Device for Listening to Snow Falling

Device(s) for Listening to Snow Falling by Caitlind r.c. Brown & Wayne Garrett. Commissioned by New Works Calgary.
Most photos in this blog post are by Elyse Bouvier, unless otherwise credited.

Device for Listening to Snow Falling was an experiment inviting participants to engage in a group performance of deep listening in the wintertime landscape. Located at the confluence of the Bow & Elbow Rivers in Calgary/Mohkinstsis, the devices amplified ambient sounds in the winter sky, frozen river, and along the snow-covered riverside paths of St. Patrick’s Island.

The listening event was commissioned by New Works Calgary for one day in February 2023.

Above image by Caitlind Brown, below images by Elyse Bouvier.

When temperatures drop and snow begins to fall, sound travels differently, moving further and more slowly. Snow absorbs sound, lowering the noise floor and quieting city spaces.

Drawing from long histories of experimental sound, deep listening, performative happenings, and science fiction aesthetics, Device for Listening to Snow Falling invited visitors to expand their acoustic awareness – reaching further and more slowly into the soundscapes of a familiar place.

The artists utilized their own backgrounds with experimental sound and music to imagine simple ultramarine & silver devices, extending the reach of the human ear outwards into the surrounding environment and upwards into the sky above.

Above images by Caitlind Brown, below images by Elyse Bouvier.

The sky listening device captured the sound of migrating geese, airplanes in the flight-path overhead, and the occasional falling snowball. The devices aimed at the river caught the sounds of water flowing beneath the frozen surface, ice melting on the warm Chinook afternoon, and distant conversations across the rushing flush of the Bow River.

The wearable listening devices were first developed at Empire of Dirt as part of a summertime Land Art Residency.

The conical forms directed sound into the ears and amplified the environment. These headpieces created performative icons for listening – an invitation for active participants and distant observers alike to pause and consider their surroundings more deeply.

The event experimented with intervals of sound and silence. Every 15 minutes, a bell would ring. Visitors were directed to alternate between periods of noise & conversation, and intervals of quietness & collective listening. Predictably, this experiment soon degraded into a more casual structure – visitors found sound and silence in their own, self-determined intervals.

As they listened, participants were asked to notice how the soft landscape muffled certain sounds and how the cold air carried others:

Try to peel back layers of noise, from the most obvious, to the most subtle. Which sounds are made by people, near and far? Which are made by bodies of water and movements of air? More faintly, can you hear any animal sounds? Or plants in motion? Which layers of this soundscape are alive and which are in torpor, conserving energy for the Spring? Take the time to perceive the layer that is you – your own body, breath, and winterwear, amplified back at you. If it’s snowing, prick your ears and listen carefully to the gentle sound of snowflakes falling against the surface of your listening device. Perhaps on an acute level each sound is unique, as common and extraordinary as the snowflakes themselves.

When flurries began near the end of the event, listeners could indeed hear the delicate and clear sound of snow falling.

A later snowfall in the artists’ yard. Photo by Caitlind Brown.

Device for Listening to Snow Falling was conceived by artists Caitlind r.c. Brown & Wayne Garrett and commissioned by New Works Calgary. Many thanks to Rebecca Bruton, Po Yeh, Christina Milinusic, Elyse Bouvier, Palmer Olson, the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation, Empire of Dirt, 3 Fab, and the wonderful volunteers. This project is located on Treaty 7 Territory, home to the Blackfoot Confederacy, The Tsuut’ina, the Stoney Nakota, and the Metis of Alberta, Region III. This event unfolded within eyesight of the sacred confluence of Bow & Elbow Rivers.

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