THE SOUND WALK
What unique and bizarre experience this has been… To consciously dampen the chief sense (of sight) and focus primarily on ones acoustic stimulus alone was actually quite fascinating. It was also quite dangerous, as I was almost hit by a car walking dreamily down Avenue des Pine and did, in fact fall down a small embankment while trying desperately (and vainly) to capture bird chatter on Mont Royal. In retrospect though, this sound walk was pleasantly educational and rather rewarding in its own sort of way.
It all began at my house, or rather atop it. Living on Pins, near Mont Royal I am fairly elevated above downtown, and as sound seems to travel up, it seemed like a reasonable place to begin. Standing on the roof I remarked momentarily at how subtly different Montreal “felt” (to the ear) than my hometown of Vancouver; nothing blindingly obvious but as Augoyard mentioned in A Guide To Everyday Sounds, “every urban environment has a sound signature…Beyond classification, ‘the city rings’.”(Pg.26) After getting a few good clips, and stumbling often, I made my way precariously down the ladder onto the fire escape and slowly toward ground level, stopping occasionally to record along the way. Walking through the foyer, out onto the street and up Cote des Neiges exposed me to different traffic patterns, sewers, and several other sounds I had not ever tuned in to before.
Eventually I found a trail and ascended up through the woods within Parc du Mont Royal. The texture of the acoustic environment changed drastically at this point as the throbs of the city were abruptly muffled by the swaying trees and slowly replaced by an earthier fabric of sound, not completely, but mostly. Shivering deciduous leaves, the random crackles of the undergrowth, and the occasional stream blended into a rich acoustic background. Atop the “mountain”, the human noise pollution rendered all hopes of further ambient sound capture lost, so I had to focus on the close-ups. The rest of my walk took my along quiet trails, through unsuspecting residents’ back yards and, after a number of hours, back to my home where I eagerly reviewed over sixty individual sound tracks only to find about a third of them worth keeping. I am eager to be freed of the non-vocal constraints of this project, which was a fair challenge.
To recall and comment on every single aural nuance of my sound walk is simply beyond the scope of this report, and possibly quite boring, but I will attempt to elaborate on the most notable examples then explain my technical considerations near the end of this report to keep things clear.
Before beginning, I made a conscious decision to focus on the notion of “the three listening modes” proposed by Michael Chion, but soon found it useful to pay attention to two alone. Semantics had no real place in this project and was promptly abandoned to better concentrate on the spectrum of textures available to the aural tract through reduced listening. Years of training and association forced my brain to make causal connections without my consent but I found even that only useful for conceptualizing the narrative component of the final mix down.
So… we began on the roof: Which happens to be lined with fine gravel, which was of immediate interest to me. The crunchy, palpable consistency of the gravel sounds were pleasing and made for good walking tracks. My landlord scraping at the sky-light, was initially irritating but actually gave me a good little isolated clip that had decent fidelity and sounded very industrious indeed. The real reason I was up there though was to capture the three hundred and sixty degree sound-scape floating up from the city and streets below. Busses growling, motorcycles roaring, metal ringing, people walking, wind howling, and the endless din all drifting easily into my standard issue edirol.
The fire escape was very interesting for one specific reason: it was constructed entirely of steel and so acted as one instrument of resonance. By placing the consumer mic in direct contact with the metal I was able to completely isolate the sounds of my feet on the stairs and across the grating with eerie clarity. What I recorded was dark, brooding, and mildly disturbing in its dungeon/chamber-like qualities. The isolated sounds had great sustain too.
I had to stop to capture the creaky floors, doors, and clock in my foyer (which was sort of outside, but sheltered), as they were so distinguished within the relative “silence”. Later, the busses, trucks, and other wheeled fare offered good kinetic poetry while walking up the hill and I even found a nice sewer drain along the way where faint gurgling rushes of water could be hear from somewhere in the depths.
Eventually, I made it to the forest and enjoyed walking for the rich crackle of sticks and leaves mingled sloppily with squishes of earth and the shifting of small pebbles underfoot. High above, the trees groaned faintly as gusts of wind caressed their boughs and whipped about indiscriminately through the canopy. I even managed to get close to rather loud, buzzing cricket, though I had to wade into a bog to get the sound bite. The birdsong, as I discovered, was just too faint to be of any use in this incidence.
On the way home I found an empty chip bag beside an air vent in an alley and got a cool recording of the crumpling plastic/foil with the droning fan in the background. Finally, had to wait until after nightfall to successfully capture the drip, drip, drip of a water pipe, for the ambient sound of the day was just overpowering.
There were infinitely more, but the aforementioned sounds made it into my long-term memory and final project selection so I will leave them at that… for now. What follows is technical log of each sound I included on my USB key in Part A of this project:
-Used internal mic for its superior sensitivity, bass response, and wide pick-up range
-Held mice up against screen to orient it properly and minimize wind “pollution”
-Captured sounds from 360 degrees floating up
-Recorded during the day to capture increased traffic, etc.
-To be used for narrative purposes
-The idea was to create the sensation of leaving a quiet place where mere keys are audible and being thrust into a bustling ambient environment of the street
-Consumer mic set to 120 degrees was suitable for this
-Had to take many clips to get this, which isn’t even that great but on can hear the rustling and the odd creak of a branch
-Experimented w/ different settings: internal was picking up far off traffic and the 90 deg was too narrow so 120 deg ended up working nicely again
-Challenge to avoid to wind directly so I placed the mic in a wind shadow next to a large tree
-Waded into the mud to get the mic into the reeds – could have used a mic extension
-I was simply lucky not to pick up the ambience of the people talking in the park all around me
-This was pretty easy but required the right input levels on the edirol as the trucks were very loud up close
-Lowered mic tentatively into storm drain to get as close to the water source as possible
-Picked up the echoey resonance of street ambiance too
-Caught the lovely grumbling diesel here as it takes off
-Internal mic gave better stereo distinction as the bus clearly goes from right to left in the channels and thus adds a bit of dimension to the clip
-Almost no fidelity at all here, but I wanted a ticking clock… had to record it at night along with the water drops
-Old wood floors have that great propensity for creakiness especially early in the morning when a building is coldest
-Had to dangle the consumer mic set to 90 degrees to capture this
-Only feasible with no other hikers in the vicinity
-Again utilized the consumer mic at 90 degrees
-Suspended mic from wire to achieve zero mic handling
-Walked deliberately… any hesitancy was detectable
-For this, I held the external mic directly in contact with the metal stairs to get the reverberations of the whole metal structure
-Had to actually walk on the spot to the static status of the mic
-This was done the same as the metal walk but I just ran my foot across the grates and got this incredible sustained sort of ring…
-Influenced this a little by crumpling the bag myself
-The hum of the fan droned out all other noises to my delight
– So faint I had to record at night
-Disturbed the stones with my hand and that’s about it
-Deliberately postponed oiling this particular door so as to capture this classic CREEEEAK*
-All the credit goes to my landlord here who was being very productive and provided me with this clip
-Metal on metal with a little gravel in the mix
– Experimented with various sticks for this one and finally found the right size