This was just too funny not to post, and I was introduced to it by one of my sound class students. Right after I sort of trashed the scientistic nature of the studio process that negates freeflow of creative expression. I guess some flows need to be genetically engineered!
I think it was on this snowshoeing hike that I finally realized I had been thinking about this all wrong. It’s not really about aural postcards, it’s about sensory postcards. Snowshoeing is a very loud activity indeed, which is why I am not offering a sound recording. It was simply useless to record anything because all I’d hear is the loud slushy footfalls of my shoes and my laboured breathing. Instead a stopped a few times just for the sheer enjoyment of the multi-sensory experience around me. My original thought was of ‘enjoying the silence’ but once I stopped it really struck me that this wasn’t just any silence. What made it special was the entirety of the setting, the cold crisp air, higher elevation , brightness of the snow, the bits of sun poking through the sky, the hazy foggy landscape up top, the openness of the physical surroundings, and yes, of course the faint but characteristic magical sound of snow melting. Like tiny little clicks synaesthetically reminiscent of sparkles dancing on top of the sea on a sunny day. It’s not just that the sound was pleasant to hear, it was, I think the minimalist quality of it, the simplicity, that made the contrast to my usual surroundings (noisy urban soundscape) all the more striking. Noise in the city – to generalize grossly here – makes us have to raise our voices, the voices of our machines, and so the collective result is a never-ending loudness war. This sound of snow melting (and it actually reminded me of a similar sound I experienced kayaking in the West Coast – the sound of seaweed drying on rocks) makes us all have to quiet down. It certainly made me regret the racket we’re all making snowshoeing up the mountain and wish we could somehow soundlessly glide up there, all the while enjoying the sights and the sounds. My second strong sensory experience up on the mountain was of drinking hot chocolate. By the time we got up the first peak we were cold but pleasantly tired and energized. The sip of hot drink I took was almost painful due to the temperature difference of breathing cold cold air and then suddenly gulping a hot sip. I had this curious sensation of visualizing my esophagus exactly because i could feel it being illuminated by heat in between what i presume were my lungs full of arctic air. I don’t know why but this also seemed like a wonderful sensory experience – perhaps because of the crispness of the realization, the present nature of the experience. Being present is pretty difficult in everyday life, for me at least, being in my body in the now is challenging. So this was a gem of present moment. So yes, in conclusion, I really have to majorly rephrase my way of thinking about these experiences. While sound and listening have brought me to them, it is the sensoriality, in all its modality forms that I am really thinking about, writing about and feeling. I think this first started to become more clear to me on the Ghost Train, but I couldn’t really articulate it until now.
The more I read about sound histories (thanks to J. Sterne, E. Thompson, H. Schwartz, S. Douglas and sooo many others now) the more I am fascinated by the Mechanical age of sound production, pre-analogue transduction, pre-digital of course. This definite Steampunk-type aesthetic but more than that, a completely transparent process of production, where mechanics alone, intricate mechanics are at the core of the miracle of sound, has been simply delightful to learn about. I never fancied or glorified the phonograph, possibly because I grew up with the gramophone, it’s younger cousin, and it is so normalized to me. But the more I think of the actual technology – the inscribing, etching in the pattern of sound vibration into hard material, and aplifying it via a horn perfected to mimic parts of the human ear, the more fascinated I am.
As such, the notion of music boxes, these mechanical wonders, rotating intricate patterns that produce musical tones with clockwork precision but entirely mechanistically, is an intriguing one. I’m not alone obviously. After an earlier post I had about a paper music box project, this one is a worthy follow-up, even though it employs midi. A truly nerd-gasmic invention that has me tipping my hat even though I’m not even a Star Wars fan.
This is going to be a picture-less, sound-less postcard, but nevertheless I feel compelled to comment because it was such a unique, simple, yet savory experience. I was really charmed by the simplicity of multi-modality – an open train or real tracks, in the brisk cold night, huddled with strangers going through a narrow passageway with scenes from various fairy tales unfolding off to the sides. A combination of real actors, props, detailed fabrications of scenes from fairy tales just enough to evoke memory of each one, really gave the train ride a sense of presence. In some ways it made me aware (and hopefully others) how used I am to the flatness of experience provided by media – whether it’s my TV or my computer, or even my beloved iProducts.
Auditorily, the delightful part was that each fairy tale scene was announced by sounds first, before it became visually present. But let me backtrack. The train itself has cheapo variety park speakers built in and played music constantly. Let’s see if I can describe it. It was a cartoonish melody but it wasn’t contemporary or popular, and not too childish. Had a fairy-tale character, perhaps reminded me of old vinyl records I listened to of dramatized fairly tales, or perhaps other people were reminded of their Disneyland experiences and so on. In any case, even tho it appeared to be ‘generic’ in a sense, it was actually a custom mix, because it mixed in elements – melody, voice and sound effects that represented in a refreshingly subtle way the fairy tale scene that was just about to materialize out of the darkness ahead. A particular highlight for me was the sound effect of hundreds of mice scattering and screaming in that pattern mice do, sound intensifying as we came up on a fabricated scene on the side of the tracks of a fake corpse covered in at least 50-ish plastic mice/rats.
Reflecting on this experience, again, I just can’t say enough how refreshing it is for me to re-conceptualize this notion of ‘multi-modal’ display/interface that gets thrown around a lot in the interaction design community, and for that matter, in education(al technology). The way this train ride was multimodal, with the darkness of the forest around us, eery branches and leaves, fog-covered pond, water reflecting the moon hiding monsters below, cold biting night air, analogue metallic clanking of wheels on rails with its distinguishable crackling when direction changes, the low-fi sound melody and effects played via speakers, plus the immediate sounds of the live actors on the various fairy tale sets. It was a truly multi-modal experience with a presence that the most sophisticated piece of technology hasn’t been able to get close to. The sheer depth of – that’s how I can really think about – the depth, dimensional effect of different sensual experiences layered together, sight, sound, touch, temperature, smell, emotion….Makes me realize – duly so – how limited the conceptualizations of even the most contemporary forms of multimedia, multimodal, tangible technology are.
Just a couple of exerpts from a lovely opportunity to do on-the-hour 20-minute soundwalks as part of the Vancouver Word on The Street project in 2012…it allowed us to just about circle the perimeter of Vancouver Public Library, but what a richness of different soundscapes – here is one exploration of a more typical ‘urban’ soundscape, and one more focussed on water and the water features in the area, concluding in the very quiet CBC building.
There was one other impactful moment I had, that I wasn’t able to record – walking by the CBC shop at street level – stopped my group to enjoy the interplay of traffic and the radio broadcast out of the shop. It was a Sunday, and the excerpt we heard was just so rich and meaningful – struck me as a real CBC moment. Reminded me of the power of radio. One moment you’re waiting to cross the street in the hustle and bustle of downtown, the next minute you’ve lost yourself listening to the interviewee talk about spirituality and religion and philosophy and the human condition.
I actually made this recording last year but clearly haven’t gotten around to posting it yet. It’s funny usually every summer i’m like a terminator determined to pack in as much sun, beach, water and sand i can into my existence. This year i was so burned out from work, I was content to just not work, and barely got out once or twice. Went to the beach all of three times, and didn’t go in the water once. I think all of this was my final recapitulation to Vancouver “summers” – it was just never hot enough for the damn ocean to warm up enough for swimming. This recording is such a pleasant memory because last year I still had that innocence and hope that real summer was just around the corner. This particular visit to the beach was so pleasant and peaceful, what struck me there was the serenity of the waves lapping at the beach with gentle people sounds around that I wasn’t annoyed by (which I usually am) Anyway, enjoy the quietude and ambiance:
This is just a small aural postcard of a soccer game I went to in the summer…Whitecaps is the Canadian team, and they played a friendly match against Seattle (I think). It’s been a while since I’ve been to a major sports event in one of those dome-creations and as always it is a very sonorous environment. Nothing like the World Cup or Euro Cup with the millions of vuvuzellas and screaming and fighting and so on, but still it was a very interesting and aurally dense combination of acoustic and electroacoustic sounds, coloured by the vast architecture of the space. And in an interesting way, even though the PA system (featured in the second sound example below) was certainly very dominant in its amplified glory, the acoustic sounds I’d say far overpowered any electroacoustic ones. As well as the sheer amount of people sounds such as footsteps, shuffling, conversations, etc. there were of course the crowd-powered “Boos”, chants and various other vocal soccer rituals such as the gurgling before someone of the opposite team scores, reactions to referee calls, etc. Most common of course were the group escalations to “aaaAAAAH” and “Owwwwww” if someone from “our” team is about to score, as well as, of course the familiar eruption of jubilance once there is a goal (not too many times this game). Anyway, the two recordings I believe capture at once the acoustic power of the crowd sounds and the interventions of the PA system, announcing, god-like, details about the score. I have to say I was creepily reminded of the whole Hunger Games scenario, where the faceless voice of the Capitol sounds over the Cornucopia of the battlefield, and in each district. Something rather chilling about this faceless, disembodied centralized voice up in the high ceiling of the stadium.
Having upgraded to Peak 7 LE a few months ago after frustrating incompatibility issues between Peak 6 and Lion OS, I was frustrated once again looking for an MP3 and MP2 encoder, not to mention an AAC encoder for Quicktime for making iPhone message tones. After a few unsuccessful tries to find and download said encoders, I cleverly clicked on the cached link to the Peak site, and discovered that BIAS Inc is no more! Yikes. My first response was outrage at having NO support for a product I was just pushed into upgrading to by a tech person (telling me straight up Peak 6 was incompatible with Lion forever) and since they don’t include documentation for easy access to additional encoders, THANKS a LOT, I am stuck. However, my second response was sadness and embarrassment at my very consumer-like response to what is obviously an economic downfall with very human dimensions…Steve Berkley, BIAS CEO’s cryptic explanation implicates strained employee relationships, conduct and morale issues…remding all of us somehow that behind every business/company are actual people, with actual problems and good days and bad days. I hate to think I too have bought unquestioningly into this idea that the customer is always right, and corporations are somehow there to be always, without fail accountable to me, and nice to me, and working for me, and that is somehow my right as a customer. Eeeesh.
So, a proper good-bye, I’ve been using Peak since 2001, Peak 2 or 3, somewhere around there, and the first Peak I owned by myself was Peak 6 with Sound Soap. I’ve enjoyed, recommended and used Peak for over a decade! Sad to see this company not be able to adapt to the “changing audio software market” as many have pointed out (see article link above)…this is no doubt yet one more move towards a global obliterating of medium-size business and vertical mergers into bigger and bigger corporation monopolies.
Now, let’s watch what happens to RIM next.
Well, I’m actually posting months later and as it happens I have largely forgotten what made me remark on this event and record it. I am pretty sure I took a db picture as well but alas, can’t locate it now. I just leave this with the hope you enjoy the recording which is a delightful (I think) stroll through the street crowd at Italian Days on the Drive (Vancouver) – a car free event in the summer with participation by the Italian community. Imagine sausage dog stands, pizza stands, craft tables, small stage performances on every corner for about 20 blocks on a hot summer day. Well ok, not hot, that would be too much to ask of the summer in Vancouver, but a sunny warm one. In this recording, I was walking by a particularly campy music stage, through a talkative group of strangers, and towards another latin beat corner. Enjoy.
Mainly what I wanted to demonstrate here is the chaotic – both visually and sonically – environment of the Can-Am championships, Vancouver 2012. In this corner of the video we see the Qigong competitors moving along to soft music with focus and concentration, next to the more advanced Taiji individual forms. Then the video pans to the right where two large rinks are dedicated to Southern style kung-fu with lots of energy, yelling, thumping, kicking and twirling in the air. Further yet in the other side of the gym are the karate-do, tae-kwon-do boxing and wushu competitions. I was mostly fascinated with the soundscape. So busy, so counter-intuitive for the calm zen focus required for Qigong. I’m reminded of Ursula Franklin’s Silence and Notion of the Commons where she introduces the practices of Quaker communities. Taiji, something that I’ve been wanting to do for a long time, and Qigong strike me as practices in need of some sort of silence – external or / and internal? Actually, the movement itself is silence. Just like the movements of wushu and southern kung-fu are themselves loudness. In any case, I wanted to capture the atmosphere of this event in its audio-visual glory. It was quite different on competition day as compared with the opening ceremony where triumphant warrior musical orchestrations accompanied all the school demos. Sans the glamour of evening glow, competitions were more like the metaphorical daytime light, unforgiving, full of energy, stress and possibility. Team cheers and chants were then the soundtrack of the better martial arts forms, with the only exceptions being Qigong group forms with the little distorted transistor radio soundtracks, the grit of the low-quality music player clashing with the intended grace of the forms.
Filmed with an iPhone 4 camera.