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The New Arcadia: Soundwalk with Jean Routhier in Vancouver's False Creek

It is a windy Saturday afternoon. A group of twenty or so gathers at the Roundhouse Centre, the beginning of an exploration. Our journey features neither the excitement of an urban environment nor the wonders of nature. The setting of our adventure is, rather, False Creek's condominium developments. This idyllic landscape, along with a copycat development in Dubai, is the site of investigation for M. Simon Levin, Glen Lowry, and Henry Tsang's upcoming website release and exhibition, under the title Maraya Projects. Familiarizing ourselves with the exhibition's subject, artist Jean Routhier leads us on a one-hour walk to experience the area through sound. Pausing to take in the background hum of wind and traffic in the open courtyard of the Roundhouse, our little group of listeners make their way to the seawall. At first skirting the border between traffic and park space, we soon find ourselves moving along the waterfront with other weekenders: joggers and bikers, children and dogs. With Routhier as our guide, we stop at a gazebo to take in a soundscape of the False Creek inlet before stepping down to the water, the crunch of our feet on the stony shoreline meeting the gentle lapping of the water. Under the Cambie Bridge exit, Routhier walks along the perimeter of a vacant concrete skate park, slowly clapping to activate its acoustics. The resonance creates an echo that shimmers when he reaches the centre of this space. From a playground, leisure, and off-leash dog area, we cut through a manicured alleyway of private property, ending up in a plaza bordered by the Edgewater Casino. Radio rock plays. A man feeds a flock of cawing seagulls beneath the clinking sound of flags waving in the wind. Moving on, a jogging path takes us to the sales centre of Concord Pacific Place. Some immaculately landscaped flora surrounds a decorative water fountain which bubbles merrily, if senselessly, in the centre's deserted parking lot. As our group of soundwalkers travel through this environment, our path is marked with many different sounds. Always present though never invasive is the traffic, sounds such as the hum of motors and the gentle bump of cars as they drive over the Cambie Bridge. Birds are often heard, seagulls by the water, and crows further inland. However the sound that most often punctuates our soundwalk is that of recreation: bicycles and skateboards, snippets of conversation in various languages, children at play, dogs barking and rattling their leashes, the heavy footfall of joggers. Near the end of our walk, I have a simple revelation concerning this placid setting. I remember to look up. Dwarfing and surrounding us, I view the stoic, glassy-green high rise towers, really the jewels of this landscape. The leisure zones we've been exploring for the past hour are mere accents to these costly giants. The intentionality, control, and investment put into this area suddenly feels very tangible. These gentle sounds and pastoral landscapes contribute to a carefully sculpted vision of Arcadia, one translated across the globe, and into Dubai. Emerging from the seawall area, we return to the familiar, noisy sounds of the city. Routhier lingers for a long time at an intersection on Pacific Blvd., another at Carrall and Expo. Here, we listen to a very different rhythm: speeding traffic moving in time to traffic lights and the screech of the Skytrain overhead. Cutting through another leisure zone, this one adorned by a fountain with concrete lily pads, we find ourselves in a quiet back alley of Chinatown. Finally we are on Pender St. in the Downtown Eastside. In contrast to the static calmness of Concord Pacific Place, we are met with a flood of unstructured sound. A ghetto blaster is blaring music and someone is loping down the sidewalk shouting "BILLY!" at the top of their lungs. Outside Centre A, we stop to listen together once more in the parking lot. Inside the gallery, Routhier leads a discussion about what we have heard. Artists Levin, Lowry, and Tsang share some field recordings from their research in Dubai. A recording of a Dubai mall sounds appropriately generic, especially when contrasted with the Muslim call to prayer, an inescapable sound played on loudspeakers and radios across the city. We discuss how cultural and biological differences between the two sites impact the sound environment. For instance, Dubai has none of the crows or seagulls heard throughout our walk. The sound of autumn leaves underfoot is impossible in the UAE. Also, Dubai residents do not share Vancouver's mania for bikes and barking dogs. And, though the Dubai Marina development is just as manufactured as Concord Pacific Place, the Maraya Projects artists observe that, unlike False Creek, the construction of the Dubai site is not seamlessly placid and tranquil. Residential space is broken up by industrial zones, accompanied by industrial noise. The two developments are compared to a tune played on, say, a violin and a trombone. Despite sharing the same blueprint, the idiosyncratic characteristics inherent in each site prevent them from completely transforming into the ideals that they were designed to be. By Stacey Ho

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jessicahum
Thu, 2011-11-03 20:55

Fantastic walk with Jean & friends! We had a lot of fun and beautiful to hear sounds from Dubai in our post-walk debrief. Thanks Jean!

DebraZhou
Fri, 2011-11-04 15:35

Julie Gendron says " i really like the last sentence". Ditto.