Category: ‘Acoustic ecology’

Sensory Postcard: Galiano Island

October 20, 2014 Posted by Milena D

So once again, it was the time of my annual pilgrimage to Galiano Island, where I spent two weeks with one dog, two cats, and one girlfriend (one of the weeks). I have listened, thought and written about this before (including at the Acoustic Ecology journal), so nothing new…but this time around I had some new thoughts, because I spent even more time outside sitting with my thoughts, while the dog rolled around in the wet sand. This is something I hardly do any more, but used to do a lot when I walked my dog in my childhood – walk silently with my thoughts and experience the surrounding environment.

2014-09-27 13.22.44One obvious delight about the house where I stayed on Galiano was of course the massive expanse of acoustic horizon, the fresh air that I was really appreciating this time, and just all kinds of little bits of material things – weird field spider webs in the morning, crisp smell of morning dew, grass, pine trees. I also love the resident crows that make their daily circles at dusk sort of chatting (quarreling?) back and forth to each other. I’ve actually gotten to be really fascinated with crows lately…they are super intelligent, and I always feel like their behaviour and language is just beyond my understanding but so close I can tell it is intelligent and meaningful. It’s hard to describe how us humans as intelligent beings can recognize (or think we can recognize) and tell apart meaningful exchange from instinct-driven behaviour?…

Anyway, this post was meant to be a tribute to the materiality of existance, finding joy and awakening in smelling, feeling, listening, seeing beauty and life in nature, in its serenity and chaos. I love to just sit an observe small areas like tidepools, or ant-hills, everything has a place, and it’s a microcosm within the social construction we call ‘culture’ – as if, delusionally, we are the only ones here, or the only ones who matter.

Sensory postcard: WLD @QE Park

July 25, 2014 Posted by Milena D

So this year for World Listening Day (and by the way it always seems like we in Vancouver – the birthplace of acoustic ecology and all that jazz – always fall short of our international colleagues in terms of taking advantage of the day towards public education and sound awareness) a little group, a subsection of the Vancouver Soundwalking Collective, decided to re-enact a historic soundwalk by Hildegard Westerkamp, 40 years ago, in Queen Elizabeth Park. Also, I brought S. in for her first soundwalk. The soundwalk was recorded by Tyler Kinnear but for the first time I have no desire to hear it, nor did I have a particular desire to record while I was on it. As i said in the discussion after, for me it was more of a memory walk.

But not of memories I have in the park – it was only my second time there – memories from my childhood, of trees, of smells, of air, of sights. As we moved through open fields by the duck pond and then narrow passages through bushes over the creek, up narrow paths with trees overhanging at the sides, coming up on little bridges overlooking the whole park, and the cityscape in the distance, I was reflecting on everything else but sound. I was reflecting on the feeling of relief that I had in wide open spaces, and the feeling of suspense in shady, narrow passages; the breathtaking beauty of the landscape, the flower beds and decorative trees; and the unfamiliarity of having all these different people around me, speaking different languages, doing their own little photoshoots in the park.

Reflecting on multi-sensoriality it really isn’t just about sight, sound, smell or touch. I don’t know what the words are and if there even are any words for ‘atmosphere’, ‘aura’, ‘impression’, ‘imprint’, but those are the kinds of things i had an experience about as I moved through different spaces and different sensory environments.

Sensory Postcard: SFU campus

July 25, 2014 Posted by Milena D

As an aside note, I am always playing catch-up with all my ‘sensory postcards’ – I take way too many photos, videos and audio recordings and can never manage to turn all of these experiences into blog entries…it really has become about ‘recording to remember now, not remember later’ (the tagline from fieldnotes). I guess if I really wanted to turn these experiences into a proper archive I have to be more disciplined and make myself blog every day or something of that sort. Once a month is not enough – I am so in the habit of collecting these that I do it literally everyday. So here’s one for the memory lane.

I’ve been at SFU for over 12 years….I started on this very same campus, Burnaby mountain, living in the campus dorms, walking along the concrete-and-grassy combination that sort of epitomize this campus. There is just so much ‘meadow’ space here that it’s never been a problem to find an empty-ish lawn and park oneself down for some alone time. I remember spending many days and days parking myself in different corners, nooks and crannies of the mountain. I feel a bit like a tree that stands in one place seeing change take shape in front. In the time I’ve been here the campus has gone from empty grass and forest to a cornerstone of shops and supermarket and artificial fountain and a big condo development – elementary school even! Around 1/3rd of the campus has been completely gutted and renovated, and probably a 1/6th of brand new space has been added. Yet there are still these empty grassy areas that are so private, so quiet, so ‘alone-with-your-thoughts’ and hence the sensory postcard. This feeling of being hidden away, of being surrounded by concrete and forest at the same time, is kind of unique and safe in its familiarity. And even aurally, the combination of distant buss roar and children’s voices just within earshot brings back memories of living on campus during the summer alongside constant summer camps. This sound, it’s both irritating to my desire for serenity, and at the same time joyous and uplifting in its predictability. It’s the sound of renewal if I had to name it. Always new kids, always willing to make a racket.

London Sound Survey – Hackney year

February 20, 2014 Posted by Milena D


This project realized through London Sound Survey is Richard Beard’s 100 recordings of wildlife (mostly birds) in the area of Hackney. What makes this project different and delightful is usually similar projects are based on geo-mapping – mapping single recordings to particular location on a map. This “map” is basically a time-map. Multiple recordings are mapped to the same location, what changes is time, the span of one year. This makes for a really different listening experience where one can hear clearly the changes in wildlife presence over the months and seasons of the year. Knowing that the location and time of recording stay consistent, this project allows both for an aesthetic and informative impression of the ebbs and flows of a local soundscape.

Have a listen here.

Sensory Postcard: Snowshoeing

February 10, 2013 Posted by Milena D

2009-12-31 11.51.12I 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.


Aural postcard: Can-Am championship

July 10, 2012 Posted by Milena D

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.

Aural Postcard: Bikram, the Sound of Yoga

January 20, 2012 Posted by Milena D

Sadly I wasn’t able to record any of this experience which is prompting me to write…but it is understandable I couldn’t really bring a recorder into a bikram’s studio. The environment there struck me for two reasons, first in a good way and then in an off-putting way. The class started with a series of breathing exercises, long inhales and exhales. In a class of 30+ people the effect was amazing. Everyone exhaling at the same time made the sound not only full and rich but take on an almost modulated, off-phase quality because of the tiny delays between individual breaths. I felt like I was listening to a skillfully made electroacoustic composition. The breath felt amplified as natural a process of amplification as can be – a result of exaggerated listening…

Then the instructor put on a close mike and started the main part of the class. Now, my surprise wasn’t so much because of the novelty of using amplification for a generally small room of quiet yoga practitioners. My comment isn’t even about how amplification changed the relationship between her and the class. It’s more about the way she used her voice, which somehow thematically connected for me with the amplification itself. She spoke in sharp, forceful sequences fairly persistently like an aerobics instructor, or better yet – a bootcamp personal trainer to “go longer, go faster, go deeper, go more, stop” into our yoga poses. The jarring of the physical environment – one of sweaty delirium and the sharp vocal feedback was hard to deal with, to say the least.

No doubt I’m not going back there (

Review – Finally…My Wisdoms on Inception, The App

April 2, 2011 Posted by Milena D

Inception The App

I downloaded Inception the app almost right away when it came out, because of course, as an RjDj fan I knew about it. At the time I had a 3G iphone and had a really bad experience with it. It essentially wouldn’t play for me at all…It downloaded – so I assumed it would work, since I had been using RjDj, and then it didn’t. Dismayed, I posted a bad review of it on the Apple site. Then, I tried it on my iPod touch 4, worked like a charm, fast and furious, but I didn’t really see much point in using it. I was at home at the time…not much going on. This was similar to my early RjDj experience…you just really have to take that baby out and about to experience the magic. So, recently, bored with my usual soundtrips, I turned on Inception on my new iPhone 4G and rather than trying to tinker with dreamscapes, just hit enter…

Fast-forward a week…I’ve been listening to it almost every day, for long periods of time, on my too-long commutes, and reflecting on this experience. It’s just a week past my sound course’s “ipods and headphones” lecture when we all talked about our headphone/ipod listening habits, desires for retreat into a musical world, for orchestrating our own accompaniment to life. I try not to be a hypocrite. I’ve never told my students listening on the ipod is bad, or escapism is bad. I don’t even think it is. But, only *i* know when i do it, and I certainly sometimes do escape. RjDj has already been a fresh change, and I’ve written about that, but Inception is interesting in yet other ways, and I’ve become somewhat obssessed.

One of the things I talked with my class about is how you don’t have to carry huge books of CDs like before, now you have all your music on a tiny ipod, all the variety you need…because who can stand to listen to only one album all day? We’ve also been talking about film sound and how it evokes certain moods or expressions (or rather, as many of my students say if it’s a happy scene and the music fits ’cause it’s happy – surely, we’ll never know why that is… but i digress). So Inception in some ways is like listening to the same album all day, for days on end in fact. Except, its “interactive” nature makes it sort of random when the musical score would appear and take charge so in that way it’s not really predictable as an album, but nevertheless, it’s the same soundtrack.

The voice modulation at certain points of the experience is also pretty dramatic and sophisticated. Coupled with the deep, raspy tones of the tuba inside the lavish orchestration of the Inception Main theme, I caught myself wanting to whisper dramatic things like “One Day… (one day… one day…) …. When This is All Over (all over…all over….) … We Can Start … (start….start….start…) Again (ehn…ehn….ehn…). I get that  urge every time and am quite saddned there is no recording capability…I presume for copyright purposes. Of course I will soon get around that and post a file on my Soundcloud…but for now, reflections.

The last of which being the Action dream. It cracks me up. It is an un-intended parody of everything I’ve talking about in class in the last three weeks. Once the ipod senses you moving, and taking in mind the rate of displacement, it starts the action sequence music, which is basically, as I recall, the “action shots” music score from the movie. It is a fast-paced minor-pitched staccato rhythm, rising a half tone in building suspense every once in a while. What makes it hilarious is that instead of shooting at subconscious agents trying to kill me or driving a van off a bridge, I am demurly walking down the street with the usual mundanity surrounding me – buses, people, clouds. It is funny how so many people (many of my students too) like rhythmic music to give them energy and accompany their travel/walking. This music though, fully orchestrated, rather than musically mixed, infinitely clashes with the mundane mise-en-scene, and in so doing brings attention to the fact of how “constructed” film music is; which brings me to ask myself – why is other music ok? Why does it feel more “natural’ to walk around or ride the train with lady Gaga on – it is just as much a constructed soundscape? is it that its spatial or contextual connotations are more open, and therefore it is easier to imagine oneself being anywhere or doing anything with this type of music backdrop on?

To continue on this meta-level, it was also interesting in itself to be reminded of the functioning of the Inception app itself – “You are active” – hah, like I don’t know that. In a sense pulling me out of the cocoon of the ambient, film-orchestrated score I was immersed in, I become aware of its built-in functions, the limitations of its “intelligence”. Yet always, the dramatic, culminating parts of the movie soundtrack seem to come at the “right” moment, or at least seems to make the moment right, giving that scene just the pomp-and-circumstance to make real life movie-like.

Aural Postcard of a different kind…

March 23, 2011 Posted by Milena D

This is a project I did as part of a job with my supervisor at SFU (See the Sustainable Educational Ecologies site) where I charted the sound level readings for various spaces in the faculty of education building, trying to collect an impression of the sustainability of the soundscape and acoustic environment. I also took light readings. The schematic below illustrates the composition of offices of one of the main areas in the faculty and a gradient symbolic representation of light and sound levels. The office spaces are colour coded according to designation and purpouse. Here is also a file I created with the readings and a few recordings in Flash.


RjDj Soundwalk

March 13, 2011 Posted by Milena D

After a brief hiatus where I was busy with who-knows-what…Oh, yes, being obsessed with the Harry Potter series and already planning my next Severus Snape halloween costume, ahem; I am back to RjDj with ideas for a new scene. And I’ve re-discovered three scenes I didn’t give a decent chance before – Aware and Unowis, and KDSP’s Replay Atlantis. Now, I’m having some trouble uploading to RjDj’s web interface (Error 413?) but I’ve made mmm, at least 5-6 new recordings. The trouble is really, it’s so easy to accumulate recordings, and I always have trouble thoroughly listening to them again…

The other great news is that I’ve successfully now proposed a soundwalk with RjDj through the Vancouver New Music 2011 Spring Soundwalk series. This is an excellent initiative that has a long history, and is associated with the WFAE and CASE in Canada, part of the worldwide acoustic ecology movement. I have to confess I’ve never actually attended an official VNM soundwalk, and I know the usual folks are used to some techno-geekery but I don’t know how exactly walking around with headphones in is going to pan out!

Really, the only thing I wish is that I had some more time to look at all the PD utilities and tutorials and make a new scene specifically geared towards the soundwalk, a scene that hopefully goes a bit beyond the RJC in sofistication…Next time!

Since RJDJ have now closed their product and all associated website support, including their embedded player, I can’t actually link to any of my recordings there. But thankfully, the recordings of the soundwalk (some samples anyway) can be accessed via the Interference Journal, where I published a piece with my collaborator and colleague Vincent Andrisani.

Interference Journal: Aural Cultures Vol. 1, Issue 1.