Soundscapes: The radical act of listening

By Venta Rutkauskas –

In a worldwide web of connectivity, how can listening bring us closer to our environment and ourselves?

Tracy Dale and Buff Carnes from the Cariboo Potters' Guild holding their handmade clay chimes. Photo: Venta Rutkauskas

Tracy Dale and Buff Carnes from the Cariboo Potters’ Guild holding their handmade
clay chimes. Photo: Venta Rutkauskas

The human being is both an instrument of sound making and sound receptivity. It’s an integral part of our human design. Now here we are, seven billion strong on our planet, and if one chooses to tune in to what that might sound like, it’s a miracle one can still discover places that are quiet.

Note that quiet and silence are two different things. Even within those ‘silent’ places, if one practises deep, contemplative listening, a subtle din emerges. Heartbeat, pulse throb, an indoor hum of electronics, a distant bird call… The sounds that surround us are infinite, and in fact, we have mostly tuned them out.

The school of acoustic ecology was born out of a desire to explore the relationship between humans and their environment, mediated by sound. R. Murray Schafer and his team at Simon Fraser University began the World Soundscape Project, where composers and communications students began making recordings of the Vancouver soundscape as it changed and morphed into something perhaps less than desirable. By the 1970s, the composers had scored ‘music’ out of found sounds, and were soon manipulating ambient sounds in the studio to discover a beauty otherwise unheard in real time.

With Soundscapes as our theme for 2017, the Community Arts Council of Williams Lake has begun to wax lyrical on the vibratory nature of the formless world that sound represents. Hardly alone in this quest (for millennia cultures from around the world have delved into the sacred, healing and social implications of sound), the Arts Council proposes that the community at large give it some thought, as well.

So far, we’ve encouraged voice and song with Pharis Romero’s instruction, promoted the idea of developing sounds in the form of recording and producing music with Brandon Hoffman, and plugged into the rhythm and lyric of hip hop with Beka Solo and Rich Mac. Where do we go from here?

On June 22, the first annual POPS in the Park will begin a journey down the altruistic road of fundraising for The Boys and Girls Club Jumpstart Music program for youth. POPS is going to be an incredible evening of music in Boitanio Park by Williams Lake performers, bands, and choirs at the top of their game. Donations for the music program will be solicited as you absorb the vibes from Quintet Plus, the Cariboo Gold Dance Band, the Cariboo Chilcotin Youth Fiddle Society (to name a few), and a host of young talent that have benefited from music instruction themselves. A barbeque provided by The Rotary Club may tempt the taste buds, while Art in the Park will be there to entertain young children. Surely, POPS in the Park is a smashing way to ring in the first days of summer.

While you find yourself strolling around our fair city this summer, open your ears and you may discover the most delightful tinkling or sonorous pealing. The ever-prolific Cariboo Potters’ Guild has a series of chimes in the works, beautiful and handcrafted pieces of art made especially for our city’s enhancement in the downtown business area.

“The relaxing and joyful atmosphere the chimes will bring to our city is truly my inspiration,” said Jill Crosina, the Arts Council representative for the Potters’. “The members of the guild have spoken of the pleasant and memorable experience it will be for visitors to Williams Lake this summer as they discover the sounds and the story behind Soundscapes.”

A chance discovery made by Community Arts Council president, Marg Evans, brings to life a series of chimes and a freestanding glockenspiel upcycled from long aluminum tubes that once populated her garage. “Every time they were knocked over in the garage, I noticed what a beautiful racket they made,” observed Evans with a laugh. With the help of her husband, Don, and Murray Hoffman’s dedication in building the glockenspiel, a new layer of sound can colour the atmosphere in areas such as the Community Garden.

It is World Soundscape Project composer Hildegard Westerkamp’s belief that listening can be a radical act. By re-tuning our ears to our surrounding environment, we connect to the space around us, while the sounds themselves can elucidate the state of said environment. As important as music has become to our lives, Westerkamp encourages listeners to re-orient themselves to the present, to the sounds that heal or hurt, and she asks that you open your ears so that your mind may too grow receptive and curious. Project Soundscapes, then, is your local Arts Council’ offering for your listening exploration.

To learn more about Soundscapes visit www.williamslakecommunityartscouncil.com. Check out http://www.cbc.ca/radio/ideas/how-opening-our-ears-can-open-our-minds-hildegard-westerkamp-1.3962163 to learn more about Hildegard Westerkamp and Acoustic Ecology.

Venta Rutkauskas is the co-ordinator for the Community Arts Council of Williams Lake (CACWL). She is an advocate and lover of the arts, and has taught drama and written plays for young children. She is passionate about the healing arts. See www.williamslakecommunityartscouncil.com to learn more about CACWL and local artists.

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