Posts Tagged: ‘acoustic ecology’

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.

Making Sense – Intersensory workshop (RE/Lab)

December 1, 2015 Posted by Milena D

A month ago @multisensorymel (Melanie McBride) and myself improvised a small-scale intersensory workshop out of Ryerson’s RE/Lab (Responsive Ecologies Lab) with the support of lab director Jason Nolan, as well as Daniel Harley and several RA colleagues. A combined blog post is still forthcoming, but I wanted to take the opportunity to start jotting down some initial impressions of the experience. So the idea, for me, was to 1) try and combine more than one sensory modality as an inquiry entrypoint, and 2) try and incorporate a ‘making’ aspect in the workshop as a meaningful way of transforming participants’ sensory experience.

There really are a multitude of ways to go about engaging with sound in ‘real’ or non-real time that lend themselves to various forms of sensory attention in the moment. I have less personal experience but do love the idea of ‘sonic graphs’ which entails logging sonic events, textures and ambiences through an often ad-hoc notation system. Sonic graphs would be done at a stationary position either at intervals of time, or for a particular duration. Soundwalks on the other hand, are silent walks that focus on walking and movement and experiencing sound while moving. A sound map (the second image) representing different sonic features of a community or area is another way of engaging with sonic environments. A sound map would be typically something one draws from a stationary position or after a listening experience, and the idea there is to capture something more general about the soundscape – the prominence of different sounds and where they originate in the soundscape (acoustic profiles), the timbral and textural qualities of different sound sources, and the relationships between different sounds relative to the listening subject.






















I’ve experienced many types of soundwalks that others have led and each person, naturally, has a different approach to them. Over the years, some trusty guidelines for doing soundwalks have accumulated for me:

  • silence. when you’re speaking you’re not listening, and it’s very hard for someone who isn’t very experienced with soundwalking to switch between modes of aural attention and other attention: because we use sound (speech) to communicate and use our ears for other contextual and practical information our brains literally process sonic information in two different areas of the auditory cortex, making it very difficult cognitively to switch back and forth.
  • pacing. movement is very much linked to sensory perception and processing of sensory info – that has been pointed out by many, and the thing that makes a difference in my experience of soundwalking is slowing down from a purposeful fast walking pace (which puts our senses on a level of ‘functional’ everyday routine) to a contemplative pace that makes our sensory system sort of restart, ‘clean the cache’ so to speak and introduce some novelty in perceiving (similarly to the model of ‘deep listening’ developed by Pauline Oliveros)
  • resetting. in general our perceptual apparatus is predicated on detecting differences against a constant, which, in the case of sound, allows us the evolutionary possibility to become habituated to all sorts of urban noise, household hums and drones and the like. So a ‘refreshing’ or re-setting of our listening strategy is always a necessary part of a soundscape awareness exercise.
  • contrast. In soundwalks one approach that helps with resetting our listening sensibilities is organizing a route around contrasting sonic spaces: areas of quiet followed by noisy street, outside-inside contrasts, monotone-type soundscapes vs. timbrally/spectrally rich soundscapes, and near-far sonic experiences: e.g. leading a group close to a sound source and then away, experiencing the acoustic profiles of prominent or interesting sounds in a given environment.
  • sociality. a soundwalk of one doesn’t really work that well. There is a kind of magic that happens when a sizeable group of people move through space together without soundmaking: we stand out in a different way, but it also de-normalizes typical sociality because instead of discussing things as they happen we must stay present and reflect privately, together.
  • post-discussion. As John Dewey states, we don’t learn from experiences, we learn from reflecting on our experiences. Well, that’s debatable, as I would say we do learn something from just experience. For a soundwalk to have its proper impact, however, a group discussion after the experience is very important as it allows folks to share and compare impressions and work out-loud the experience of being a listener in this novel way.

Eatons Smell/Soundwalk (Nov 9, 2015)
The soundwalk into Eatons centre certainly contained excellent examples of contrast, e.g. between the acoustically dry underpass from the metro line to the centre, to the vast open reverberant space of the Eatons atrium full of sounds and music spilling out from every shop against the constant keynote of the fountain in the centre. What always fascinates me about malls is the negotiation (or lack thereof – implied mutual acceptance) between public and private space that can be felt so tangibly in the sonic realm – while the common areas are semi-public, they are overflown with music that signifies private commercial efforts designed for a particular brand identity and customer experience. At the same time the space itself, in its very architecture of high domes, glass and aluminum, is designed to create a sound field of masking of human sounds. Instead of being able to segregate conversations, the space creates a soundscape of one never-ending hubbub of voices, shuffling objects, echoing footsteps; I want to think of this phenomenon as having a certain rhythm, but it’s easier to think of it as a texture. The water feature, one of the only intentional sonic designs is intended to ‘equalize’ and further mask individual sounds with its wide frequency spectrum. Almost makes me want to look into the history of the ‘water feature’ as an element that has been introduced in city design, but also as a marker of wealth, style and class in private real estate. I find it a bit laughable because the sound is kind of lost in the midst of all the noise that is bouncing off all the glass domes, and all the competing music spilling out into the atrium. I certainly have never been able to sit by a mall fountain and suspend my disbelief about where I am and imagine I’m sitting by a bubbling brook in the forest. I do, however, think that the space design of malls is – whether intentionally, or unintentionally – designed to create a soundfield that de-emphasizes individual experience, hiding individual sounds inside the field, matching the mall’s purpose as an anonymous commercial space, and not the village square of personalized exchanges. At the same time, the constant dynamism of ‘anonymous’ indeterminate noise fits the mall’s character as a vibrant, happening space of commerce, socialization and the ‘right’ kind of lifestyle. Short clip:

In terms of smells, some interesting things I learned from Mel was that the rubbery, industrial smell in sports shops like Foot Locker is actually off-gassing from the production and materials used in lower-end versus higher end shoes, clothes, etc. A similar off-gassing from fabric colouring and polyester would be found in department clothes stores. By contrast high-end clothes shops (symbolically located on the upper, quieter floors) smelled like coffee and nice tobacco, fresh linen and dried fruit. Basically like natural fibers and materials. Very interesting to explore the private-public spaces in that way, through smell, and sound at the same time. Smellscapes were much more contained and intense in my view, I’d say more subliminal as symbolic experiences. The atrium smelled very much like lots of people, contained air and around the fountain – vaguely like minerals and chlorine.

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: 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.

We Are Losing our Listening

October 14, 2013 Posted by Milena D

Scouting through TED today as a form of highly productive procrastination I came across this from “sound expert” Julian Treasure. It’s interesting hearing a very Schafer-esque approach to the idea of active listening but with a few Jean Luc Nancy quotes and with handy guidelines for the public.

Aural Postcard: Whitecaps Game

August 3, 2012 Posted by Milena D

Whitecaps gameThis 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.

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 (

Aural Postcard: Paradise

July 9, 2010 Posted by Milena D

This post is a bit of a departure from “secondary orality” as it is about experiences in “nature” (covering my ass by putting contested words into quotation marks – priceless. Or words I use that I am not quite sure what I mean by…) However, in some ways this isn’t a departure, precisely because I bring my urbanized, city-cultured, secondary oral ears to the pristine locale of nature, and my listening experiences are so coloured. This is what precipitated this post – I was lying yesterday under a tree, on a huge garden in front of the house on Galiano, and reading. Rather, trying to read. I kept getting distracted by the “silence” around me. I will try to analyse this situation but of course, it is interpretive – I think two things were happening for me. I felt both a visceral lack of people/car/media sounds, and at the same time resisted and was frustrated by that and wanted to enjoy the sounds of nature around me. The second thing was the “silence” – it wasn’t actually silent, it was a constant chorus of very vocal birds, swooshing of hummingbird wings, the clear almost crisp woozing and buzzing of various insects near me, the gentle sway of trees and leaves, and the distant calls of bigger birds high up in the sky. I guess it was amazing that I could actually clearly hear and pick up on such a variety of natural sounds. So why did I feel like I was in the middle of a busy highway?????

Even inside the cabin I feel the omnipresent silence, and it will be a matter of time to see whether I’d get used to it (probably..) but for now I am in a very existential way haunted by it, reminded of being alone, and reminded that nature is a relaxing and pleasant, yet also dark and dangerous place. This morning I turned on the tv just to have some familiar sounds…embarrassing! I don’t even watch that much tv in the city, but I guess its pervasive nonetheless and habitually associated now with my urban memory.

A little update from 07-14-2010

More sounds I am aware of and able to distinguish: at least 5 to 7 types of bird calls, and almost link it to time of day; at least this much insect buzzes and behaviour; and when I went out kayaking around the Montague harbour park, the most curious thing, among soft water, washing over rocks – what sounded and looked like the sound of seaweed drying in the sun. A very faint sharp bubbling sound, almost like tiny frying pans – I stuck the microphone way close:

So it’s kinda remarkable to marvel at the subtlety of how much sounds I can pick up here, in the absence of the ever-present drowning spectral effect of traffic and [white] city noise. I was lucky enough to go camping last week to a beautiful place (Sombrio beach – pic on the left) for four days and that’s where I started to notice the granular [well, actually, quite pronounced] differences in ocean and wave sounds – a sound we think of as uniform or even “universal” yet no two waves are ever the same. What I hadn’t thought of before was the differences introduced by surrounding terrain, type of body of water, ocean floor – rock, pebble vs. sand or mud, and strength of tide. With the sounds of the ocean as a leitmotif of my recent times I’ve noticed my senses tuning into the unique sounds of pebbles under my feet, and the water of the ocean rhythmically washing over different types of beaches. Below are three samples that I found most strikingly different. The first, Sombrio, waves are washing over a bed of round pebbles, soft edges, and the sound of the wave retreating had, I noticed, a particular sound quality, the words for which elude me (impoverished vocabulary to describe sound) and the best articulation I can give is that it sounded like a flanger effect – a natural comb filter most likely, produced by tiny periodic phase differences. It was a crisp, liquid sound with a strong peak near the 1kHz, very particular sound. I noticed later on, though I didn’t make a recording of it, in a fresh water bed, the sound of water going over jagged, sharp rocks was just slightly (but noticeably) different. I am not sure whether the fact it wasn’t salt water had anything to do with it. It had a similar sharp timbre, but without the flanger effect….wonder why? The last two samples are also interesting to compare. One is also Sombrio but the ocean waves come over a mostly sandy bed – so note the difference with the first recording. However, there is still an air of mist and the deep hissing of foam from the ocean tide that is missing in the quiet waters of Galiano (last recording) in a small alcove of a beach – there, the water is calm and gentle.