Soundscapes: What does visual art sound like?

- Anne MacLaurin

This past term, Dr. Alexandrine Boudreault-Fournier challenged the students in her Anthropology of Sound course to create their own soundscapes using techniques they learned in class. First stop, The Legacy Gallery to find their favourite piece of art.

“Many of the students told me it was their first time in an art gallery,” says Boudreault-Fournier. “The Legacy Gallery was very open and supportive of the students’ project.”

The students were tasked with selecting a piece of art from “The Collections at 50: Building the University of Victoria Art Collections” and creating a soundscape for it.

“It was an amazing class,” says student Peter Raskovsky. “My group chose lithography illustrating the Charles Dickens’ book The Christmas Carol.”

The lithography depicted three scenes from The Christmas Carol—all quite sombre. Using the free sound-mixing program Audacity, Raskovsky and his group recorded sounds of people walking through snow to give the scenes a sense of movement. [Hear this soundscape:]

Another student, Raychel Harvey, and her partner, chose a cluster of ceramic mushroom sculptures as the subject of their soundscape.

“Sound does influence people,” says Harvey. “The challenge was producing a sound that represented the piece.”

“For our mushroom exhibit,” she says, “we wanted to create conversation and a sense of community.” Using the program Audacity, Harvey and her partner blended seven different languages together and created a story about the mushroom sculpture.

In one instance, three groups of students chose the same art piece. All three groups produced very different soundscapes for the same exhibit.

“The students are very proud of their work,” says Bourdreault-Fournier. “Being at the art gallery took them out of their routine and challenged them to think about sound and art in a different way.”

The third-year anthropology course is designed to sensitize students to the often forgotten presence of sounds in everyday life.  It encourages them to think about all the dimensions of sound such as noise, music, voice, silence, etc. During the course, students also experimented directly with sound production, as well as studying theories of sounds, sound art works and recent writings in sound studies.

The Anthropology of Sound course will be offered again in September 2013. Boudreault-Fournier hopes to go back to The Legacy Gallery but this year was particularly unique because of UVic’s 50th Anniversary.  “The 50th Anniversary exhibit was especially diverse and offered the students many choices for their project,” say Bourdreault-Fournier. “I will have to wait and see what the next exhibit is come September, lots of possibilities.”

More soundscape audio files from the Anthropology of Sound course


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Keywords: soundscapes, technology, teaching

People: Alexandrine Boudreault-Fournier

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