Posts Tagged: ‘sound meter’

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.

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: The Reef

March 6, 2010 Posted by Milena D

This is the ambience of a quite noisy restaurant in Vancouver with excellent Caribbean food. I have always noted how incredibly loud it is inside…we literally could barely hear each other, and in fact, I dare you to find any foreground voices in the recording…it just all got swallowed up in one big standing wave of voices and sounds.

Annotation: It was around 10pm, and the place was quite busy. I believe near us was a big birthday party group. I recorded with the iPhone just laying on the table.

Narrative: Well, not much to say except, it was loud. I believe despite the fact I don’t trust “dB”, these readings above are fairly accurate. The overall ambience felt akin to a nightclub situation with the music cranked up high and all the voices competing to be heard over it. Once my companion realized what I was doing, we had a bit of a conversation and my take on it is, as I said, that it’s a vicious circle. Patrons raise their voices because they need to be heard over the music, and over waitresses’ voices. But waiting staff raise their voices because of everything else. Whispering is impossible at normal sitting distances. You know you’re in a nightclub when you have to whisper right in someone’s ear so they can hear you, and that’s exactly what we had to do!…

I remember certain moments when the weariness of the day caught up with me and I felt momentarily weak and relaxed and each time, I was jolted back to reality by the soundscape as it all of a sudden seemed to increase in amplitude. It’s a funny phenomenon, I know it didn’t really, but my auditory impression was that it became louder. I think it might have been moments of thresholds of habituation that my ears went through. I don’t feel even drama queen-y saying it was painfully loud.

Aural Postcard: 2010 Olympics

March 1, 2010 Posted by Milena D

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

Car-2 Main2

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

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

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

Aural Postcard: Poetry @Rhizome cafe

March 1, 2010 Posted by Milena D

This is my first attempt at an aural postcard. The reason why I want to do this, inspired by the application “dB” is to give as full and rich idea as possible of a particular soundscape, particular aural context, what happened there for a length of time, details that other measures alone won’t be able to capture (e.g. simply taking a decibel measurement, but also, simply recording the soundscape does not give away the whole picture either).

I am ultimately going to try and make it possible for me to collect and display separate posts relating to aural postcards here, but for now, I wanted to just introduce the concept.

Annotation: As already mentioned, the measurements in dB (the program) are unweighted and therefore anywhere from 10 to 20-something decibels off (meaning, the actual dB is lower). Therefore, in the actual setting displayed above, Rhizome coffee shop, poetry reading, amplified by one mic and at least two powered speakers, with mostly silent audience, but a semi-open kitchen emitting some noise, the actual readings are around the high 50s dB, with peaks of possibly 70 dB as clicking from dishes in the kitchen, as well as plosives popping on the mic do account for sudden peaks in sound pressure.

Narrative: When I arrived, the place was lively but not loud, with people milling about, ordering last-minute food and drinks before the poetry reading begins. I joined in and squeezed in a corner on the righthand side of the speakers, in line of the mic. Because the owner helped lower the mic for the first speaker, everyone subsequently ended up using that setting, which was really too low for most and therefore resulted in a lot of gusts of air and plosives popping out the stereo system. I couldn’t help but think, as I often do at such events, why do we even need amplification? This is a poetry reading in a small-sized venue, with a respectful quiet audience. These speaker could very well use their natural voices (project a bit) and be clearly heard by all. I pondered for a while on the fact that using amplification has become “the default” for really any venue. It’s true the advantage of a mic is that one can achieve much greater sense of intimacy by whispering into it, but then again, what happened to attentive listening? If we have to strain to hear a quiet poetry passage, what is so wrong with that?

Shortly after the first speaker had begun, I became aware of the clanking, water gushing, feet shuffling sounds that came from the kitchen – from its open wall concept. I found that these sounds really clashed with the poetry. No it’s not so much that they were loud, it’s more that one, they were irregular, sudden, unpredictable, yet persistent; and two, they invoked in me a very different context, sense of atmosphere, than the words spoken by the poet – words that are meant to draw mental images, invite us to imagine places, actions, situations. Then I started to wonder whether anyone else was feeling the same way. I had a perfect seat, to the side and at the front, giving me a great, clear view of the main cluster of audience members in front of the stage. A hardcore poetry crowd, these people were poised for absorbing the poetry. Or, they feigned it really well. Or, they were slightly bored and thus – mellow, appearing focussed. It was just impossible for me to tell what was going on for each person. And then, after a little while i started to notice little signs of broken concentration – turning heads, shuffling in seats, nervous picking and rubbing with fingers anything in sight. I tried to relate these occurrences to particularly disruptive sounds coming from the kitchen – and given that they were the only source of  distraction – I felt that there was definitely a relationship. I would even say, had this audience been less disciplined, supportive and respectful of poetry, there would have been a lot more shuffling and straining in order to localize sources of aural onslaught.

dB: Sound portraits, aural postcards

February 27, 2010 Posted by Milena D

So I’ve become somewhat obssessed with sound level meter apps for the iPhone. After I bought dB from  Faber Acoustical I was confounded by the usual complaints I encountered on sound level app comments  pages – that it registers too high decibel levels. I mean, 77 decibels at a poetry reading, at a coffee shop, with  a peak of 92 dB? Yes, the speaker’s voice was amplified, and partly, I was looking to find out how much that  added to the ambience. I did a quick reference check with SPL

(Studio Six) and it read in the low 50s. Then the answer came to me, of course, it’s unweighted, so it’s picking up all those rumbling low frequencies as sound level pressure. Still, 20 dB is a lot! But how can I resist it when it puts out cute overlays like these.


Hard to explain at each one though that it is off by over 20 dB. I guess I’ll have to put together my own using a camera and SPL readings, unless I spring for Faber’s Signal Meter. A more   detailed post to follow about the poetry reading and its ambience, including a couple more readings and snapshots. Look under Aural Postcards.