Aural Postcard: 2010 Olympics

I really wanted to do an aural postcard of the festivities following some olympic events as that is a one time opportunity for a field recorder (I still warmly gloat over my recordings of Commercial Drive’s meyhem over EuroCup 2007 when Portugal was playing Greece). So in fact, I’ll have several aural postcards, with a multitude of recordings that I’ll try to load all up here. Once again, I have to explain the dB readings. While I used dB once again (the app) I wouldn’t say this time that the readings are off by 20dB, precisely because an unweighted scale of measurement means taking into account those low, rumbling traffic sounds that characterize the street (as opposed to the home). Thus I would venture to guess that these readings are up by more or less 10 dB, not more – it was pretty darn loud there!

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Annotation: I was standing in front of 5th Avenue theatre on Burrard street, recording with my iPhone the traffic and street mob sounds after Canada won gold at men’s hockey at the 2010 Winter Olympics. Clearly it was a big day for Canada.

Narrative: While the recordings represents snapshots of the ambience, what cannot be gleaned from them alone is the overall impression and patterns of soundmaking that in my opinion characterized the afternoon and evening that night. What was striking to me ┬áthe whole way home after the game and well into the evening is how the usual connotation of horns – a warning signal; communicating anger and annoyance – was turned into a friendly and catching overture. As I drove down Commercial Drive after the game, not feeling particularly patriotic, I was quickly taken with the fan cars – people waving flags and honking as they slowly drove up and down. Quickly I caught myself honking too, in response to other horns, as well as to get a rise out of pedestrians who seemed to be fans too. The opposite also worked – crowds of walking fans’ shouting got a response from almost every car, whether adorned in maple leafs or not. My friend and I quickly got into the flow of this strange communication between cars and cars, cars and people, people and people. It was as if the car was an extension of our voices projecting them outside the interior space we were in, pulling us into the soundscape of celebration, but it was also as if the cars had voices of their own that they raised above the ambience to greet each other. The energy generated by this call-and-response was amazing and very very tangible! It was a joyful experience to welcome and appreciate noise for once (not be annoyed by it, as I usually would be), to feed off it, in a situation of instant community. It was also an incredibly powerful participatory experience – everyone in the vicinity was beckoned into belonging. It was also profoundly a sonic experience. When I finally turned onto a less busy street, where cars were silent, it was very quickly obvious to me that honking was no longer appropriate, sought after or appreciated.

Being outside on foot was also a profoundly sonic experience. I noticed later on when I myself was out there downtown, if groups of people were walking towards each other (going in opposite directions) even though they were in visual line of sight, they did not holler and cheer each other until they were in auditory range of each other, rising levels, feeding off each other’s energy, in a communal roar fest. Same with cars – when I was driving, even if I can see a group of fans ahead of me, I waited (same as other drivers) to get into auditory range of them to begin honking and enjoy their cheering response. And the opposite, fans on foot would wait for a car to come near before they yelled congrats. The picture above plus the recording is of a group of fans positioned in the drop-off area in front of City Hall mall who hung out there for a while just cheering each passing car, trying to get a car honk symphony going especially when cars were stuck between two red lights in the small intersection. Even though I didn’t catch any cars on the street, it was busy and these guys got a rise of out many drivers, cheering together as any car approached.

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