Friday, December 21, 2007

Soundwalk, Queen Elizabeth Park, Vancouver

Writing the last entry made me dig out the excellent survey of acoustic ecology in The Wire 226, which describes the original World Soundscape Project at Simon Fraser University (SFU). Their work varied from activities that might be considered broadly as a kind of landscape art, recording soundcapes across Canada and in five European villages, to more practical work on noise abatement, reviewing legislation and mounting an international car-horn count. Phil England interviewed Hildegard Westercamp for the article, an original member of the SFU team, assistant to R. Murray Schafer, and the person responsible for re-launching the soundscape movement in 1991 with the first Soundscape Newsletter. Asked why she thought the movement arose in Vancouver, Westercamp pointed to the experimental cultural environment in Canada in the early seventies, but also to the influence of the Canadian wilderness. "There's a huge silence out there. And when you experience that silence against what urban environments are like, there's a major difference. I was walking through London today and I thought, my god, how far away the Earth is at King's Cross."

As someone who waits for a bus at Kings Cross several times a week, I can only agree... But then, as noted in the last entry here, the sounds of the city have their own beauty and emotional charge. Peter Cusack is quoted in the same Wire article describing his CD Your Favourite London Sounds, which includes a list encompassing traffic, trains, aeroplanes, buskers, people chatting, even the sound of breaking glass. Cusack goes on to suggest that the use of sounds recorded in a landscape for music or sound art is diverging from the more direct approach where soundscapes are recorded to investigate or dramatise social or ecological issues. Here, I am more interested in the former approach, typified by someone like Chris Watson.

There is a whole dissertation by Andra McCartney on Hildegard Westercamp available online here. The site also includes a soundwalk McCartney took with Westercamp in Queen Elizabeth Park, 'Vancouver's Oasis'. You can listen, for example, to a recording of a creek, described by McCartney as follows: "We spent more time at the creek than anywhere else. Westercamp is fascinated by the endless variety of water voices, and her approach to close-up recording articulates them well. She shifted from one stepping-stone to another, moving the stereo microphone to highlight how the water found its way through crevices, over boulders, around branches in its path, illustrating the architecture of the creek bed, and the dance of the water through its sculptural forms..."


Zohar said...

Vancouver driftwood

15 pages x 8 pictures per page

You can click on the images to enlarge them.

Jane Librizzi said...

I just discovered your website while searchig for the Norwegian artist Kitty Kielland. What a treasure trove it is. Another land-loving site that I read is "Hay In Art." How sad that commercial art media are fixated on the same small number of artists. I will share your site with others. Thank you.
Jane Librizzi

Plinius said...

Thanks for this. I liked your blogs. I'm looking forward to reading the new Graham Robb book (I met him once - a very nice chap).