You can’t walk anywhere in a big city without eventually hearing sirens, even on a sunny day.
This recording occurred hastily into as I noticed the siren coming towards me, the mini-recorder still in my pocket. I clicked it on, and kept moving. The noise pattern cutting into the siren’s scream was unexpectedly introduced, the rhythm of fabric brushing against and interrupting the microphone’s work as I am steadily walking — creating an unexpected, complex disintegration pattern.
Structure and collapse, it proved to be the most compelling thing I recorded on our first collective walk, and was used as the basic sound spine for the following short collage soundscape.
Walking through downtown Toronto is like wading through a fog of noise. The city is filled with noises – cars, people, vents, planes. Everyone contributes to this collective noise and equally consumes it. In the blindness of noise-making, we rarely realize the noise surrounding us and until we open our ears, we cannot connect noise and sound to spaces and places.
Surrounding each person is a 4-dimensional space of noise. Noise can be intercepted at any coordinate, or any height. As well, noise changes over time, shifting as the city moves through the day. At any moment, you experience a single point in the vast space of noise Framing these noises is the architecture of the city.
When walking through the city as part of our first adventure, I was struck by the different flavours of sound we encountered in this particular alleyway – O’Keefe Lane.
Walking north through the lane, we were first exposed to the sounds of traffic, mostly from Yonge St. and Shuter St. Passing through the corridor, we were insulated from the noise of traffic, and instead greeted by the hum of something mechanical (a vent, or pipe?). As we approached Dundas Square, the traffic returned, this time mixed with chattering people. It was as if we walked through a multicoloured mist, with each sound colouring the space differently.
I thought I’d try seeing what this might look like visually, translating my snapshot of this 4-dimensional sound into a single path picture. If I could represent traffic as a grey, people as green and the mechanical sounds as blue, the alleyway would look something like the strip below.
Mapping sound can give us new understandings of space – where an alleyway might have visually looked plain, the sound environment/soundscape suggests diversity.
[Some thoughts on silence I'm exploring in response to our silent sound walk...]
…what are the visual qualities of silence? can silence take on visual forms, or is it something in-between forms? something that negates forms? something tactile? something in between thoughts? in between moments? in between spaces? can silence truly exist in a city?
If you walk around Toronto and record your positioning with a GPS you’ll get Northerly coordinates most likely in the 43.somethings. If you run that positioning data through the equation that titles this article you will most likely end up with an array of numbers in the audible spectrum with a large enough variation from point to point to have a noticeable difference in pitch…unless of course you weren’t moving when you collected your GPS data.
A similar basic equation:
could be created for a volume variable (works out between 1-100) from the Westerly data and mapped to the volume of the piece….
So for example the first 150 seconds of our walk would look like the below array of numbers viewed as modified GPS data. Now all we need is an app that converts two arrays of data into a SINE curve and adjusts pitch and volume on the fly as it runs through the array.
In less programmy terms what does this mean? It means we are half way towards a program that makes a sound that corresponds to walking around TO. Just look at the data below and you can almost hear it. It would probably sound something like a fly you can’t swat, or not at all…I plan to find out…
Pitch – X Coordinates – ROUND((A2-A3+0.004)*75000)
Volume – Y Coordinates – ROUND((C2-C3+0.004)*15000)
I have no idea how I got here.
I mean, I sort of do, in that I know where I am and I know where I was before I was where I am and I also know that a map of the city has been gradually branded into my parietal lobe so subsequently I have no doubt that I could easily navigate my way back to the starting line. But whether I would be taking the same route backwards as I did forwards, I have no idea. For maybe the first time, I have left no figurative breadcrumbs. For maybe the first time, I just wasn’t paying any attention.
But I was. I was paying lots and lots of attention. Attention paying was all I was doing. Was all I could do because my potential for expression had been markedly compartmentalized and limited and with the deprivation of one component came the absolute paralysis of them all. To my relief. If I could not talk, I could not adequately communicate and therefore, somehow, could not be responsible for any generation of meaningful or informative output, linguistic or otherwise (Ed. note: that argument was unsound, so LOL?). To my relief, all I was responsible for was input.
The problem was the kind of input I was focused on. The problem was and still is the tangible division between the primary visual cortex and the primary auditory cortex and an inherent biases toward one of them.
So let me rephrase: I have no idea how I got here because I was only paying attention to my auditory input instead of the visuospatial. And that is at best both backward and awkward for me, and at worst both backward and awkward and also completely debilitating in the loss of perceived agency kind of sense. Because making the primary secondary and the secondary primary necessitates an impolsive and disorientingly paradoxical condition of both deprivation and overload. And because, in case it wasn’t obvious already, I am a visual learner. And this was a sound based walk.
And sound, Gender and Gender, appears to be way less critical than sight. As evidenced by my prejudiced choice in vocabulary.
When I was in school I never went to class. That was hyperbolic, I did go to class. But only when it was categorically required. I bring this up not because I have a nostalgic preoccupation with recounting a time before any thing was of any consequence (which, I do), but because I need to grasp onto something generally relatable to make a point. The point being, I did not attend class because the process of hearing information, collectively, only served to thoroughly confuse the product of seeing information, independently. Hearing could not consolidate or even complement what I knew through looking. Hearing was secondary. Looking was primary. Mutually exclusive, times forever, plus ad infinitum, minus any awareness of such.
But both hearing and looking are fundamentally secondary. Only, of course to listening and seeing, if you’re hermeneutically inclined.
I have no idea how I got here because I was listening instead of only hearing, and only looking instead of seeing. And auditory stimuli is more transient and convertible than the immediate and immutable utility of visual stimuli.
I only have a visual map because it is the only sensory input consistent enough, translatable enough to chart. I can’t hear my way back because the sounds won’t be the same.
Noise Residency 03/30/13 NOON start time (Labspace Studio, Toronto)
About a year ago I started hearing a hissing noise in my ears. You know that sound you hear after a night a the club or a loud concert. Yeah, tinnitus, I have it all the time. I freaked out, “What if I’m going deaf!” I thought. Well more than a year later, I’m not deaf. I still hear a hissing that sometimes turns to a ringing or buzzing, but I can still hear.
In the months after I first noticed my tinnitus, I started noticing every sound around me; the sound of the wind whistling through a window, a vent fan in my office, the distant click of a heel on a tile floor, the crunching of snow under my boots, everything. I would walk around in silence just listening to things. I wanted to document sounds in some way that would let me remember them if I were going deaf. The only thing I could think of was to record them.
I haven’t worked with sound much before, so it wasn’t until this week that I started to take recording ambient sounds seriously. So, to start, here’s a sound I hear every day. It’s the streetcar near my house.
Our silent sound walk through downtown made me think it would be interesting to map quiet routes through the city. So, just like you can ask Google Maps for bicycling directions, you could ask it for directions based on your sound preference.
On our first sound walk, I was drawn to and curious about where people were relaxing or taking a break and the noises that were around them or that sometimes consumed them.
Kids enjoying the fountain in the Eaton Centre.
A man is smoking a cigarette on break, and he is consumed by the mechanical and ventilation noises from the building.
Two men sit in Dundas Square. In the distance there is a performer.
Two men take a break at school. A plane flies above, and a squirrel plays in the trees.
A family pauses for a picture in Allen Gardens. Most of the conversations were describing what they saw, smelled, or experienced.
This is more of an idea generated from the concepts in the Hark CBC Radio suggested material while I was participating in the sound walk. So it’s just idea jamming and might not go anywhere so I’m using this as my public sketchbook. Sorry if it has a bit of a talking out loud feel.
Building upon the idea that the soundscape within a site (obviously) changes through time, I thought about recording a space within a frame (i.e., the duration of a recording), playing it back and playing it back while re-recording, and repeating the process many times (this is called re-amping). By successively
Did a bit of research a famous piece that incorporated this effect (although this is effect is common in recording studios…but not in this way) was Alvin Lucier’s “I’m Sitting in a Room” where he played back a recording of himself many times until the sound becomes reduced to the natural resonant frequencies of the room. This is inevitably a process of re-recording many times onto a physical medium.
However, we can automate this process, and by doing so, can make a space open for interaction and the public can create sounds in conjunction with the sounds captured in the past. So, I created a program that:
1) At a specific time in the day (e.g., 12:00 PM although this is arbitrary) starts recording for x amount of time (so far about an hour) capturing the sound within a specific space. Then it stops recording. The room has multiple microphones and speakers to keep the depth and spatialization of sound within a space, so its less about the recording and more re-visualizing various perspectives within a space that temporally overlap.
2) The next day, the recording plays back at exactly 12:00 PM. Participants in the space will be re-recorded, and thus their sounds with the played back sounds will both be captured.
3) The day after that, the recording from the previous day will play back, etc. etc.
I’ve done a quick sketch of the program but it has a couple bugs / nice features aren’t there yet, so I’ll post the code for anyone who has Max/MSP to play with (if anyone knows Max, there’s potentially a couple things I’d like to bounce off your regarding sfplay~’s stability with multichannel recordings).
1) PROBABLY NEED SHORTER INTERVALS!
Ideally I would like a day to day, but I think it’s unrealistic to expect consistent turn outs of people. Furthermore, because the interaction is less direct, people may/may not know that they can interact with it. So there’s some sort of temporal framing to figure out. Too short of a frame feels just like a delay. Too long makes people unaware of the interaction. Perhaps some sort of sound making object in a room can help frame (i.e., a clock, but that might be too literal).
2) We’re suppose to think of outdoor stuff right.
I wanna try this just with silence / room tone. I wonder what the 60 Hz cycle sounds like repeatedly re-amped. Probably just like howling…but still fun!
My response to our first Nomadic Noise Residency adventure.
30 March 2013
Just a tiny recording excerpted from our urban sonar scrawl of Toronto by foot last Saturday.
Put this knowledge in your brain:
Watch it all if you have the time, but for a bit of focused context try 2:54.
I have been into some weird topics of research lately. As a result of my face being buried in esoteric books, it seems hard to have the space around me not tinged with occult colourings and ideas of cosmic correspondences, even if I take these notions with a grain of salt, and am distanced by critical rigour and scepticism. Walking around strange spaces in downtown Toronto, in silence, was of course not an exception. I found ideas that I had only been applying to visual culture (and in my research, paintings specifically) colliding with thoughts about the city and the seemingly chaotic mess of noise it produces.
I came to these topics through painting mostly, and a desire to understand some images I had found in some books, but my reading has deviated…or rather I have slid into an abyss of occult knowledge and ways of thinking. Recently I have been trying to understand ‘magic’ – not rabbits out of hats, or
but ‘magic’ in an occult sense, in a ancient mythological sense. Like
that (I know, I know, a little hokey..but you catch my drift).
More specifically I have been trying to understand its mechanisms and how these cosmic influences were understood by adepts, initiates, alchemists, philosophers, and the like and how they were thought to function through forms of representation -spells, talismans, sculptures, paintings, and yes, even in music – on a mundane level to affect change, or to at least have some sort of agency.
I was just reading a chapter from Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum (fiction, I know, but relevant):
“…It is known that the Chaldean priests operated sacred machines by sounds alone, and the priests of Karnack and Thebes could open the doors of a temple with only their voice-and what else could be the origin, if you think about it, of the legend of Open Sesame?” (Page 242)
Magic can be enacted in many ways and sound is no exception. The mythology of Orpheus comes to mind:
So. What about noise, what about the city?
The workings of magical practices (or so I am coming to understand them – prove me wrong please) are largely grounded in precise actions that rely on strict observation of number, astrological placements, and proportion, as Donald Duck gave you a taste of with Pythagoras’ divine proportions. But what if an unceasing tumultuous cacophony of sound, as I keenly observed in the dirty alleys and parking lots of Toronto, accidentally brought some proper proportions together in the right place at the right time? A car horn bleats over the the sputtering buzz of a radiator in the key of A sharp and Saturn just so happened to be in Aries conjuncting with Mercury while the drunk drinking Sherry behind a dumpster is spouting gibberish over the deep base of some hip hop track. smoke and lights and he just changed the structure of the universe with his ramblings, but no one notices.
More to come from these silly notions, but on an end note:
(turn your speakers up)
I made a little sound spiral that cycles through 9 sonic locations we walked through on March 30th faster and faster. It was a fun way to revisit the experience in a new way.
The locations are (if I’m not mistaken)
The Church of the Holy Trinity Courtyard
Eaton Centre Upper Level
Eaton Centre Parking Lot
Eaton Centre Lower Level
Yonge and Dundas Square
Outside a Clothing Store
Jarvis and Gerrard