• e138 rouge – fishy, where are you?

    a soundscape composition about soundscape composition at Rouge National Urban Park in Toronto


    (Bell and breath) 

    (various field recordings from rouge national urban park)

    Me (at Rouge Park) :

    Lake Ontario, Rouge Park, Water, Train sound coming, go.

    On August 21, 2023 I joined composer Wendalyn Bartley and ecologist Leo Cabrera on a visit to the Rouge National Urban Park, which is centred around the Rouge River and its tributaries in the Greater Toronto Area. 

    We were there to listen to soundscapes, such as what you’re hearing now, a train passing by.

    At the end of our listening session Leo asked me to explain how I create soundscape compositions, so this episode explores that question, accompanied by…

    (Sound of woman talking about ‘fishies’)


    So what is soundscape composition? 

    Soundscape composition is a form of electroacoustic music characterized by the presence of recognizable environmental sounds and contexts … 

    Claude (during field recording) 

    Rouge National Park, August 21, about 7pm, I’m waiting for a train.

    And context is important here. 

    For example, what do you hear now? I heard a swan, birds, voices echoing under a bridge, a bike just went by, there’s rumble of the city  in the background, and a baby crying, there’s some young people arriving and … and I hear someone dragging their feet a bit, making a lovely little sound.

    (train passing)

    Of course, I hear trains and now we’re in another space. What about this place? What’s the story here? 

    And what would happen if I changed the story by cutting the low frequencies from this swan and these waves? 

    And what if I made the train a bit more distant … and put it to the left?

    And what if I place that mom talking to her son about fishies in reverberation a little… on the right side.

    And how would you feel if there is no sound at all? 

    You see, to me, soundscape composition and art in general, for that matter, is a game of illusion. Artists are constantly playing with our senses of perception and our understanding and interpretation of reality. 

    So what I’m doing is inviting you to listen to reality – at least what my microphones captured that day – but also to fantasy, which are my manipulations of those sounds and it’s an interesting liminal zone but it’s also a very privileged space because not everyone who can afford to create and listen to soundscape compositions this way, right? 

    I’m thinking in particular about living beings – human and non human – who cannot lower the volume of say, a rumbling train passing by their home every few minutes like this one I recorded in the park. 

    (loud train passes)

    Also, what about sounds that have disappeared from our acoustic environment? 

    How can we remember and mourn sounds that have become extinct? 

    What efforts  can we make to bring some of them back? 

    How can soundscape composition help with that? 

    Now as I told Leo, my approach to soundscape composition is to ask a lot of questions… about the ethics of field recording, about positionality, about  the added value of an artistic intervention in a given acoustic space.

    I also ask myself to whom am I accountable when I record and how can one create sound art that does not perpetuate cycles of extraction and exploitation that are quite literally killing us. 

    So many questions….

    What do you think?

    I’ll end this episode with an excerpt from a conversation I had during the summer of 1990 with the late composer R. Murray Schafer, author of the Tuning of the World book and leader of the World Soundscape Project at Simon Fraser university in Vancouver in the 1970’s. 

    Murray and I were talking about microphones and listening:

    If the microphone replaces your ear, there’s something wrong. And as you see in a lot of our listening, the microphone has replaced the ear. The mere fact that for instance, we demand presence on all recorded sounds and they’re all close mic-ed, is a recognition of the fact that the microphone, which is an instrument for getting closeups, is respected more than our own sort of hearing experience. The fact that we can no longer listen to the distance. Now, if you’re going to get involved, really, with ecology in the environment, you have to rediscover how to listen to the distance, because an awful lot of the sounds you’re talking about are distant.

    I agree with Murray that we need to question our use of technology, for sure, but also learn to listen at a distance, with or without microphones. 

    Listen… at a distance.

    (Woman talking)

    Fishy, where are you?


    Thanks to Wendalyn and Leo, my colleagues on the board of directors of the Canadian Association for Sound Ecology (CASE)  for joining me during this field recording trip. My thanks also to those who were recorded that day and a tip of the hat to Murray Schafer who continues to be present in our lives through his words and music.

    I am grateful and accountable to the earth and the human labour that provided me with the privilege of producing this episode. (including all the toxic materials and extractive processes behind the computers, recorders, transportation and infrastructure that make this podcast possible).

    My gesture of reciprocity for this episode is to the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS).  

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fishy, where are you?

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