I’m not good at making noise in public. I’m always the person in a group who gets uncomfortable when the noise level gets too loud, worrying that we are bothering the people around us. So, when I was given a homemade, portable speaker to carry around during Listening Songs: Listening Choir, a Live Art event at the 2015 SummerWorks Performance Festival, my anxiety was heightened and I was initially hesitant to push “play.” There were rewards to be had, though, in being loud and quiet at the same time.
Listening Songs: Listening Choir, created by Christopher Willes and Adam Kinner, is about listening to the sounds around us, but also about creating them and projecting them, actively changing the soundscape around us. It promises “ten scores of dispersion, ten ways to move together in disarming loudness.” The speaker boxes can record, play, and erase.
As a group, we walked over varying terrain to different spaces near to The Theatre Centre, and were directed to record certain sounds around us, music playing on a patio, music that the creators played into each individual speaker, or a particular phrase. Aside from the instructions and our recordings, nobody spoke; the focus was on hearing and responding to the original and replayed sound.
The event walks a tightrope between active, quiet listening, and becoming what is listened to. This dichotomy raises questions, which I thought needed to be explored in a more cohesive way. Were we silently becoming more aware of the sounds around us, or were we unbearably loud, drowning them out? Were we listening, or were we announcing our presence? Is it possible to do both effectively?
When we began to add our own sounds or voices to the already present soundscape of the streets, there was an almost violent disruption, but one that became less pronounced as the walk went on and we moved into more populated locations.
Much of the walk was in a largely deserted area by the railroad tracks, near a new condo development. An 8pm or Saturday performance might be a different experience, when there might be more people to disrupt, not just the one person who waved at us. Occasionally, we attracted spectators who weren’t entirely sure what to make of us and our noisy boxes, but this being Queen West, most people were unsurprisingly blasé.
The speakers pick up a lot of ambient noise and distort on playback; the distortion feels part of the point, especially as things get more and more distorted with additional speakers, a Broken Telephone of noise.
The more naturally-occurring city sounds were the more interesting to record, replay, layer and distort, such as the air rushing out of a vent, recorded and multiplied to sound like a windstorm, or the eerie, ethereal sound of an item running across a metal fence at a construction site. If there are eight million stories in the naked city, there are even more sounds; it didn’t feel essential to record our predetermined phrases.
Listening Choir is an almost wordless event, but it still has something to say, if you can hear it.
Listening Songs: Listening Choir begins at The Theatre Centre Cafe, 1115 Queen Street West.
- Friday August 14th 4:00 PM
- Friday August 14th 8:00 PM
- Saturday August 15th 4:00 PM
- Saturday August 15th 8:00 PM
Tickets for this show and many in the Live Art series are free of charge, but require online registration. Individual SummerWorks tickets are $15 at the door (cash only). Live Art Series tickets are free – $20. Tickets are available online, by phone at 888-328-8384, Monday – Friday 8:30am-5pm, in person at the SummerWorks Info Booth – located at SummerWorks Central Box Office – located at Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst Street). Open August 4-16 from 10am-7pm (Advance tickets are $15 + service fee).
Several money-saving passes are available if you plan to see at least 3 shows.
Warnings: This event involves audience participation, walking for approximately an hour over changing terrain, and some jaywalking across busy streets.
Photo courtesy of Listening Songs: Listening Choir