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Montreal Underground” – field-recording contribution to the Montreal Sound Map (2010)

While I had made field-recordings on tape for years, I had only vague plans for them, and more often than not I used the micro-cassette recorder I carried around to record stray thoughts in the era before smart phones. Thus “Montreal Underground” (2010) is perhaps my earliest composition made utilizing only field-recordings. I walked from Place des Arts through the Montreal Underground, from Complex des Jardins to the Bonaventure Metro. Upon careful listening, I identified key locations and sonic events, and edited the original recording of 2 hours down to 16 minutes.

I was enrolled in Carlotta Darò‘s Infrastructure seminar at McGill University at the time, and produced this composition in response to a prompt from that class. Much of the seminar was dedicated to studying communications technologies and the infrastructural networks that support such systems, from the earliest per-electrical systems to the modern Internet. But we also approached architecture and urban planning through this same lens, and read several works exploring the history of Montreal in the 20th century.

The Montreal Underground remains a well-known if often exaggerated feature of the city of Montreal, though its current form bears few traces of the Utopian aims that inaugurated its construction. By the middle of the 1970s, less than a decade after opening, all pretense of a living community had been abandoned. No libraries, no theatres, no gathering spaces. Instead the Underground is a network of tunnels that connect malls to metro stations, stretching to 38 km from start to finish. Downtown (or centre-ville) Montreal is not a place that people live but commute to for work or school, with little life in the evenings outside of the streets crowded with bars and restaurants. So the use of the underground “city” is mostly confined to the circulation of commuters and shoppers. Still, in the US those tunnels would be completely covered in advertising. The lack of such material, combined with changing architectural spaces allows for the recording to change dramatically from space to space, capturing the architectural detail sonically in a way that is easy to grasp.  The space also incorporates public art to good effect, and has become a key site of artistic exhibition and performance during events like Nuit Blanche.

The Montreal Sound Map is a project initiated by Max and Julian Stein in 2010. Head over to explore years of recordings, filtering according to location, date, contributor, or just engage the map’s shuffle function.

From their site:

“Sound maps are in many ways the most effective auditory archive of an environment, touching on aspects political, artistic, cultural, historical, and technological. The Montréal Sound Map is a web-based soundscape project that allows users to upload field recordings to a Google Map of Montréal. The soundscape is constantly changing, and this project acts as a sonic time capsule with the goal of preserving sounds before they disappear.

Soundmapping promotes focused listening. This website offers an interface for users to explore and listen to the city with a purposeful and special attention that is rarely given to the sounds of the environment. We aim for people to continue this attentive listening and experience the complexity and lure of the soundscape firsthand. This promotes a more optimistic approach to acoustic ecology, encouraging listeners to lend a musical ear to the soundscape.

The tag words used on the site are an extension of R. Murray Schafer’s soundscape classification system found in his 1977 book Tuning of the World.”

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