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:
Une version française de ce texte se trouve ici
Last month, the members of the Soundwalking Interactions Project (Andra McCartney, David Paquette, Dave Madden and Caitlin Loney) took part in a series of soundwalks in their respective neighborhoods (three in Montreal, one in Morin-Heights). Each member completed three 30-minutes weekly walks, followed by the production of an analytical summary. After gathering these reports, we each wrote short reports in which we explore the similarities and differences of each participant’s experiences. These summaries can be found in a previous blog entry.
One element that was highlighted in all reports was the role and impact of winter climate on the various walks. Dave has discussed the influence of weather conditions not just on the listening experience, but on his whole perceptual experience. For Caitlin, the temperature was mostly experienced through the changing sound of the snow or the ice on the ground. I personally found that the weather was having an impact on the pace and the duration of the walk. In a similar vein, Andra has noticed that weather conditions were influencing both the time of the walk and its overall orientation. These observations led us to propose another series of walk in the same environments, that time in April, to take into account seasonal changes.
Another aspect to consider is the impact of the spatial configurations on the unfolding of the walk itself; for example, while the three urban neighborhoods were providing a wide range of potential routes and environments, my own neighborhood had a more limited selection of paths and more homogeneous sonic spaces. The differences in sonic variety (both in quantity and levels) can clearly be observed when reading the various reports. Another important feature that was revealed is the notion of attitude, and of attention to the environment. Dave also discussed the inherent intersensoriality of soundwalking as well as the impact of the various sensory modalities on listening. Finally Andra questioned the relationship between the three successive walks we’ve done, and also pointed to the effect of resonance that was made possible by the weekly sharing of our individual experiences.
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.
Andra McCartney led an hour-long soundwalk through Vancouver’s English Bay on Novemeber 9, 2011, with local residents and several members of the Vancouver Soundwalk Collective. I have included some of my impressions of the soundwalk and post-walk discussion below, along with a sound and photos piece, (aptly) entitled, “Vancouver English Bay Soundwalk.” English Bay is located west of downtown Vancouver and is one of the most densely populated areas in Canada. The Bay is well-known for its fireworks display in the summer, beautiful beaches, heavy construction, a mix of ‘nature’ and the ‘city,’ and a developed calming in the fall and winter months.
After the soundwalk, the group participated in a discussion that was recorded by Jennifer Schine (Simon Frasier University). The discussion covered everything from the layers of ‘urban vitality’ experienced in the area, with someone mentioning the way more lively sounds emanate from the high-rises in the summer months; to the way “a different breed of person” seems to move through the area during the quieter seasons of the year (fall/winter), and thereby associating quiet people with a better breed of people. There was also some really interesting talk of the difference between soundwalking in a group versus soundwalking walking alone. For instance, McCartney likened the group experience to an “ephemeral community,” which seems to connect well with her current ideas around love and listening. Repetitive listening and doing soundwalks many times in the same area are also important in her construction of intimate listening. Additionally, one listener talked of being led by listening on soundwalks (rather than being led by vision). To this participant, listening is a sense that slows things down and, therefore, is better for the nervous system. However, I would like to mention that this creates a hierarchy of the senses, by privileging listening over seeing (and idealizing it at the same time)… What about the power dimensions to listening, soundmaking and soundwalking?
The discussion also touched on the following ideas, which I will put forth in point form:
-The expectation of quiet in such a densely populated area.
-The way the area performs to keep outsiders at a distance: high-rise buildings make the area difficult to get through if you’re walking; the area is perhaps more easily accessed by cars; a lot of fences in the area; the beach is not well lit at night (somehow darkness seems complicit with masculine silence); the beach also cuts out the sounds of footsteps (which makes it less safe); access to the performance space on the beach was taken away by removing the stairs to the stage, as it ‘invited’ people to sleep there; it probably also ‘invites’ people to make noise.
-An idealization of ‘nature.’
-No bird sounds (which I hear from people a lot in soundwalk discussions).
-Quiet equals good citizen; versus noisy outsiders, who are a “different breed of person.”
-Nervousness/anxiety produced when sounds do not have an identifiable source.
-The sounds of the city make for “an uninteresting lover.”
After listening to the soundwalk and the discussion recordings, I developed a series of questions for McCartney in response to what I heard. Andra, have you ever conducted a soundwalk where you did not ask people to be mindful of their own talking? I think it might be interesting methodologically to see how people ‘improvise’ on a walk without being asked to be quiet beforehand. I wonder how this might affect group dynamics? Would people silence others making too much noise? Might they be less likely to privilege ‘nature’ sounds over the sounds of the ‘city’? Or, would people still remain quiet on soundwalks without even being asked to? Does the emphasis on quiet already direct listeners towards hi-fi soundscapes?
Below is a sound and photos piece that I produced using Schine’s audio recording and Andra’s photos from the English Bay soundwalk. At the end of the piece, I incorporated a sound sample from the post-walk discussion. The piece was edited by ‘cross-fading’ between audio clips and by playing with the volume levels. No digital effects were used in the piece, in an attempt to keep the sounds recognizable and connected to the context of recording.
The Soundwalking Interactions team—minus David Paquette—led a soundwalk on November 21, 2011 for the Balance-Unbalance Conference at Concordia University. The conference brought together scholars, artists, policy experts, economists, etc., “with the intent of engendering a deeper awareness and creating lasting intellectual working partnerships in solving our global environmental crisis.” Before the walk, Andra McCartney opened with a fifteen-minute talk, where she outlined various (potential) ways of listening and some of her ongoing research interests and projects.
The walk began in the John Molson School of Business; then headed south along Guy to Sainte Antoine Ouest; along Sainte Antoine and north through the tunnel on du Fort; and then east along rue Baile and back to the Molson Building. Approximately fifteen people participated in the walk, including Andra’s artistic collaborator, Don Sinclair, from York University. The post-walk discussion lasted forty minutes and covered everything from the sounds (noise) of the cars, the lack of bird sounds and the way the sounds of the city change depending on the time of day. There were far fewer cars on the road during this walk as it took place on a Saturday afternoon. Some participants also related the sounds encountered on the walk to previous sounding experiences. For instance, one listener took the ‘high road’ through the tunnel on du Fort as he connected the experience to the Scottish Highlands. The discussion closed out with a presentation by Sinclair and McCartney about their interactive soundwalk and dance project, which is demonstrated in the video below.