Posts Tagged: ‘milena droumeva’

Sensory Postcard – Bikes (Binaural edition)

August 16, 2016 Posted by Milena D

I haven’t written about sensory postcards in a while but that’s definitely not because I haven’t been doing them, but because of, well, time, and trying to move more pressing projects out the door. I am applying for various grants to make my urban soundscape project “Listening to the City” (Listening as Intervention) a reality – that includes creating an interactive map of my recordings and short videos, featuring the capabilities of various apps, etc. If I get a bigger grant I’m going to be expanding my project to a more complete urban soundscape ethnography using mobile tools. So fingers crossed.

Meanwhile, one new and exciting development has been using in-ear binaural mics to record in the city: Roland CS-10EM. They do seem to be the best on the market, aside from the newcomers Hooke Audio for mobile devices (iPhone). They start shipping this September so the headset isn’t quite out yet. Here’s my review of the Roland buds: while the design is contoured for the ear canal I still had a lot of trouble keeping the buds in my particular ears, they kept falling out and generally feeling loose and kinda off. The good news: these mics produced amazing quality sound with very very little handling noise. To be honest I expected quite a bit of handling noise and wind noise just from my head movements, but in fact there was less body transfer noise than when using an external mic with a field recorder. It is also particularly nice to be able to monitor and record at the same time and on the same device – they look completely discreet and unobtrusive, and generally less equipment to carry around. It does, however, get exhausting on the ears after a while to hear everything in such an exaggerated manner, so I found I had to take breaks and turn off monitoring.

My initial goal was to record the sound of biking. I have been thinking about creating an ethnographic multi-channel sound story about biking in the city, mixed with listening to music and various city sounds that kind of weave in and out during a typical journey. I had been experimenting with a Zoom H1 for a while, with various placements on my body, upper pocket, back pant pocket, leg strap – but alas, everything produced the expected result – a fair bit of handling noise and tons of wind from the movement itself. Not something I could simply edit away, it’s throughout and it kind of drowns the sound of the bike itself.

With binaural mics it’s not too much different really, except if I am stationary in a place where a lot of bikes pass through (bike lane) I can capture some really neat bike clicking and wheel spinning sounds with Doppler shifts.  Interestingly, I would recommend recording Doppler shifts with a stationary field recorder, because due to head movement it’s actually harder to localize movement with binaural mics. Dopplers are best heard when stereo-flattened (but with decent left-right isolation). Here’s what I was able to record on the Seawall in Vancouver’s Yaletown district with my binaural Rolands.

 

#SoundCon-ing for World Listening Day 2016 #WLD2016

July 18, 2016 Posted by Milena D

Just finished speaking just very briefly on the idea of critical soundmapping – which I’m happy to say is not at all even remotely original an idea. It is wonderful to see a global emergent field of sound studies entering the conversation, which at times in acoustic ecology has been stale – new and diverse voices all pointing to the fact that listening even as an unmediated practice is NOT value-free, or objective or neutral, it is always subjective, political, personal, critical. Amazing feeling to be part of this community – I’m very grateful and wish you all a wonderful listening day. Jul 18th – the birthday of R Murray Schafer, and also Nelson Mandela, who, let’s remember emphasized the importance of education as a tool for change. Let’s listen critically, and to a variety of voices, not only those that are closest and scream the loudest. Sounds lost and found.

Sensory Postcards as New Media Ethnography

March 14, 2016 Posted by Milena D

For a couple of years now, ever since I ‘seriously’ started engaged my dissertation research, I’ve been forming up this idea of sensory postcards as a methodology for doing everyday ethnography – but also, I guess, sensory postcards as a DIY new media practice that is facilitated by the ubiquity and mediation of mobile smart technologies. I even wrote this little thing for the Ethnography Matters blog. What I want to suggest is that by taking pictures, collecting environmental data and creating and sharing videos and recordings online, end users are participating in a kind of methodological approach to re-mediating experience and environmental surroundings. The only difference between that and a citizen-science or citizen-journalist initiative is that the same activity (of capturing multimodally) has a specific organization and structure, aimed intentionally at a public outcome. This post has actually marinated in my draft folder for a long time and I’d like to just let it go for now because there is a lot lot more to it, and I won’t fit it all in one entry, but one has to start somewhere. This blog is in fact already a collection of different ways of doing ‘new media ethnographies’ or ‘mobile ethnographies’ of the everyday: using visual, locative, measurement-based, and aural materials; putting them together in a variety of ways. The one limitation I have placed on my practice has always been – whatever can be accomplished on the device alone. Nothing leaves the device to be dissected and remediated on the computer as I’m truly interested in how mobile devices can be used, and how designers in fact respond to the on-the-ground use of these devices, so I see it as essential to continuously push the limits and communicate publicly about these experiments. Below is a small collage I made using several different apps: Over, which allows poster-font annotating of photos, SpeakingPhoto, which takes a static picture and overlays 10 to 30 seconds of sound recording over it, and again, SpeakingPhoto which allows collaging – stringing together of different ‘aural postcards’ into a slideshow. What I find interesting in making a slideshow is that it not only strings together individual entries into a narrative, but it also readily highlights the contrast between different sonic environments, by virtue of sharply transitioning from one to another.

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.

Bulgaria 2015: Subliminal sounds

September 18, 2015 Posted by Milena D

So this is one of several posts finally on sound, from my recent visit to Bulgaria. I think sound is so much my default I decided to leave it for last this time but I also don’t want to forget anything. It really all started with the birds in Cambridge. More specifically, the owls, or what I assumed was owls, and then turned out to be doves – but like the fancy, feathery doves, not pedestrian pigeons. I noticed two things – the thick, luxurious sound of the friction of their wings flapping as they take off in the air, or perch down on a branch; that their hoot was different than the ones I’m used to in Vancouver. The doves in Vancouver go “wuu-wuuuuuuu” but the ones in Cambridge go “tuh-tuuu-tuuuuuuu” with an emphasis on the second sound. Likely due to my overall impression / assumption of Cambridge as a very posh, manicured place, I took the doves’ hoot to be the sort of distinguished register of dove-language RP (received pronunciation – as I understand, the utmost crust of educated British). This is a very *obvious* point, but at the time it was a novel discovery that, of course, bird sounds are culturally-influenced just like human sounds are. With this in mind, I listened more carefully in Bulgaria to discover what the crude regional accents of Eastern European doves sound like. From what I observed / listened to (but was unable to record anywhere), eastern doves go “wuuuuuuuuuuh-wuh” with emphasis on the last bit, and what I figured for that is that in Bulgarian, unlike in English, the emphasis often falls on the first or middle syllabus; that, and the fact that Bulgarian folk music has notoriously irregular meter (e.g. chalga). Is it possible that even doves hoot in irregular, Eastern rhythms?

It’s funny that I am noticing so much on this trip because I decided to pay attention, conduct a sort of ad-hoc “sensory ethnography”. The only thing I noticed last time I came here were the birds, just that one time, on one of the warmer days in late October (2011). I was pulled towards that sound because the previous rainy and cold days had been much devoid of bird song. This is the soundscape I recorded:

Now when I listen to it it sounds like the rain forest or the jungle, so many singing birds. And I don’t know how I didn’t notice before that Bulgaria has a lot more urban birds than Canada. Particularly – sparrows. Sparrows are everywhere, they are beautiful fliers, the way they flap their tiny wings and then glide through the air as if rolling down invisible rollercoasters. Their sound matches their whole look – sharp, melodic, bright in timbre. They tend to nest at corners of ceilings and I noticed many cafes and restaurants had installed a wooden slat or two to help sparrows build their impossible corner nests. The more I noticed the birds the more I asked myself, why, why this, here, soundscape, that is different than Vancouver – what else is different here. So, once again, I’ve talked about that in relation to smell, but deciduous trees make a big difference in the whole ecology of wildlife – and thus greatly influence the soundscape. Here is an additional chorus of bird sounds recorded just last month in the countryside (whereas the previous recording was of an urban soundscape).

And this brings me to the truly subliminal sound I discovered this time. When I finally got to my grandmother’s house and spent a night there, open window due to the August heat, I heard a sound there, a night-time sound. My first thought was, I don’t recall hearing this sound in Vancouver, it must be local, and then …. but wait, I do recall hearing this sound throughout my childhood here, as a regular staple of nighttime. Suddenly I remembered decades of getting lulled to sleep by this chorus of what I always assumed were crickets. Now that the clash of old and new sonic realities and listening positions brought my attention to it I got curious. Started trying to listen everywhere for it, countryside and urban spaces, night time and daytime. I did some research online (yes, indeed) to discover that this chorus is actually regional cicadas, not crickets. Cicadas are so fascinating to me because they make a full-bodied chorus and yet they are so small they are practically invisible. So the experience is like listening to something that you can’t see the source of, which is rarely the case in natural / everyday listening. It so happened that my father and I went to visit the neighbourhood he grew up in, Galata, and trekked down through a wooded green area to a small fisherman’s beach. The chorus – in the daytime no less – of cicadas was the loudest, brightest and most timbrally rich I’d ever heard so far.

Back in the city, the cicadas are a bit different. I want to share this next sound because there was such a strong discrepancy between what I heard, my experience of listening, and then re-listening to the recording. I was walking home late-ish, after dinner with friends, along a pedestrian walkway lined with leafy trees, but beside a sort of freeway. I mean cars are cars everywhere, they are loud, but overall I have found the urban soundscape a bit quieter in Bulgaria. As I walked, a little tipsy (thus, relaxed) and because it was quite dark I got to listening to the cicadas. It was so peaceful and decadent I stopped to record it. But my surprise when I listened back to it was, where are the cicadas? All I could hear in the recording is traffic, when at the time, all I could hear was the cicadas. Only around the middle of the recording can I discern the cicadas. See what you can make of it:

 

Further listening: this glorious collection of birds sounds of the world by Cities and Memory

Bulgaria 2015: Conceptual smell/landscapes

August 10, 2015 Posted by Milena D

This is mostly just a continuation of my previous posts around the same topics – some additional smells, reflections on the built environment and landscape. Again, in order of discovery, some of the smells that have come through more clearly and that I recall from my youth are: cat feces and rotten food. Both are barely present now – it used to be that construction sites would leave piles of sand and other construction materials lying around for really long periods of time. Since the ground is far too hard and dusty, and green spaces overgrown with weeds and gnarly, prickly bushes, hoards of neighbourhood stray cats would go to the toilet in those piles of sand. I mean, cats love it, it’s lots of soft ground to turn and bury their poop. I used to associate piles of sand with the faint yet pungent smell of cat feces buried in it, and actually for a very long time I didn’t understand that sand didn’t have to smell this way. Incidentally those piles of sand was also where us kids played in. I had a friend who was quite keen on cars and we used to take our little toy model cars and build whole cities, roads and highways into the sand for our cars. Finding and removing cat poo was a normal part of the process. There is still a lot of construction but it tends to go a bit quicker and perhaps materials have changed too because I am not seeing piles of gravel, sand or other construction materials around. Which is why catching this familiar waft a few days ago was a jolt to the memory. Not that I’m bemoaning the loss of eau de catpoo.

IMG_8135IMG_8134Rotting garbage is another typical summer smell and it is once again tied to infrastructure. Garbage bins used to be these big rusted metal containers open at the top (or maybe they had flaps but no one closed them) where you’d fling your bag of garb into. When they quickly filled up (in large due to no opportunity of composting in the city) with watermelon and cantaloupe remains the bins will overflow onto the ground and start running down the street, the juices baking and decomposing in the hot sun. I remember going out on the street and barely being able to breathe in the air, it was so pungent with rotting fruit; actually organic bits rotting next to non-organic waste. And that was before the time of plastic wrappers and plastic bags. Today, the amount of open waste is greatly decreased with the introduction of self-compacting garbage bins with sliding tops. They are elevated off the ground and there are more of them in general. Plus in many neighbourhoods the city has introduced a closed-lid set of three plastic bins for garbage, plastic and paper recycling. I have to also wonder to what degree any food bits lying around are quickly consumed by urban scavengers – the many stray dogs and cats, and the ever-watchful large city birds.

What has increased in the last years is the amount of cars parked all over sidewalks, green zones and generally sideways on the streets. As a result car exhaust is felt tangibly in the air, and sidewalk tiles are broken and ripped out. Thinking about this, I’d say it is only due to the presence of many and large deciduous trees who constantly clean and rejuvenate the air that the atmosphere isn’t more polluted and exhaust and gasoline are not felt as sharply in the smellscape as they ought to. In the interest of completing the picture, like any other urban smellscape of a developing country, particularly one that gets quite hot in the summer, human body odour is a big part of the experience of being in close proximity to others. Being in close proximity is of course necessitated by other typical actions e.g. being on the bus or standing in line for something (a.n. standing in line is a particular cultural action with its own history and complex socio-cultural-political reasons). This article actually, Modern Desires in Urban Nigeria, does a great job of touching on some of the core issues around civic development, (emergent) class structure and social consciousness through a sensory perspective, taking body odour as a unit of analysis. There is indeed a generational as well as a cultural divide between those who have access to bathing regularly and those who use or overuse deodorants. Growing up I remember the explosion of aerosol sprays that young people will carry in their purses and keep reapplying throughout the heavy heat of the day. Same young people consumed now Western media and attempted to dress in an attractive ‘sexually provocative’ way (and I mean, boys and girls). This, juxtaposed to smelling the sweaty b.o. of older people on the bus and in closed spaces, overdressed in thicker layers, the undertones being the musk of unwashed bodies.

Similarly to the article, I’d point out that electricity is really expensive (still) in Bulgaria so heating a water tank was no small deal, as I well recall throughout my childhood. And another thing – you pay for water consumption – as in, you pay for the water you use, so it’s not really an option for someone less financially fortunate to even bathe in cold water regularly. Of course there is also cultural habit that separates different classes, particularly urban – rural people. The less you bathe the less you can smell yourself, the more you bathe the more you can smell others too (my own theory, but possibly, a fact). It is also possible that people’s bodies adjust in the heat to not sweat as much – I noticed, having lived in the moderate climate of British Columbia, where summer temperatures reach the heights of 25C, I am affronted by existing in humid 33C, something I don’t recall being that much of an issue before. With all that, if I were to draw a trajectory of the last twenty years strictly in terms of the presence of body odour in public places, there is a marked improvement in the overall ‘urbanization’ of the culture and much improved material situation (despite everyone’s complains) reflected in the much reduced (compared to 15-20 years ago) levels of b.o. in public space.

IMG_8038One last anecdote about smell I want to leave behind is embodied by this picture. I took it when a friend led us into an older apartment building in his home town, Silistra. I remember the smell well as the one in my own apartment building, where I grew up. For some reason I associate it with the visual appearance of these older mail boxes, possibly because spending time in that smellscape was necessitated by checking for mail. I have no idea if the wood of the boxes itself contributes to the smell but in any case, the smell is this shady, as in cool to the feel, air of concrete, stone-masonry, mold?. It’s and always has been to me both pleasant and unpleasant. It’s not a nice smell objectively, it’s slightly rotten or off, but not organic. At the same time I associate coming from the sweltering heat outside into this cool, cold-smelling shady place, the entry hallway of the building, to find comfort from the heat, going up the stairs two at a time. And now, of course part of the pleasant-ness of the smell is in the memories it brings up.

Bulgaria 2015: Parkour Lite and other Material Goodies

July 27, 2015 Posted by Milena D

IMG_7292Back in 2011, when I attended WFAE in Corfu, Greece, I remember talking to one of the attendees about her research. It had something to do with cultural constructions of embodiment related to the built environment, which of course always reflects the ideology of time and that particular society. E.g. I remember her saying that in Germany, the quest for minimalism and order with very flat surfaces, glossy materials and rectangular edges create a very particular type of upright embodiment – posture, specifically. In contrast, Mediterranean cultures tend to be characterised by uneven surfaces, different road materials and tiles, hills, more embellished architectural details and built structures. In Bulgaria this time I’ve really noticed how the roads require a lot more effort to walk on, it’s a bit of a full-body experience because you have to dodge holes in the ground, unevenly laid-out tiles, exposed concrete blocks, duck parked cars, mud dried up in weird shapes and mounds, steps and curbs of different height, to say nothing of crossing the road. You would literally be hard-pressed to find even and consistent materials, even road pavements, symmetry or clean proportions. It’s like the physical world is in various forms of decay and either it was never quite proper to begin with, or being in various forms of decay has become the normalized state of things. New things are built, no doubt, and better than I ever have seen before, with specially-ordered European tiles and blocks and wood, and marble. Actually old marble, quite popular in certain periods of time, has really stood the test of time and remained one of the lesser decayed objects in space.

IMG_7578Basically much of walking in Varna is like hiking, and my guess is that people’s posture and embodiment has evolved and developed around navigating this environment of parkour lite – physical obstacles, weeds, garbage, parked vehicles, trees and bushes. And this isn’t in the outskirts of town – this is right around the corner from very central neighbourhoods including the Centre. If I were to speculate – though I admit I am having a hard time noticing such subtle differences, the posture of Bulgarians is a bit hunched-over, possibly due to engaging the whole body in walking through and over and around material structures. Unrelated to embodiment, but somehow related to this discussion of physical space and how it is culturally configured and experienced (at a less than conscious level no doubt) is just the general visual surroundings. Similarly to the roads, I think of the visualscape as the opposite of German minimalism, but also the opposite of European baroque. There is a nary a thing in place or in coherent style with each other in the general cityscape. You’d be hard-pressed to find a row of cars that are parked in relative right angles to each other. Even buildings are perched on weird angles and corners, architectural styles not really matching anything in the vicinity. It’s kind of a collage of mismatched objects, colours and materials, like one of those roadside restaurants you walk into where the owners have the singing fish on the wall and knick-knacks from all their years (and eras) of travel and operations. Since the ‘beautifying of the environment’ initiatives that so characterized the period of Communism went off the rails in the early 1990s, the ‘unclaimed’ spaces of cityscape, the publicly-owned bits of road and land, have remained utterly uncared for and barely maintained, in complete disarray. I remember initiatives in my childhood when we got together as neighbourhood teams and performed ‘actions’ to clean up, beautify and generally maintain our shared spaces in between residential apartment buildings. Communism was generally responsible for a clean look and feel, sensible modernist realism. Aristotelian in ideology, the motto was – order in the environment is order in society – and by extension, emotional and psychic order inside each individual.

ParkourPublic space, unclaimed as it is, is in this way sharply delineated from private space, where individual tastes and material resources shine in the careful, stylish designs of private homes, cafes, restaurants and other commercial establishments. There is a great variety of materials again, in contrast to the fairly standard materials featured in the sensible design of North America (the West coast in particular): custom marble and tiles, planks, chairs, decorations, accessories, art and designer artistic furniture. In the same cafe/bar, across a broken down underpass, right by my grandparents’ place, one can see at least four different types of entire designer ecosystems, developed and complete with requisite materials, ambience, down to the last detail including patio furniture outside; and inside – private booths with red leather couches, matching tables and private television sets. Even the ashtrays on every table are unique and stylish – never seen two of the same kind at any of the establishments I’ve been in. In Varna there is almost a kind of competition for cafe/bars to outdo each other in the absolutely ridiculous, pompous seating and decoration design. Incredible harmony of style, really an art experience more than a culinary one. Special mention goes to these two – Bar de Rouge at the gates of the Marine Garden (right) with its giant multicolour plastic thrones; and one of the new establishments by Horisont (Akacii) next to a brand new centre for sport and cultural events. But there are many others, beautiful gems scattered in an ocean of dust and dirt, and finding them is like an escape from reality that maybe people here need more than the more advanced western nations.

IMG_7573  Akacii

Bulgaria 2015: Conceptual Smellscapes

July 21, 2015 Posted by Milena D

I’ll just start by saying my holiday in Bulgaria this time is greatly enriched by a new awareness of smell, and a more informed, dedicated attention to soundscapes. A more mature sensory ethnographic sensibility. @multisensorymel ’s point that smellscapes can be thought of as ‘conceptual’ has given me some food for thought. But for now, before I draw conclusions or ‘see’ patterns, I need to just list some smells and initial impressions before I forget them completely.

The first thing that struck me arriving at the Sofia airport was the heat and smell of bodies tightly packed in dense lineups at passport control. There isn’t much space for ‘personal space’ in this culture so I had to adapt – this time paying attention – to being in such close proximity of people. It’s not that people don’t wash or use deodorant. It’s just that it’s so hot, those things inevitably fail to mask human sweat and body odour. Antiperspirant commercials were made for the moderate western climate where air-conditioned spaces contain much of people’s daily movements and interactions. The second thing that struck me was the unbearable stench in the airport toilets. I realized, I think for the first time, that this is a problem of plumbing and not (just) of inadequate cleaning. There is something in the original infrastructure of sewage and water pipes that has corroded the inside of plumbing to the point where there is this heavy, sharp, stinging smell of urine/acid. The cold tile or marble floors are mostly clean, the ceramic toilet seats are new (I certainly remember what the old ones looked like) yet the smell is there. Much more faintly the same smell can be experienced in a variety of establishments including all the toilet rooms in private homes. Toilet rooms is precisely what people have and I do wonder if certain infrastructural decisions were made a long time ago on the assumption that bathrooms (i.e. shower rooms) are separate spaces altogether from toilet rooms. When I strain my memory I do remember the same acrid smell protruding through the heaps of cleaning product and air fresheners that we always had in our washroom. Definitely plumbing and insulation.

Stepping outside the airport, a pleasant surprise was the freshness of the air, the sense of open space, light, unpolluted atmosphere, which is ridiculous because it’s quite polluted there, and there certainly isn’t the same culture of ‘non-pollution’ that I’m used to thinking of in north america. Also, no humidity. I think that really helps with the way the air and the heat felt. Started noticing a lot of the sideawalks inside residential neighbourhoods are large slabs of stone and smaller pebble-stone octagons, with dry dirt powder in between, all crooked and torn up in places. Asphalt small roads are full of holes where water and other debris accumulate; both cars and pedestrians are used to the extra effort to physically navigate the difficult terrain.

IMG_7150

Another reason for the general air quality and smellscape / sensory atmosphere is the wide variety and general abundance of deciduous trees that not only clean but perfume the air with their flower buds and leaves (much smellier I think then their evergreen counterparts). It is not in fact uncommon to have tons of fruit trees all over town, including on small residential streets, left over from pre-communist times when houses had their own vegetable gardens, fruit trees and bushes. This makes the air, particularly in Varna, sweet and fragrant, yet fresh from the salty sea breeze. However, fruit fallen to the ground rots in the sun so there is also a prevailing spoiled fruit scent, soaked into the heated pavements. There is an overall ‘clean dusty’ smell if that makes sense. Because the sidewalk materials are so hard and non-porous, in the absence of frequent rain the earth in between tiles and stones dries and loses the smell of moist soil that I associate with Vancouver’s rainy climate.

IMG_7201  IMG_7232

The air is further fragrant from the many sidewalk produce stands where warm scent of vegetables and ripe (but not overripe) fruit mix into a kind of soft, earthy, sweet aroma. If I were to draw this in colour, it would be rich, sand yellow, terracotta orange, with hues of light blue. Come to think of it, that’s how I would draw the entire smellscape of Varna, with the earthy fragrance of trees and the salty breeze of the sea air.

One last moment to share. I don’t know if it’s just been that long that I’ve been away, or just I haven’t been as aware of the smellscape of home, but when I made my usual pilgrimage to my childhood beach this year (“Officer’s beach, Akacii”) I had a moment, right here – I stopped to take a picture. It’s the bottom of the marine garden walkway before the stairs that descend down to the beach. It’s the moment where the general smell-ambience of green-leaf deciduous trees was pierced sharply but pleasantly by a fresh salty sunny smell of the Black sea below. It’s hard to explain – influx of memories that almost physically grabbed me, realization of how much different the salty water smell is from that I’ve come to experience on the Pacific northwest. It was an emotional high note, the smell felt like it pierced me right through the heart, and I stood, right here, weeping a little, trying not to look too odd. This was the moment of ‘coming back home’, wave of nostalgia just washing over me, surprising me with how much I miss this place.

IMG_7215

Sound Study: Yaletown (Part 2)

March 13, 2015 Posted by Milena D

After a longer hiatus than anticipated comes the second installment in my Yaletown sound study. Where we left off things in the last post, I started out recording without a specific idea and ended up making some interesting comparisons between sound environments in close proximity to one another, as well as observations about how the visual and sonic surroundings sort of coalesce in my perceptual (and culturally informed) sensibilities.

Pushing beyond these initial observations I began walking down the Sea wall, listening. I want to take a moment to comment on the fact that I’ve never been a ‘recordist’ in the sense that a lot of acoustic ecologists (those that record anyway) have a tendency to record continuous long stretches of their soundwalking experience. To me, recording, while accentuating certain sonic characteristics, kind of detracts from the holistic experience of listening for me. So I don’t tend to record unless there is *really* something I want to be recording. Sure enough, as I walked and listened, staring as usual into the alley-side town homes and condos I was struck by the presence of something I hadn’t noticed before – water features at every building. Different types of fountains, artificial creeks and waterfalls adorned every single multi-million dollar condo along the Sea wall. For the first time I was struck by the juxtaposition of natural water (oceanside) a few feet away from a gated water feature; water features being a luxury only a place like Canada can afford, which, for now, possesses unlimited water resources. Still, why would the residents need their own water feature when their property is ‘oceanside’ for starters, is beyond me. This is when an interesting idea occurred to me – survey the different water features in surrounding areas and see whether the type of water technology and soundscape is related to the (assumed) property value of each building. Once again i used SpeakingPhoto to record short vignettes of water features. The following is a compilation of these that illustrates some of the variety and configurations.

Still not sure whether or in what way precisely water feature soundscapes correlated to property values but in short it did appear that the buildings directly on the Sea wall (so most expensive) had the most elaborate, extensive, fastest running water features. Alternately, a big building a block away had only a contained fountain basin shared with a large courtyard. Another block away was a large building complex which shared an artificial waterfall with rather slow-falling water that barely masked the constant traffic noise, however provided a visual reference for its proximity to the ocean, even though the ocean wasn’t visible from there. Another building, similarly located, contained a small bubbling fountain right by the front door as if to simply tip off its hat to the expectation that a building in this part of town *must* have a water feature.

In any case, I’m presenting these approaches and observations as a kind of methodology for using mobile tools to conduct sensory ethnographies of place and culture; to probe lived, everyday experience, urban design, built environment and culturally-informed perceptions and assumptions.

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.