Sound, Media & the City


On March 11th, Prof. Jessica Thompson (Fine Arts) spoke about her work as a digital sound artist and then led an Urban Sound Walk around downtown Kitchener.

Prof. Thomson’s work revolves around the question of sound and place – how does sound inform our experience and knowledge of place? Are there sounds that we associate with a particular place or city? What are the politics of sound in global cities? While much of her work employs new media technology as a tool for exploring these questions (i.e. in her project “network derive”), Prof. Thompson remains committed to un-mediated explorations of the city. This was evident in the exercise that she facilitated at CML: a silent sound walk around downtown Kitchener. Using only “analog” technologies to document our tour of the city (chalk, pen and paper, measuring tape), Prof. Thompson led us through busy and remote parts of the downtown to take note of the urban soundscape that is usually swallowed up by our visual faculties. We were keen to note the emerging sounds of Spring such as the dripping and flowing of melting ice at various points.

The tour concluded with a blindfolded walk down King Street, to more keenly tune our aural senses. Being relatively new to Kitchener, the blind fold opened up the city in a different way for me, tuning me in to a surprisingly ‘urban’ sound and smell-scape: music, chatter, footsteps, church bells, as well as the smoky smell of grilled meat for the restaurant dinner service. These sounds and smells were of course amplified by the fact that none of us were plugged into our smart phones as we navigated our way through the downtown core, a fact that I noticed acutely in my wanderings.


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