Posts Tagged: ‘aural postcards’

Aural postcard: Disney in the Aquarium

June 30, 2012 Posted by Milena D

20120630-133824.jpg So as part of ICAD 2012 in Atlanta, GA we got a private visit to the aquarium and as per usual, in addition to the amazing fish, whale sharks, belugas and giant manta rays, I was paying some attention to the sonic designs of each exhibit. Along with some cool “authentic sounds” by the beluga tank and the African penguin habitat (recorded real-time sounds piped into the viewing gallery), there was a prevalent Disney-style musical backdrop to a lot of the big-tank fish exhibits. For the first hour I was reflecting on the media intertextuality of Disney musical traditions, evocative of film soundtracks as a level of remediation. But as regular patrons tapered out, and our group was left to enjoy the fishes on our own, sans children screaming and running around, I caught myself getting into the music, despite myself. Suddenly the slow, airy and breathy melodic tones synced perfectly with the gliding of large fish all around and above our heads, and the occasional buildup of cymbal or trilling of bells that punctuated the dreamy musical score seemed to perfectly align with the emergence of some fish from behind a reef or corner. Almost like it was orchestrated to do so, like a film-dance fusion of aquarium choreography.  I am left to ask myself was this type of design so intentional that it leads my mind there, or is my mind so habituated to the conventions of cinema and remediated audio-visual synchronicity that it leads me there regardless of design?

A Little Bit of Noise

August 23, 2011 Posted by Milena D

I feel like noise is implicit in a lot of my posts, especially the aural postcards posts, but I often won’t feature it directly or elaborate on particular offending instances. Where I live is a fairly noisy location. Even during the night, the road is a thoroughfare for cars, ambulances (close to major hospitals) and various sirens and engine noise. To add to that, last summer there was construction for at least a couple of months fixing the outside envelope of my building, which essentially involved a lot of drilling into the outside concrete, and sounded like (sound 1). Now that that’s done this summer, the mall across the street has decided to do roof repairs or something rather, which involves them using a truck generator that has a large hose protrusion into the roof either sucking up or dispensing gravel. The sound is a combination of loud machine humming drone and the sound of millions of sharp pebbles shooting up and down a tube. It conveniently starts at 7:30 in the mornings, including weekends. The picture is the generator truck with its hose.

Aural Postcard – Sunday morning @ Mall

April 3, 2011 Posted by Milena D


I actually wanted to name this something snappy like “Sunday morning spirituality” like, some people go to church (still a cultural experience i have to remind myself exists…) and some people go to the mall. I had to drive my dad to the airport and found myself in possession of a car for a week. Crazed with excitement I drove to … the mall. On Sunday at 10, only the food court is open, and I really just needed a bathroom. But I was striken how different the mall looked. I felt mesmerized by the tranquility, warmth and easy silence the space exuded, which clashed with my innner skeptic with my view of malls as faceless, cold prisons of consumerism, where each experience, each sound, each smell is orchestrated and constructed in its entirety. Yet there I was, me, and a few retirees, light falling gently down through the ceiling windows, plants around, and pleasant warmth that didn’t yet feel stifling with the bodies, smells and air of a hundred people.

Then I heard it, a faint music – the central robotic mall brain must have booted up, turning on the Muzak, first faintly, quietly, and gradually, almost imperceptibly – but i have NO doubt, deliberately – it was getting louder. I was on the phone at that point, using the relative silence to talk to a friend. Then another curious thing happened. With a “pop” another sound errupted in the soundscape, a soft broadband noise, which I realized were the centre fountains. But of course! Now the environment was complete. As if something in my brain clicked with recognition, I realized this was it – the final ingredient, and as the space was quickly filling out with people, whose voices were now echoing and reverberating inside the walls and up the sunny dome, my listening position snapped into place. It’s usual place.

As I get older it doesn’t scare me so much, as it did, perhaps when I was younger and naive, when I realize just how conditioned I am by my environment and by culture, in general. I find students always have so much more reticence to accepting that, as if by denying, you resist it. So, to come back, I had this really crisp feeling of literally being “placed” into a certain position – not only as a listener (tho that is one of the material-semiotic roles) but as a person, as a subject, as the piece that fits into the puzzle in a specific way. What that soundscape told me was to blend in to the medley of unidentified noise, to not stand out, to enjoy and let myself be carried onto that ambience everywhere, to feel safe and enclosed, to feel like i am in my own bubble even though i am so close to other people, we are all separate agents in this space; When the fountains came on, it is only then I realized they weren’t on before, and thought about how odd that would have been – had I paid more conscious listening attention. I know fountains are meant to mask … what? unpleasant reminders we are surrounded by other people? … but in my h.o. they add so much unnecessary noise inside, especially in the sort of resonant chambers that malls are.

Really, when you look at mall architecture, it does share a lot with churches. Not sensible neo-christian churches. No, gothic, Catholic monolithic domes evokative of the mysic powers of the holy spirit. Designed to enhance and carry the voices of priests, to make them reverberate god-like through the souls of their parishioners, churches are nevertheless reciprocal spaces. It is structured when and how one communicates in them, a call-and-response. In malls, music is the faceless “voice” of god, its messages – feel happy, now feel cool; now feel relaxed, now buy! We are the faceless parishioners who never get to, or want to even respond with any of our own voices. I don’t think it ever occurs to us. And while churches encourage the togetherness of shared silence, the constructed mall ambience seems to encourage distance, separation and function.

I know this probably sounds like a bleak reflection but I actually feel moved and elated for having made it.


Aural Postcard: Sounds of PAX

October 20, 2010 Posted by Milena D

PAX was an absolute aural candy as far as documenting goes…I probably drove my companion nuts recording, taking video, constantly measuring the environment.

Inventory: The space was around four adjacent open-concept high-ceiling halls, as big as stadiums it seemed that housed games expos, vendors, gigantic individual company exhibits (Disney’s was particularly notable) complete with their individual mini-stages, and miked announcers. Lack of physical/material separation between the booths and exhibits resulted in a constant ocean of amplified music, announcers, sounds from game soundtracks and games being played, probably the fans of zilion computers and consoles, crowds cheering and clapping, walking and buzzing of converstions. I would venture to say in this case the dB reading is probably fairly accurate. What is striking me as I am writing this now is that I really could NOT hear any equipment hums and fans – only assuming they were there. It was THAT loud with other sounds.

Reflections: What to say here (writing this a good month and a half later) other than it was an experience like no other. There was an incredible energy in the space and I have no doubt in big part supported and maintained by the vibrant, crazy-busy, hyper-stimulating soundscape of hi-def amplified game soundscapes, and the high-energy voices of announcers, in addition to the acoustic counterparts of excited gamers. Once of the most notable features of this whole soundscpae for me was the bleedover from booth to booth, exhibit to exhibit, announcer to announcer, because of the open concept presentation floor. This resulted in a lightning-fast switching between “moods”, “spaces” and “feels” that different games create in their own “corners”. It was like multitasking on crack. Overstimulation, high energy. Exciting, overwhelming. Interesting how different the different games are, and how “unique” companies want to make them seem – how artificial and designed that experience is. And yet in a recording, I always find it hard to distinguish one set of game sounds from another, probably because of common use of sound banks, etc. Advertizing/Promotion and actual game sound reality – quite different things.

Aural Postcard: Blood Diamond Mix

August 22, 2010 Posted by Milena D

Not that I have so much to say, but this happened recently and it was too good not to document. I guess just as an aside note, the iPhone has really “revolutionized” this type of documenting for me. Usually, even though I have a high-quality recorder, I’d only take it on special occasions, go purposefully to record. The iPhone allows me to record on the spot, if something extraordinary or interesting happens. Anyways, what happened is I walked into the skytrain to go home. It was late, but not super late. At first I thought these two people were talking, but then I realized that everyone was pretending to ignore a tall skinny black guy who seemed to be talking to himself or recite something. I remember I was listening to Florence and the Machine on my headphones, and experiencing this, reflecting, at the same time, on how oddly interesting the combination is between the music and the emphatic recitations at hand. I can honestly say I still don’t know if this guy was preparing for an acting part, if he was a street poet, if he was moved by the issue but drunk, or just plain crazy. But I sadly wondered how many of the people sitting around me, trying to not look this guy in the eye, have any idea what Blood Diamonds are. (Not that I know so much but….c’mon, Hollywood took care of that). Sad, poignant issue. Below I have tried to recreate after the fact, the combination I was experiencing – F&M song and a recording from the skytrain with the ‘poet’ in it. Striking, I think.

Aural Postcard: Video Games Live

May 25, 2010 Posted by Milena D

This was my first Video Games Live. Even though I went to a Final Fantasy – themed concert, I hadn’t been to VGL. Wow! What a great, fun, interesting event. Where do I begin – the demographic of 80% pimply teenagers filling the Queen E Theatre, the guitar hero competition in the lobby, the whistling and cheering the orchestra, even while it is playing, the Mulroney-esque smarmy host, riling up the audience, the appearance of a Fender Stratocaster and an amplified acoustic guitar. Best of all – the audience collectively chanting the Mario theme song: “Bap, bap bap….ba-ba-ba-ba….bababa-baba-ba-bababa.” Nothing like a full house of gamers roaring a Mario tune, screaming at the beginning of each song.

Annotation: the usual – i Phone recording, dB reading on (bad quality) iPhone picture.

Narrative: One of the really amazing moments was a live segment where two players from the audience were called on stage to play a game live – and get sonified by the orchestra, in real time! In other words, they played Frogger (my *fave* game of all time) and the orchestra played a symphonically-mastered version of the game soundtrack, trying to stay true to the actions on the screen. The audience was wild – screaming encouragements, booing loudly when a player lost a frog, cheering ecstatically when they scored a point. The culmination was when the girl gamer scored her last frog on the split second, winning the game level with standing roaring ovation. Historic….in so many ways!

The other amazing moment was another live segment where the winner of the lobby GH competition came on stage and performed a song live with the guitar controller, accompanied by the symphony orchestra, while the host of the show played the solo on an electric overdrive. It is obvious but I’ll still say it – the mixing of acoustic music and amplified music and canned game music was a delicious simulacric experience 🙂 Nomnom.

Aural Postcard: Nature’s garden

May 13, 2010 Posted by Milena D

My first post from the iPhone WordPress app! I am sitting at a deli cafe on the SFU called Nature’s garden. Abba playing in the background, sunshine bathing the windows in light, and a quite loudish fridge dislpay unit near me providing a constant roaring buzz, distant voices and cooking sounds from inside the kitchen, distant engine roar of buses from the loop depot nearby coming through the open door.

Aural Postcard: The Sound of Coffee

May 12, 2010 Posted by Milena D

Well, as I suspected, and now is confirmed, I DO spend a lot of my time at different coffee shops around town, and some of my social time at a few restaurants and small venues. As I am still doing collection of soundscape information, impressions, etc. I will have more and more iterations of “The Sound of Coffee” to come…actually this makes a great title… 🙂 for my book… mwahahahaha 🙂 So this is a new iteration of my previous coffee shop soundscape posts.

On a side note, I am sitting at a Toyota dealership, getting zit’s brake pads fixed. There is free coffee, free wireless, a bar desk, it is quiet (there is a TV in the background but it’s quiet, and some low-level conversations with customers). Wow! It is way better to work here than a coffee shop – how very bizarre indeed.

Annotation: As usual (so far) the recording was taken with my iPhone and the reading with the app “dB” which I now realize is often (not always) fairly accurate – after I calibrated my SPL (Six Digital) app against a digital sound level meter, I realized .. heh… things are actually even louder than they seem. I mean, really, the quietest I’ve ever found in the urban jungle is still around 35 dB – and that would be considered “silence”.

But I digress.

Narrative: So back to coffee shops, here is one from Our Town, a place I frequent because of its airy, sunny disposition, tique furniture and neo-ironic hipster vibe. As far as ambience, I suppose it is not any quieter or louder than most cafes, but there are a few keynotes I have noticed. Their cooler is so loud that even though you habituate to it, once it stops (as it does occasionally – once it reaches optimal temperature I guess) I swear I can see faces in the room looking up from their laptops and facebook pages – “What just happened?” The absence of the seemingly atmospheric sound is more astounding than its constant, ominous presence! I guess the removal of a sound we become accustomed to tuning out makes us tune in!

 OurTown3 OurTown2 OurTown1

The screenshots above are all at the same location, and I have started to take multiple pictures at every location I measure/record, so as to give a better sense of the architecture – it helps for listeners to be able to visualize how sounds move, reflect, get trapped, etc. in any given space. It is interesting to note that two of the readings that are very similar are actually taken on different days – a different month in fact! – so they most likely represent the average level of sound amplitude in the space. The reading that is higher was taken on the same day as the one next to it, 10dB quieter, and that has nothing to do with reliability of measurements, it is simply a reflection of the RANGE of decibels in that environment – it could have been a loud passing car, as the coffee shop is located at the intersection of two very heavy-traffic streets. Or it could have been a loud conversation near me, someone laughing, etc. In any case, the point is – all things equal it is loud enough there – below is an expert recording from a typical ambience. Keynotes – steam machine, coffee grinder, banging of espresso handle, opening and closing of cash registers, conversations, and quite often – traffic from the outside, seeping in through thinly insulated windows.

I almost feel like too much of an insider to even have something insightful and reflective to say about this particular coffee shop ambience – I am there so often! I suppose, I frequently find it a bit too loud and regret having decided to study there, but then I forget and go again. I guess I often go when I want to feel the sense of community or being around life, people, and noise equals life sometimes. It’s funny how many faces noise has. Sometimes it is so overwhelming it is poison, but sometimes it is joyful – hustle and bustle of being around people, being together, not alone. I do however, wish someone would invent quiet coffee equipment, I swear the banging and steamers seem comparable to me to factory environments of the past (and present). And on top of that – let’s not forget music. Many coffee shops also play music or the radio (but most often, music) I would guess not to mask the disruptive equipment sounds – I don’t think anyone is aware of them as preventable annoyances – but to add to, or create an atmosphere.

Just as with the earlier Blenz example, where they had techno music blasting, other places try to create other atmosphere with their music – be it female singer-songwriter stuff, soft rock, or industrial punk stuff…each place uses music as a cultural stamp. Unfortunately it only adds to the already noisy environment, though I wouldn’t necessarily get rid of it – I’d just reduce mechanical noises or educate employees to use equipment with more care. If anybody asks, that is.

Aural Postcard: Jogging, Music, Place

April 22, 2010 Posted by Milena D

Running, especially longer distances, is a time when our listening is probably much more acute than in the rest of our daily routine. Whether one is listening to an electroacoustic soundscape over headphones, or just to the natural environment around them, there is nothing else to do but run and listen. If running with company, sometimes I like to have a conversation, and often a lively or controversial (better yet!) topic will keep my mind active and occupied enough so that my legs and lungs will forget about their workout. Conversely, when I am alone and with no electroacoustic aide, all my body aches, pains, corporeal awareness is heightened and all those sounds of my body – heavy footsteps, intensifying breath, amplified through bone conduction seem incredibly ominous, and my workout is quickly compromised. I bet that’s why I lot of people choose to wear headphones. Not so much to drown out the surrounding soundscape but to mask that heavy laboured breathing – the evidence of their effort. Lately I’ve run in two places, the Richmond dyke – picture on the right, and Seymour mountain (the left).

seymour Richmond dyke

Annotation: This account centres on my Richmond running experience, picture and measurements taken with “dB” and recordings also done with my iPhone. I recorded a bit of walking just to catch some ambiance from the trail path (a popular destination for many casual walks, bike rides, etc.) but I also recorded a little sonic pipe installation – a natural kinetic sound sculpture, near the Richman Oval building. Last, one of the days I was there the field was covered with so many white geese, making this adorable quacking sound as a choir, and I made a short recording of that too.

Narrative: The Richmond dyke is over ten km in length, strolling path alongside the Fraser River inlet connecting with the ocean. The other side of the water is frequently referred to as the Spit. The thing that struck me the first time I went running there with my running companion was how loud the area was, given that this strolling path was meant to be *the* quiet meditative reprieve for Richmond dwellers. Due to its proximity to several major highways and roads, a hydroplane run on the water, and the airport nearby, the place was rarely quiet. At around the 10th km from Richmand Oval the landscape really changes – gentrified, upper class, boutique surroundings and the setting becomes noticeably quieter, culminating in a wide grassy kite picnic area at the end of the Richmond dyke trail. Following is a recording from the first half of the trail, which is busier with families taking a walk, talking, children playing, etc.

Here is a little excerpt from the geese:

Richmond geese

There is a middle, transition space, one could say, between the industrial, noisy feel of the area around and past Richmond Oval, and the posh ponds near the park (the Richmond “Jericho”) – and that area feels more woody, like a real wilderness trail. There is a golf field off to one side and a wide tidal area with driftwood on the other. We even saw a large eagle’s nest on one of the trees. Of course, the soundscape changes accordingly – it is more pastoral, quieter. It is just past the area that can be seen on the picture to the left, with the geese. The geese, I should mention, added their own unique sonic stamp on that growing pastoral feeling – a regular soundmark of the acoustic community no doubt. Their chorus of clacking – like a conversation – was endlessly humorous. Anthropomorphizing, no doubt, they sounded like nagging grandmothers, egging each other on in their low level quacking, and raising levels together if there was an escalation caused by human intrusions or flight.

Again, the last recording I made (below) is from the area near the Oval, which is a lot more industrial, noisy and impersonal. Interestingly, even though the recording is of a “sound sculpture” or sound art of sorts, what the pipes do is amplify the existing soundscape, so you can hear it, even though it is musically pitched – still clearly a heavy traffic noise area.

Now, you might ask – well, what makes this a “secondary orality” experience? Well, is it turns out, my running partner needed to do a longer distance at a higher pace than me, so I fell back, put on my headphones and turned on a RadioLab podcast, somewhere at the halfway point. RadioLab, by the way, is a fantastic NPR subsidiary, professional grade radio programs, distributed for download as podcasts. They deal with a range of popular and scientific topics and are a great mental immersion (I found) particularly when doing exercise. Because of my current project, I decided to be a bit more reflective about my listening and my relationship to the whole soundscape surrounding me. These are my impressions….

The moment of transition from running and being in my body, present in the place, grounded and very aware of every bodily function – from that, to having a but of a headphone buffer to the outside and to begin listening to the inside voice of the stories from RadioLab, happening in that phantom central space between my ears – that moment is significant. It’s like the world opens all of a sudden in a completely new way. It is like I am still there, but not quite, I am also transported somewhere else by the program – in their WYNC studio, then in each field condition that they conduct an interview with one of the respondents. All of a sudden I can’t hear my own laboured breathing, my tired footsteps dragging on –  and it’s not that i can’t actually hear them, it is that I can comfortably ignore them and allow myself to be transported to the story world of the podcast program. And just as a fiery conversation carries me on the wings of emotion, the podcast too – sways me with the stories, some of them deep and meaningful and sad or profound or happy, and I forget about the distance and being tired. I laugh out loud sometimes, and I’m sure my face is a canvas of expressions related to my listening experience.

The only other thing I wanted to talk about is how this listening experience transforms space and place. Usually, while running (unaided by a designed soundscape) I take note of certain landmarks to mark the distance I’ve run, and to have a sense of – when coming back – how long do i have left after encountering the same landmark. I may also enjoy the view without necessarily making any associations. With headphones on, and a radio program running, I noticed how my relationship to place changed. All of a sudden, sounds from the environment somehow blended in with the podcast, or sounds from the podcast (they use some sound effects to contextualize stories) bled into and characterized my real surroundings. Somehow, my mind matched up continuously what I was seeing and what I was hearing, despite the complete arbitrariness of the connection. If I go running there again, certain landmarks will now remind me of certain moments in the stories I was listening to  – and vice versa – if I listened to any podcast, I can instantly visualize where I was when I listened to it. I don’t know if it is too much of a stretch to suggest that our (‘my’) general habituation in the conditions of secondary orality to what Hildegard Westerkamp calls music-as-environment is responsible for my readiness and acceptance of merging the sounds in my head to the surrounding landscape/soundscape. Even bleed-over between the two doesn’t impede, but adds to the merging. I remember at some point the podcast centred around the story of this suicide victim who had decided to jump from a bridge into this cove, but 3 seconds into the fall realized  he didn’t really want to die. Miraculously he was saved by a patrol boat…they had used some ocean wave sound effects for this portion of the podcast and I found myself looking around as I was running alongside actual water – an inlet of the ocean!…Even emotionally, the listening experience really coloured my presence – at some point the podcast was about this woman who has a rare syndrome where nothing seems real and she kept asking the doctor if she was dead and this was afterlife, because nothing seems real. I found myself with goosebumps and looking around all of a sudden seeing this sunny, happy people trail in a really ominous way, grasping desperately to determine it it all seems real to me!

I find music even more so does this to a place – imbues it with “meaning” – emotional content, mood – and that, it is not a stretch – is a common experience consuming any kind of multi-media. Space/place is *always* given an emotional context – and as such – meaning – through music.


Aural Postcard: the Cafe

March 29, 2010 Posted by Milena D

I am titling this “the Cafe” because I find this to be a quintessential place that certain people (like myself) frequent a lot, and it becomes a kind of a milieu or natural habitat of the student/consultant/unemployed – people who have flexible weekday hours but have decided to spend their time on higher pursuits than daytime television – partaking in laptop envy in trendy/less trendy cafes.

I find the soundscapes in these places generally interesting, curious, sometimes offensive (aurally) but in any case – a “place” to contend with. I will upload some sounds soon, but for now let’s just enjoy a few pictures here:

Blenz2 OurTown1 Bump-n-grind2

This first picture we have the Blenz particularly frequented by undergrads studying in study groups, self-employed yuppies who want to be seen working. My friend and I went to do some quiet writing, etc. and this reading is taken in a pretty low-level ambiance around 4 in the afternoon. Super loud music trying to emulate a dance club. The second snapshot is a hippy coffee shop in the Main Area – Our Town. Shabby decor meets lots of people working on computers, reading, etc. the occasional conversation. Just a homey, busy, lively atmosphere sans the blaring music. Third place is bump n grind. Commercial Drive swank, something to dampen the superb sound system which employees use to crank up their favourite rock-folk swill. Too pretentious to me. A weird combo between too quiet – yet far too loud to concentrate.