The Ghost Variations – Introduction

This first post will introduce the Voice Exchange’s current project, which will be featured as one of the Walking Lab’s residencies.

The Voice Exchange is an artistic collective that is part of the Digital Dramaturgy Lab at the University of Toronto. We’re interested in exploring all things voice and sound through practice. Previous projects have looked at vocal exercises and the use of microphones for digital voice creation. For our latest project, the Voice Exchange is focusing on building an audio walk.

The starting point for the audio walk was fairly open. Inspiration was taken from Janet Cardiff, who works with sound, and has designed audio walks. Cardiff has used audio and narrative to warp or confuse the listener’s perception of their environment. In The Missing Voice (Case Study B), for example, the audio guide transforms the listener’s experience of a library into a detective story. Originally created in 1999 for discman, the piece can now be played on mp3 (though unfortunately the soundcloud file seems to be down). Interestingly, the original library space has been replaced by a gallery, but the audio piece can still be played. These circumstances intrigued us, and we became interested in the idea of linking a physical space (which inevitably changes over time) to a fixed digital audio file that could be downloaded in years to come. Even if a physical space doesn’t change, the sounds and voices within very well may: The University of Toronto’s Hart House building, for example, originally built in 1919, was designated and remained a men-only building until 1972. Though the buildings themselves may not have changed much, the activity within them certainly did. As a result, an audio recording of voices from the earlier men-only period would sound quite unfamiliar to current students and visitors to the building.

Given the age of its buildings, the variety of the architecture, and (of course) its proximity, the University of Toronto St. George campus was selected as the site for our tour. We began by wandering all over campus, in and out of familiar and unfamiliar buildings, to see what spaces interested us and how we might engage with them sonically. When our group returned, and we consulted notes, a common theme emerged – interest in the contrast of silent versus noisy spaces. As a major university, situated in a busy, urban environment, the University of Toronto’s downtown campus is invariably a noisy place. But even in the city, there are places of quiet refuge. The many libraries are an obvious example, but there are also religious chapels, and quiet courtyards protected by the stone architecture.

We decided to play with the idea of intermixing audio from the two types of spaces to see if we could render noisy spaces silent and silent spaces noisy, disorienting the walker/listener. Next week, we’ll discuss how these recordings went and were eventually used for our ongoing artistic creation.