Tag Archives: forest

the silence of sound

Victoria Ward
Victoria Ward

I love sound but I love silence more. Actually I love the area between the two the best. By this I mean the sounds that you hear when there isn’t supposed to be any sound. For instance where I live I can list all the sounds I hear: the fridge, the tertiary highway with intermittent cars, birds, rain or snow (yep, snow makes a sound), coyotes and wolves very occasionally, when the neighbours are up you can hear chainsaws and some talking, and at night when it is really, really cold you can hear trees cracking and snapping – sometimes making a low gong noise. So, people come to my place and always say, “Wow, it is so quiet here.” But I can hear things all the time. So, no, it isn’t quiet.

We have a hydro pole on our property. After moving here I read a Harper’s article about electro magnetic fields or EMFs. In the article it told the stories of different people who could swear they heard the lives of the people several kilometres away from them through the hydro wires. Some also mentioned the phone wires which are on the same pole. There was also terrifying things in the article like people getting neurological disorders from being so close to EMFs. I chose to ignore the latter stories. For several years I was convinced I could hear other lives coursing through those wires. I would lie awake at night listening to see if I could discern words from these transmissions. Was it my imagination? Possibly. For a time things and places and people would bounce around in my brain. Through this I came to appreciate sounds and the world of sounds and this between world of sound and silence.

Most sound artists are from cities which makes sense since cities are clusters of sound and energy. I always feel like a spark getting plugged into something when I visit. My lights come on and I ‘radiate’ while there. I usually come home exhausted from the experience. I find that city people need to unplug regularly and use places like where I live to do so. I get that. But city sounds never inspire me the way non-city sounds do. There is an ambience to the forest that you can barely verbalise. In the years I have lived where I do I have seen and heard trees falling in the forest. It’s an observation no longer funny but… it still resonates because sound in places where there isn’t supposed to be any seems very subversive.

I have become extremely sensitive to sounds over the years. I go to very few first run movies as the sound systems make me feel like I am having a heart attack. I have been this way long before the reality of a heart attack was something to consider. I also love silent films because they give me even more reasons to use my imagination. During a long talk with a film maker friend a few weeks ago, I realized the problem I have always had with film is that I don’t get to do any of the work. I gravitate to things where I can insert myself, or rather participate by figuring out what I am looking at and listening to. I think that if I went to hell it would have the kind of syrupy soundtrack that roars across the screen amplifying what I am supposed to feel. In fact I have turned off Netflix and other films right away if the soundtrack even hints of augmented emotion. I find it manipulative and condescending but mostly it just hurts my ears.

The thing about sound is that it is mysterious. Years ago 7/11 stores in the US played classical music outside to dissuade loitering teenagers. It sort of worked but lots of adults hated it too. Then there was that great and now campy scene in Jaws where Robert Shaw runs his nails down a chalkboard to get everyone’s attention – a very avant garde film moment in an otherwise extremely mainstream movie. Jaws is one of the few Spielberg movies with a soundtrack I can take. More recently comdedian Aziz Ansari mentioned how the minute you hear that Arabic maqam music in a movie you know that it’s a terrorist lair. In fact he went on to say if perhaps the movies didn’t use such music or motifs perhaps we wouldn’t be in the chaos we are in today. Sound matters which is why film makers that are lazy about using it do not make the kind of films I ever want to see.

Had I to do this all over again I would have gone into the creation of ambient sound and music. I like to think that my work is infiltrated by my being influenced by sound as much as the visual world around me. At night in the woods the trees take on a spiky silhouette pointing toward the very busy Milky Way that I am lucky to see often. There is a rustle in them, and if you listen really closely something even more intense – you hear yourself. The minute one is able to align their heartbeat and breathe with the universe in that way the noise of life is pushed into the background. Snow falling, rain, birds and even the questionable transmissions of EMFs become more of a reality. The tranquil act of experiencing this ‘silence’ makes the occasional nightmare of dealing with the world worth it.

The above YouTube clips are:

Charlie Chaplin in a scene from Modern Times. Chaplin wrote, directed and scored the music. If there had been dialogue in this scene it would not be one of the most effective and brilliant moments in any movie.

An Arctic ocean ice breaker idling in the ice. This video is an exact and wonderful example of a landscape based art work that merges nature and humans, all through sound. The visuals are great too but you will also enjoy this without looking at it.


all things connected…

Victoria Ward
Victoria Ward

Having lived fairly remotely for well over a decade now I can attest to how it shapes one’s thinking about the world. Being in rural central Ontario is hardly far from civilization however there are many challenges and you wonder how on earth anyone lived here prior to the telephone being invented. Being connected is probably the most important issue for a rural artist. Connectivity comes in many forms, the internet being just one. Roads, the transport of goods and services, emergency services, health services, as well as the wired world are necessities that allow small rural places to work.

While urban dwellers revel in the renaissance of localization and desiring of all things made just steps form their door – us rural communities while also going through a great enlightenment about local fare and trade need more to sustain our small worlds. We need to also be a part of the arteries and corridors to which all of life travels. How else do we ever understand our world without the experience of being part of it if only as a parcel ordered online or a book from a Toronto library or a meal expertly made by someone trained in busier place?

I admit to being somewhat loathe to use the word connectivity as its buzz word status and TED talk cache makes it part of growing trend in our world of using marketing phrases instead of actually expressing the complexity of issues. Marketing has won the war of words and we now regularly describe things in a lexicon better suited to ‘wow factor’ settings and power point presentations than actually talking to each other. I do it too, all the time and in fact I can get distressingly confused when I use marketing phrases un-ironically only to find that in fact irony would have been a better thing to express.

But connectivity as a word works because we are connected now in a vast amount of ways. We connect through the internet, through travel, through consuming, through our food, through our politics, our beliefs, and almost every experience the world can offer. Just purchasing a household item at HomeSense can make you connected to Bangladesh, micro and macro economics, the shipping industry, trade barriers and transactions, fossil fuel, geopolitics, varied labour and retail practices and the fashion industry. When you live rurally this comes into focus very sharply; rural types adjust over time to essentially being uninterested in constantly consuming and begin to think about it as an unusual or intriguing activity not just a daily experience.

Harold & Maude, the 1971 cult movie I was raised on. Maude’s answer to her people person proclivity? “They’re my species.”

We thrive best when our little dirt roads and quiet hamlets are interrupted occasionally by the ‘outside’ world. We do not need to swim in its steady flow of information and events and prefer not to – inertia is balanced by disruptions in the form of new people, new technology and inevitable changes in the world. This pace is envied. Visitors always find that our lives here must be ‘peaceful’, ‘relaxing’ and ‘heavenly’. There are now several studies on this very idea: a UK government study which states that 1-4 people in that country suffer from depression and other mental illnesses to which ‘green’ activities such as farming seems to help and a Stanford University study that shows how the brain is relieved from stress through experiencing the natural world.

It’s hard to write about this kind of thing. Everyone has a deep and extraordinary experience of the world but when all I hear most of the time is birds, distant cars occasionally and wind the mind does in fact rest and things in there become more vivid. I don’t think I’m smarter because of it unfortunately and I am not certain whether it has benefited me or not. I am however full of joy more often than sorrow and that is an enormous difference than when I lived in the city.

Isolation however must be balanced in both a metaphysical sense and a real world sense. On one hand you need to be with your species as Maude would say (see image), you do, I can attest to this. Otherwise you get weird. You also need to know that the other exists and this is where technology has really helped (or hindered, depends on world view) – technology is an extension of our conscious desire to connect to the other. While fighting on Facebook with strangers may not seem like a very enlightened way forward, it is but the beginnings of a technological manifestation of how we connect; messy, fraught, tenderly, with compassion, with hatred and with humour. It could be our undoing; it could be our greatest moment. We don’t know.

For artists, we have always made our own technology in order to make what we make, this kind of hyper connectivity we live in now is challenging but not entirely destructive. We rural types know this because we HAD to evolve. You can’t live where I do without screens on your windows. One day, generations from now someone living in my log cabin will say, “how on Earth did those artists live here without ___________ ?”

Hopefully the birds, distant cars and the wind will still be the only sounds.

Photo from Google Images