Listening Walks Conceptualised

 

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A morning walk along the coastline of island of Giudecca transforms to an exercise in listening. The overall soundscape consists of dripping of a fountain, rumbling of vaporettos passing by and chiming of church bells over the canal from the shore of Dorsoduro. The layered frontal sounds are easily detected from near, mid and far fields.

Moving away from a reflecting wall to the nearby bridge reveals another sonic experience. The sonic environment opens up to the total of  360 degrees. The frontal sounds are still there, but now they are accompanied by the flapping of the waves of the canal and igniting motorboats right behind the listener.

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These two encounters resonate with the theories and methodologies applied in sound studies. In a recent anthology edited by Christina Guillebaud it is discussed, how the notion of soundscape has been conceptualised and how it relates to the one of ambiance. The former has been understood to relate to visual analogy, two-dimensionality, maps and frontal perception. The concept of ambiance is characterised by such terms as multimodality, three-dimensionality and  immersion. The list here is by no means an exhaustive but a suggestive one. More profound analysis would require further questioning and contextualisation to history of the two disciplines mentioned.

Characterising the concepts of soundscape and ambiance leads us to think of hearing as a special sense compared to other senses. It helps us to further ponder not only the sensory environment, but also how we are relating to the world by listening to it aesthetically, politically and scientifically.

However, in underlining these specific skills and approaches we should avoid the pitfalls what Jonathan Sterne calls audiovisual litany, referring to generalisations on differences between audible and visual worlds. Perhaps even more important is that we should be more aware of not replacing audiovisual litany with multimodal litany. In doing so we would be sweeping the special requirements of act of listening and documenting the soundscapes under the rug.

 

Heikki Uimonen

 

Sources:

Guillebaud, Christina (ed.) 2017. Toward an Anthropology of Ambient Sound.

Sterne, Jonathan. 2003. The Audible Past. Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction.

 

Photos:

Heikki Uimonen

Venetian Sonic Environments

SanMarcoAmbiance is defined as sensory space-time. This sensing and feeling of a place involves a specific mood expressed in the material presence of things and how the mood is embodied. The lived experience as well as the built environment of the place is making the approach both subjective and objective. Ambiance is articulated when social, spatial and physical meet.

Venetian sonic ambiances are constructed in diverse ways in how people relate to places – or how they think particular places are relating to their sound-making. Tourists are entering churches with certain solemnity avoiding extraneous sounds. The Venetian busker is adjusting the outdoor acoustics by moving himself closer to the wall in order to project the sound of his bowed instrument to echoing campo. Open-door rehearsal of Vivaldi in Chiesa San Vidal is attracting passersby for the night’s Vivaldi concert. On Piazza San Marco simultaneous live performances of Mozart’s and Strauss’ music are competing with easy-to-digest jazz in front of the restaurants thus adding up to the image of the city as easy-listening-mid-brow music haven with a past.

12 million tourists are walking yearly the thoroughfares the ”Bermuda-Shorts Triangle” formed by Piazza San Marco, Rialto Bridge and Galleria dell’ Accademia. According to random participatory observation, field notes and field recordings the narrow roads were sonically quite diverse with sounds sources recognisable from each other. Keynote sounds – defined as sounds heard frequently enough to form a background against which other sounds are perceived – are composed of chattering of people and their footsteps reflected by the stony surfaces on the narrow streets and campos. Contrary to common practice in shopping and tourist areas there are no outdoor loudspeakers to centripetally attract possible customers. Somewhat scarce background music from the bars, souvenir shops and mobile phone retail stores of Rio Terra Lista de Spagna are leaking to ears of the pedestrians mainly from radio and commercial music television programmes.

Part of Venice’s charm is the lack of motorised traffic in the streets, which might not after all paint the whole picture of city’s soundscape. Marine internal combustion engines and outdoor motors make the distinctive drone signifying the daily maintenance of the city: the sounds of the public and private transportation and the crunching gearboxes shaking and resonating the vaporettos’ hulls are accompanied by the banging and clinking of the green-coloured iron barges collecting waste. Some of them are labelled as ”Veritas” thus bringing yet another layer to city’s multifaceted ambiance.

 

Heikki Uimonen

Souces:
Davis, Robert C & Marvin, Garry R. 2004. Venice, the Tourist Maze. A Cultural Critique of the World’s Most Touristed City.
Thibaud, Jean-Paul 2001. A Sonic Paradigm of Urban Ambiances. Journal of Sonic Studies, vol 1, nr. 1.

Photo:
Meri Kytö

Ambient Encounters

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In his novel Canal Grande the writer Hannu Raittila describes Venice and its culture through the lens of the group of consultants arriving to the city. The cultural historian is overly enchanted by the city’s layered past and buildings, whereas the engineer with rational mindset and alleged Nordic mentality gets frustrated of the tiny espresso cups filled with way too strong coffee for his taste. The excursion is entering the city in dense fog and is forced to orienteer themselves by the ear and by touching the walls for keeping themselves not falling to canals.

Another angle is offered by urban researchers Davis & Marvin in their study on Venice as a tourist maze and the world’s most touristed city. A peculiar liberation and empowerment can be experienced, when one gets lost deliberately and goes off the beaten track in city’s narrow and winding streets. Sounds – or the lack of them – is definitely making the experience unique. For the contemporary visitor the blessed silence, quiet of the city, slow rhythms, sounds of water and diverse echoes can be tracked down to lack of motorised traffic in this surreal anti-modern world of ”dreamlike quality”, which some visitors might find unsettling.  In mid-1700 century  the unique soundscape was greeted with joy because of the lack of the rattling of coaches and trampling hooves; Victorians facing modernism and its transforming soundscape appreciated the gondolas gliding noiselessly by.

These ambient encounters and many more are discussed and analysed in Walking Sonic Commons  by introducing an open workshop on the Venetian sonic environment. Two-day documentation of sounds by the participants will be followed by an afternoon of editing the collected field work materials and uploading them to an open platform. During the discussion and presentations the acts of listening are contextualised to concept of sonic commons, archiving, accessibility and the researchers’ contribution to preserving cultural heritage.

Heikki Uimonen

Sources:

Raittila, Hannu 2001. Canal Grande

Davis, Robert C & Marvin, Garry R. 2004. Venice, the Tourist Maze. A Cultural Critique of the World’s Most Touristed City.

 

Photo: Meri Kytö