Dance Dramaturgy: Returning to the Memory of the Event (2) / Retour sur la mémoire d’un événement (2)
(Version française ci-dessous/ French version below)
In February 2014, I contacted the participants of a Soundwalking Interactions (SI) performance-installation, presented at York University for the Dance Dramaturgy conference in June 2011, to enquire on their memories of the project. At SI, we were interested in learning if this project might have affected their subsequent work, and in how their memories of the experience took shape. How does the memory of such an embodied experience translate into words? How to account for the elusive remains of an encounter between artists of different disciplines and the experience of immersive environments? Collaborations often work mysteriously; others’ ideas infiltrate one’s own and, in the case of performance, blend into an ephemeral production that survives mostly in memory, with videos and photographs sometimes providing an imagery for the experience. Such encounters may influence and further inspire artists in their work, for their vision may have momentarily met another’s and created a communality of interests that persists in time and memory. Similarly, the memory of an immersion within the environment of a performance may exert an influence on further artistic work. The embodied mind remembers and may partially reproduce the experience throughout subsequent works.
The Dance Dramaturgy performance-installation was a choreography structured by a soundwalk and by dancers improvising in a responsive environment. The performers’ movements activated edited sound excerpts from the walk in different sections of the installation and traces of those spatial explorations also appeared as colored projections onto a screen. The result could be considered as a multilayered score of different traces of embodied memories: firstly those from the soundwalk in a park in Toronto, secondly those from the rehearsed improvisations and creative process and finally, the real-time responsive colored projections also offered ephemeral traces of the live performers’ improvised movements. With this project of returning to the memory of the performance, we are adding an additional layer, one that is perhaps even more difficult to seize: the lasting but ethereal traces of a performance in the participants’ memory.
The participants came from different disciplines: sound arts, digital media arts and dance. They seemed to share an interest for using landscapes and soundscapes as playgrounds for creation and artistic inspiration, both in their previous and subsequent works. I gathered the accounts of four participants, via email exchanges with two of the dancers, Jesse Dell and Tracey Norman, and a recorded conversation between artists/scholars Andra McCartney and Don Sinclair, who both initiated the project.
The two dancers described their experience as two different moments in time: firstly the experience of the soundwalk and then the collaborative work. In one account, the memory of the walk was very detailed and multi-sensorial: “ I remember my rubber boots and my red rain coat. I remember the sound of the planes in the sky, the trickling of the stream we briefly stopped at, the sound of our steps in the gravel, the sounds of our steps breaking small twigs and sticks on the ground.” (Jesse) The other account expresses how the memory of the walk permanently transformed the space for this other dancer’s continuing experience of the park: “I remember very clearly our walk through the ravine and I now live very close to where we started the walk – in the St-Clair West area- and so whenever I pass by I think of it. When I walk through the ravine I’m quite aware of the sounds and how they change from season to season because of the soundwalking project.” (Tracey) Both accounts detailed different appropriations of the same event, the former returning in memory to her personal embodied and sensorial perspective of the walk, the latter inscribing the memory of the walk and furthering its impact on everyday walking practices.
One dancer also mentioned how the walk as well as the collaboration between artists of different disciplines contributed to bringing “a larger basis of experience, understanding and relationship moving into creation.” She further adds: “it helped create a truly multimedia experience with many layers.” (Tracey) Don Sinclair also described this interdisciplinary collaboration as “communicating through different means and modes throughout the process” which gave the project different “layers of knowledge”. Both Andra McCartney and Don Sinclair insisted during their conversation on how the dancers brought a different embodied understanding to the soundwalk and the creative process, one that they were unfamiliar with: “it made me much more attentive about the walking part of soundwalking as well as the listening part, which I was much more focused on in the past, coming out of sound ecology.” (Andra) She described how this collaboration with dancers helped her in developing more awareness about the flocking movements of the groups she led during other soundwalks, and helped her to better transfer the lead of the walk to others by simply following these impulses coming from the group.
The way that the dancers physically engaged their bodies into exploring the walk together had already sketched a score for the performance. The rehearsals organized the memories of their movements as a flock and as individuals during the walk, generating a structure for the improvised performance. Throughout our exchange, Jesse remembered finding a heavy metal handle during the walk that made a sound that she particularly liked, and she repeatedly played with this sound during the performance. The dancers’ bodies communicated through movement the landscape and soundscape that they remembered from the walk. In a conversation published online on The Dance Current, Bee Pallomina (another dancer from this SI project) speaks about her method of creation for a subsequent work as “moving not as ourselves but as a landscape”. Perhaps her experience of soundwalking as a creative process for the performance-installation has informed her understanding of “moving as a landscape”. Undoubtedly, her interests remain in close connection with the work produced with Soundwalking Interactions.
The dancers perpetuated in their dance the memory of the soundwalk’s landscape and soundscape and the space they created was further transformed with the projections remixing their live movements within the performance-installation. Could all performances be considered as the remixed memory of a creation process and rehearsals? Traces of previous works surviving in subsequent works also are, in a way, remixing this memory once more. Accounts of performances are deemed to be partial but if pieced together, they may bring a larger perspective on the lasting remains of performances and on the intricate influence of collaborations.
Link to other posts on the Dance Dramaturgy performance-installation:
For more information on the participants’ works:
Bee Pallomina: http://www.thedancecurrent.com/review/understory-understory
See Bee Pallomina on her piece The Understory: http://www.thedancecurrent.com/review/understory-understory
En février 2014, j’ai approché les participants d’une ancienne performance-installation des Soundwalking Interactions (SI), qui avait été présentée à l’Université York pour la conférence Dance Dramaturgy en juin 2011, afin de les questionner sur ce qu’ils/elles retiennent de ce projet. Avec les SI, nous cherchions à savoir quelle forme a pu prendre leur souvenirs, et si ce projet a pu influencer d’autres créations auxquelles ils/elles auraient participé subséquemment. Comment le souvenir d’une telle expérience incarnée se traduit-il en mots? Comment revenir sur les traces insaisissables d’une rencontre entre artistes de différentes disciplines et sur l’expérience d’un environnement immersif? Le travail de collaboration fonctionne parfois de façon mystérieuse; les idées d’autrui infiltrent les idées de l’un/e et, dans le cas de la performance, se fondent en une production éphémère qui survit principalement dans la mémoire des participants, les captations vidéo et les photographies procurant parfois une imagerie retraçant cette expérience. De telles rencontres peuvent marquer et inspirer le travail des artistes, puisque leur vision s’est momentanément jointe à celle d’un/e autre et a ainsi créé une communauté d’intérêts qui résiste au temps et s’inscrit dans la mémoire. Le souvenir d’une immersion dans l’environment d’une performance peut également exercer une influence sur la démarche artistique. La conscience incarnée a une mémoire et peut reproduire partiellement cette expérience lors de créations subséquentes.
La performance-installation de la conférence Dance Dramaturgy était une chorégraphie structurée par une marche sonore et par les improvisations de danseuses dans un environnement interactif. Les mouvements des danseuses activaient des extraits sonores modifiés de la marche dans différentes sections de l’installation et les traces de ces explorations spatiales apparaissaient comme projections colorées sur un écran. Le résultat pourrait se décliner en une partition étagée de différentes traces de souvenirs incarnés : d’abord celles de la marche sonore dans un parc de Toronto, ensuite celles des pratiques d’improvisation et du processus de création et finalement, les projections colorées réactives reproduisaient en temps réel les traces éphémères des mouvements improvisés par les danseuses. Ce présent projet de retourner à la mémoire de cette performance ajoute une couche supplémentaire à ces traces, peut-être une encore plus difficile à saisir : celle des traces durables, mais éthérées, de la performance dans la mémoire des participants.
Les participants provenaient de différentes disciplines : les arts du son, les arts médiatiques et numériques et la danse. Ils semblaient partager un intérêt pour l’utilisation de paysages et environnements sonores comme terrains de jeu pour la création et l’inspiration artistique, dans leurs travaux précédents comme subséquents. J’ai rassemblé les témoignages de quatre participants, à travers des échanges courriels avec deux danseuses, Jesse Dell et Tracey Norman, et à travers une conversation enregistrée entre les artistes-chercheurs Andra McCartney et Don Sinclair, qui ont tous deux instigué le projet.
Les deux danseuses ont décrit leur expérience en deux temps : d’abord l’expérience de la marche sonore et ensuite celle du travail de collaboration. Dans l’un des témoignages, le souvenir de la marche était décrit dans le menu détail et de façon multi-sensorielle : « Je me souviens de mes bottes de caoutchouc et de mon imperméable rouge. Je me souviens du son des avions dans le ciel, du gargouillis du ruisseau devant lequel nous nous sommes arrêté/e/s, du son de nos pas dans la gravelle, du son de nos pas brisant de petites brindilles et branches sur le sol. » (Jesse) L’autre témoignage exprimait combien le souvenir de la marche a transformé de façon permanente le parc pour cette danseuse dans son expérience de cet espace au quotidien : « Je me souviens très clairement de notre marche à travers le ravin et j’habite maintenant très proche d’où nous avions débuté la marche – près de la section St-Clair West- et donc à chaque fois que j’y passe j’y repense. Quand je marche à travers le ravin je suis plus attentive aux sons et à combien ils varient à travers les saisons, grâce à ce projet de marche sonore. » (Tracey) Ces deux témoignages racontent différentes appropriations du même évènement, la première retournant aux souvenirs de la mémoire sensorielle et incarnée de la marche, selon une perspective personnelle, et la deuxième inscrivant le souvenir de la marche et poursuivant son impact sur les pratiques quotidiennes.
Une des deux danseuses a aussi mentionné combien la marche ainsi que la collaboration entre artistes de différentes disciplines a contribué à fonder « une plus grande base d’expérience, de compréhension et de liens de relation à transposer dans la création. » Elle rajoute : « cela a aidé à créer une véritable expérience multimédia avec plusieurs couches. » (Tracey) Don Sinclair a aussi décrit cette collaboration interdisciplinaire comme « communiquant à travers différents moyens et modes durant le processus » ce qui procura au projet différentes « couches de connaissance ». Lors de sa conversation avec Andra McCartney, ils ont insisté sur le fait que les danseuses apportèrent une compréhension incarnée à la marche sonore et au processus de création, un type de connaissance avec lequel ils étaient peu familiers : « cela m’a rendue aussi attentive à la partie « marche » de la marche sonore qu’à celle de l’écoute, sur laquelle j’avais porté plus d’attention dans le passé, étant donné que j’étais issue du milieu de l’écologie sonore. » (Andra) Elle a aussi décrit comment cette collaboration avec des danseuses l’a aidé à prendre conscience des mouvements de chœur du groupe lors d’autres marches sonores qu’elle a guidées et à mieux transférer le contrôle de la marche, en suivant simplement ces impulsions en provenance du groupe.
La façon dont les danseuses engageaient physiquement leur corps dans une exploration commune de la marche a jeté l’ébauche d’une partition pour la performance. Les répétitions ont organisé les souvenirs des mouvements de chœur et des mouvements individuels explorés lors de la marche, générant une structure pour une performance improvisée. À travers notre échange, Jesse s’est rappelée avoir trouvé une lourde poignée de métal durant la marche, qui produisait un son qu’elle affectionnait particulièrement et avec lequel elle a beaucoup joué durant la performance. Les corps des danseuses communiquaient à travers leurs mouvements leurs souvenirs du paysage et de l’environnement sonore de la marche. Dans une conversation publiée en ligne sur le site de The Dance Current, Bee Pallomina (une autre danseuse qui a participé à ce projet de SI) décrit sa méthode de création pour une performance subséquente comme essayant de « se mouvoir comme un paysage, et non comme soi. » Peut-être que son expérience d’utilisation de la marche sonore comme processus créatif pour la performance-installation a nourri sa compréhension du concept de « se mouvoir comme un paysage ». Ses intérêts artistiques démontrent sans aucun doute une affinité avec le travail produit pour Soundwalking Interactions.
À travers leur danse, les danseuses ont perpétué le souvenir du paysage et de l’environnement sonore de la marche et l’espace qu’elles ont ainsi créé fut à nouveau transformé par les projections qui remixaient leur mouvements lors de la performance-installation. Toute performance peut-elle être considérée comme la mémoire remixée d’un processus de création et de ses répétitions? Les traces de créations précédentes survivant à travers les performances subséquentes remixent elles-aussi, d’une certaine façon, ces souvenirs. Bien que les récits de souvenirs des performances soient considérées comme étant partiaux, une fois rassemblés ils peuvent apporter une perspective plus large sur les restes durables des performances et sur l’influence complexe des collaborations sur le travail artistique.
Lien vers les autres entrées sur la performance-installation de Dance Dramaturgy:
Pour plus d’information sur le travail des participants:
Voir Bee Pallomina sur sa performance The Understory: http://www.thedancecurrent.com/review/understory-understory
(Version française ci-dessous/ French version below)
How does one remember the experience of a soundwalk installation? How does the memory of a past work affect current creative processes? In the next few weeks, I will be contacting and dialoguing with participants of a performance-installation presented at York University for the Dance Dramaturgy conference (June 2011). I will engage with those participants in conversations about the memory of their experience, and for my next blog entry, I will respond to their accounts of those past events.
The Dance Dramaturgy performance-installation was a choreography structured by a soundwalk and by dancers improvising in a responsive environment. The performers’ movements activated edited sound excerpts from the walk in different sections of the installation and traces of those spatial explorations also appeared as colored projections onto a screen, creatively reinterpreting the dancers’ embodied memory of the soundwalk.
Comment se remémore-t-on une participation à une installation de marche sonore? Est-ce que la mémoire d’un travail précédent affecte le processus créatif ? Au cours des prochaines semaines, j’entrerai en contact et dialoguerai avec les participants d’une performance-installation présentée à l’Université York et créée dans le cadre de la conférence Dance Dramaturgy (juin 2011). Je m’engagerai avec ces participants dans des conversations sur le souvenir de leur expérience et lors de ma prochaine publication sur ce blog, je réagirai à leurs récits de ces évènements.
La performance-installation de Dance Dramaturgy proposait une chorégraphie structurée par une marche sonore et par l’improvisation de danseuses dans un environnement interactif. Les mouvements des danseuses activaient des extraits sonores modifiés de la marche dans différentes sections de l’installation et les traces de ces explorations spatiales apparaissaient comme projections colorées sur un écran, réinterprétant de manière créative le souvenir incarné des danseuses de leur marche sonore.
York University, Dance Dramaturgy
Same/même installation, Concordia University, workshop/atelier Canal Lachine:
I have been reading Walking Archives: The Soy Children, by Argentinean artist and writer Eduardo Molinari. He walks us into the GMO soy fields of Monsanto, covering more than half of cultivated lands in that country. There is an oblique connection to the work of Soundwalking Interactions: the Buenos Aires soundwalk in December 2010 by chance crossed paths with a Monsanto demonstration.
Molinari says: “My archive … took shape based on three sources or types of documents: copies of the AGN’s [national archives] official photographic material, the photographs I take on walks, and lastly what I call junk or garbage documentation: scraps and fragments of print media (magazines, newspapers, graphics in general) and publications (books, posters, postcards, maps, etc.) Those three elements, joined together as a manual collage, have created the Documents of the Walking Archive…. The process behind the relationship between the Walking Archive and the collective processes I take part in has been coloured from the outset by the dynamic of the walker: it’s a relationship that’s always in context, always linked to others, always open to new forms of knowledge and practices. That’s why I refer to the Walking Archive as a project in which walking as an aesthetic practice and collective and interdisciplinary at ion are at the core.” (2012: 2)
Molinari, Eduardo. Walking Archives: The Soy Children. Brooklyn, NY: Autonomedia, 2012.
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.
This posting reflects on a winter soundwalk project that the members of the research group did, in their home neighbourhoods — three in Montreal, one just about an hour’s drive outside of Montreal. We all did three soundwalks, one per week for three weeks, about half an hour long each time, and with short descriptive paragraphs about the walks. The conversation begins with the most recent posting, where I summarize, then presents the summaries of the others (David Paquette, Caitlin Loney and David Madden) and then ends with the descriptive writing that we did each week. We are also planning to do another set of walks in April.
and thanks for your comments on the soundwalks. I found that knowing I was to do three walks presented me with some awareness of how I was structuring the overall experience, and how the 3 walks were related. When I paid attention to my neighbourhood walking habits, I found that in the colder, brighter weather I would almost always want to walk mid-afternoon, towards the west: in other words, with the sun on my face. I often choose routes that have wide streets or breaks between buildings that will let the sun in. It is true that weather and winter walking conditions were paramount and I truly appreciated the clear sidewalks of Outremont, when I got to them.
I noticed that weather and walking conditions were discussed through many of the walks, as well as strong sensory experiences of many kinds. Is there a certain amount of amplification through repetition (resonance)? How did the form that I suggested (one walk per week, and communicating our reports to the whole group each week) affect how the discussion developed? I would like to do another round of neighbourhood walks in late April — I wonder if we should approach it in the same way, or change how we do it? Maybe we could talk more about that.
On 2012-02-12, at 3:18 PM, David Paquette wrote:
My response to the walks:
The first thing that strikes me when going over the various soundwalks is what part winter is taking in each of our accounts. It has an impact on where we go, how far we go, and with what pace. It is expressed sonically through a variety of specific sounds, and also specific colors of sound. Now that I look at Caitlin’s report I see this is something we both noticed, and it is also something that was discussed in some soundwalk reports. It would be interesting to do the same three walks during the four different seasons, to examine more specifically the changing impact and role of weather.
Another important aspect of the walks is the choice of paths followed. There are obvious differences between the spatial configurations of my surroundings and those of Montreal. I have a fairly limited number of possible roads, all possessing an overall ambiance that is highly correlated to their distance from the main road. The various accounts by Dave, Andra and Caitlin show a higher number of micro-ambiances, more diversified too, with more sound sources and larger dynamic range. This probably impacts the type of listening we do; I’ve spent significant portions of my walks ‘looking’ for sounds, trying to hear cars as far away as possible, exploring the slow changes in the sonic quality of the wind. I also spent some time not really listening, since the overall uniformity of the sound ambiance easily leads to get lost in thoughts. Also, in some cases the urban walks have a double utility; they are both means to get somewhere (take a bus, go to meeting, etc) and ends in themselves (through their specific function as soundwalks). I have been mostly thinking of my walks as return trips, thinking about the time it took me to get to specific (meaningful) places such as a bridge, or the top of a hill.
Looking forward to more group discussions on theses walks!
I discovered that when I set about to do a soundwalk, I often listen for pitch/frequencies in the sound environment. In the moments when I could shift my dominant sense into hearing rather than seeing, I found myself focusing on how pitches compared to each other and how sounds changed in pitch. For example, car engines ascending, and how this contrasted with an overhead plane descending in pitch. As well, I listened for how different environments or conditions changed/filtered frequencies.
Re-reading the soundwalk entries as a whole, I noticed the importance of weather conditions: snow, ice, temperature, sunniness, wetness. Each of us at some point made note of the texture of the winter ground as it was revealed to us through our footsteps. This attention to foot-ground connections was sometimes due to the more practical concern for slippery surfaces and murky puddles. Overall, the dominance of winter prevailed as a theme in all the write-ups.
Hi everyone, here is my response….
The main thing I noticed after doing three soundwalks and writing about them is how more than ever my (current) soundwalks seem like sensorywalks, as I find myself trying to relate the walking experience to all of the senses. In particular, my sense of touch and sense of smell played more prominent roles in these walks. I wonder if this is primarily because of how quiet and cold all three of the walks were and how challenging it was to just listen to specific sounds. The walks seemed to have more of an overall ambiance or tone to them, which made it difficult to keep listening at the centre of the experience. Also, I found myself wanting to make sounds with my surroundings and the most productive way to ‘compose’ with this particular winter soundscape was through variations to my footsteps, which is a very tactile and textural approach to soundmaking.
After reading the responses from the three of you, I am also drawn to the way weather plays such a prominent role in the walks–although for different reasons. Again, this also seems connected to the idea of how soundwalks work in relation to all of the senses, rather than just being a listening practice/exercise. For instance, if you feel very cold during a walk, can you still put listening at the centre of your attention? Is it still a soundwalk? If you walk through an area with strong smells, how might these smells play into a walk structured by listening? And more generally, what types of collaborations can our other senses create/produce during a soundwalk? These are the types of questions I will be thinking of while on future soundwalks…
Le 12-02-06 à 13:22, David Paquette a écrit :
Here are the soundwalks. I also included them in an .rtf file.
Wednesday afternoon, 2 pm. The warmest part of the day, I am very much aware. Drawn by bright warm sun to the living room window, I hear snow crunching under tirewaves, below. I want to feel that sun on my face, without a window. Layers and layers of clothes, scarf, hat, brightly-coloured mittens to wave at the sepia snowscape, I clatter down the front stairs. Opening the front door to the cold, tirewaves and engines fill the air. The street. Mittened grasp sliding to grip on the metal railing, wooden steps ice-patched down to ground level. A bus glides in heavily, exhales twice and lets passengers off, deep throb of engine idling, tearing away again through the squeaky snow down to the railway bridge. I slip on unseen ice and steady, slowing. Turn my face toward a pale sun wavering through the wind. Walk gingerly, pat, pat, to the corner, watching for glare near my feet. Concrete corner, stamp feet and wait for the lights to change, engines, engines. Engines moving; engines, waiting. Bububububububububu. Will the lights change in time for me to get to the bus over there? Bububububububu. Yes! Crunch, crunch, crunch past idling engines to the crunching give of a snowdrift, “Bonjour!” to the driver who smiles with the warmth of the bus as its engine turns to a croon and we head towards Outremont.
A soundwalk abbreviated by cold…
Saturday Jan 21, 2012. 2 pm. Again the warmest part of late afternoon on a sunny day, where it is -15 celsius in the shade, but much warmer as long as I keep to the south side of streets, and walk west, staying in sun pretty constantly that way. I head up Parc towards van Horne to do just that. Coming by the gas station at the corner, it seems the smell of gasoline is very strong today. Is that because it is so cold? Maybe the vapour lingers more at this temperature? In any event, I hold my breath until starting to cross the street. On the other side, ice glares from the sidewalk and starts glacial glissandos through the soles of the boots and up through my legs, sliiiip, grip, stop. Sliiiiiiiiiiiiip, grip, stop. For one block, to Hutchison, and then the sidewalks are blessedly clear. My footing becomes more sure, posture more upright, the sun somehow feels warmer than even two weeks ago, and I slow my pace to enjoy that sensation.Traffic enginetirewaves to the right are hemmed in by the narrow street, amplified by resonance between the buildings on either side. Feet crunch on bits of ice and rock salt. The waves of traffic are less frequent than during the week, but still fairly constant with only short moments in between. In the six blocks west on van Horne, I don’t encounter any other pedestrians. Finally, I see a young girl crossing the street, as I turn back east. Most of the restaurants here are closed on Saturday afternoon, and the cars shushing by dominate the soundscape, wave after wave, all going somewhere.
Thursday morning, 9: 30 am.
The weather report tells me it is -8 this morning, but it doesn’t feel that cold because of the bright sun. I can tell it is really cold, though, by the way the snow crunches beneath my feet as I walk down the stairs to the street, holding the ice-covered metal railing, as much a feeling-sensation as a sound heard. Even though it is after 9, the traffic still sounds like rush hour, stop and go, sluggish. A line of red lights blinking, and once again the sharp smell of oil-based vapours in the air. Today I even feel I can distinguish the particular smell of each car passing, and in the distance I can see the waves of haze rising from the street, following the slow waves of traffic movement. I am walking in the same direction as usual, west on van Horne, but this time with a purpose: to take the metro to work. The first block is slushy and my feet slip from side to side. Until Hutchison, as usual, and then the sidewalk is clear of snow, crunchy with sand and salt. I cross to the north side to stay in the sun. Again my pace slows as the sun hits me. But even at this slow pace, I am passing the idling cars. A deeper rumbling alerts me to a snow plow. Thunk! as the blade hits the street and a low roar as it moves away to the corner. A squeak as someone opens the bank door for me, and then the low hum of the terminal and heating, familiar beeps and shutters. Just a few steps to the cheese shop where the owner chats and smiles, wishing me “Bonne journée!” as I leave. Getting closer to the Outremont metro, there are more and more pedestrians, doors opening and closing to the shops, stamping of feet at the bus stop, and the exhaling of the bus coming in to pick up passengers. Another roar to the left signals a second snow plow, slicing through the intersection as I approach the metro door.
Last Thursday, January 12 at around 10:00pm, I decided to go for a night soundwalk during a big snow storm. After I finished shoveling the stairs and clearing the snow off my car, I made my way to the street, but then decided to come back and pick up my flashlight and recorder. I felt I would be more visible, and also more alert to any incoming car or snow clearer.
The subdued ambiance created by the sudden snowfall combined with my enhanced listening encouraged me to walk slowly and pay a particular attention to the modified tone of sounds. The soundscape was composed primarily of noises; the crisp and repetitive sound of my footsteps in the accumulated snow, the pink noise of the wind in the surrounding trees, modulating cars passing in the distance, even my breathing seemed to fill a particular niche of frequencies and rhythm. The wind and snow seemed to remove almost all harmonic content. For example, as I walked by my neighbors, all I could hear was indistinct voices. Cars passing on the main road, not too far from where I was walking, turned into slow, everlasting waves that all sounded alike.
Because of the warm weather, the snow made a watery sound as it hit the microphone. At some point, I picked up the distant tone of a truck backing up; it sounded muffled, it had a deep, slightly muted, long reverberation. It seemed to posses a nostalgic character. I stopped on a wooden bridge and tried to record the sound of the river going under. There were only small unfrozen patches, and I could barely hear the trickling water making its way through the ice.
Visually, I was moving through a monochrome landscape, streetlights were attenuated and the snow seemed almost lit from under. In the end, I did not meet anyone else, no cars, no snow clearers (thankfully!). I was mostly looking down to the ground, since the storm made it hard to look up. This lack of visual ‘resolution’ put me in a state of wandering; when I turned around and walked back towards my home, after around 20 minutes, I realised I had been zigzagging the whole way!
I did a soundwalk this morning, starting from my home and going through a different road than my previous walk, a much quieter one. It was sunny but slightly chilly. I had a faster pace, as I was trying to keep myself warm. The sound of my footsteps in the packed snow was short and crisp. The cold air made it seem like sounds were brighter. I could hear on one side the hissing of cars on the main road, which tended to come in wave and faded away as I moved farther from it.
There was some wind, not enough to be heard but enough to move the top of branches and trees, with snow sometimes falling silently on the ground. I heard a barking dog coming my way, the barking sound had all sorts of tiny little reverbs and echos, and got me thinking about the different qualities of reverberation caused by different materials. After perhaps a minute I saw both the dog and the owner, an elderly man who lives nearby. We exchanged a few words, talked about his dog and the sunny day. After this encounter it took me a while to refocus my attention on the sound environment. I was thinking about an article I read on the relationship between listening to our internal voice and listening to outside sounds.
The walk lasted about 30 minutes, and when I came back I took a shortcut through the small forest by my house. There was much more snow than I expected! I tried to pay attention to the different qualities of the snow, as there were layers of different texture and rigidity that each had their own sound.
I went for a soundwalk last evening, right after the sun went down. I took a different path, crossing the main road and going uphill. I realised I rarely go this way, since it can be stressful to cross the four lanes. The steepness of the road and the slushiness of the snow made it more difficult to walk than last time. It was particularly quiet; all I could hear was the wind and rare cars passing. I stopped for a while and counted for how long I could hear one car. I waited until I could hear no car at all. I also spent some time comparing the spectrum of cars with that of the wind. I had more difficulty concentrating on the sound environment, as I tried not to slip and pay attention for incoming cars. There are more houses on that side as well, which made for visual distractions. The ambiance was quite eery; there was the moon, hiding momentarily behind clouds, and also lights coming from ski mountains in St-Sauveur and Morin-Heights.
I heard in the distance a small snow blower. As I was approaching, I could hear more and more details; the difference sound depending on the direction of the blower, also slight variations due to variations in snow levels. As I walk in front of the entrance, all I could hear was the engine of the blower, with its obvious back-and-forth movements heard as clear intensity changes. The sound was covering my entire acoustic space, and it was a relief to turn around and start walking back towards my home. Going down the hill was not easier, but I quickly realised I could hear sounds at a greater distance in that direction. The snow blower was still audible all the way down to the main road. When I entered my house, after 45 minutes of silent walking, I felt like I was really noisy, opening doors, walking around on the noisy (cracking) floor, making myself hot chocolate (yummy). I could hear the particular sonic color of each room. I spent some time thinking about how our experience of winter (and coldness) is always accompanied with the experience of getting warmer, of going back inside and letting ours senses adapt to the enclosed space and the comforting sensations.
I left my house at 9:10 this morning to Outremont metro. The walk usually takes 15-20 minutes, but I stretched it out to a rambling, listening pace. Inside my apartment before leaving, my appliances softly harmonize with the cat fountain and news in French. Outside traffic and next door’s piano lesson are filtered through my walls. Opening my door means full frequency spectrum onslaught of the outside world – the previously muffled automotive sounds now have high-highs and low-lows and everything in between. Other mentionable sensory details include piercing white light and fresh air. I am aware of the ground’s textures; this is related to safety. These textures come alive with contact by feet and tires of trucks, cars, buses and bikes. Under my feet and the feet of other pedestrians, there is styrofoam-crunch snow, crispy snapping ice, hard ice that requires a whish-whish shuffle and then there is bare pavement with loud, scratchy gravel. Vehicles tell me the roads are wet and gravely, which seems to amplify tire-road contact sounds, and maybe enhance higher frequencies. Also, this is still school bus time. At one point a small bundled child runs from mom to a teenaged bus monitor and they are too light on the ground to make any sound at all. There is only the deep diesel grumble of the bus and a few words that the teen calls to the kid in what I believe is Yiddish. This is the only vocalized sound that I remember hearing on my walk.
Thursday, January 26th, around 8:15pm
Freshly fallen icing sugar snow. Around -10C. I walk westward on Bernard. It’s garbage day, so the big noisy trucks are out. Without even seeing one, I can hear slamming and crunching juxtaposed with a very high, sustained frequency. It’s all metal. While this is going on, I notice two other distinct vehicular sounds. To my left, I notice the sound of car engines momentarily pausing then ascending in pitch as they accelerate at each stop sign. Overhead, there is a long descending pitch of a plane making a gradual land into Dorval. It’s bizarre to hear and feel the presence of something so far away in the sky, but then I think that it’s possibly only a few kilometres away from the ground. Whereas sounds on the ground are easier to suss out in terms of distance and size (though sometimes we get tricked by reflections/echo), sounds above seem more disorienting. The sound of the plane could just as well be a vent on a ceiling were I indoors. Kind of like rain – it’s hard to tell the difference between drops off a roof or ones from a cloud.
The rest of the walk takes me in a loop up Parc, which is dominated by the usual traffic sounds (medium-busy at this hour), across Beaubien, deserted except for the odd car, down St-Laurent and back home. The underpass at Vanhorne and Parc changes the quality of traffic sounds. The reverberance from vehicles speeding through builds up into a hum at times; they kind of leave the sound behind them to dwell here. There is also a “ch-chuck” sound of something being driven over and that echos against the cement walls. I am also more aware of my footsteps than in the open space.
According to the Weather Network, it’s supposed to be around zero Celsius with freezing rain. I have to be at des Pins and St-Denis for 1:30pm, which I know is about a 30 minute walk from my house. Outside, it’s not so much freezing rain as it is a defrosted mist hanging in the air. The ground everywhere looks like it had been solid ice that started to contract and cracks, apparently with the help of gravel and salt, now there are ice chunks all over.
One of the first sounds I notice, which will be repeated throughout the walk, is a car spinning its wheels in high gear to get out of a parking spot. It’s a whirring sound that ascends in pitch and then is punctuated by a lower, distorted sound. And then it repeats. It is the very embodiment of frustration. But I In some cases, it changes into ‘normal’ engine and wheel traction sound, a quieter crunch and crumble sound… relief.
I pass by some small groups of lunch go-ers and I notice something acoustically strange that I attribute to dampness the weather – I can’t hear bits of their conversations as well as I feel I usually would. Their voices are kind of muffled, missing frequencies. I don’t know if it’s the thickness of the air blocking reflections, or if there was another louder sound that I was simply blocking out, or if it’s psychological, or if it’s maybe even my fur hat. I thought about ‘dampening’/’damping’ in acoustics and “dampening” someone’s enthusiasm and how this relates to actual H20 dampness.
Coincidentally I went out on a soundwalk last Thursday night as well. It was my first time on a soundwalk during a snowfall and in fact the snow was what pulled me out into the cold. Like David’s experience, I found the constant snowing really slowed my walking pace as I moved through my neighborhood. I stopped a lot on this walk, both as a way to ‘experience’ the snow and in an attempt to pick up more sounds–to hear and feel more of the ambiance.
I live in a liminal place in the city, where a few different areas rub up against each other and overlap socially and culturally. To the immediate west is Outremont; to the east is the Mile End; to the south is the Plateau.
I walked through Outremont for this walk and plan to explore the other areas in the coming weeks at various points during the day. My Outremont night-walk was cold, very, very quiet, slow and dark. It seemed as though the snow created a blanket of sameness that made it hard to hear the nuances and articulations of the area. My footsteps were prominently featured on this walk; only occasionally were they interrupted by a passing car, which would draw the attention of my eyes and ears. Quiet, snowy nights in the city seem to have much more of a circulating attitude, (room) tone, or feel, rather than a collection sounding components.
Sunday Jan. 22, 2012. 11pm.
My initial plan for these three soundwalks was to go out at different times of the day, exploring the three neighborhoods that border my apartment–the Mile End, Plateau and Outremont. However, on Sunday I decided to do another night time soundwalk so that the most recognizable soundmark of the area–other than traffic sounds–would be included: the XXX strip club, which is right across the street from my apartment and only comes to life during the night hours. On really quiet summer nights when the windows to my apartment are open, I can hear the music and the MC with total clarity. The club’s soundscape lives up to strip club music clichés on most nights by playing everything from ACDC’s “Hells Bells,” to Guns n’ Roses’ “November Rain,” to George Michael’s “I Want Your Sex.” (As an aside, I sometimes get paranoid before falling asleep that these songs might unconsciously affect/infect my musical production process…). However, on Sunday the club was playing steady minimal techno and the (tenor) voice of the MC was not present. I wonder if this is because it was a slow Sunday night. I walked north and turned right along Fairmont. By the time I was around the corner, I could no longer hear the club. From this point onwards the walk was marked by crisp footsteps sounds, cars, and the intermittent voices of passersby. Sometimes when I hear other voices on a soudnwalk I wonder whether I should actually attempt to listen to what is being said. I find it difficult to only focus on the tone and texture of voices without attempting to decipher the message(s). However, on a soundwalk the moment is usually so fleeting that I cannot make sense of the words…
Sunday, Feb. 5, 2011 (3:30 PM).
I left my apartment in mid-afternoon and headed north along Hutchison up towards Van Horne. Although it was a seemingly cold day (12 degrees with the wind), it felt like a rather wet and mild day as the sounds of water and wet snow were distinctly present through out the entire walk. These ‘wet’ sounds included cars driving over slushy snow, water dripping from the tops of homes and buildings, and the sounds of my feet/boots as I walked through the heavy snow and small puddles. At times, I found myself intentionally trying to compose the sounds of my body with the dripping atmospherics and car noises. The bodily gestures primarily involved adjusting my walking pace (i.e. speeding up and slowing down), which would effect the pace, depth and volume of my breathing, along with swinging my jacket sleeves along my torso.
As I turned back down Parc, the walk became marked by more voices and the sounds of footsteps of people walking by. The walk also became much more visually based at this point as I had to be careful maneuvering through the busier sidewalk’s of Parc av. It also seemed to get warmer as the street is much brighter than many of the side streets of Outremont.
I would like to respond to some questions posed by Dave Madden in a recent posting on the blog. This is what he said:
“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?”
Thanks, Dave, I have been thinking about these questions a lot. Here is where I am at the moment…
There are many soundwalks that integrate speaking voices, from the approach of soundwalk.com to the commented walks of audiotopie and CRESSON researchers, to the way Viv Corringham works with meaningful walks. I choose in the current project to separate words and walk — to place emphasis on what precedes and follows a soundwalk, in which open discussion is important, but for the time of the soundwalk — and for the piece that is made of it afterward — words are minimal, but again with many words about the soundwalk in the blog, to contexualise it.
I always talk about listening before a soundwalk. I used to ask people not to speak, and now I ask them to be mindful of the power of their voices, the ability of the voice to command attention at the expense of other sounds. Nevertheless, there have been several occasions where people arrive late for a session, or are distracted during the initial discussion, and don’t hear this. In such cases, those people have sometimes attempted to engage other participants in conversation during the walk. In two cases, instructors accompanying students (public school in one case, university in another) did not listen to the initial discussion, and then took cell phone calls during the session. Interestingly enough, none of the students copied this example! While other participants sometimes seemed visibly irritated by attempts at conversation during the walk, noone has ever silenced anyone, or even mentioned their irritation in the discussion at the end — although in some cases, I received emails later complaining about the interruptions, as if awareness of the irritation only came with reflection. While a soundwalk participant once said in the discussion that not speaking interfered with her sense of personal agency, it seems that in such a time of listening, there are many different ideas about how to move together with the group, and what conditions to create for listening. Sometimes one person will complain about another’s non-verbal activation of what is around them (banging on things, making loud stepping sounds). Sometimes people will mention their fascination with loud sounds of another’s movements and how they decided to move away from that person so that they could listen to other sounds. Sometimes people really enjoy the sounds of the group, and the sense of intimacy that develops as we listen together, what they learn about the others through walking with them and listening to them as well as to the wider environment. It often happens that people approach the group and ask what we are doing, which leads to some conversation. I don’t think the move away from speaking leads people towards hi-fi soundscape listening but towards more attentive listening. People frequently comment on hearing complex overlapping sound formations in familiar places that they had not noticed with the same subtlety on other occasions.
Most of all, I think a soundwalk is a good opportunity to reverse figure and ground — and the figures in many of our lives are words: words in text that we read on billboards and signs and text messages and blogs, words of people we speak to in our daily lives, words of songs, even the words of the imaginary monologue in our heads as we worry and plan. It can be helpful to listen to what surrounds those words.
David, in the soundwalks you have done with groups, have you experimented with that methodology of doing a walk without speaking to people about figure and ground, and the power of words? What happens?
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.