Posts Tagged ‘sound ecology’

Mile-End Soundwalk

December 27, 2011 Leave a comment

On December 6th, members of Soundwalking Interactions, including Andra McCartney, David Madden, David Paquette, and Caitlin Loney, went on a soundwalk around the Montreal neighbourhood of Mile End with sound artist Victoria Fenner. Andra asked me to lead the walk as I live in the neighbourhood. It was dark (around 5pm) and cold, but with no snow on the ground. We began at Andra’s home, walked down the traffic-filled Parc Avenue, cut through a wet alleyway where men removed piles of metal bars from a van, across Bernard West and its small shops and cafes, and down the more residential Waverly, where we heard and saw the wail and flash of emergency vehicles a block away. Once we reached the usually bustling St-Viateur, we came across a very still accident scene in front of popular café Club Social: blocked-off intersection, person on a gurney, ambulance, police cars, fire truck, frozen bystanders. In our conversation minutes later, we all agreed that the soundscape was not what we expected.  It had been extremely quiet except for the idling engines of the trucks and a few unrelated conversations passing through the accident zone; it seemed to clash with the flashing lights and intensity of the mood. Andra felt that some of the surreal qualities would probably come through in the recording, which can be heard from about 2:30-3:30.

After our short discussion at the end of St-Viateur, we continued walking around this semi-industrial area, where the wide streets were almost empty and large boxy buildings loom above. David P. remarked that the sound of our footsteps revealed the height of these buildings. As we continued towards the train tracks, a distant bell-like sound caught our attention (5:35-5:55), one of the few acousmatic experiences on the walk, having no visual cue. We guessed the sound had something to do with the trains. Soon after we came across another scene, which Andra later remarked was, like the accident, “strangely intimate” in the middle of a public space. A school bus with a chimney was getting a boost from a van; a steady high-pitch sound followed by a grumbling engine starting. Again, some of us commented on the dissonance between the sonic and visual. Victoria, who noticed a woman with a child tending a barbeque outside the bus, said she did not find the sound story that she expected.

Much of our discussion after the walk kept returning to this issue of visual cues creating expectation during soundwalks. Victoria contemplated,

…the visual and the sound sometimes work against each other, because you expect that you’re going to hear certain things, but sometimes, without the visuals, we wouldn’t know what was happening… so, how do we deal with our eyes when we’re trying to focus on the pure sound so that they don’t lead us to conclusions that are irrelevant to what we’re doing.


R. Murray Schafer

August 8, 2011 Leave a comment

Raymond Murray Schafer is a Canadian composer, soundscape artist, scholar and environmentalist. Schafer established the World Soundscape Project (WSP) at Simon Fraser University in the late 60s, a research group that initiated the study of acoustic ecology, recording the sound environments of cities and villages in Canada and Europe. Over the span of its existence, the group included artists and researchers Barry Truax, Hildegard Westerkamp and others. Schafer’s 1977 book The Tuning of the World (The Soundscape) incorporates the WSP’s research to explore changes in our sonic environment over history, particularly the increase of noise pollution from industrialisation. In it, he offers ways of listening to be more aware and discerning of our acoustic surroundings.

More recently, David New’s short film “Listen” (2009) offers a compelling portrait of Schafer and his ideas on acoustic ecology and listening. Schafer contemplates, “In a way, the world is a huge musical composition that is going on all the time, without a beginning and presumably, without an ending. We are the composers of this huge, miraculous composition that’s going on around us, and we can improve it or we can destroy it we can add more noises or we can add more beautiful sounds, it’s all up to us.” Listen is available to watch for free on the NFB site here.

Since 2010, Schafer’s birthday, July 18th, was chosen to celebrate ‘World Listening Day’ by the World Listening Project.

Soundwalk at IPMC Conference

August 6, 2011 Leave a comment

On June 5, 2011, Andra McCartney led a soundwalk during the ‘Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Music in Canada’ conference held at Mount Allison University, Sackville, New-Brunswick. This clip includes a short montage of the soundwalk followed by excerpts from the post-walk discussion. Audio recording and photography: Andra McCartney. Editing and montage: David Paquette.

IASPM Soundwalk Video

July 19, 2011 Leave a comment

A video of a soundwalk led by Andra McCartney at the International Association for the Study of Popular Music Canada (IASPM) conference, Music and Environment: Place, Context, Conjuncture, on June 18, 2011 is now available on Youtube.

Christina Kubisch

July 15, 2011 Leave a comment

Christina Kubisch is a sound installation artist and composer based in Berlin. She has created many works that bring together sound and light, as well participatory sound walk pieces in urban settings.

Kubisch began her career as a classical musician but notes that she, “…left the concert hall to look for new settings for music, places where you could listen while moving freely in space” (1984).

Kubisch is known for her “Electrical Walks”, which involve listening to the musicality of electromagnetic frequencies in the city. Using special headphones and a map displaying the locations of interesting electrical fields, participants are able to tune into an otherwise hidden layer of urban sound. On her website, she writes: “The perception of everyday reality changes when one listens to the electrical fields… Nothing looks the way it sounds. And nothing sounds the way it looks.” An interview with Kubisch on the Electrical Walks can be found here.

For more information on Kubisch, including samples of her work, visit

Marianopolis Soundwalk Video

June 21, 2011 Leave a comment

A video of Andra McCartney’s soundwalk and presentation at Marianopolis College is now available on YouTube.

Francisco Lopez

May 17, 2011 Leave a comment

Francisco Lopez is a world-renowned sound artist/experimental music maker, educator and (ecosystem) biologist.  His artistic practice revolves around field recordings, commissions, live performances, sound installations and workshops.  Lopez’s personal website presents a detailed framing of his many projects, current news, discography, essays and interviews, etc. (Francisco Lopez).

Lopez has written about “Cagean philosophy” (1996), his refusal to perform on a traditional stage (“Against the Stage” 2004), his sound work in the Amazon and “pure, ‘blind’ listening of sounds” (“Environmental sound matter” 1998), and “Schizophonia…” (1997), where he challenges some of the foundational ideas of soundscape studies established by R. Murray Schafer in The Tuning of the World.  While arguing that Schafer’s ‘“tuning is basically a ‘silencing’,’” Lopez connects his ideas on artistic freedom with (Pierre) Schaeffer’s l’objet sonore and Schafer’s schizophonia (the way sound reproduction technologies split sounds from their original context).  He writes, “a musical composition…must be a free action in the sense of not having to refuse any extraction of elements from reality and also in the sense of having the full right to be self-referential, not being subjected to a pragmatic goal such as a supposed, unjustified re-integration of the listener with the environment.”