echoing, producing an imaginary place in between that has characteristics of each. And one can listen as if listening to a lover. One can reserve a certain sort of attention, a certain kind of intent listening towards the sonic environment, which resembles the kind of listening that we do in the company of someone we love. With the Soundwalking Interactions project, we wish to concentrate our attention on the participants of soundwalks, and wish to talk to them about their different intentions and their specific responses to the sonic environment, their approaches to listening while moving through places.

I walked in the area around Metro de la Concorde in Laval, several times between June and September 2012. Here are some comments on what I heard during those walks.

La Route Verte.

Everyone loves the colour green. Close to the metro, there is a “route verte”, a cycling path that is also accessible to pedestrians. But I ask myself here, what does green signify in this context? A narrow asphalt laneway between barriers, cloistered between railway and parking lots, barriers of 2 to 3 metres in height, made of plastic and steel. Perhaps it is a green route just because of its very existence, a way that permits cyclists to quickly go from one place to another. But for pedestrians, who gain access only at street corners, there is no way out for long stretches, everything is closed off. Is this a green experience?

Close to here, I stand under large electrical structures while late-summer insects sing in the weeds underneath. Many insects, signalling the end of summer and beginning of school. Buzzing like electricity.

I think about the paths and what they might mean. There are ornamental paths that go nowhere, aesthetic paths of reddish stone that lead to a fence blocking the route or go round in circles. Will l listen differently on those paths? (self-consciously perhaps) Will my listening be more open or more linear, in between the lines? On escalators, rising and falling next to each other in the metro, is my listening directed by the rhythms felt underfoot?

There are different modes of transport integrated here: train, subway, buses, cars, pedestrians, cyclists. Which are most important in the design of the metro? Who uses this place at what times? According to what I found, after  the 9 am rush finishes, it is cyclists who pass through most in the morning, around the metro itself. A bit further off, the sound of traffic is constant. There is little movement in the parking area after rush hour. Pedestrians walk from one entrance to another, but few seem to frequent the pleasant sitting space with wooden walkways and benches surrounded by tall grasses and subway vents, near the metro door.

A string of pearls

I think of our soundwalk near the Metro as like a string of pearls, where each sonic moment is one pearl on the string. Moments of listening stillness, moments of group listening-walking, moments where we stand and comment on what we have heard. Each moment has a distinct ambience, made of the movements of the group, the sounds of the environment, other sensations, and the effects of the commentary. The de la Concorde soundwalk contained many of these pearls, each a few minutes long, held together by listening. Walkers spoke of the eerie quietness of the residential area nearby, the lack of pedestrians on the street compared with more downtown locations. Walkers also remarked on the long length of the blocks, made more on car scale than on pedestrian. The most ubiquitous sound on the soundwalk was that of cars (comme toujours!) Close to the metro, people remarked on the strange and other-worldly breathing and creaking noises made by the subway vents, sounds that we heard as well in the installation of Jen Reimer and Max Stein.

The soundwalk was followed by a different soundwalk led by Eric Leonardson of Chicago, focused through interaction with stones picked up at the site, on the hill next to a vent (and replaced there afterwards). The group moved from one part of the site to another, clicking the stones to activate the architecture acoustically, at times conducted by Leonardson who asked different parts of the group to play to each other.

Deux ambiances au même moment / Two simultaneous ambiences

October 23, 2012 Leave a comment

At the Ambiances in Action conference, we decided to do two simultaneous soundwalks. In the past, walkers had sometimes been frustrated by Andra’s slow pace, which some described as ‘melancholic’! So we decided to offer two walks, one more slowly moving, and one at a faster pace. Andra’s slowly moving group went through back alleys to the university. David’s faster moving group went through the tunnel and down to the highway. Both returned for a discussion at the CCA, where we told each other where we had been and what we had heard, and then talked about common interests. Many of the participants already include walking in their creative practice, so there were many points of common interest.

Here are two videos, from the same moment of the walk, experienced by each group:

Lors de la conférence Ambiances en actes, nous avons décidé de faire deux marches sonores simultanées. Lors de marches antérieures, certains participants avaient mentionné qu’ils avaient été gênés par la lenteur du rythme de marche d’Andra, allant même jusqu’à le qualifier de mélancholique! Nous avons alors proposé deux maches, une plus lente et une plus rapide. Alors que le groupe d’Andra s’est rendu jusqu’à l’université Concordia par les ruelles, le groupe de David, plus rapide, a traversé l’autouroute et est revenu par le tunnel de la rue du Fort. Nos deux groupes cesont ensuite rejoints pour une discussion au CCA. Plusieurs participants avaient déjà inclus dans leur démarche créative l’utilisation de la marche, ce qui a nourri grandement la discussion.

Voici deux vidéos se déroulant au même moment, selon la perspective de chaque groupe: