Category: ‘Sensory postcards’

Sound Study: Olympic Village

November 11, 2014 Posted by Milena D

So in the past six months I’ve been thinking about the concept of sound study as something more than a ‘postcard’, a sustained exploration of the geographical, sensory, cultural and social environment through the channel of listening. At the same time understanding that listening is always connected to the other senses and to the social experience of being in place.

Sensory Postcard: Ghost Train 2014

November 4, 2014 Posted by Milena D

Following last year’s Ghost train ride, I went again this year, and this time I was prepared to record. Last year’s entry is special to me, because it was really one of the first experiences that made me reframe my entries from ‘aural’ to ‘sensory’ postcards. There was something about riding on that tiny rickety train, on real tracks, through the foggy night forest of Stanley Park, stacked up against other people, and surrounded by mechanical props as well as live actors, that made that experience particularly multi-sensory. And coming to expect these impressions, I set out to record them this year, as well as just pay more structured attention to them. Here is a shorter vignette version of the ghost train experience this year, themed “Mother Goose”. On a side note, I think the funding for this year’s festival was severely cut as there were about 1/10th of the amount of props and actors pulling this together. And here is a longer audio recording in Audioboo of a section that was particularly eerie where the train goes over the little lake. You can almost hear the fogginess of the night forest, the echoes and reflections off the water coming from multiple installation sites in the vicinity. Plus the foreground audience reactions and rhythmical tacking of the train itself.

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.

Sensory Postcard: The Sound of Coffee

June 28, 2014 Posted by Milena D

I came by an interesting post today on Facebook, from the Creative Post about a study (I am yet to read, but very curious) which suggests that coffee shop ambience fosters creative intellectual labour. The story goes as so – as more and more independent creative contracts are moved to the cafe instead of to the (home) office there is a new ‘normal’ for creative workflow. Apparently ambient cafe noise at around 70dB is optimally productive, while levels pushing the 80dB are distracting (not to mention harmful, given the average laptop worker spends over 3 hours in a cafe).

I’m reading this in a cafe called The Bean in Mid-town Manhattan NYU, right across the Strand bookstore, and below we see the sound levels, which are in the mid-70s. So even according to the author of the original article this is a bit high. The problem is it’s hard to find a place that hovers at the flat 70dB mark. In my, now over four-year long extensive ‘study’ of North American coffee shops, it is quite rare to find a place that comes in at any less than high-60s dB. In fact, a popular ‘working’ cafe with all the ‘fixin’s’ – constant coffee machine turnover, steam, dishes, lots of voices, shuffling of chairs, background music – typically measures at mid-70s to 80dB. According to worksafe regulations, regular working exposure to sound at a magnitude of 85dB or over causes hearing loss over time. If we spend more and more working time in cafes, I ask then, why don’t we care more about the levels of sound we expose ourselves to? And what about those who work in cafes and restaurants? Restaurants are even louder than cafes, in my experience, based on past measurements.

In fact, not only isn’t anyone bothered (ok, I know that’s an overstatement) but people seem to like loud-ish environments to do creative work in. The article also pointed to a website called Coffitivity, which showcases an app, or rather a ‘revolution’ I think in productivity apps. Coffitivity offers the light ambience of a cafe for the creative worker who is getting writer’s block or coming up dry in the creativity department in the silence of their home. In fact, Coffitivity cite a paper that suggests some levels of noise is positive and productive for creative pursuits. The Creative Post article actually rallies against cafe noise, however, instead advocating ‘rain’ apps. That’s right, apps that play you an ambient rainscape that you can control in terms of intensity and type of rain. I am writing about this today because I’m just caught totally incredulous and open-mouth about this. It reminds me of the time I first heard about white noise machines for sleeping. The idea of adding undifferentiated constant sound when I need silence to sleep seemed like the strangest idea.

So, having grown up in a ‘keep-silence’ type of educational environments I cringe at the idea of adding ambient noise to my workflow in order to squeeze more creativity out of myself. Especially given that I hate the sound of North American cafes and whenever I am there I work ‘despite’ the noise, not because of it (or at least that’s what I tell myself). But I am starting to think there is something to the idea of sound levels and intellectual labour. In the past six months I’ve been intensively writing my dissertation at a work group on one of the SFU campuses. A public space, which albeit quiet, is still distracting. I’ve been listening to music on headphones while I work, and over time I noticed, when I turn it down I am much more distracted by it then when I turn it up past a certain level. Past that level my brain somehow puts it in a different category and it functions concurrently with thinking/writing instead of competing with my brainwaves. Very strange for me, because I am so fundamentally uncomfortable with the idea of pumping noise into my ears in order to drown out distractions. It’s like a metaphor for urban noise – because the idea of eliminating it seems impossible, we instead focus on managing and counteracting it with other noise. And then again, maybe we haven’t eliminated city noise because we do in fact function better with it somehow.

Sensory Postcard: Limerick Soundwalk

April 28, 2014 Posted by Milena D

So, I’ve been meaning to put up a bunch of my impressions of Limerick online. These come from a visit in the end of March for the Urban Soundscapes and Critical Citizenship conference there at UofL. As well as being the first time travelling for me in quite a long time, I also attended a beautiful soundwalk as part of the conference, led by Softday – Mikael Förnstrom and Sean Taylor. They were both recording the walk with monitoring headphones and high-quality furry mikes. I made a few recordings with my phone, but also spent large portions of the walk (which was around 3 hours long) just listening and taking in the rare experience of being in an unfamiliar place.

Surprise surprise the experience was about much more than just sound! It all started with even getting to the Milk Market (the starting point of the walk), getting lost, getting found and generally stressing out about not having enough directions and control. Once I started out soundwalking, however, I made a conscious effort to relax into the unfamiliarity and to reflect on how my (now North American) sensibilities affect my experience of being in a different place. It struck me that no one besides me was too worried about controlling all the information, knowing everything, being in charge. So I started just rolling with it and listening. I remember literally the feeling of relief that spread in my body when I decided not to worry about following the group or getting lost, etc.

With regard to the soundscapes that we went through I had an overwhelming sense that even the traffic noise was a bit quieter overall than what I’m used to in Vancouver. I am not sure if that’s the case really but I felt that the entire surrounding built environment was a little less overwhelmed by hums and drones and other constant irritants. Perhaps it was a quiet Saturday morning as well. Perhaps it was the European style cobblestone roads that create less noisy friction than asphalt. Going in the train station was an extra delight, not only because it was rather Harry Potter evocative (as are most train stations now) but also the wonderful resonance in the station space with the echoing PA announcements and soft shuffling of people and suitcases around. I got a coffee from a delightful little coffee stand and just enjoyed that European feeling of calm and not sure how else to describe it but ‘human scale’ sensibility. In North America I often feel brushed on all sides by a kind of cold institutionalism. Big sanitized buildings and institutions.

This next one is another stop of the soundwalk where we stopped by the cathedral and went in there to record. It’s amazing to me how ok everyone there was with us recording. Sean even went around all over the gift shop with his big microphone, no one even batted an eyelid. I recorded a short segment of the gift shop as well because I love Irish accents especially when middle-aged ladies are speaking it, and I also appreciated the crisp ringing sound of the cash register and coins falling in – I find it so antithetical in a way to the idea of godliness and faith. Hah. But anyway. The sound below is the calming little waterfall sound of a little Virgin Mary shrine.

And this last excerpt is the soundscape in a daffodil park by the Limerick Art Gallery site we stopped at. The park is right in the middle of several busy streets, and despite its serene visual appearance the sound of traffic overwhelmed its soundscape. That and the extremely loud leafblower, which I found ironic in a park where you’re supposed to enjoy the quietude and the leaves! Well, there was precious little quietude to be had, but I did try to capture some vocal birds nearby. You had to get very close to the bushes to hear them clearly though. But visually, the park was quite pleasant.

One of the other highlights of the soundwalk included walking at 8:30 am on a Saturday through the UofL campus, by the green athletic field, listening to a number of unfamiliar songbirds, the weather crisp but sunny (later on it got increasingly cloud). I remember the sense of calmness and freedom that I felt inside my whole body in those moments. Of course that was before I got lost and almost didn’t make it. Another highlight was walking along the edge of the Shannon river, under a big traffic bridge, the water and the structure working together to reflect all the sounds of the city – traffic, birds, talking, sirens, construction, wind. It was an interesting moment to look visually at the city laid out alongside the other river shore, and at the same time to have all the sounds of the city reflected across like a sonic postcard, conveying a wholeness of the soundscape as the ‘face’ of the city.

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: People & Urban Spaces

February 12, 2014 Posted by Milena D

Following the previous post, I continue my offerings of Speaking Photo and Picle-inspired slideshow recordings, a series I’d like to call people in spaces. Meaning, what interests me is the type, level and timbre of ambiance that happens when you put one, two or many people in a given space. Once again, because I’m using the same software for all of these, it is interesting the compare the different sound envrionments through the slideshow. This one below begins in a mall on a typical weekend, followed by a dense house party over Xmas – apartment sized space without music; after that we zip over to a busy popular restaurant at night time, a large space with many nooks and crannies – sounding almost identical to the house party; finally we have the overall quieter ambience of an apple store.

One thing that frustrated me in these exercises using the apps was the lack of annotation on the pictures. It is weird when you think of it – even for a slideshow program, not to be able to input a title or heading or something of that sort. The program certainly doesn’t input anything itself. So, I decided to extend the experiment and involve another app – Over. Over allows you to annotate pictures with funky fonts and titles. But, the problem is, what I’d have to do in the otherwise spontaneous moment, is pull out my phone, take a picture, open it in Over, enter a title, save it; open Speaking Photo, select the annotated picture, and press record. Basically takes the spontaneity out of it a bit. What should be a 10-second maneuver, becomes a 1 minute maneuvre, and if there was a transient sound I really wanted to capture, there it goes. It is also cumbersome and makes me want to do it less. This is exactly how apps and technology encourage – not define – but encourage specific behaviours and not others, specific expectations too. I expect for an app to do everything I want it to do. And when it doesn’t, I’m upset.

I don’t know why, but I like the recording better in this next video. Perhaps Speaking Photo has a higher quality of recording but these are better. I won’t explain the locations because they are listed this time. All I’ll say is that these spaces and actions sort of encapsulate my day working in gastown – including inside the office space, at lunch break, in the elevator, etc.

Sensory postcard: Downtown Vancouver in Transit

February 12, 2014 Posted by Milena D

Even though I drive now, and have been for a while, the sound of various transit and traffic vehicles are still quite forefront in my experience and my urban sensibilities. After all, even when I walk on the street, I am affronted with the sounds of various cars and public transit vehicles. In celebration of finally upgrading my phone from a 4 to an iphone 5S, I have been on the lookout for various applications for ‘urban experiencing’ to play around with. I was hoping for a newer and improved version of RJDJ which would take advantage of the new Motion+ chip, but alas, there appears to be no money in that as RJDJ have closed doors and abandoned even hosting the scenes and recordings I used to be crazy about (see previous posts and this one too). I was dreaming about even more ‘reactive ambient experiencing’ from the company, but alas. They have focused on a niche of ‘intelligent’ delivery of music. Strange, I digress, but their model originally was always that – to deliver music in the urban soundscape, as a music label company. The reactive environmental sound pickup was actually just a smart gimmick – an add-on, to promote small music labels. Yet I’m sure I’m not the only one who got crazy about the concept and idea of picking up live sound and processing it in real-time. I didn’t really need any musical accompaniment?! I mean, it *sounds* like music, once you grab sounds around you and modify and filter them in, it’s magical, everything is animated, like your otherwise boring commute is telling you a story. Well. That was that. End of rant.

Below, are two videos of an app I have been experimenting with – Speaking Photo, and later, Picle. Both  essentially allow you to snap photo + record sound. Both encourage you (seem to be geared towards) combining these tiny static videos into a ‘story’ or ‘slodeshow’. Picle is better looking but more crashy, and allows only up to 10 seconds of recording (perhaps tearing a page out of Vine’s book?). Speaking Photo is not the prettiest thing but it works and allows up to 25 secs or so of recording (taking after Instagram). I want to come clean right away – what I really wanted was Foundbite but sadly and I’m sure purposefully, it only comes for Windows Phone 8. Foundbite seems perfect – an all-in-one: location-based geo-tagged, you record sound while you take multiple pictures and the app puts it together for you in one nice, slick package – a little slideshow that gets tagged to a location on a giant (global?) soundmap. Oh well. The moral of the story is, there simply isn’t enough interest in audio-based or primarily audio-based applications for ambient, locational experience. I did dabble a bit into Digisocial, Dubbler and Hubbub, which besides the horrible off-putting names (who comes up with this seriously? why does a sound-based social network’s name have to sound like a fat bee buzzing around). But ultimately they all seem a bit silly. Dubbler allows you to change the pitch of your voice (or any sound) as you record so it’s trying to encourage a bit of experimentation, but mostly browsing around it, I’ve found people recording themselves signing, etc. Doesn’t really work as a social network. I mean, part of text-based platforms like the web (and yes, I know it has images) is the anonymity. Voice feels wayyyy too personal, far too revealing about ourselves. I just can’t see it working, and I really want to.

So once again, below is a slideshow of one of my first attempts at using Picle. It’s comprised of several typical downtown Vancouver spaces featuring….yes, the sounds of traffic. Especially when listened to on headphones, what is interesting is to hear the difference in sound levels and sound quality in the different times and conditions. That’s kind of what I like better about this approach to sound recording versus pure sound recording. The photo does provide the context I think, for fully appreciating the contrast between the different sound environments.

In this one here, while it’s just a continuation of my recordings in-transit, is interesting I think because it features richer details of the soundscapes inside different public transit vehicles. I especially like the second one because it is done in one of the skytrain cars from the old, original skytrain – the King George line. That line I find has a pronounced train-like sound, there is something about the construction of the wheels and cabin, how they travel over the rails that is very attractive and more pleasant for me. The newer lines sound very sterile inside, still loud, but somehow wooshy and ambient and hydraulic. Less like a train. The last bit in the video is actually me standing outside, in a bus loop while hearing the passing of skytrain cars overhead.