Category: ‘Art reviews’

Eternal 4:33

February 8, 2016 Posted by Milena D

The recording that you’re about to hear (or not) is 4 minutes and 33 seconds of ambience during the endurance marathon that is the show Eternal (seen by yours truly at the PUSH festival 2016 in Vancouver). Now, don’t get me wrong, I liked it. It’s a two-hour continuous take in split-screen of two actors method-rehearsing the same scene. After 1/4 of the audience filed out after the first 10 minutes, I must admit I felt thrilled and excited to be at a piece that inspires so much outrage. After having given a lecture on repetition (in audio recording and how exact repetition has influenced all manners of creative and commercial endeavours) I was struck at how non-annoying the repetition here was. Yes, our brains desire difference, the expectance of different lines makes you stand on the edge of your seat waiting … then registering that the lines are the same. Yet, so much about each take was not the same! Both actors, working off each other went through a huge range of nuance of expression, inflection, paralanguage, connotation and emotion in exchanging those lines. What was more, and the reason I’m writing this post is, I went through a huge range of interpretations of the exchange. Here are some of those in relatively sequential order:

  • they are not speaking to each other, the recordings are totally separate
  • oh wait, they are speaking to each other
  • but some of the responses don’t make sense – so possibly the phrases are scrambled and our job as audience is to piece together the ‘real’ story
  • is he talking about her? is she clementine? is she talking about herself in the 3rd person?
  • wait, is it an affair that the guy had? or did they just meet?
  • lots of trying to figure out where the story begins…considering each line as the first line
  • maybe the very last take will be the phrases put in their proper places so that we get the real story – but I somehow doubt it we’ll get a resolution here
  • maybe he is saying the female lines and she is speaking the male lines?
  • this is a psychology experiment to see when they will crack
  • it’s a psychology experiment to see when we will crack?

And then somewhere mid-way I started to think of this as really a John Cage kind of experience where the repetition of the scene serves to highlight the extraneous soundscapes. People started – increasingly vocally and confidently, to laugh, chuckle, even speak lines out loud with the authors. Shuffling and jingling noises of people getting up and coming and going from the room punctuated the continuous scene exchange. Sometime in the last quarter I recorded exactly 4 minutes and 33 seconds of the ambience as sort of my own performance art, being participatory – as the piece I think invited us to be – and now this performance lives on in this post, amplifying its meaning beyond my initial inspiratorial moment.

The Sound of Bubbles

December 13, 2015 Posted by Milena D

In my overall focus on everyday soundscapes (and by ‘focus’ I mean purist preoccupation) I do tend to overlook the vast and exciting domain of auditory sensory training in the food and beverage industries, something that has not escaped the watchful eye of @multisensorymel. While it seems that taste and smell are more prevalent as ‘constructed’ sensory competencies in areas such as perfumery and wine sommelier training, I suspect there are ‘folk’ ways of using the sonic characteristics of food and beverages as ways of evaluating their quality and comment of their characteristics. Mel McBride’s work focuses precisely on critiquing the received wisdoms of smell-based training in such industries as techniques that are needlessly constructed, culturally-defined and prohibitive of lay entry as ways of differentiating professional from everyday sensing. Something that Bourdieu critiques in terms of distinctions between low, high and middle-brow art. I’m even more interested in the ways that the emergent genre of the ‘hipster foodie’ and celebrity chef television references, in mostly sidebar manner, the sound of cooking food as a form of auditory culinary expertise. I’m sure those of us who cook can come up with at least several unique examples of using sound as a guiding mechanism in cooking: sizzling oil at the right temperature, the pop of opening something sealed to evaluate its freshness, crushing bits of food to gauge their freshness or cooked-ness, etc. Here’s a research idea: interview practicing chefs about how they utilize sound awareness in cooking, consciously or subconsciously; hand in hand with, code instances where the sound of cooking is explicitly referenced on cooking shows on television.

With this long preamble, my fun introduction into this area was Mel’s spread of bubbly drinks (along with goats cheese, baguettes and olive oils) for our Making Sense, Sensing Place workshop at RE/Lab. I recorded the sound of four different types of drinks being poured: two kinds of sparkling wine (not champagne), perrier soda water and a can of san pelegrino orange soda. The two examples below are the Crement and Brut. While the Crement has a pretty consistent high-frequency fizz throughout, the Brut has a more dynamic fizz that intensifies as poured and goes into lower registers as it generates more froth before it fizzes out. It almost sounds like a low-pass filter, almost melodic in its short lifespan. Interesting to note the fizz-out for sparkling wine is much much longer in both cases than soda/pop, perhaps due to the different fermentation processes?

Between sparkling water and orange soda, what’s interesting to observe is how soda water starts out with a really thin, sharp carbon evaporation and pours in wet-sounding bubbles, fizzing out pretty quickly after. Orange soda on the other hand goes into deeper registers while pouring suggesting greater frothing – perhaps due to the orange flavoring? Or the tin can storage? The sound itself begs questions of chemical composition, material interaction and manners of preservation – to me the beauty of a ‘sound-based’ inquiry!

“Science has given us music for cats”

November 23, 2015 Posted by Milena D

 Oh lord, I think I may be a cat – I love this! Been thinking lately about art and humans and non-humans, and whether art is this elitist thing that belongs to humans only, and generally what is the role of art in human civilization, in society, where does it fit amongst other, seemingly more pressing matters. I don’t know what’s changed for me but I feel like I see clearly for the first time in a long time – I see art as just as urgent part of culture as education, economics, human rights, etc. It’s not about ‘making space’ for art by taking away time from more important life-and-death matters, it’s about art working alongside other activities, initiatives, phenomena. And also – art as an act of generosity and communion, sharing art with the non-humans that live in our environments. E.g. recently I watched a viral YouTube video where brass band musicians started playing on the side of the road for a herd of cows. As the cows came closer, seemingly enjoying the musical interlude more musicians joined and the thing that was really beautiful to see for me was humans labouring for the enjoyment of cows – when the reality of the situation is that 99% of the time cows labour and in fact, die, for our enjoyment. And now, I give you music for cats.
Screen Shot 2015-12-13 at 12.42.55 PM

Science Has Given Us Music For CatsFinally: Someone is making a music album specifically for cats.

Posted by Vocativ on Thursday, November 19, 2015

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.

The Worst Art Show ever

December 2, 2013 Posted by Milena D

20131211-113905.jpg A couple of weeks ago I went to the FUSE event at the Vancouver Art Gallery. I am sorry to say for me this exhibit hit a new and unexpected low. There was literally nothing there that blew me away. There was barely enough stuff that was worth looking at to make up for standing in the rain for 30 mins to get in. With a membership! On the left here we have a semi-panoramic shot of one of the exhibit rooms, projections of people in crowds, in a room of crowding people. How meta! Most pieces in the exhibit felt like they were made by 1st year art students with very obtuse, didactic messages. Lack of finesse and nuance for me. One exhibit in a big room consisted of dense clotheslines of coloured (sari?) fabric hanging. Thinking they were for touching my friends and I walked through them only to be scolded on the other end to “not touch the artwork”. Uhm. Not that I really wanted to touch those tattered, cheesy fabrics, but what’s the point of having this exhibit without touching it? It was physically impossible to walk through it without touching it.


One of the only interesting pieces for me was the Boardroom (below) mostly because of the nice stage set. Elaborate and realistic. As for the message – lost me. Oh and that reminds me. Faaaaaar toooo many little screens projecting crap, with lots of dirty, tatty headphones hanging around for people to listen to. Hello? The FUSE is an event where people want to socialize, not retreat listening to lengthy films and interviews, or stand watching long videos as part of some installation somewhere. Not saying I want to be watching only paintings, but if I wanna watch a documentary I’d do it at home. Not what I go to the gallery for. The bottom floor Heida art exhibit was a sight for sore eyes and this coming from somebody who really dislikes First nations art. It’s just not to my taste. Yet that night it was hella better than everything else, exhibit and performances alike. The end.


Review – Conductive sound

June 22, 2013 Posted by Milena D

Oh look. A conductive painting. But does it have to sound so bad? Is that too much to ask. Sigh. Kinda sounds like the only sound circuit i managed to solder together, a little resistance touch pad with a sound chip and little speaker. Basically electrical whining. Like this one.

Star Wars Lego “Barrel Organ”

January 3, 2013 Posted by Milena D

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.

Review – Dimensions: The Sonic Adventure Game

December 13, 2011 Posted by Milena D

Ok, here are my super precious and wise thoughts on Dimensions the app, from the makers of RjDj and Inception. I am a long time RjDj user, love it, used Inception, it’s neat, so I was naturally really looking forward to Dimensions. An alternate reality ambient sound environment, for the iPhone? Yes! And here are my thoughts in detail:
– nice sleek interface, cool overall narrative idea of space and dimensions, alternate reality
– it’s nice to have soundscapes that (unlike Inception) are neutral and not commercial tracks, so generative audio
– it’s nice to have a game component to make it an option to just passive listening, a bit more interesting
– the game mechanics have NOTHING to do with sound or location, which turns DImensions basically into a really really boring farming game. At first I thought the artifacts would be actual ‘discoveries’ in space, maybe related to sound evens, thresholds etc. Certainly the map view suggests it, but then it becomes just about mining space for points.
– I would NEVER pay money to buy points and it is frankly taken all the fun and excitement out of the game for me to be “reminded” to purchase them. Feels like a cash grab. I would be happy to pay a one-time fee of say 4.99 for the game and never be bothered to buy anything within it again.
– the soundscapes for each ‘level’ so far have been pretty boring. I mean I appreciate the difficulty in making a generative soundscape that is neutral enough to work in a variety of environments, but the baseline here – a bit too understated. Overall I have not been motivated to go into that universe at all.
Sorry for the scathing review guys, I’m sure it was hard work to make, and more than one person’s precious baby project. I still LOVE RjDj, but Dimensions is kinda of a disappointment. I really wanted to see more of an alternate reality game and instead feel like I got a farming game.

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.


World Soundscape Project – Photo Redux

January 5, 2011 Posted by Milena D

A great legacy – the World Soundscape project is something I should have started with…instead, it comes up now at the dawn of a new era, symbolized by this photo – 40 years after the first WSP led by R. M. Schafer, that helped found the acoustic ecology movement, and the acoustic communication stream at the School of Communication at SFU. Even though Schafer left shortly after, Barry Truax has continued to develop this field, especially from a type of applied perspective – through electroacoustic composition. Him and Hildegard Westerkamp (especially her) frequently give public and community presentations on the issues of understanding the soundscape, improving our listening abilities, urban noise, etc.

I consider myself to be a bit of a dinosaur now too in this field, and ahem, at SFU, both in a good way – I’ve seen a lot of good people, graduate students, and especially undergrads, come through and transform in this school; and also in a slightly bad way – each time someone new comes along and gets inspired, it only reminds me I haven’t gone anywhere yet. Except that’s not quite true, but for the sake of pathos – let’s presume it is…

Anyways, I am truly fortunate to be part of a new cohort, where the most improtant new thing is somehow the stars aligned and there are a critical mass of us so that we finally feel like a team, like a cohort of Soundscape Studies. Our ideas, complimentary, basically things for the most part align for us: Jenni Schine, Vincent Andrisani, Andrew Czink, Nathan Clarkson. (not to forget mentors and helpful friends – Barry Truax, Norbert Ruebsaat, David Murphy). I am most excited that in the recreatioin (above) of the classic WSP photo, I get to play Barry. 🙂

The actual mundane reason why we did the photoshoot was for a small sidekick installation to be put in at this year’s PuSh festival in Vancouver. However, the photo has gone viral and is now also listed here in the WFAE newsletter!