Posts Tagged: ‘aural postcards’

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!

Soundwalk (New Brighton) New Music Series

June 19, 2015 Posted by Milena D

NewBrighton2015-3Just a quick note to comment on a soundwalk I recently attended, led by my good friend Helena Krobath. We spent over an hour in the most beautiful sunshine walking through the Wall St./ McGill area and ending up at New Broughton beach. In addition to the rich soundscape the walk was also very fragrant – sun, I find really brings out fresh greenery smells, tree bark, distant salty ocean breeze, and once we got down to the beach, very much heavy seaweed-salt water and shell sand smell. (but don’t ask me to describe shell sand smell, I just feel like I could smell it) The soundscape in this area has a fascinating history, of which I only know that once it was a fisherman’s ghetto of Asian migrants (Korean?) and in general the area has stayed vastly industrial, with big cargo ferries and oil tankers rolling in and out, refueling, loading, unloading. While the oceanview nature of the region has overwhelmingly moved it in the direction of gentrification pushing real estate prices up (check out Avant: the newest in East Van oceanfront living), the soundscape remains saturated with the rumble of harbour machinery, freight elevators, constant roar of cargo trucks, the passage of cargo trains and the clanking of switching tracks, squealing brakes, and nearby Memorial Ironworkers’ Bridge (Second Narrows) commuter traffic.

I definitely still love soundwalking, but especially in groups, I catch myself paying attention to many other sensory elements besides sound, even more so than sound. It’s an opportunity for introspection more than anything. Similarly to a soundwalk I went to in Queen Elizabeth Park last summer I was remembering a lot of childhood memories – climbing trees, playing in bushes and ditches, exploring the abandoned weed-ridden areas hidden behind and away from residential areas. So much joy and adventure and sense of discovery playing in abandoned construction sites, wooded areas and ditches, boarded up houses, etc. This neighbourhood with its combination of (now) fancy houses and the very industrial harbour reminds me of my childhood. The smell of the wild bushes that ran alongside most of the walk were very strong memory triggers. Walking in a large group of people is not really a novelty for me (hasn’t been for a while) but at this point *not recording* is a novelty so I do find myself being less of a dedicated, intentional listener, and more simply letting sensory experience flood into memories and into stream of consciousness and introspection. To re-answer the crux of all questions, it’s not that sound presents a massively different and unique view of the world, it’s that intentionally tuning into one sense provides an opportunity to open all senses in a different way – it creates a different framework for perception, than the one we habitually use, which is primarily informed by semiotic shortcuts, that is, a cerebral, conceptual and culturally-informed way of encountering the world. And to me this is the key part – listening, yes – but why! Just to unlearn passive behaviours – no, that has never been good enough for me.

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: 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.

Sensory Postcard: The Ghost Train

November 10, 2012 Posted by Milena D

This is going to be a picture-less, sound-less postcard, but nevertheless I feel compelled to comment because it was such a unique, simple, yet savory experience. I was really charmed by the simplicity of multi-modality – an open train or real tracks, in the brisk cold night, huddled with strangers going through a narrow passageway with scenes from various fairy tales unfolding off to the sides. A combination of real actors, props, detailed fabrications of scenes from fairy tales just enough to evoke memory of each one, really gave the train ride a sense of presence. In some ways it made me aware  (and hopefully others) how used I am to the flatness of experience provided by media – whether it’s my TV or my computer, or even my beloved iProducts.

Auditorily, the delightful part was that each fairy tale scene was announced by sounds first, before it became visually present. But let me backtrack. The train itself has cheapo variety park speakers built in and played music constantly. Let’s see if I can describe it. It was a cartoonish melody but it wasn’t contemporary or popular, and not too childish. Had a fairy-tale character, perhaps reminded me of old vinyl records I listened to of dramatized fairly tales, or perhaps other people were reminded of their Disneyland experiences and so on. In any case, even tho it appeared to be ‘generic’ in a sense, it was actually a custom mix, because it mixed in elements – melody, voice and sound effects that represented in a refreshingly subtle way the fairy tale scene that was just about to materialize out of the darkness ahead. A particular highlight for me was the sound effect of hundreds of mice scattering and screaming in that pattern mice do, sound intensifying as we came up on a fabricated scene on the side of the tracks of a fake corpse covered in at least 50-ish plastic mice/rats.

Reflecting on this experience, again, I just can’t say enough how refreshing it is for me to re-conceptualize this notion of ‘multi-modal’ display/interface that gets thrown around a lot in the interaction design community, and for that matter, in education(al technology). The way this train ride was multimodal, with the darkness of the forest around us, eery branches and leaves, fog-covered pond, water reflecting the moon hiding monsters below, cold biting night air, analogue metallic clanking of wheels on rails with its distinguishable crackling when direction changes, the low-fi sound melody and effects played via speakers, plus the immediate sounds of the live actors on the various fairy tale sets. It was a truly multi-modal experience with a presence that the most sophisticated piece of technology hasn’t been able to get close to. The sheer depth of – that’s how I can really think about – the depth, dimensional effect of different sensual experiences layered together, sight, sound, touch, temperature, smell, emotion….Makes me realize – duly so – how limited the conceptualizations of even the most contemporary forms of multimedia, multimodal, tangible technology are.


Aural Postcard: Ambleside Beach

September 14, 2012 Posted by Milena D

I actually made this recording last year but clearly haven’t gotten around to posting it yet. It’s funny usually every summer i’m like a terminator determined to pack in as much sun, beach, water and sand i can into my existence. This year i was so burned out from work, I was content to just not work, and barely got out once or twice. Went to the beach all of three times, and didn’t go in the water once. I think all of this was my final recapitulation to Vancouver “summers” – it was just never hot enough for the damn ocean to warm up enough for swimming. This recording is such a pleasant memory because last year I still had that innocence and hope that real summer was just around the corner. This particular visit to the beach was so pleasant and peaceful, what struck me there was the serenity of the waves lapping at the beach with gentle people sounds around that I wasn’t annoyed by (which I usually am) Anyway, enjoy the quietude and ambiance:

Ambleside beach

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: Italian Days Street Festival

July 14, 2012 Posted by Milena D

Well, I’m actually posting months later and as it happens I have largely forgotten what made me remark on this event and record it. I am pretty sure I took a db picture as well but alas, can’t locate it now. I just leave this with the hope you enjoy the recording which is a delightful (I think) stroll through the street crowd at Italian Days on the Drive (Vancouver) – a car free event in the summer with participation by the Italian community. Imagine sausage dog stands, pizza stands, craft tables, small stage performances on every corner for about 20 blocks on a hot summer day. Well ok, not hot, that would be too much to ask of the summer in Vancouver, but a sunny warm one. In this recording, I was walking by a particularly campy music stage, through a talkative group of strangers, and towards another latin beat corner. Enjoy.

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.